Outdoors Allie: Bowhunting the West’s Ruffed Grouse

Bowhunting Featured How To

If you’re using a dog to hunt grouse, you’re cheating.

Kidding!

I’m just jealous because I don’t have a best-friend bird dog. But with or without a dog, you’ll find birds if you follow a few principles. Let’s get started!

Population Trends

Ruffed grouse numbers fluctuate annually, and decade to decade, but they follow a fairly predictable 10-year cycle. Short-term grouse-population fluctuations relate closely to trends in weather and food resources. Longer-running changes relate directly to habitat, and how humans manage forests and woodlands.

Where They Live

Grouse make their homes high overhead, so look to the skies. Photo Credit: Nick Berger

Finding grouse honey holes means locating thick, young regrowing cover that includes buds, berries and bugs. Clearcuts, recently burned woods and forests, and other places with thick underbrush often hold birds. When you flush one, pause to look around. Grouse often aren’t alone, especially during early autumn before broods splinter, and in early winter when grouse start congregating around food sites.

Bonus Tips:

– In dry areas, walk drainages with water.

– On cold mornings, hit north-facing slopes.

– Near evening, walk logging roads, which are great for bugs and gravel.

Equipment

You can use your trusty broadhead to take down a grouse. Photo Credit: Nick Berger

Western bowhunters often target grouse opportunistically when elk and deer are their primary targets. Therefore, their arrows are not set up for grouse. You can fling elk arrows at grouse, broadhead and all, but you better be ready to break or lose them. That gets expensive.

Instead, bring along some judo points to screw onto your arrows, or buy some less expensive arrows that fly similarly. When grouse flush into a tree, you can often get within 20 yards or less to shoot. Try keeping an arrow (or two) set up with a judo point, so you don’t have to fuss with removing and replacing arrow heads.

Bonus Tips:

– If possible, shoot grouse on the ground instead of when they’re perched atop high limbs. You’ll almost always find your arrow. The shot angle is also easier to execute!

– Aim for the bird’s upper chest/neck. Arrows through the grouse’s center mass can ruin a lot of prime meat.

Final thoughts

Some bowhunters perceive grouse to be a nuisance. That’s a shame because they’re a highly coveted and respected game bird, and one of the tastiest. Bowhunters should appreciate every encounter they have with these intriguing creatures!


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