Grouse hunting is an Autumn treat
For many outdoor lovers, the sound of grouse flushing from cover is a welcome sign of autumn.
For some people the special signs of autumn are the brilliantly colored leaves. Others focus on ripe apples and all the activities that surround that harvest. Still, others feel the special fishing experiences of salmon or muskie fishing symbolize autumn.
But for a lot of us, it is still the sound of a grouse quickly flushing from cover. Blend that with the other sensory experiences that go along with grouse hunting and you have the most lasting symbol of autumn for many of us, especially the older generation.
The hunter steps briskly through the tangle of scrub apples, aspen trees, and black berry briars, pausing to enjoy the sights and smells he associates with one of his favorite times of year. He anticipates the flush of grouse from his familiar covers, yet enjoys basking in the color of the autumn leaves and listening to the sound of geese overhead. Suddenly there is a sound like a muffled explosion, followed close behind by another one, and the sound of the rapid whir of wings as two grouse rocket from the ground cover for the safety of a nearby evergreen patch.
You can tell that a person is from northern New York or the Adirondacks because we always refer to grouse as “partridge.” There is something special about partridge (grouse) hunting that defies easy explanation. Certainly there is the challenge of hitting these unpredictable and elusive birds. There is the majesty of the bird itself. In addition to being interesting and exciting, there is a wildness about grouse. They cannot be tamed or raised in captivity, and that seems to make them all the more special.
A lot of the charm of grouse hunting lies in the habitat they are found in. The old overgrown pastures, the second growth woodlots, and the alder runs where brooks trickle down a wooded hillside are some of the most scenic and interesting spots. There are few spots that I would rather be than on somewooded ridge on a sunny autumn day amidst the colors, sights, and sounds of rural America, a scene that is vanishing
in many areas.
Finding grouse basically involves hunting the edges or areas of second growth. Although you will find a few in the deep woods, it is the mix of food and cover that attracts grouse and allows themto survive. Second growth of old abandoned pastures, logged over woodlots, or areas where the sunlight penetrates the forest canopy and brings a variety of food sources are the areas where grouse thrive. In winter their main food is buds from aspen trees so these are usually in close proximity. Add some thick evergreens such as hemlock or spruce for shelter from predators like goshawks, and you have grouse habitat.
Unfortunately, much of our best grouse habitat is being lost as the “edge” or second growth turns into mature forests which do not support large numbers of grouse. A typical “edge” or grouse cover only lasts about 20 years. Fortunately, there are still areas throughout upstate New York where dairy farms or logging provides habitat.
Part of the charm of hunting grouse and woodcock lies in the challenge. Part of it lies in the areas they inhabit. The second growth woodlots, the brooks trickling down an alder-lined run on a wooded hillside, the abandoned orchards with the pungent smell of fallen apples all seem like a natural place to spend an autumn afternoon.
In the past 40 years we have lost about 80 percent of the best grouse habitat in New York State. By no coincidence, grouse numbers have declined about five percent a year in that same time. Grouse, like many other species such as snowshoe hares or cottontail rabbits thrive best in early succession (i.e. young) forests.
The emergence of second growth forests in abandoned pastures or clear-cut areas creates a growth of briers, vines, and brush like chokecherries, etc. This creates habitat by providing cover from predators as well as food. This is especially important for young birds since they feed on insects, as well as buds, berries, etc.
It is the breeding success and subsequent numbers of young birds that provide hunting opportunities as well as the continued growth of population. Studies show that 80 percent of the birds will not survive until the following year.
Hunting grouse behind a close ranging, pointing dog like a Brittany Spaniel is one of the most pleasant ways you can spend an autumn afternoon. Of course, hunters without a dog can be successful at grouse hunting, too. It involves walking through likely cover with gun at ready position and being able to get off a quick shot when one of these feathered rockets bursts out ahead of you.
Most hunters believe in pausing frequently while going through grouse cover. Experience tends to show that it is the pauses that make a grouse nervous, thinking it has been spotted, and causing it to flush. Take care and pause in areas where you have a reasonable chance at getting off a shot.
Some hunters prefer #6 shot because of the heavier pellets, while others insist on #7 ½. It really doesn’t take many, or very large pellets to bring down a grouse; the trick is getting your pellets to meet up with the elusive bird. For that reason many hunters like #7 ½ early in the season when the cover is thicker and shots are quicker on the theory that more pellets increases your chance of hitting one.
Although the season lasts until the end of February, it is late September and October that most of us relish. There is something special about being outdoors in autumn with falling leaves, geese overhead, and an autumn haze along the horizon. The setting and the pleasant days make a day afield chasing grouse something to remember until the next year rolls around
Deer Management Permit Deadline – September 30: Deer hunters are reminded that this weekend, September 30, is the deadline for applying for a Deer Management Permit. These permits which allow the holder to take an additional antlerless deer are available in specific Wildlife Management Permits. The actual number or odds of getting one are determined by lottery based on the DEC’s goal of stabilizing or reducing deer populations.
DEC Suggests Alternate Hikes For Autumn Foliage: Fall has arrived in the Adirondacks and people will be hiking to see the spectacular autumn foliage. The High Peaks Wilderness is always a popular destination and the last few years have seen huge crowds during fall foliage season. The DEC expects the peaks to see a lot of hikers again this season. For an enjoyable hiking trip away from the most popular high peaks, the DEC recommends the following hikes:
Rocky Peak, Baxter Mountain, Owl’s Head Lookout, The Crows, Whiteface Mountain, Scarface Mountain, Copperas & Owen Ponds, Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain, Catamount Mountain, Silver Lake Mountain, Bear DenMountain, Cobble Lookout, Clements Pond
All of these hikes offer a similar experience as hiking one of the more popular high peaks. Not only will you receive great foliage views, but since they’re lesser-known, you’ll be able to appreciate the natural surroundings without crowded conditions. Check the DEC website under trails for a description and location of each of these hikes.
The DEC recommends an alternate hike this fall because the popularity of the Adirondack High Peaks has led to an increase in hiking traffic recently. The hiking trails in the Eastern High Peaks to the Dix Range and Giant Mountain get extremely crowded during autumn weekends. When there are a lot of hikers at one peak, safety becomes a concern, as well as the amount of damage being done to the trails.
To help keep hikers and the high peaks safe, the DEC will turn people away if parking lots at the trailheads are full. Instead of traveling to a popular peak this fall, plan on trying an alternate hike!
Roger Fulton Books & Blogs: The noted guidebook author, Roger Fulton, recently biked the entire Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the historic Erie Canal. He published his experiences in the book “Bicycling the Erie Canalway Trail” which contains tips and advice for your own adventure.
To learn more about the history and the travels check his web site www.rogerfulton.com and under Adventure Blogs, see “Erie Canal Trek.” There is also a list of Roger’s other popular guidebooks that are available.