I have a special place in my heart for late-season grouse. Ijust love hoofing it through the snow while following my Lab into the thickest,nastiest brush we can find to scratch out a feathered survivor. That stated, myfavorite month to enjoy the overall experience of grouse hunting is October.
The tenth monthof the year is a time of change, and there are plenty of reasons to unleashyour upland dog and get out there. But, it’s also important to remember thatwhile the hunting will likely be enjoyable, it won’t be easy.
No grousehunting really is, which is why it’s so fun. To tip the odds in your favor whenit comes to putting a few ruffs in the game bag, you’ve got to understand whyOctober rocks – and sucks.
Random Off-Trail Flushes
I don’t knowwhat percentage of grouse hunting occurs on two-tracks and logging roads, butI’m confident in saying that it’s high. Maybe in the 75-percent range, if I’mbeing honest.
I love that fora couple of reasons.
While you canstill kill that trail-side grouse in October, a bird that might just be outpicking gravel or grabbing a bit of wild clover, you’re not going to find toomany easy ones. They are dead or pushed into the cover. That’s okay, becausewhile the hunting will probably be uneventful for the trail-walker, it won’t ifyou know where to walk in the cover.
I usually fireup onX and take a look at the public land I plan to hunt. Any hard or softedges between two types of cover catch my attention. If it has been wet lately,I tend to look for higher ground hard edges. If it has been dry, I’ll dip intothe alders or traditionally lower soft edges. Basically, you’re looking forsome routes that will take you away from the easy birds and into areas where thegrouse haven’t been bothered or where they’ve been pushed due to the pressure.
Thick, But Not Too Thick
If you’re in afive-year-old clear cut, you probably feel like the walls are closing in. Ifyou run a flusher like I do, the birds that get up in that cover often onlyreveal themselves by their rapidly receding wingbeats. There is such a thing astoo thick of cover, which is entirely possible to find in October, especiallyearly in the month.
If you’rehunting where the grouse are, there will be plenty of times where you won’t beable to get off a shot. That’s okay. If you’re flushing birds, take note andsee if you can stick to the pattern. Thick stuff with birds in it is muchbetter than thin, open woods that is a grouse desert.
Naturally, asthe month progresses everything gets a little easier to hunt. This means thatwhile one spot in early October might nearly be a lost cause, a few weeks laterit’ll be on fire. Hunt where the birds are and while you might listen toseveral wing it out of your life without ever slipping off the safety, you’llalso probably run into that bird that just sits tight and lets you touch oneoff as he erupts.
Weather canvary greatly in October, but the reality is that nearly every day of the monthwill feature at least a couple hours that are comfortable for hiking throughthe brambles. In addition to bird hunting, I bowhunt the north country a lot inOctober and I see grouse on the move all of the time early and late. They seemto cover a lot of ground in the coolest daytime temps, and that can work toyour advantage.
I like to getmy dog out about 8 a.m. and hunt a spot for a couple of hours. The midday,which tends to be the hottest part of the day, is a good time for lunch and anap. As the shadows grow a bit longer and we are down to a couple of hours ofshooting light, it’s time to hunt a new spot.
You can huntall day, and I’ve certainly done it many times, but I’d rather not burn my dogout when the hunting will potentially be so-so. Time your hunt right andOctober will seem amazing, push it through the off-times and it’ll feel like awaste of time, so choose wisely.
October is awonderful month for grouse hunters, but it does require some work. It’s notlike you’ll be able to walk any trail you choose in the north country and takeeasy shots birds as they glide across an opening. You’ll have to put in sometime off of the trails while busting brush in the mornings and evenings. If youdo, you’ll feel like you’ve earned your birds and tapped into the very bestgrouse hunting that this month offers, which can be awfully good.