Posts Tagged ‘ruffed grouse’

What ruffed grouse need to thrive

Young forest habitat:


And no, the turkeys aren’t killing all the grouse!

I’ve never seen turkeys in the same part of the forest as ruffed grouse.


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golden retriever and grouse

This is the photo from the cover of James Lamb Free’s Training Your Retriever. The book is a classic treatise on training retrievers for North American waterfowl trials with some discussion training them to hunt pheasants.

It does not show you how to use a golden retriever to hunt ruffed grouse. I considered it false advertising!



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pavel killed thunderchicken

Dave has had Pavel out “bark-pointing” ruffed grouse in Alberta.

The other dog is Riley, a Swedish vallhund gnome wolf.

Pavel treed two grouse, and Dave shot both.

But one wound up falling into a deep hole where the only thing that could get it would be a little terrier or maybe a ferret.



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More grouse tracks

This one is just hanging out in this little patch of woods.


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Ruffed grouse tracks


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Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

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Dave reports that Pavel bark treed his first ruffed grouse yesterday. He treed a second one but stopped barking, so Dave let that one live.

Camera 360

Happy killer!

Camera 360

Spare parts of the grouse...

Spare parts of the grouse… 

Given to the mighty hunting dog as a reward for his good work.  Just as they do in the taiga.

Given to the mighty hunting dog as a reward for his good work. Just as they do on the taiga. 

The Turtledog is making it in Soviet Canuckistan!




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From Walden (1854) :

What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are among the most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the very hue and substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the ground, — and to one another; it is either winged or it is legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves. The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them concealment, and they become more numerous than ever. That must be a poor country indeed that does not support a hare. Our woods teem with them both, and around every swamp may be seen the partridge or rabbit walk, beset with twiggy fences and horse-hair snares, which some cow-boy tends (pg 280).

From those of you not from New England, the word “partridge” does not refer to the gray or Hungarian partridge or to the chukar, both of which have been introduced as game birds.

The New England partridge is the ruffed grouse, and as Thoreau writes, it prefers to be in places where the forest has been cut and is now growing back.

The same can be said of the “rabbit” in Thoreau’s text, which in an earlier paragraph calls Lepus americanus, which is now the name for the snowshoe hare. At the time, cottontail rabbits were also called hares, even though we know they are rabbits. Snowshoe hares prefer to be in forests that are just starting to recolonize, and because the timber industry has fallen on hard times in West Virginia, our snowshoe hare population is now quite low.

Thoreau was writing a sort of requiem for the New England wild in that passage.

He wrote of men who hunted bears and “wildcats” in those same woods just a generation or two before.

Now, the only large wild predator left was the fox.

Thoreau was living at a time of rapid expansion. New England was the first part of the US to experience the Industrial Revolution. Concord is but a few miles from Lowell, where there were massive textile mills, and the new economy demanded new labor.  New England was the least diverse part of the British colonies that became the United States, thanks largely in part to their history as Puritan theocracies.

But in this new economy, there was a massive influx of Irish laborers, many of whom were escaping the horrors of the famine.

The Yankee world was being transformed in so many ways. The land, the society, and the economy were now in a state of revolution. The old kingdom of the bear and the “wildcat,” became replaced by the kingdom of the “partridge” and “rabbit.”

Of course, Thoreau never lived to see the world come full circle. The black bear population has rebounded throughout the East in recent years. They are now becoming more common in Eastern Massachusetts.

Like in West Virginia, Massachusetts’s farmland is turning back into forest once again, and now the bears have plenty of habitat for themselves.

Thoreau would never have imagined that at some point, nature would cause the revolution to decay and bring back the kingdom of forests and bears.


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featherquest Rocky with grouse

This is Featherquest Rocky retrieving a grouse in either Massachusetts or Maine.

He was bred by Rachel Page Elliot, who was one of the first people to introduce golden retrievers to New England.

She was also one of the driving forces in the golden retriever breed in North America, and all the dog show people know about her work on canine gait and structure, which is called Dog Steps (1973).

This image comes from From Hoofbeats to Dogsteps: A Life of Listening to and Learning from Animals, her memoir of her life raising golden retrievers and Connemara ponies, as well as her research into canine gait.

