Although sometimes regarded as “wilderness” birds, Ruffed Grouse have no aversion to living in close proximity to humans if the cover gives them adequate security. In some areas of Ontario, Canada – Ruffed Grouse are more abundant in remote wilderness forests. They thrive best where forests are kept young and vigorous by occasional clear-cut logging, or fire, and gradually diminish in numbers as forests mature and their critical food and cover resources deteriorate in the shade of a climax forest.
Ruffed Grouse response to man varies greatly across their range, depending upon their experiences. In southern Ontario generally they are usually quite elusive and difficult to approach. Yet they can still be killed with a canoe paddle or thrown stones in NW Ontario wilderness forests.
When the ground is bare of snow, Ruffed Grouse feed on a wide variety of green leaves and fruits, and some insects. They have also been known to eat snakes, frogs as well. But when snow covers the ground as it does for most of the winter across the major portion of their natural range, Ruffed Grouse are almost exclusively “flower-eaters,” living on the dormant flower buds or catkins of trees such as birches and pin cherry bush’s.
Known as solitary in their social behavior they do not develop a pair-bond between males and females, although there is usually at least one hen in the woods for every male. Young birds, especially, collect in temporary, loose flocks in the fall and winter, but this is not equivalent to the covey organization of the quails and partridges.
Male Ruffed Grouse are aggressively territorial throughout their adult lives, defending for their almost exclusive use a piece of woodland that is 6-10 acres in extent. Usually this is shared with one or two hens. The male grouse proclaims his property rights by engaging in a “drumming” display. This sound is made by beating his wings against the air to create a vacuum, as lightning does when it makes thunder. The drummer usually stands on a log, stone or mound of dirt when drumming, and this object is called a “drumming log.” He does not strike the log to make the noise, he only uses the “drumming log” as a stage for his display.
The drumming stage selected by a male is most likely to be about 10-12 inches above the ground, in moderately dense brush, (usually 70 to 160 stems within a 10 ft. radius) where he can maintain unrestricted surveillance over the terrain for a radius of about 60 ft. Across much of the Ruffed Grouse range there are usually mature male within sight in the forest canopy overhead.
Drumming occurs throughout the year, so long as his “log” is not too deeply buried under snow. In the spring, drumming becomes more frequent and prolonged as the cock grouse advertises his location to hens seeking a mate. Listen to an example at the top of this page.
Courtship is brief, lasting but a few minutes, then the hen wanders away in search of a nest site, and there is no further association between the male grouse and his mate – or the brood of chicks she produces. A hen may make her nest more than 1/2 mile from the log of her mate.
Nests are hollowed-out depressions in the leaf litter, usually at the base of a tree, stump or in a clump of brush. The nest is usually in a position which allows the hen to maintain a watch for approaching predators. Sometimes hens will nest under logs or in brush piles, but this is less common, and a dangerous location.
A clutch usually contains 8 to 14 buff colored eggs when complete. Eggs are laid at a rate of about one each day and a half, so it may take 2 weeks for a clutch to be completed. Then incubation, which usually commences when the last egg is laid, takes another 24 to 26 days before the eggs hatch. A nest has to be placed so that it will not be discovered by a predator during a period of at least 5 weeks.
The chicks are prosocial, which means that as soon as they have dried following hatching they are ready to leave the nest and start feeding themselves. Grouse chicks are not much larger than a man’s thumb when they leave the nest. They are surprisingly mobile and may be moving farther than 1/4 mile a day by the time they are 3 or 4 days old. They begin flying when about 5 days old, and resemble giant bumble bees in flight. The hen may lead her brood as far as 4 miles from the nest to a summer brood range during its first 10 days of life.
Although grouse broods occasionally appear on roadsides, field edges or in forest openings, these are hazardous places for young grouse to be, and broods survive best if they can remain secure in fairly uniform, moderately dense brush or sapling cover.
The growing chicks need a great deal of animal protein for muscle and feather development early in life. They feed heavily on insects and other small animals for the first few weeks, gradually shifting to a diet of green plant materials and fruits as they become larger. Chicks grow rapidly, increasing from about 1/2 ounce midgets when hatched to 17-20 oz. fully grown young birds 16 weeks later. That is a 38 to 46 fold increase in weight. At 17 weeks of age, a Ruffed Grouse is almost as large and heavy as it will ever be.
