Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus
Ruffed Grouse Description
-The ruffed grouse is identified by its tail with a black band near the end and the patch of feathers “ruffs” on the neck.
The birds have two distinct color phases, both of which may occur in the same family. The red phase predominates in the southern part of the range; the gray phase, in the northern part and at high altitudes. Red-phase birds have a mottled, brownish body and chestnut-colored tail. Gray-phase birds have a mottled, grayish body and gray tail.
Males are identified by the unbroken black tail band. In females, this band is less distinct on the central two feathers (below). On both sexes, the legs are feathered down to the base of the toes. Juveniles resemble adults by fall, although they are slightly smaller. For further descriptions of Grouse click on Ruffed Grouse Society Ruffed Grouse facts or check out Ruffed Grouse identification tips from the USGS
Ruffed Grouse Size – Adults measure 17 to 20 inches long and weigh 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
Ruffed Grouse Habitat
– Found throughout most of Canada and Alaska through the northern continental United States as far south as Georgia. They are border animals – that is they are mostly found in mixed-age woodlands with a combination of aspen, alder and birch intermixed with evergreens such as hemlock and pine. In the southern part of the range, the birds are found in woodlands with evergreen shrubs, such as holly, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Click on Grouse habitat management to learn how to make your land grouse friendly. Additional habitat information can be found at:
Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at the Department of Fish and Wildlife publication A Landowner’s Guide to Wildlife Habitat Management for Vermont Woodlands
Ruffed Grouse information and habitat management from Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife
– These birds spend their lives in a very small area usually no more than 50 or so acres. In early fall, however, young birds dispersing from their family may move miles away, an activity sometimes called the fall shuffle.
Ruffed Grouse Food
– Ruffed grouse feed on the fruits and buds of a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Populations are highest in areas with plenty of aspens – preferably older male trees, since these offer the most nutritious buds.
Ruffed Grouse Breeding
– Males establish territories in early spring, when the snow begins to melt. To attract a mate, the male finds a perch on logs, rocks, ground humps etc. and drums by making a series of wing beats that begins slowly and gradually accelerates. The sound travels over a distance and sound something like – thump….thump…thump, then the wing beating becomes fast like a lawnmower engine starting.
After breeding, the hen nests in a wooded area where there is a dense canopy to protect against hawks and owls and an open nderstory to let her spot approaching predators. She lays 8 to 14 buff-colored eggs in a shallow depression, usually against the base of a tree or in a clump of brush. The eggs hatch in about 24 days, and the chicks remain with the hen for 3 to 4 months before dispersing m the fall.
Ruffed Grouse Social Interaction
– Ruffed grouse do not form coveys like quail. However, small groups may be found around a food source. In the winter, birds often group together to snow roost -diving into fluffy snow to keep warm and evade predators. Ruffed grouse are not particularly vocal, but females may cluck softly and sometimes squeal to warn chicks of danger, and both sexes may hiss to defend their territory.
Ruffed Grouse Population
– Cyclical. In much of their range, ruffed grouse undergo 7 -10 year population cycles. Numbers in good years may be 15 times higher than in poor years.
Hunting – Grouse hunters often speak of snap-shooting-meaning that a ruffed grouse may flush so fast, so unexpectedly, that there’s no time for the kind of gun-swing that’s effective in most kinds of wingshooting. Instead, you snap the gun up and fire instantly, instinctively, as the muzzle passes the target. For this, you need a light, fast-handling shotgun that fits you well and doesn’t tend to get caught in brush or branches as you bring it up.
When hunting with a dog, particular attention must be paid to pick the right “four-legged” partner. The chief attribute of a good grouse dog is a nose so sharp that the animal freezes into a staunch point at a mere whiff of grouse before getting close enough to flush the bird. The next most important attribute is the habit of working close to the gun, combined with a willingness and learned ability to obey commands. Although some hunters feel that a fast-moving pointer pins birds more effectively than a slow one, you don’t want a wide-ranging quail dog for grouse because that kind of pointer will merely bump birds out of range or beyond screening foliage where you won’t even see them dodge away. The third most important attribute is visible “birdiness.” Some dogs give little or no sign that game is near until almost ready to point. Others become excited enough to alert you in advance, and this is a big help with grouse.
Since a grouse dog must work close to the gun, grouse hunters are inclined to take special care in training their dogs. It isn’t that they use any unique training methods but that they use the conventional ones more thoroughly. Any young dog that works too independently of the gun (or an older one in need of refresher lessons) may be slowed down by attaching a heavy chain or even a sash weight to his collar. This can be an especially needed corrective with a dog to be used for grouse hunting.
In winter, grouse often burrow completely under the snow, or sometimes they burrow partway down in a sheltered spot beneath a low umbrella of vegetation such as rhododendron. The legs of these birds are feathered almost to the toes, and at this time of year, the toes themselves are fringed with rods of cuticle called penctinations, which provide support on snow and are shed in the spring. This enables grouse to walk quite well on snow.
When hunting on a snow, you may occasionally see a little oblong crater where a grouse has landed. From there, try to follow its wide 2 ¼ or 2 ½ inch-long, three-pronged tracks. Each left or right print is placed rather precisely in front of the previous one. The bird may have taken off again, leaving only wing prints in the snow at the trail’s end, or the trail may give out in tangles of brush or clear ground beneath overhangs. But once in a while, you may follow to where a grouse has dug in. If there’s considerable snow on the ground, try to mark down any bird you move as precisely as you can. Working on snow, your dog might otherwise have trouble locating it for a second flush. Or perhaps you’re hunting without a dog. Either way, following the tracks can be worthwhile. For Ruffed grouse seasons and bag limits click to STATE AGENCIES on our site.
Magazine – www.uplandalmanac.com
Click on South Dakota Division of Wildlife to read about Grouse hunting in South Dakota.
Click on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to read about Grouse hunting in the TOP grouse hunting state
Click on Maine Hunting Guides to book a hunting trip for Grouse in Maine
Click on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to read about Sharp-tail Grouse Hunting in Wisconsin – a great state to be in
Click on New York DEC to read about Grouse Hunting in New York