Grouse hunt­ing is an Au­tumn treat

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - Leo Maloney

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

ShortCasts

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.

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