Tips for Hunting Ruffed Grouse in the Winter


Stepping into the middle of a tightly wadded covey of quail will do things to your heart that would concern a cardiologist. But when a ruffed grouse erupts from beneath a mantle of unblemished snow, the percussion all but drops you in your tracks. You see the snow begin to move, and you think, What the… Then the world explodes. At this point, you’re faced with two problems: The first is pulling yourself together so you can bring your shotgun into play and function as a hunter. The second is finding your target through the dreamlike crystal cloud hanging in the air between you and the grouse—which is exiting the scene at an alarming rate.

That’s pretty much how things went down on a hunt in Wisconsin last winter. I’d seen a few meandering tracks in the fresh powder, and my English setter, Tina, had gotten birdy a time or two. But the makers of those tracks seemed to have vanished into the winter woods.

At last, we came to a little clearing. I turned to whistle for Tina, took a wading step through the snow, and had the sensation that I’d detonated a land mine. Now came the hard part.

Winter Wonderland

Hunting winter grouse is a feast-​or-­famine proposition. A grouse that’s lived to see December is a professional survivor. Tested by predators of ­every stripe, its nerves are cocked against a hair ­trigger. High alert is its ­default setting; at the slightest hint of danger, a grouse that feels vulnerable rockets for the nearest concealing cover. If this means diving headlong into the snow, so be it.

Grouse spend more time in trees in winter than they do earlier in the season. I’d suggest that you need to be prepared for this, but because no one’s that cool-headed, I’ll just say that you should be aware of the possibility.

The variable conditions typical of winter hunting complicate the equation as well. You might encounter deep snow, but you might as easily have bare, hard-​­frozen ground; one day might be bitter cold, another balmy. Ironically, a warm day without snow cover is the most challenging scenario. The walking is pleasant, but the birds are at their wild-flushing worst. This is the time to go to tighter chokes—­Modified in a single-barrel gun, IC/IM in a double—and to stick with No. 71⁄2 shot or, if you can find them, No. 7s.

When the powder is piled high and the thermometer plunges, on the other hand, surprisingly close flushes are the order of the day. Plus, once the swamps freeze, you can sometimes get to islands of cover that are inaccessible earlier in the season and find birds that may not have been shot at.

The spots where I’ve had consistent success on winter grouse all had a diversity of cover: a mix of classic brushy popple, conifers of different sizes, low-lying swamp and marsh, and grassy clearings. A south-facing slope is another plus, as is the presence of food sources other than the aspen buds, which are the staple winter ration of grouse. My Elhew pointer, Traveler, once pointed a December grouse that was feeding on ­delicate maiden­hair ferns growing where a cluster of tiny springs kept the ground clear of snow. To stumble on that patch of green in the middle of the winter-white forest seemed almost magical.

More tips and the complete Field and Stream article



7 1/2 & 8 shot shells in stock at Woodbury Cabela's


Was in Cabela's Woodbury picking up an order and decided to check on the ammo supply and they had some that could work for grouse.

10 Next-Level Ruffed Grouse Hunting Tips





















Experts from Park Falls, Wisconsin—the Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World—share their secrets for the great North Woods game bird  

With a population of fewer than 2,500 and a two-hour drive to the nearest city with more than 10,000 people, Park Falls, Wisconsin, tends to fly under the radar. Ask outdoor enthusiasts if the name rings a bell, though, and you might just get a nod of recognition. It’s the home of St. Croix Rods. But this little gem has another claim to fame. Known as the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World,” Park Falls is nestled in the heart of Wisconsin’s Northwoods and surrounded by more than a million acres of public land. An active logging industry creates quality grouse habitat and greater access to that wealth of land. Many of the area trails have been seeded with clover and gated off to prevent motorized vehicle use. It’s no wonder folks travel from all corners to chase birds here, and it’s no surprise that some have decided to hang around these parts a whole lot longer. As famed environmentalist Aldo Leopold once wrote, “There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed grouse hunting.” Local enthusiasts tend to agree. An unexpected downturn in this year’s spring drumming counts has left some scratching their heads, but the world headquarters of “winged dynamite” is filled with experts who’ve navigated the inevitable bird boom and bust before. And we’re picking their brains at an opportune time—just as they dig a bit deeper in their toolbox of go-to strategies.


