Late season hunting can be tough, especially if you’re in northern areas. The crusted-over snow makes for some seriously tough hiking for you, while grouse can simply skirt right across the top with ease. What can be a brutally tough hike for you is easy for that bird you’re after. So we’ve got some winter grouse hunting tips for you to give you an advantage!
Winter Grouse Hunting Tips
If you’re hunting ruffed grouse in the winter, it likely won’t be a surprise that they aren’t where they were in late September. The woods is almost unrecognizable between the fall and the winter. You might now be able to see 75 yards in areas where you had a hard time even seeing 10 yards before. Grouse are forced to adapt & overcome in order to make it through a harsh northern winter. You are going to have to do the same when you head out late season grouse hunting.
A New Form of Habitat
In order to combat freezing temperatures & frigid winds, grouse have to find new forms of shelter in the winter. Where they used to simply roost in mature trees to stay out of the way of predators, now they have to stay warm as well. During this time of year, grouse will actually burrow into snow banks where it is deep enough (typically more than 10 inches) & use the snow for insulation. It’s a far cry from where they were spending the evenings just a month or two ago.
If the snow isn’t deep enough, they’ll typically try to find the densest trees they can find. That means if you’re late season grouse hunting you’re going to want to be on the lookout for spruce, cedar, or fir trees. If you’ve ever hunted around coniferous trees like this before, you’re probably well aware that grouse will typically flush on the opposite side of these trees. Hunt in pairs so that you can try to bracket these pockets, and hopefully one of you will get a shot!
A Chance To Sleep In
It might be cold as heck, but if you’re late season grouse hunting I have good news – you get to sleep in! With temperatures falling to absolutely frigid levels at night, grouse will try to wait for the warmest periods of the days to go out for a bite to eat. This typically means you don’t really need to be in the woods any earlier that 10:00 am on really cold days. I’m not saying you won’t find any birds before that, but it’s likely your most effective hours for winter grouse hunting are going to be between 10 and 2.
On A New Diet
Winters are tough on everyone but when you consider how little insulation grouse have it’s pretty impressive that they simple live through it, let alone thrive in it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there aren’t going to be many insects & berries around for ruffed grouse to eat during the winter, but pinpointing their food sources can be a little more challenging if you haven’t scouted the area well.
It’s during this time that ruffed grouse complete their transition to a diet that pretty much consists solely on the buds and catkins of the same small trees that they eat during the fall. These are the only real sources of food that they have left during this time of year, so if you’re trying to locate them you’ll definitely want to check out areas filled with these trees.
A New Setup In Your Shotgun
Since you’re likely going to be able to see farther, this is also a good time to change out the chokes in your shotgun. It is very likely that what used to be a 10-12 yard shot is now going to be closer to a 15-17 yard shot, so swap out your skeet choke for an improved cylinder. It’s also a good idea to switch from size 8 shot to a 7 or 7 1/2 when you’re late season grouse hunting.
Between the two of these, you’re going to give you a bit more range. With a much more open woods, you’re likely going to finally get that 2nd shot (if you need it) that was so elusive earlier in the year!
Another quick note about your shotgun. If you’re hunting in the winter & the snow you’re likely going to build up some moisture both on & in your gun. Make sure you take good care of it after each hunt just like you would if it was raining. You can read up on some great gun cleaning tips from our partner site GunsCleaner.
That about wraps it up for our winter grouse hunting tips! Be sure to dress in layers so you can warm up or cool down, and remember to stay safe out there!