There are several species of Grouse found throughout the world, with over 15 in North America alone. Those most frequently hunted include: the Sage grouse, Prairie grouse, Forest grouse, and Ptarmigan. The sage grouse occupy sage-brush steppe habitat that covers much of the Rocky Mountains and can be found in 11 states. The Prairie grouse once flourished throughout much of the West and Midwestern United States, but have since been in a slow decline. The prairie chicken member of this family is still hunted throughout the Midwest, and Sharp-tailed grouse are hunted throughout the West. Ptarmigan are predominantly found in Alaska and Northern Canada and are a very popular species to hunt in these areas. Traditional nesting grounds for all grouse are called leks, and are often hotspots for hunting.
Where To Hunt Grouse
The species of Grouse you wish to hunt will determine the best location. For Sage Grouse, western states like Montana and Wyoming are top destinations for the birds. These birds have long, pointed tails, with grey bodies, white underbellies, and yellow heads and sacs on their necks. These birds prefer to eat plants and insects, as they struggle to digest seeds.
When Considering Prairie chickens, Nebraska and Kansas have the largest populations and rarely disappoint. These birds have short legs, fat bodies and a short tail with mottled brown bodies. They feed on a variety of grains, insects, and fruits that are found in the grasslands they inhabit.
For Sharp-tailed grouse, Canada and Alaska are typically preferred locations, but there are some areas in the Midwest that hold good numbers of birds. Locations with short prairie grasses with some elevation change and brush mixed in is key for these birds. Typically, less than half of the land should be forested. The birds are mottled brown with white underbellies, with a black band on their head. They feed on a variety of plants, seeds, and grains, as well as some insects.
Ruffed grouse are more common and can be hunted from the Appalachians westward to Alaska and North to Canada. They are one of the smaller grouse species and are brown with dark colored bars on their neck and body. They prefer to live in forests made up of deciduous and coniferous trees, feeding on insects and seeds on the forest floor as well as the fresh buds on the conifers.
Finally, Ptarmigan are most often chased in Alaska and Northern Canada. These birds thrive on the tundra in the rocky areas above the tree line. These birds change colors depending on if they are breeding, with breeding birds having a mottled brown coloring with a red stripe above the eye and those that aren’t breeding being completely white except for the red stripe above the eye.
Grouse Hunting Techniques
All species of grouse are typically hunted using dogs, but techniques vary based on the species and the location they are hunted. Dogs can either be flushers or pointers, depending on how you would like to hunt. Hunters will slowly walk likely areas, such as places with tall grass, agricultural fields, or areas with dispersed thickets. If hunting with a pointing dog, the dog will either smell the bird and stop, “pointing” in the birds direction, and allow the hunter to get into position before flushing the bird. If using a flusher, the dog will run back and forth inside of shooting range of the hunter, and flush birds as he goes. This is a quicker style of hunting that requires the hunter to stay with his or her dog and constantly be at the ready, but more ground is covered using this method.
However, all species of grouse can be hunted without dogs. The same concept applies though, as hunters will slowly walk areas of high activity and attempt to get within shooting range of birds before flushing them.
It is important to know that grouse can often be flushed more than once. When first flushed, large congregations of birds will often break up into smaller groups and scatter. If the hunter watches them carefully and can determine where each group landed, the smaller groups can often be flushed individually and give the hunter a better chance at knocking down multiple birds.
Grouse Hunting Regulations
The regulations surrounding grouse hunting are both species and location specific. However, several rules apply in most situations. First, shotguns must hold no more than three shells. Bag limits vary from state to state and sometimes from unit to unit, but limits typically average between 2 and 5 birds. US Fish and Wildlife often requires that hunters are HIP certified (Harvest Information Program), which simply requires that a hunter fills out some basic paperwork that assists with future management of upland birds.