Biologists and others who want to age Ruffed Grouse rely upon certain peculiarities of the molt of the primary flight feathers. The booklet A Grouse in the Hand explains this aging procedure. And following the first complete molt by a 14 to 15 month old adult grouse, there are no known physical characteristics which reliably identify the age.
When about 16 to 18 weeks old, the young grouse passes out of its period of adolescence and breaks away to find a home range of its own. This is the second and last time that Ruffed Grouse are highly mobile. The young males are the first to depart, when they range out seeking a vacant drumming territory, or activity center, where they can claim a drumming log. Most young males find a suitable site within 1.8 mi. of the brood range where they grew up, although some may go as far as 4.5 mi. seeking a vacant territory. Many young cocks claim a drumming log by the time they are 20 weeks old; and once they have done so, most will spend the remainder of their lives within a 200 to 300 yard radius of that log.
Young females begin leaving the brood one or two weeks later than their brothers, and they normally disperse about three times as far. Some young hens move at least 15 miles looking for the place where they’ll spend the rest of their lives.
Occasionally a hen and her brood will remain together as late as mid-January, but this is unusual, and most groups of grouse encountered in the fall and winter are composed of unrelated individuals who gather together temporarily to share a choice food resource or piece of secure cover.
In fall and winter some inexperienced young grouse frightened by a predator or something else, crash into buildings, trees or through windows in a so-called “crazy-flight.” Sometimes they are evidently simply trying to take a short-cut when they can see through two large windows on the corner of a house. After all, young grouse in their first fall have never been confronted by something that can be seen through but not flown through, such as glass!
All experienced Black Bear Outfitters have their little tricks to make their bear hunters hunt more enjoyable and also help with their success. If you are new to bear hunting you should know what you are up against. Every hunter wants a big trophy bear and this article should bring you a little closer to that goal, but remember, to thoroughly follow the advice of your outfitter, if you’ve chosen one, and, above all else: DO NOT DEVIATE from the routine they have already established.
Black Bear hunting to the outfitter is about luring bears to a target zone for their hunting guests by baiting with food the bears like such as high-carbohydrate foods. Bread, pasta and other high starch content foods are rare in nature but it’s what the bears want most so they can quickly store fat for the winter. It’s also about setting up stands at strategic spots where big bears have been scouted. Black Bear hunting for the hunter is all about stealth, with the two biggest factors being sound and most of all, smell.
Black Bear’s Sense of Smell: Olfactory Receptors
The Black Bear has the best sense on smell of any land walking mammal on Earth. It’s really hard for a human to comprehend how well a bear can smell as we basically have to stick our nose in the pot to smell the sauce. Comparing the amount of Olfactory Receptors between a human and a Black Bear is mind boggling.
Olfactory Receptors are microscopic bulbs on the end of nerves in a mammal’s nose. The more you have the better your sense of smell is.
6,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (6 million)
- Blood Hounds:
1,800,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (1.8 billion)
- Black Bear:
12,600,000,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (12.6 Trillion)
A Black Bear can smell 2100 times better than a human. In addition the Jacobson’s organ in their mouth can taste the air, adding to their brains perception. A mature Black Bear can smell your breakfast from 20 miles away if the wind is right. Big mature bears can smell better than smaller younger bears as their noses are larger and more developed. Bears also know what unnatural smells are and associate them with a human presence. This can explain why Black Bear hunters that are not fanatical about the way they smell rarely see big trophy bears. There are procedures you can do to minimize unnatural smells to keep the bears concentrating on the bait that the outfitter has put out for them. It is wise to check with your outfitter before applying anything new to the bait station that they normally don’t use.
