Decoding the mystery of Grouse Covert
Not to long ago while filming a documentary about cutting trees for forest health (and grouse habitat), I asked Northeast Regional Biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society, Andy Weik one basic question. How do you know this is a good grouse covert? Maybe this question seems a bit outdated for veteran upland hunter but as someone whole has fumbled his way through grouse hunting (with no veteran grouse hunters to help) I found it to be the “holy grail” of questions.
We all hear the answers like it needs to be 3-10 year old cutting and how all the pieces that surround that cutting interact to create good covert. That’s a lot of in depth knowledge for someone who wants to casually start grouse hunting and may not have someone to take them or more importantly explain what all these habitat factors may look like. So here are 3 really basic concepts that lead to the beginning of finding grouse.
Step One- There needs to be Grouse
As someone who lives just 20 minutes outside of Boston, I cannot say grouse are flying to my door step. The first most basic thing to understand is that we need to be geographically in a place where there is a grouse population. When I was younger there were plenty of grouse in southern New Hampshire but as the years have passed the habitat has faded and with it the grouse.
I literally start this process by doing something like Google search “where to hunt grouse in Massachusetts”. Low and behold this article pops up- Our Top 10 Fall Grouse Hunts. Sure enough this article 3 locations on state WMA right in Massachusetts that have grouse populations. So now that we know where we are driving where should we go look?
Step Two- A Sure Bet a Grouse Lives Here
When I asked the basic version of the question “How do you know this is a good grouse covert?” to Andy Weik, Northeast Regional Biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society I got an answer that was very easy to understand. As we awkwardly stood in this thick web of very small trees that were only a couple inches thick he said “If you are having trouble walking through it, its probably good grouse cover.”
For the first time the idea of grouse covert clicked for me. For years I had a preconceived notion of a more complicated answer and maybe a more elaborate looking landscape. But all that was in front of me were tons and tons of young trees. Now I am not saying this is the end all say all to grouse cover but what I am saying is this a great place to start understanding it.
Step Three- Drumming Logs
Male grouse will go afield in the spring and find large downed trees to “drum” during their mating season. More importantly is that those logs will be in these areas of “having trouble walking through it” habitat. This is the last sure bet to know you are actually in an area that has grouse. Every time you pass one of these downed trees look for large bird droppings on them. If it’s a drumming tree you will in fact see Ruffed Grouse droppings on it, giving us that last confirmation that we are on the right track to becoming a grouse hunter.