The early grouse season opened yesterday and runs until Nov. 27. Then there is a late season, Dec. 13-23 and then the very late season, Dec. 27-Jan 22.
I've found grouse hunters to be specialists. You know, certain vests, shells and dogs along with secret hunting haunts they wouldn't disclose under torture. If ever a committed grouse hunter offers to take you hunting with him, consider yourself among the very blessed.
I'm not a very good grouse hunter, and I've not been let in on anyone's secret location either. But grouse is my favorite fowl for the table, besides turkey, of course. Grouse zigzag around trees, zipping quickly behind brush to shield themselves when they are pushed out. The only straightaway shots I ever seem to get are at times when I'm not hunting grouse, during archery season for instance.
Just about the time the huntng season nears, the young grouse are shunned by their mothers and are forced to leave her and find their own territory in which to live. It's a confusing time for a young grouse, and he does some of the same dumb stunts that young black bears do when their mothers force them to strike out on their own. Grouse fly into windows or choose your backyard hedge to roost in or walk around forlornly, hoping they will not come into a face-to-face confrontation with an older, established male. Black bears looking around for a new home are the ones that most often wander into the middle of town during the day and climb a telephone pole and cause a commotion.
Life in the wild can be tough. A young grouse, for instance, while trying to find a new territory in which to live, usually runs into an older male grouse that has already claimed that patch of woods as its own. The older grouse has no mercy. He mercilessly thrashes the intruder until he leaves, and the poor youngster has to try again somewhere else and is likely to meet up with another grouse who will also beat him up.
Once a grouse establishes himself in a territory, his first order of business is to find a drumming log. It's the hub of his activities from now on. The drumming he does as he fans his wings faster and faster is not only to advertise for a mate but also to simply announce that this is his turf and everyone else stay off.
If you've ever tried to sneak up on a drumming grouse, you learned what a useless pursuit that is. They are about as sharp-eyed as a turkey and just as cautious. I just happen to be privy to the location of Dr. Gary Alt's favorite drumming log. I had the privilege of spending a few hours in that very blind, camera in hand, but naturally, no grouse showed up for me to film. Gary Alt, however, has hundreds of photos he has taken from that blind. Among other things, Alt is a gifted and prolific photographer.
I suppose hunting grouse behind a good dog is the premier shooting sport. For those of us who don't have dogs and have to just go out tramping the brush, hoping to put up a grouse, it's a tiring but fun hunt. Grouse always flush just as you begin to step over a downed log and are off balance. Frankly, every time a grouse flushes with that loud whirring of wings, it startles me, and I seldom recover in time to get off a shot.
Game Commission biologist Bill Palmer suggests that the Rothrock State Forest and some state game lands in our south-central region have ample cover for grouse, but can't promise they will be populated with grouse. He also suggests hunting reclaimed and abandoned strip mines for grouse.
The publication of the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) is called "The Drumming Log." According to that publication, the question was asked of them as to why more states, mentioning Pennsylvania specifically, don't do more timber cutting. The answer given by Mark Banker, RGS mid-Atlantic regional biologist, was that he personally preaches the doctrine of more cutting everywhere to every group he can. Timber cutting is profitable to every species of wildlife.
"In Pennsylvania, more timber would be cut if we didn't have to fence everything from deer," Banker said. "They eat the trees before they can grow in many places. It's extremely expensive and makes the timber sale less cost effective.
"Actually, Pennsylvania is one of the better states for timber harvest because so much public land is state land rather than federal land, and our timber is the best in the world. But a troubling thing there is that is a lot of bad forestry, that is, landowners are getting their land high-graded, which is taking the best timber out and leaving only the junk," Banker continued. "We have a very active program in Pennsylvania run by Penn State partly funded by RGS to educate landowners to prevent bad forestry and encourage good wildlife management."
The RGS publication conceded that in all states there is a vocal minority that dislikes timber harvesting of any kind and that makes things difficult for land managers.
Regardless, a walk with your birddog through the berry vines and aspen tangles and recent cutovers on a tangy fall day is one of nature's finest gifts. If you have to wear canvas trousers to get into the cover, you've found grouse hangouts.