1) Follow the Food

At the start of the season, these birds have a smorgasbord of options—bugs, berries, mushrooms, you name it. But that all changes along with the weather. “Go to green,” suggests Terry Ides, who has operated Ides Guides since the ’70s, “and keep going green.”

Concentrate on lowland areas until frost arrives. Next, move on to young aspen stands. As the leaves shrivel up and turn brown, follow the grouse toward berry brush and eventually to trails and open sunlight as they search for clover. After snowfall covers the clover, they’ll be budding up in the trees.

2) Hit the Edges

“Grouse, like a lot of birds, love edges,” says Jake Nelson, who has been guiding hunts in the Park Falls area for 15 years. “If there’s a tag alder swamp or a creek bottom, you’re going to find birds along that edge.” And when you get your first of the day, it’s worth your while to see what they’re feeding on. Figure that out, and you have an even better sense of what to look for and where to go.

3) Hunt Their Habitat

Grouse habitat is so specific because they are at the bottom of the food chain and cover is critical. Although there are exceptions to the rule, you’ll want to gravitate toward aspen cuts that are about 9 to 16 years of age, says Ann Jandernoa, who has a background in forestry and 15 years of experience as a guide.

Most recently, her focus has turned to expanding her Scout-N-Hunt Mobile Grouse Habitat Maps, which help pinpoint prime locations within public land areas. When you have the correct stand density, she explains, you have the correct canopy cover to protect against owls, hawks, and other predators. And when you have the correct canopy cover, you also have the correct food source on the ground.


4) Watch Your Pants

When wet, grouse feathers get sticky, which makes it more difficult to fly. That’s why they have to stay dry. If it’s going to be a hot day, there’s a timeframe—especially early season—when the dew burns off and the birds become more active, Jandernoa says. If your pants are soaked from a morning walk through the woods, pay attention as the day goes on. Activity will typically pick up as the humidity falls.

5) Go Early, Go Late

Grouse tend to loaf at midday. The best time, according to Nelson, is often in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when they move around, forage for food, and put a lot of scent on the ground.

See all 10 tips and the complete Outdoor Life article 



Wisconsin 2021 Ruffed Grouse Numbers on the Decline After Peak in Population Cycle

Ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin follow a fairly steady 10-year population cycle.

Through decades of surveys, the Wisconsin DNR has found the population usually peaks in years that end in 9, 0, or 1.

This spring’s drumming survey found a 6% decline in breeding males overall in the state. Drumming is the beating sound males’ wings make during mating season.

The northern half of the state saw a 7% decline. The central region saw no change. The driftless area saw a 33% increase.

Alaina Gerrits is the Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist with the DNR. She says that decline is nothing out of the usual.

“Now we’re just kind of going down that very characteristic downslide and it’s a typical normal thing. I think that 6% decrease isn’t anything we should be really concerned about. It’s something we were anticipating,” said Gerrits.

She said this means the population likely peaked last year or the year before.

The DNR doesn’t know for certain since it wasn’t able to the survey last spring due to the pandemic.

“It’s a little frustrating for sure because we’ve been doing these surveys for decades. To have one year missing is really atypical,” said Gerrits.

While the DNR doesn’t have the drumming surveys from last spring, it does have harvest data from last year’s hunt.

In 2020, there was an increase in harvested grouse.

“That’s kind of a piece of evidence that leads me to believe that we did peak last year,” said Gerrits. “Once we can have harvest information after this season is over in 2021, we’ll kind of be able to use that as a little bit of an index to see where the population is at as well.”

Gerrits said Wisconsin is home to a robust ruffed grouse population. For perspective, roughly 200,000 grouse were harvested last year.

Read the full WXPR article