Aldo Leopold once wrote, “There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting and ruffed grouse hunting.” I would add that there are two kinds of ruffed grouse hunting: hunting with a dog and hunting without a dog. Pointing and flushing dogs are synonymous with grouse hunting, but contrary to what many dog owners believe, you can kill grouse without a dog—here’s how.
Burn Some Boot Leather
To kill grouse without a dog you will have to walk—a lot. The more ground you cover the more birds you will flush and more flushes means more shot opportunities. Savvy grouse hunters seem to have a sixth sense of where a grouse will be and how to approach in order to get a shot. Your ability to sense grouse and their escape routes will get better with practice and the only way to gain this experience is by putting some miles on your boots.
Hunt the Habitat
Ruffed grouse thrive in young forests and early successional habitat. Areas that have been disturbed by logging, fire, or wind damage and are reverting to forest are good places to look for birds. Brushy edges along logging roads and places where woods meet open areas also hold a good number of grouse. Focusing on areas likely to hold grouse will reduce the time invested per flush.
Grouse are homebodies and therefore quite predictable. If you flush a bird under an apple tree and miss, make sure you are ready the next time you hunt that area because there is a good chance the bird will be in the same place.
A flushing ruffed grouse is one of nature’s hardest targets. When a bird flushes, a hunter generally has only a couple of seconds to get a shot off. Hunters with the assistance of pointing dogs have the advantage here because they know when to expect a flush. Dogless hunters must be prepared for a flush at all times in order to be successful. Practice and a quick pointing shotgun can help you make the most of these fleeting shot opportunities.
A light and maneuverable shotgun in 12, 16, 20, or 28 gauge will work provided the shooter does their part. In the early season, when foliage is thick and shots tend to be close, hunters should choose either 7 ½ or 8 shot. Once the leaves have dropped, birds tend to flush from farther away and 6 shot can help reach out on longer opportunities.
Stop and Go
A ruffed grouse’s first line of defense against predators is its camouflage and birds will often hold tight and let you walk by. Hunters should stop often as this makes the birds nervous. Expect birds to flush when you stop or when you take the first couple of steps after a pause. Be ready with your shotgun at high port and increase your odds for success.
Dress for Success
Ruffed grouse live in dense cover and feel most comfortable among plant species that will scratch, prick, poke and prod any hunter foolish enough to enter their domain without the appropriate attire. Hunters without a dog will need to do more brush busting to flush birds.
Brush pants or chaps are a must. Hunters should also wear sturdy leather boots and gloves to fend off thorns and briers. Your level of comfort is directly related to your success and having the right gear can make all the difference in the world.
Nothing tastes quite as good as roasted grouse and rice with a glass of red wine at the end of a successful hunting day. The reward is even sweeter when you’ve harvested the birds unassisted by dog or man. Enjoy the culinary spoils and reflect upon your hunt, but don’t get cocky and remember the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”