Allagash Grouse Report
It’s October 26th, 2017, and my wife (Susan), four dogs and I have just returned from an annual ruffed grouse and woodcock hunt in Northern Maine. Here’s our report.
Our 2017 Maine bird hunting adventure began with a full week of hunting from a cabin in Allagash, Maine. This was our fourth consecutive year in Allagash. My wife and I like Allagash since it offers four separate gates into the North Maine Woods. The North Maine Woods is a three and one-half million acre hunting paradise. Owned by several paper companies, it is continually managed for timber which means there are varying ages of early successional timber growth…ideal habitat for grouse.
For many explained and unexplained reasons, last year’s grouse numbers were down significantly. Most bird forecasts (including mine), were predicting no improvement for this year. Due to those predictions, many traveling grouse hunters headed this year to the Great Lakes States for grouse hunting. Within minutes of arriving in Allagash, we were hearing positive reports on grouse numbers for this year. Reports were that during the previous week, hunters were getting 15 to 20 flushes per day. Last year we were lucky to get five grouse flushes in a hard day of hunting.
The first two days, our experiences were similar to the reports from the previous week. We had frosty mornings with temperatures reaching into the 40s. Scenting conditions were excellent. We were also seeing a number of road birds which were non-existent last season. However, as the temperatures began to rise and the ground became drier, the birds moved less and scenting became harder for the dogs. I personally feel that the best temperature for scent is in the 40s with some moisture, i.e., freeze at night or a light drizzle. Bacteria create scent on a bird and bacteria needs moisture and warmth to survive.
As the week progressed, temperatures continued to rise, ground became drier and the dogs located fewer birds. We did find birds in thick stands of conifers, however, in these situations, you only hear flushes, you seldom see the bird.
Susan and I don’t have a flush counter around our necks; however, we feel we had between 55 to 60 grouse flushes for six days of hunting in the North Maine Woods. A couple of days we searched for new coverts and may have only had the dogs on the ground two hours. Other days we had a dog on the ground for perhaps four to five hours. I feel it’s reasonable to say we averaged three flushes per dog hour. Since dog work is not involved, we don’t count road birds as a flush.
Speaking of dog work, we all know that the ruffed grouse is a very difficult bird for a pointing dog. Your dog must stop and point at the very hint of scent or the bird will run or flush before the hunter has an opportunity to see the bird and shoot. We had some very nice points (and holds) from the two older dogs (Dillon and Dena), one nice point (and hold) from 18- month-old Cordie and a couple of flushes for the five-month-old Blaze. For non-pointing dog readers, a hold means that the dog pinned and held the bird until the hunter arrives. This is the ultimate dog work on grouse for the pointing dog.
Even with the bird being pinned by the pointing dog, the hunter may still not get a decent shot. The ruffed grouse has an incredible sense to quickly put an obstacle between you and the bird immediately into the flush. And, even with a reasonable view of the flushing bird, the odds say that you’ll miss. A long time hunting friend breaks it into one-thirds. A dog will point only one-third of your flushes, of those one-third, only one-third will have birds still there when you arrive and of those one-third, you’ll get shots at one-third and you’ll only connect on one-third of your shots. Pretty poor odds but that’s what makes ruffed grouse hunting so exciting.
Next month we’ll continue to cover our 2017 bird hunting adventures.
Copyright 2017 Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller is a life-long sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German shorthaired pointer in 1961. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.