The most prized Upland-Game-Birds of upland game hunters in the northern belt of states is the ruffed grouse, one of a large family of birds that inhabit North America.

In the same family is the pinnated grouse commonly known as the prairie chicken. Other members of the family include the dusky grouse of the west, Franklin's grouse of the Pacific states, the Hudsonian grouse of northern Canada, sharp-tailed grouse of the western plains states and their numerous subspecies. In the Northeast they are found in company with the blue and spruce grouse. Ruffs weigh from one to two pounds average and are about sixteen inches in length.

grouse4 The reason for singling out this particular Upland-Game-Birds for study is the extreme esteem that hunters and naturalists hold for this most canny bird of the north woods.

Books have been written about the craftiness of this bird and the ways and means of finding and outwitting him. The grouse vies for the honors with the Chinese pheasant as to which is the number one sport bird.

To be sure there are more who hunt pheasants simply because they are more plentiful and easier to shoot, because they are largely farm birds. The grouse, on the other hand, is a creature of the wild forests and finds his home in deserted farms and open areas where the loggers have left brush growth in the forests.

Unlike most Upland-Game-Birds the grouse is almost impossible to raise in captivity, so its restocking is much more difficult than with other Upland-Game-Birds. Mother Nature, then, is the grouse's only guide, with man its best friend and protector.

Nature takes care of the grouse by constantly varying the cycle of abundance. When the Upland-Game- birds become too crowded in a certain area, she steps in with a disease which all but eliminates the species. Then, for a few years, the number of Upland-Game-Birds gradually increases again.

grouse3 Most conservation authorities have tried to follow these natural cycles in an effort to keep the Upland-Game-Birds at a more even level.

Grouse are readily identified by the black and brown-banded fan-shaped tail, the two tufts or ruffs on each side of the neck and the crested head. Both male and female are colored alike. There are two general hues of color, one gray and the other rust-red.

The most interesting time of the year is in the spring, when they are in the mating mood and when they can be seen and photographed while drumming on a log to attract a female. The whirr of their wings can be heard for some distance in the woods, as they vibrate their flight feathers in a terrific dance to impress their mate-to-be.

At this time it is possible to approach with the camera for some excellent photos of the courtship.

The grouse's habitat is the deep woods rather than the open fields. They are sometimes quite tame in the wilderness, but are extremely wary when found in the vicinity of even sparse farm populations. Being a member of the chicken family, their habits are not unlike that of chickens.

They roost on the ground or in trees and scratch for food, which is 90 per cent vegetable and 10 per cent insects. They often take dust baths along country roads, where they also eat gravel for their gizzards.

Unlike chickens, however, they do not travel in large flocks, preferring to be individuals. The hunter is lucky to flush more than two at a time in the deep woods. Four is the most I have ever seen in the air at one time. They were all young birds who had been raised together in one patch of woods.

Their flight when aroused is quick and erratic. They explode from the brush and quite often the gunner or observer is shocked momentarily because of the sudden sound coming from almost beneath his feet.

The course of flight from there on out will be one of zig-zags through the leaves and branches as the bird tries to put as much natural cover between himself and you.

No two grouse ever rise in the same way, so there is no characteristic flight to study in order to be a better shot. Hunters who are successful on Upland-Game-Birds shoot instinctively. Somehow their shotgun barrels seem to point in the right direction, with enough lead to deliver the shot pattern on target.

Grouse are best hunted with dogs, preferably a springer spaniel or perhaps an English setter. These dogs should be trained for grouse specifically, since grouse act entirely differently than pheasants or other Upland-Game-Birds. A good quail dog is often at a loss, due to a strange and complicated terrain.

The perfect experience is enjoyed with a good dog who is able to locate a grouse on the ground and hold it on point until the hunter moves up to flush it. If the bird is shot, its coloration blends so perfectly with the forest floor that the dog, with his keen sense of smell is relied upon to fetch it.

Grouse usually live to an age of about six years and are able to stand the severe winters of the northern climes. They are smart too, and in recent years boldly hold out in the face of real estate developments and advancing civilization.

The key to their survival is food, mostly berries and seeds, and a good supply of unpolluted water. They prefer to live near the hemlock and pine forests where they can dodge their predators and take flight into the thick trees. Near their protective haunts, they must have a generous food supply year-round.

To learn more on a specific gamebird click on a link below to visit the webpage.

Prairie-chicken quail pheasants chukar dove or "the pigeon"
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