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
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
- 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
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.