Dogless hunters will work hard for ruffed grouse, but you can kill your limit without the help of a dog.
There are many hunters who rely on their dog to hunt, especially while hunting ruffed grouse. But if you don't have a trained hunting dog or you want to challenge yourself as a hunter, try hunting dogless. Here are some tips to help you out.
Hunt Good Habitat
Hunters will have the most success in areas that contain quality ruffed grouse habitat.
Features to look for are: a source of gravel to help the birds' digestion, dense cover that offers protection from two-legged, four-legged, and winged predators, and a food source.
Areas that have recently been opened up by logging, wind, or fire and are reverting to early successional habitat are good places to look. A balance of cover and open shooting lanes will help a dogless hunter capitalize on more opportunities.
Cover Some Ground
Seasoned ruffed grouse hunters know that you kill birds with two things, your shotgun and your legs.
Dogless hunters will need to cover more ground per flush.
Slip on your most comfortable pair of hunting boots before heading out after ruffed grouse. Your feet will thank you at the end of the day.
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Move Quickly, but Stop Often
Without the aid of a pointing or flushing dog, hunters must flush birds themselves. Ruffed grouse use their camouflage as their first defense and will often let hunters walk right past.
Use this to your advantage by moving quickly through dense cover where mounting your shotgun and shooting would be difficult and stopping when you have clear shooting lanes.
Expect ruffed grouse to flush when you stop and hold your gun in the ready position. Stand still for 10-20 seconds and be ready, birds will often become nervous and flush.
Be Quick and Take Your Time
The typical shot opportunity at a ruffed grouse lasts 1-3 seconds, so be quick. That said, many hunters have a tendency to rush the shot and shoot before they are on target.
Focus on seeing the bird clearly and let your shooting form and muscle memory put the gun where it needs to be. You'll down more birds by waiting an extra half-second and seeing the bird clearly. This also offers a slightly longer shot which means a bigger pattern and a bigger margin of error.
Hunting Dead Birds
This is where a dog can really help. When dogless hunters shoot a flushing ruffed grouse, the hunt is only half done.
As mentioned, ruffed grouse have great camouflage and dead birds are often hard to find.
If you are hunting with a partner, stay where you were when you made the shot and direct your partner to where you marked the bird going down. If you are hunting solo, leave a blaze orange cap or brightly colored handkerchief at the shot location, mark the bird with a landmark and begin searching. If you can't find the bird, keep looking. It can take up to a half an hour to find downed birds.
Ruffed grouse are some tasty game birds. The flavor is similar to chicken with a touch of "wildness."
To clean a ruffed grouse, place your feet on the wingbutts, grab the feet and pull. This will remove the head, tail, entrails and feet. Use pruning shears to remove the wings and your ruffed grouse breast is ready to be prepared.
Ruffed grouse can be substituted for chicken or you can try something grouse-specific like bacon wrapped ruffed grouse.
Don't let your bird-dogging friends fool you. You can kill ruffed grouse without a dog and have a lot of fun doing it. Get out in the thickets, burn some boot leather, and enjoy one of mother nature's greatest wingshooting challenges.