Finally, I made it out with some friends to the ruffed grouse haunts of northwestern Wisconsin for a day of flushing fun. It was the perfect fall day, leaves still being stripped from the trees, and just cool enough to make our long walks extra comfortable.
We covered a lot of ground, but flushed only four or five birds in total. It wasn’t until the end that I finally shouldered my gun. With no thundering wing-beat warning, a bird glided directly toward me with its wings set. I cracked off one shot and missed when the bird was merely 10 feet from the end of my Versa Max’s “flooded timber” choke tube, but followed through with a successful second shot as I swung with the bird to my left. Many miles and hours of hunting for one decent opportunity—that’s ruffed grouse hunting, and I love it.
It took me a few years of walking in the grouse woods to truly absorb and practice a critically important concept: Take it slow. When I first started chasing drummers, I thought it was advantageous to cover as much ground as possible, which meant high-speed pursuits. I can’t imagine how many grouse I still manage to walk by without so much as a hint of their presence, but in my fast-walking days I’m sure there were an absurd number of birds that snickered as I cluelessly cruised by their camouflaged hideouts.
Walk slowly, keep your eyes open, and most importantly … be sure to take it all in. The grouse woods are an enchanted world of their own.