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Spruce Grouse: Game Bird Profile

Regardless of what name you know it by, the spruce grouse is an enjoyable target for many bird hunters in northern latitudes.

Spruce Grouse: Game Bird Profile

While sometimes referred to as “fool hens” because of their tendency to not fly when disturbed, spruce grouse can prove challenging to locate for those hunting with gun dogs. (Photo By: Double Brow Imagery/Shutterstock.com)

The spruce grouse, Canachites canadensis, is another grouse species that is a member of the family Phasianidae. Depending on where you grew up, you might also know the spruce grouse by one of its other regional monikers—Canada grouse, spruce hen, or even “fool hen.” The latter name, of course, was bestowed by early frontiersmen because of the relative tameness of the species, which could often be taken with a club or stick.

Spruce Grouse Range

Many unfamiliar with this species tend to think the spruce grouse exists in very small populations in a limited range of the far northwest portion of the United States. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as the bird’s year-round range encompasses about as much land mass as the “Lower 48.”


The spruce grouse is, indeed, found in the far northwest U.S., inhabiting parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Unbeknownst to many, however, the bird also has a known range in other portions of the country, including parts of Minnesota, northern Michigan including the Upper Peninsula, a small swath of northern New York, parts of northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and the northern half of Maine.

The vast majority of spruce grouse range is across nearly all of Canada, with exception of the south-central Canadian prairies. The bird’s range reaches all the way up to Alaska, where about 80 percent of the state is included in its range, with mainly the far northern reaches devoid of the species.

Spruce Grouse Biology & Habitat 

The spruce grouse is a roughly chicken-sized bird most often found in evergreen forests throughout its extensive range. Males of the species are brownish black with white spots. During the breeding season, they display a red eyebrow comb as well as a well-formed tail fan. Females are less flashy with a brown/buff color and can sometimes be misidentified as a ruffed grouse. Males typically weigh around two pounds, with females somewhat smaller. Both exhibit a wingspan of about 21 inches. Their diet consists mostly of pine, spruce, and fir needles, which are very common in their typical haunts. They also feed heavily on blueberries during the time of year they are present.

hen spruce grouse
Be careful to properly identify a hen spruce grouse from a ruffed grouse in areas where both my be present, but not equally in season. (Photo By: BGSmith/Shutterstock.com)

At one time the bird we now know as the spruce grouse was considered two distinct species—spruce grouse and Franklin’s grouse—but now the latter is considered by scientists to be a subspecies of the former. Unlike some of the other grouse species that spend most of their lives on the ground, the spruce grouse is well-adapted to perching and moving about in trees. While indeed a forest bird, they are often found in younger stands of timber. 

The spruce grouse has a similar mating biology to many of its cousins. However, much of the male’s displaying is done on tree limbs instead of on the ground. To display, males flutter up onto a tree branch and make a whirring sound with their wings to attract a female. They also fluff up their plumage, and the aforementioned red eye comb. After breeding, females build a nest on the ground out of dead evergreen needles and leaves, where they lay four to nine olive drab eggs about 1.5 inches long. After an incubation period of 20 to 23 days, the young hatch. They are very precocious and are able to follow the female to feeding areas shortly after hatching.

male spruce grouse in display
Male spruce grouse display on tree limbs. Note the stark red eye comb. (Photo By: Double Brow Imagery/Shutterstock.com)

Hunting the Spruce Grouse

While sometimes referred to as “fool hens” because of their tendency to not fly when disturbed, spruce grouse can prove challenging to locate for those hunting with gun dogs. In the U.S., Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, and Washington have open seasons for spruce grouse. The season in Alaska typically opens in early August, with the other states opening at the very end of August or first of September. Make sure and check the hunting regulations for the state where you intend to pursue spruce grouse before planning a hunt. 

Check Out the Author's Guide to Finding Public Land

For hunters with gun dogs, target forested areas with plenty of evergreen cover in early to mid-successional stages. Since the birds are often found in trees, hunting them can be a bit confusing to dogs until they understand the overhead cover is just as attractive to their quarry as that on the ground. In some areas, the birds rarely flush, making it quite difficult to get a shot at them on the wing. While some hunters prefer to hunt spruce grouse without a dog, many gun dog lovers would rather not hunt at all than go into the woods without their canine companion.

evergreen forest
Hunters in search of spruce grouse should focus on boreal and evergreen forests thick with conifer trees. (Photo By: Lillac/Shutterstock.com)

As with other grouse species, guns and loads are very personal considerations for spruce grouse hunters. Since most hunters won’t be taking many long shots in the thick timber, a 20- or even 28-gauge is sufficient for taking sprucies, however many prefer a 12-gauge for the added knockdown ability. Open chokes and shot sizes ranging from #6 to #7.5 shot are often preferred since these birds are on the larger side.

While most grouse species are considered to be excellent table fare, many people don’t like the taste of spruce grouse because of the bird’s extensive diet of evergreen needles. As with many species, habitat loss—not hunting—is the biggest conservation issue affecting the spruce grouse. 


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