Moving into the center of a tightly wadded covey of quail will do issues to your coronary heart that might concern a heart specialist. However if you’re searching late-season grouse and a chook erupts from beneath a mantle of unblemished snow, the percussion all however drops you in your tracks. You see the snow start to maneuver, and also you suppose, What the… Then the world explodes. At this level, you’re confronted with two issues: The primary is pulling your self collectively so you’ll be able to carry your shotgun into play and performance as a hunter. The second is discovering your goal by means of the dreamlike crystal cloud hanging within the air between you and the grouse—which is exiting the scene at an alarming fee.

That’s just about how issues went down on a hunt in Wisconsin final winter. I’d seen a number of meandering tracks within the contemporary powder, and my English setter, Tina, had gotten birdy a time or two. However the makers of these tracks appeared to have vanished into the winter woods. Finally, we got here to somewhat clearing. I turned to whistle for Tina, took a wading step by means of the snow, and had the feeling that I’d detonated a land mine. Now got here the exhausting half.

Associated: The ten Finest Shotguns for Grouse Looking

Learn how to Hunt Late-Season Grouse

A ruffed grouse pauses in a snowy patch of Penn­sylvania woods. Pictures on the Wildside

Late-season grouse searching is a feast-​or-­famine proposition. A grouse that’s lived to see December is knowledgeable survivor. Examined by predators of ­each stripe, its nerves are cocked in opposition to a hair ­set off. Excessive alert is its ­default setting; on the slightest trace of hazard, a grouse that feels susceptible rockets for the closest concealing cowl. If this implies diving headlong into the snow, so be it.

Grouse spend extra time in bushes in winter than they do earlier within the season. I’d counsel that you want to be ready for this, however as a result of nobody’s that cool-headed, I’ll simply say that you ought to be conscious of the chance.

The variable circumstances typical of winter searching complicate the equation as effectively. You may encounter deep snow, however you may as simply have naked, hard-​­frozen floor; someday is likely to be bitter chilly, one other balmy. Sarcastically, a heat day with out snow cowl is probably the most difficult state of affairs. The strolling is nice, however the birds are at their wild-flushing worst. That is the time to go to tighter chokes—­Modified in a single-barrel gun, IC/IM in a double—and to stay with No. 71⁄2 shot or, if you’ll find them, No. 7s.

When the powder is piled excessive and the thermometer plunges, then again, surprisingly shut flushes are the order of the day. Plus, as soon as the swamps freeze, you’ll be able to generally get to islands of canopy which might be inaccessible earlier within the season and discover birds that will not have been shot at.

The spots the place I’ve had constant success on winter grouse all had a range of canopy: a mixture of basic brushy popple, conifers of various sizes, low-lying swamp and marsh, and grassy clearings. A south-facing slope is one other plus, as is the presence of meals sources apart from the aspen buds, that are the staple winter ration of grouse. My Elhew pointer, Traveler, as soon as pointed a December grouse that was feeding on ­delicate maiden­hair ferns rising the place a cluster of tiny springs saved the bottom away from snow. To detect that patch of inexperienced in the midst of the winter-white forest appeared virtually magical.

Learn Subsequent: The ten Finest Gun Canine for Ruffed Grouse Looking

The Huge End

I obtained fortunate that day when the grouse exploded from a snow roost. As a substitute of utilizing that glittering cloud of flakes as a smokescreen, the grouse made a tough left flip and got here into such clear view, I may rattling close to rely the feathers in its rusty-brown fan. It was making for the apple tree, however I overtook it with the muzzles of my 16-​gauge Fox, pulled the ahead set off, and folded the chook cleanly. One other cloud now hung within the wintry stillness, this one composed of feathers.

Associated: Learn how to Hunt Grouse—All the pieces You Have to Know

3 Winter Grouse Looking Ideas

1. Discover Late-Season Grouse By Discovering Corn

corn on a stalk.
Cornfield edges could be late-season hotspots for grouse hunters. Aleksandar Kitanovic/alamy

Some tight-lipped late-season grouse hunters know a secret which you can boil down to at least one phrase: corn. In areas the place conventional woodland grouse vary and ag lands quilt collectively, grouse, whereas not grain eaters by nature, will slip out of the thick stuff and fill their crops within the stubble. Not solely can cornfield edges grow to be winter grouse hotspots, they will additionally present thrilling mixed-bag capturing for bonus birds equivalent to pheasants and Huns.

2. Hunt Late-Season Grouse by the Solar

Winter grouse spend a great deal of time in thick conifer cowl that gives safety from chilly winds and sometimes much less snow at floor stage. However there are particular days if you most likely received’t discover them there, and what makes all of the distinction is the solar. When winds are low and the solar is shining brightly, winter grouse transfer to open cowl to feed and take full benefit of the solar’s warming rays.

All of this makes for a great rule of thumb when searching late-season grouse. When the solar is shining, hunt the comparatively open dogwood and viburnum thickets, the groves of younger birch and aspen, and the overgrown orchards. When clouds roll in or winds whip up, head for conifers. And be prepared for grouse to rocket from the treetops. —Dave Hurteau

3. Beeline to the Finest Cowl

A ruffed grouse perched a the top of an aspen tree eats winter buds
Aspen buds are a key winter meals supply for grouse. Jen / Adobe Inventory

Ruffed grouse are likely to group up in winter, however this isn’t a social or safety-in-numbers factor; it’s just because the locations the place grouse could make a residing through the harshest circumstances are fewer and farther between, and so the birds are likely to congregate in pockets of prime winter cowl. This implies which you can get into grouse rapidly and keep away from cowl plenty of unproductive floor by specializing in locations the place two key issues come collectively: aspen bushes, as male aspen buds are a staple meals for winter grouse, and conifers, which the birds want for thermal cowl in addition to for roosting if the white stuff isn’t deep sufficient for snow roosting. Wherever good-sized male aspen bushes develop close to clusters of conifers—and particularly if different winter meals are close by—you’re not solely prone to discover grouse, however numbers of grouse. —D.H.

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