1) Before your bear hunting trip; pick a couple of sets of clothes that you will only wear at the tree stand while hunting. Wash your clothes with scent-free detergent and when done, run them though the wash twice again with no detergent so they are well rinsed. This will ensure your clothes are scent free. If you live in the city and have chlorinated city water then go to a pet store and buy a small bottle of Aquarium Water Conditioner and add ½ oz. to the last rinse cycle you do with your clothes. The water conditioner will neutralize the chlorine in the water and keep the chlorine smell out of your clothes. Remember, they can smell 2100 times better than you so don’t feel silly getting fanatical. Then pack the clothes in a plastic bag to keep them scent free. If you consistently use fabric softener in your clothes dryer it’s best to hang your clothes up to dry because residual clothes softener might go on your clothes. If you are a smoker, do not smoke while wearing your hunting clothes.
Before we go to the next points you should be aware that Black Bears love the smell of mint. If you go on a camping trip in any of Ontario’s provincial parks the wardens will tell you not to keep mint toothpaste or mint gum in your tent because the bears will smell it and go after it. The bears craving for mint can be used to your advantage.
2) Think Mint: Go to one of those hippy tree-hugger heath stores and buy mint soap. The morning before the hunt take a shower using the mint soap. Brush your teeth with mint toothpaste. Chew mint gum while in the tree stand and if you really want to go all the way, have a glass of mint tea before the hunt and even keep a few bags of mint tea in your pockets. This will help cover up any scent.
3) Smoking: If you are a smoker and you smoke in the tree stand you are basically wasting your time if you expect a big trophy bear to come within sight. Wind direction can give you a little luck but it’s not something you should count on. It’s best to wear a nicotine patch while in the tree stand and if you need to; chew mint gum to keep your mind off smoking. Remember to brush your teeth and wash your hands and stop smoking before you put your scent free hunting clothes on. This would also apply to cigars and chewing tobacco as well.
Black Bear Hearing:
The shape of Black Bear’s ears is mainly responsible for their great hearing. When detecting sound based on volume a bear’s hearing is about four times that of a human. However, a bear can hear a much broader frequency range; both higher and lower frequencies. Rubbing of cloth or twisting of your tree stand can produce sounds that the bear can hear and the hunter cannot. Big old male bears develop a crowned head and their ears move out to the sides giving them stereoscopic hearing, which allows them to pinpoint the origin of the sounds they hear. This is another reason why big old bears are harder to get.
With this in mind try to stay absolutely still. If you have to move; move very slowly. Take some nose drops before the hunt and if you have a cold or allergies. If your throat is dry and itchy bring some mint flavored lozenges with you. You can also oil the joints of your tree stand to make them a little quieter.
Black Bear Sight:
During the day a Black Bear basically has the same site as a human but older bears tend to be near sighted. As a result they cannot focus on things from a long distance. When one of an animal’s senses becomes diminished their brain rewires itself to compensate by making other senses more acute. This is known as neural placidity. As a bear gets older they become near sighted so the brain compensates by being more sensitive to color differentiation. If the bear sees colors it thinks are unnatural and he sees those colors move the game is up. Bears cannot see the same range of colors as a human. Hunter orange looks gray to them. But they can see dull reds and yellows as well into the blue/green cool color spectrum. This is why there are many different forms of camouflage clothing.
Picking the right Camouflage:
You need to talk to the outfitter when you book your hunt and ask what kind of plants will be at the tree stands. If the hunt is taking place in the southern range of Ontario’s bear hunting country during the fall you may have a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, thus you will need a camouflage that represents pine needles, pine bark and colored fall foliage. If you are father north in an area with only pine trees you will need a camouflage that represents pine bark and pine needles, which means dark brown and green. You need to blend into the scenery so their bear cannot see any unnatural color pattern.
Black Bears are nocturnal. They have a reflective layer in the back of the eye called the tarpetum lucidum. Just because you can’t see them does not mean they cannot see you. Since dusk is the hottest bear hunting time it’s also when you should concentrate the most on being quiet and motionless.
In most cases, big ears mean a smaller bear. A small ear is usually a bigger bear. Once a bear reaches three years old (approx. 100 lbs.), the bear starts to grow into its ears. The ears and eyes don’t grow as much as they do in the first three years. Sometimes if a bear has a hard year with food, the ears will look bigger because the bear is thinner. Read our article: How to Size a Black Bear
When a sow is with cubs, 90% of the time the cubs are in the lead. The cubs will make more noise than a single bear. Most of the time, adult bears make little or no noise.