This dog is only nine months old. Most likely, the dog flushed the grouse, for this particular species is unlike the various grouse species of the British Isles. It is usually solitary and is only found in the densest of thickets. The notion that one could drive them the like the British do red grouse is simple folly. To hunt one of these birds, most people use pointers or setters of some sort, but those who use a flushing dog use one that ranges in really close.

That’s because these birds will hunker down and won’t move until the very last second, and they are so well camouflaged that you can’t see them until you’re very close.

Some dogs are very keen about flushing them. My first golden retriever would always flush one if she could find it.

Miley has flushed only one and that was on accident.

I should note that one can tell this is a ruffed grouse by the banding on the tail feathers. In most of the Eastern US, the ruffed grouse is the only species of grouse one can find.

In my part of the country, it is the only native game bird that still exists in decent numbers. Wild turkeys, which are much more common, are actually considered “big game” by my state’s DNR, and they are regulated in much the same way that white-tailed deer and black bears are– very strict bag limits and a requirement that they be checked in at an official game checking station (which is usually a convenience store or gas station!).

The bobwhite quail that thrived during West Virginia’s agrarian age now exists only in very small relict populations. I’ve never seen a wild-born bobwhite quail here, and the only wild ones I’ve ever seen were coming out of a cornfield in eastern North Carolina.

My grandpa told me that the last ones he ever shot were in a sweet corn patch behind his parents’ house in the late 1970’s.

The late 70’s and early 80’s  were years of harsh winters for most of the Eastern US, and when the fur market collapsed at about that same, raccoon and fox numbers shot up.

And there simply weren’t enough cornfields and old brushy pastures to hold the bobwhites.

A few years ago, my uncle tried to stock bobwhites on my grandpa’s property. He bought 96 of them from a breeder in Georgia. He turned them out, and we soon were surrounded by singing little birds that weren’t much larger than pigeons but tamer than virtually any domestic chicken.

The local foxes, feral cats, and hawks were very appreciative of this fine repast!

Ruffed grouse, though, are hardy survivors.

Natural selections has forced them to become very good at hiding in this mesopredator-infested world.

The decline of the bobwhite and its empire of fields has been met by the rise of the brushy redoubts of the thunder chicken.

They live like little avian outlaws, largely undetected until someone goes out in pursuit of them with a dog and shotgun.









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Startled Grouse-Golden retriever Owen Gromme

This scene makes me quite nostalgic.

I had a dog that looked just like this one who loved to flush ruffed grouse. If there was a grouse in the woods, she’d find it!

Americans have no real problem with using retrievers as spaniels. In fact, because our hunting culture is much more egalitarian than that of the UK, it would make sense that Americans would prefer to have a dog capable of doing multiple tasks.

After all, waterfowl hunting in the United States is very strictly regulated by federal law, and the limits and seasons are quite finite.

Why own a dog that only hunts those birds?

All of these retriever breeds are very easy to train dogs, so we’ve usually let them moonlight as spaniels (and other things, including coonhounds!)

In fact, golden retrievers in particular are often used solely as flushing dogs in parts of the Midwest, where their prowess in hunting grouse and pheasant and very high trainability makes some people prefer them over traditional spaniels.


 According to The Art Barbarians website, where you can see a much higher resolution image of this painting:

This flushing Rough [sic] Grouse And Golden Retriever was painted by and released as a signed and numbered Artwork on sale by Owen Gromme. Born in 1896 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Owen Gromme went to work at the age of 21 as a taxidermist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. After World War I, Gromme worked at the Milwaukee County Museum as a taxidermist, collector, photographer, movie editor, background painter, botanist, geologist, sculptor, and finally curator of birds and mammals. He retired in 1965 to devote full time to his painting. He first gained acclaim in 1945 when he won the Federal Duck Stamp competition. In 1963 Gromme completed to world acclaim a volume of scientific paintings called “Birds of Wisconsin,” He is referred to as the “Dean of American Wildlife Artists.” Owen Gromme died on October 29, 1991, at the age of 95.

Wisconsin and Minnesota were early bastians of the golden retriever in the United States, and a lot of working line dogs can be found in those two states today.



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