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River Valley Outdoors
A Walk in the Woods; October Grouse Hunting
Somehow, walking through a pungent-smelling forest of colorful leaves on a sunny and crisp October day mystically elevates my spirit to levels normally unknown.
Shuffling through the October forests, in search of Maine’s ruffed grouse, gets me in shape for deer season – clearing my mind and conditioning my body.
Locals call the fast-flying game birds partridge, but no matter what the name – this classy bird offers hunters great table fare, and always seems to create a difficult shot.
The tricky bird picks just the right moment to flush, usually when the hunter happens to be in the most awkward position. I don’t know how the flushing grouse does it, but they can figure out the exact angle to fly in order to put a huge tree or bush directly in between themselves and the frantic hunter.
Now I have most definitely seen some foolish partridge just sit there as a hunter approaches, to the point where I thought they might be a spruce grouse. The spruce grouse, a protected species similar to the partridge, doesn’t have a fear of humans, and has colorful red markings on its face that distinguish it from the ruffed grouse.
In spite of those rare occasions when a partridge foolishly sits around and waits for the hunter to shoot, most ruffed grouse will blast out of the brush before the hunter has any kind of a chance to mount and shoot their shotgun.
In the world of wingshooting, hunters often forget about missed shots, but always remember in stark detail the wonderful shot that drops the bird.
I have to admit that I have a near photographic memory of the vivid details of many of these “perfect” shots. Over the years, I have forced myself to attempt a similar habit of filling my memory bank full of the missed shots as well.
I believe that if I can visualize the missed shots, I may be able to correct a poor shooting technique and resolve that error in subsequent shots.
Every fall I get an ample opportunity to refill my missed-shot memory bank. The early October woods carry a large amount of colorful leaves, still attached to the trees, protecting the grouse and woodcock from my shot charge – at least that’s my excuse.
Examining my missed shots, I find that most of them involve a common problem. As the bird flushes, I don’t push my cheek to the stock before firing. At the recoil, I find myself looking over the top of the barrel at the target, with my face well off the stock. The bird gets a little scare from the shot charge whizzing over its head, and I’m left with the cold reality of another unproductive flush.
Bird hunters in the Androscoggin River Valley (ARV), no different than those around the rest of the state, often gather at the local coffee shops and lay out their predictions for the upcoming season. Most reports I hear from this area indicate that bird numbers happen to be on a slow rise.
Grouse numbers vary by region because breeding conditions also vary. The Western Mountain Region has had an average amount of spring rainfall, and grouse numbers should be average. The spring wasn’t too wet and survival rates should be fine.
Hunters in this region have an abundance of prime territory to hunt grouse. Almost anywhere on the horizon of colorfully-forested mountains that surround the ARV provides suitable habitat for this glorious game bird.
Grab the shotgun, lace the boots tight, and hit the woods. Take a walk through the colorful October woods and hunt for the most natural food available – Maine’s wild and tasty game bird, the ruffed grouse.