You can’t shoot a sow with cubs in the Ontario spring hunt, and in the fall we continue this policy on our BMA – DO NOT SHOOT SOWS with cubs.. So make 100% sure you know what you are shooting at. Take a really good look around to make sure there are no cubs. A sow’s ears are usually closer together, as a male bear’s cranium grows wider on top and the ears look farther apart. They also look smaller, which is really an illusion.
These tips and techniques are just a guide line for some things to consider and think about. Ultimately the outfitter is the person you need to discuss the different factors with. Bear hunting can be quite different in different regions.
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Black Bear are known predators and Ontario has the largest population of black bear than anywhere in the world. Furthermore, north-western Ontario leads in the concentration of these animals than elsewhere in Ontario, and, rates highest in population concentration for all of Ontario that also allows for bating practices.
Many deem baiting unfair, giving the hunter a considerable advantage. But contrary to what some would have us believe, it’s far from easy and holds no guarantees! Bear can sneak in undetected, grab a morsel of food and disappear as fast as they arrived. Bear can also skulk around the bait for hours, never showing themselves. As experienced outfitters we’ve learned that many of our bear will move in cautiously to inspect the provisions. The advantage of hunting in the fall is bear are eager to fatten up for the winter. The biggest advantage to baiting is that, if and when a bruin finally commits to the bait, it allows the hunter a an opportunity to assess size, stature and time for shot placement.
Black bear habitant range can span from two to 10 miles and resident populations often hold a variety of boars, sows and cubs, so it’s not uncommon to have multiple bears visiting the baited site. Ontario only offers a FALL BEAR HUNT therefore the chance for the large TROPHY bear is increased dramatically. Most hunters fear poor coats or hides due to the fall hunt but our area does not suffer that fate. With little to no burrs or ticks, our bear don’t succumb to ticks causing ‘rub’ or dry patchy fur. We also are known for our high number of white chevrons (patches) to make your trophy even more unique. Black bear
Black bear have relatively poor eyesight, but outstanding hearing and acute sense of smell. Once they get a taste of your bait, and, as long as it is replenished regularly, they will be reluctant to leave the area. In fact, once a site is established properly, you can and will see the same bruin day after day.
Location is Critical
Our bait stations have been established for many years (since 1972) and placed along the bear’s natural movement corridor. Heavily timbered forests near cutovers and waterways often sustain good bear densities. With berry crops like wild blueberries and raspberries nearby, black bear favor the accessibility and abundance of such forage and most often reside in the proximity.
Claw marks on deciduous trees and there may even be fresh markings, these lasting scars unveil a historical presence. Nomadic creatures, bear commonly travel traditional trails along waterways and natural movement corridors like valleys and ridges. Finding fresh scat can instill further confidence that bear have frequented the bait. Keep in mind that well established bait stations offer much more success than new stations since bear follow these game trails year after year.
We practice with our bows all summer long, but after opening day its easy to get wrapped up in the hunting and forget about practicing. But even if you’re spending your time in the field and can’t hit the archery range every day, you can still keep your edge. Shooting in hunting situations is obviously different from target shooting. In the real world, weather conditions, shot angles, brush and other obstacles can impact your shot. Also, when the time comes to take a shot during a hunting situation you’re usually either stiff and cold from sitting in a treestand or sucking wind from running up a hill. All this combined with the fact that you must make a clean shot with the first arrow makes it all the more important to keep your shooting skills sharp. Here are a couple tips.
One of the biggest challenges to making a “cold shot” is that often the muscles I use for properly drawing my bow are stiff. The simplest way to cure this is to periodically pick a target, draw your bow, aim, hold, and let down your draw. This keeps you loosened up, plus drawing and aiming without actually shooting helps you focus on the target.
Although just drawing and aiming will help a lot, the single biggest help is to actually shoot while out hunting. A common practice among traditional shooters is to carry one or two blunt pointed arrows in your quiver so that you can stump shoot in your down time. Stump shooting is fantastic for keeping you warmed up, but unlike just drawing, actually completing your shots will bring your release into play, as well as give you all sorts of angles and situations to practice.
