Shrinking habitat ruffles ruffed grouse future

Although I enjoy hunting, be it for wild turkey, deer, rabbit, duck, squirrel, etc., if I were forced to pursuing just one game species, it would be ruffed grouse – often called the "king of the uplands." I savor everything about these russet feathered rockets. I love hearing a cock bird "drumming" in the spring, and the gorgeous autumn habitat I seek them in. Or watching a good grouse dog working through it; then the explosive flush that, regardless of the thousands of times I'm subjected to it, still startles me. And last, but not least, I enjoy grouse meat as table fare (not that I've harvested all that many each year)

You might think it's a bit strange that I'm writing about grouse – a fall hunting topic – at this time of the year, but I'm elated that, for the first time in several years, we've had two excellent spring nesting and poulting seasons back-to-back. Another reason is, I'm concerned that quality grouse habitat is continuing to shrink throughout the much of the state.

Fellow-outdoor writer and good friend, Will Ryan is fond of noting that "deer hunting is enjoyable but serious business, while grouse hunting is enjoyable and not serious business." Leave it to an old Adirondack duck-shooter to come up with that little gem. But in fairness to Will, he's also an avid grouser ... or used to be when there were more excellent coverts and birds inhabiting them. Now he's more of a casual grouse hunter, similar to how many of us approach the sport these days.

Great grouse habitat is somewhat like female Olympic gymnasts: Both seem to have reached or passed their peaks by the time they're in their late teens. If many of the once productive grouse covers I hunted years ago were competitors, they'd now be forced to participate in the Senior Olympics.

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