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Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources
Grouse eat a variety of plant material supplemented by insects when they find them. Acorns are vital in winter because the fat gained from them increases grouse body fat and increases the breeding potential for females the following spring. However, shoots, nuts and berries are all included in diet of adult birds throughout the year. The buds from various fruit and nut bearing trees are also important. For the young of the year, insects are very important during the first few weeks of life.
Like all animals, grouse require water for their bodily functions, but it is not a consideration for locating habitat to hunt them. They will drink from standing or running water when it is available, but the requirements for water can be met by morning dew or from the plant material they eat.
Shelter is probably the best habitat feature to consider when trying to locate grouse to hunt. The best shelter feature is a forest that is in secondary succession. If mast-producing trees are within or near this shelter, the chances of finding birds will be enhanced. Occasionally birds are found in trees but they typically hide on the ground. In heavy snow, they will create burrows into the snow to conserve body heat.
Grouse normally stay within a mile of where they are hatched. In springtime, males drum to attract females to them and therefore have a smaller home range. Females travel to the drumming male to breed, then travel again to find a suitable nesting site. Her brood typically disperses in fall with individual birds seeking suitable habitat. However, it is not unusual to find several birds using the same area due to prime habitat features.
Most people consider grouse to be a cyclic species. These cycles are not as prevalent in Kentucky as in grouse states to the north. The trend in Kentucky and other Appalachian states has been steadily down since the early 1990s. As is true with most wildlife, good habitat will consistently have grouse. A dedicated grouse hunter will support his or her dogs and alter the harvest during those periods with low grouse numbers.
Bird Dog is Most Important Asset
A grouse hunter may spend many hours training his or her dog. Genetics play an important role in determining the success of the dog. Due to a keen sense of smell and enhanced range, a trained dog will help a hunter find more grouse. A dog is often a necessity when trying to find a bird that has been shot.
Listen in Spring to Hunt in Fall
One of the easiest ways to prepare for fall hunting is to listen for the drumming males in the spring. By locating where adult birds are breeding and raising the broods, the hunter will know which areas are most likely to hold grouse that fall.
Be in Good Physical Shape
The best Kentucky grouse habitat is in the hilly, forested regions of Eastern Kentucky. Hunting in this region will require climbing up and down hillsides. Several miles of hiking may be needed to locate birds during a grouse hunt, so make sure you are physically fit. Depending on your age, this often requires regular exercise during the “off” season.
Identify Prime Habitat
When there is a major disturbance in the forest, such as “timber harvest”, fire or natural storm, the forest immediately begins to recover. The best stage for grouse is from 5-12 years after the disturbance. While hunting in the areas where this secondary succession is at its peak for grouse production, watch for other areas in your hunting range where the peak will be reached in the next few years. This way, you will be prepared for future hot spots.
Hunt all “Hollers”
A given drainage may have several “hollers” leading to the main valley. Hunt each one intently. The area where you found birds last year may be vacant on the next hunt. Be prepared to hunt the entire area and thoroughly search with your dog.
Birds that fly uphill will not fly as far as those that go downhill. If bird numbers justify attempting second flushes, try for the uphill birds. They will be much easier for your dog to find.
Leave Birds for Brood Stock
Always be conscious of bird numbers and do not over-harvest a given area. Hunting a different area each time out is beneficial to preserving bird numbers. Hunter judgement is especially important to maintaining bird numbers during the latter part of the season after natural mortality has already reduced the population. While harvesting a bird or two is fine, this may be the time when hunting for dog training and the flush become equally important to shooting.
Grouse are small enough that they do not require field dressing. However, some people prefer to dispose of the organs in the field. To do so, split the skin below the tip of the breast bone and reach under the breast to remove all organs. By trimming down to the tail and around the anal opening, the entire intestinal tract can be removed. Like most birds, a layer of fat is stored just beneath the skin. This keeps the flesh moist during cooking if the bird is plucked. However, it is up to the individual whether the bird is skinned or plucked. If you plan to cut it up prior to preparation, it will take less space in the freezer if you cut it up immediately. Grouse are cut up in much the same way as a chicken, with the breast left in one piece. To freeze the bird, place them in a plastic bag with water covering all pieces. As with other game, remove the air from the bag and place in the freezer. Birds frozen this way should be well preserved for at least 6 months.
Ruffed Grouse with Orange Slices
Found in recipes, no source, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
4 Grouse Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of bacon
1⁄4 Cup butter, melted
Grated peel of one orange
1 Tsp lemon juice Chopped parsley
4 1⁄4 Inch thick orange slices, peeled and seeded
Sprinkle grouse inside and out with salt and pepper. Cover breast of each grouse with an orange slice and a bacon slice. Fasten with string. Place grouse, breast side up, in a baking pan. Roast in preheated 350-degree oven until tender, basting frequently with combined butter, orange juice, orange peel, and lemon juice. Remove string and serve with orange slice and bacon remaining on each bird. Recommended side dishes: baked hominy and baby Brussels sprouts.
Recommended by Mike Hearn, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources employee, from The Readers Digest Good Health Cookbooks-Fish and Meat, 1986.
Before cooking, cut the bird into pieces, coat with seasoned flour and brown (in hot fat or oil) in a pan. Remove the browned game from the pan and place in a casserole dish. Rinse the pan with 1⁄2 cup of dry red wine or game stock. Add the liquid (can use a cup of dry red wine as a substitute) to the casserole, cover tightly with lid and cook in the center of pre-heated oven at 325 degrees for one hour or until the meat is tender.
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