Small game is even better than stumps (grouse and rabbits taste a lot better too). Grouse can be deceivingly tough to hit. You want to aim for the base of the neck or the head. Sometimes they flush at the shot, but grouse will go in the direction that their head is pointing, so if you use a snaro point, you can either take their head off or hit them in the body as they flush. The best thing about grouse is they often give you extremely challenging shots, and if you can become consistent at taking them, you will be ready for the big game (make sure to check your local regulations before taking any small game with a bow).
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As an outfitter, we often hear how many people would love to hunt bear but have no idea what to do with all the meat or if they did keep it, how to cook it (Ontario is a no waste province, it is mandatory to take all of the meat with you upon departure.)
Below is an excerpt from a great story written by Jackson Landers and how he dealt with an unexpected amount of bear meat…..and what he learned.
Now I had heard all sorts of stories from hunters about what bear meat is like: that it’s tough, gamey, and unpleasantly greasy. But in my experience eating a fairly wide array of unusual species, I had found that meat that tastes “tough and gamey” is more often a case of bad butchering and sloppy handling than an intrinsic quality of a species.
To maximize the potential flavor of my bear, I dry-aged it for a week before I started experimenting. Dry-aging meat, for the uninitiated, is the process of letting meat hang out for a while at cool temperatures while allowing moisture to evaporate from it. Dry-aging accomplishes two things. First, natural enzymes in the meat begin to tenderize it by breaking down the collagen in the muscles. (Collagen is what makes tough meat feel tough, and more of it builds up in muscle tissue as an animal gets older.) Second, dry-aging allows water to evaporate out of a piece of meat, concentrating the flavor. High-end steakhouses all do this with their beef, and I have been dry-aging most of my venison in my fridge at home for years.
Once my bear was sufficiently dry-aged, the very first thing I tried was cutting some simple steaks out of a forequarter (the upper portions of the front legs) and from the backstraps (the cuts from alongside the spine that are referred to as “pork loin” in pigs). I wanted to keep the recipe simple so as not to hide the true flavor of the meat, but I also wanted to have some fun. So I just ran with the bear theme. I pan-seared the steaks in olive oil and drizzled just a bit of honey on them. A handful of blueberries went into the pan with them (bears love blueberries almost as much as they love honey). Then I transferred the meat to a covered dish to finish cooking in the oven and deglazed the pan with a splash of Toasted Head cabernet sauvignon, which I had chosen on account of the wine’s label having a black bear on it. I made sure to cook the meat to 140 degrees and hold it there for a while, since bears, like pigs, can carry trichinosis.
My girlfriend and I sat down to eat our first bites of bear meat, drizzled with that red-wine pan sauce. The texture was good, and the backstrap cuts were a bit more tender than the forequarter cuts. The flavor was mild; it tasted more or less identical to venison—which is to say a lot like beef, only with less fat and a blander flavor. There was nothing greasy or tough about it. It looked like a thick piece of filet mignon. Between sips of the bear-bearing Toasted Head wine (which paired very nicely with the bear meat, I should add), we soon forgot that it was bear meat that we were eating. By the end of the meal, it was just dinner, no more exotic than the artichokes we served along with it.
Heartened, I started putting bear meat in everything. And once I began running it through the meat grinder, the stuff became a household staple. Think bear tacos, spaghetti with bear sauce, lime-marinated bear stir-fry served over ramen noodles.
Bear burgers in particular were a big hit. I mixed one egg with 1 pound of ground bear meat and just a touch of onion powder and pepper and broiled them under high heat. Three minutes per side seemed to get me up over 140 degrees every time, without taking the burgers beyond medium-rare. I invited some friends over to eat them, and the unanimous agreement was that they simply tasted like very good beef burgers and that nobody would ever guess they were bear.
I began to take the ground bear meat so much for granted that I confess to feeding it to a dinner guest in a ragout over angel hair pasta without thinking to tell her that she was eating bear as opposed to beef. She ate every bite. I’m still not sure whether I should tell her what she ate.
Lately I’ve found myself worrying about the dwindling supply of bear meat in my fridge and freezer. I have one whole hindquarter in my chest freezer awaiting a special bear dinner with a group of friends, but other than that and a pound or so of medallions, all I’ve got left is an array of very unusual bones that my dogs have been chewing on in the front yard. What will I do when I run out?
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