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  • Writer's pictureNorth Dakota Wildlife Federation

Ruffing It

With ruffed grouse numbers still near their cyclical high this fall, opportunities to chase

the thundering wing beats of this popular game bird abound from the aspen stands of

northeastern Minnesota to the forests of the Rainy River drainage, to the Turtle

Mountains and Pembina Gorge areas of northern North Dakota. If you’re just starting

out after ruffies or are looking to get back on the trail after autumns spent chasing other

upland birds, what follows are some tips that will help you in your quest.


The ruffed grouse presents a shot unlike any other bird. Generally, old logging roads

and forest paths where these birds are encountered are rarely wider than 10 yards

across with birds usually zipping from one side and into the other, or just off the path in

the trees, providing a fraction of a second for a good shot, if any. Additionally, the

corridors between stands of aspen and pine or along a swamp – preferred edges

thunderbirds call home – provide little time to think about the shot.

To overcome the bird’s home-field advantage, it is important to get some practice in

before hitting the trail. Learn to take reaction shots at your local trap range, limit your

window of shooting by using shooting windows which restrict your movement. Better

yet, visit a facility which has a “grouse alley” type shot, where a sporting clay is flung

quickly across an opening in the nearby woods. Any time of shooting will help your aim,

but these specific shots will hone your skills for the snapshooting required when

pursuing these woodland birds.

Open Up

Along with a quick shot, the delivery of a wide cloud of pellets will up your chances of

connecting with your quarry. Utilize modified, improved cylinder and even skeet chokes

if available on your shotgun. Recognize that birds can flush very close, requiring a quick

dispersal of shot to cover an effective area. The faster the shot spreads over the first

ten to twenty yards, the better your odds are of connecting through the woody cover at

close range. All it takes is one or two well-placed size 7½ pellets to connect, the more

you can get out there into the bird’s path, the better.

Go Off Road

Too many times I’ve watched road hunters roll down a gravel road in their pickups just

before sundown, tossing beer cans out the windows with their shotgun at the ready,

despite the illegality of the situation. A couple times I’ve walked just a few minutes

behind an individual on an ATV with his firearm in the plastic scabbard at his side, only

to flush the birds he breezed by in his hunting efforts. A noble bird such as the ruffed

grouse deserves to be met on its terrain in honorable fashion, not unceremoniously

jump-shot from a truck or four-wheeler.

The key to great grouse hunting is to put in some extra leg work and visit those trails

where trucks and ORVs can’t go. The winding one-person path can lead to the promised

land when it comes to ruffed grouse, and the only way to get there is on foot. Those

boggy areas that would prevent motorized travel generally can be skirted on foot in the

late season, providing you access to a whole new habitat that hunters who stick to their

wheels just won’t have. Be ready to walk a few extra miles, and do it slowly, pausing

often in order to bag a few extra birds each season. Under a canopy of red, orange and

gold, there are few other afternoon walks as beautiful or as exciting when the leaves are

scattered by a flushing grouse.

Get an Edge

Key in on places where old growth meets new, where clearings occur and where water

winds its way through the woods. Look for distinct areas of forest management, maybe

where pine meets aspen, or where mature popples bump up against young trees just

establishing themselves. These spaces, along with water sources and terrain can

provide a pattern to the area in regard to where birds locate and can be found time and

again. Use a GPS to mark flushes on each trail and revisit them on your next walk; that

way you’ll be a step ahead of the game later in the season.

Dog It

Watching a dog twisting and turning around and through bushes, trunks and leaf litter

before sending a ruffed grouse booming up through the trees is one of the great sights

to behold each fall. Get your hunting buddy in on the action and introduce his nose to a

new quarry. They are invaluable in flushing this bird which is fond of staying put until

long after the dogless hunter has walked on by, and in finding a wounded one that

might otherwise be lost after the shot in the browns and grays of the forest floor.

While the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of thousands of acres of public

forest land filled with good numbers of birds this season. Be ready with these tips and

learn a few new tricks of your own chasing the thunderous flush of the ruffed grouse…in

our outdoors.

The ruffed grouse season starts on Sat. Sept. 12 in North Dakota, and Sat. Sept. 19 in


By: Nick Simonson


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