Hunting ruffed grouse in December

By Ken BaileyKen Bailey

Ruffie

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Best in: Ontario

Ruffed grouse, or ruffies as they’re affectionately known, are truly the royalty of our native upland game birds. They’re widely dispersed, challenging for hunter and dog alike, and unsurpassed on the table. What more could you ask for?

The best ruffed grouse hunting is in second-growth forests, where the birds can take advantage of the diversity of food sources in the understory. While they prefer the berries of many different plants, ruffed grouse will eat a wide variety of food, which helps explain their broad population range across the country. In particular, Ontario is generally acknowledged as providing more quality ruffed grouse habitat than any other province.

Hunters with dogs enjoy the best success, working the edges of suitable habitat while their canine companions nose through the tough stuff. Shots can be quick—and humiliating. As most grouse hunters know all too well, that heart-stopping explosion of whirring wings can test the skills of even the most experienced wingshooters.

Technique

Ruffed grouse hunting is all about covering ground near good food sources. Work the edges of old clear cuts, through second-growth forests and along alfalfa fields. Hunters in groups must always be aware of their partners’ positions, as flushed birds will often swing back to where they were originally flushed. If you think you know roughly where a bird landed, don’t be shy about following it and trying to put it up again.

Essential gear

I think 20-gauges are the ideal ruffed grouse smoothbores, choked either skeet or improved cylinder. Opt for 2 3⁄4-inch loads in #7 1⁄2 or #8.

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