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Grouse Population

 imagesPOPULATION
Ruffed Grouse normally have a short life span. From a brood of 10 or 12 hatched in late May or early June, usually 5 or 6 will have died by mid-August. Among those living to disperse during the fall shuffle, about 45% will have been lost by late fall and early winter. Another 10% die over winter and during early spring, so that only about 45% of the young grouse alive in mid-September live to their first breeding season. In subsequent years a given cohort (a season’s crop of young birds ) continues to shrink by about 55 to 60% per year. So from 1000 chicks hatched in late spring, about 400 normally survive to early autumn, 180 survive to the following nesting season, 80 are alive a year later, 36 live to breed a 3rd time, 16 may breed a 4th time. One out of 2200 chicks hatched may live as long as 8 years.

Most Ruffed Grouse die a violent death to provide a meal for one of a number of meat-eating predators, for in the natural scheme of things, Ruffed Grouse are one of the first links in a complex food chain. Some also die from disease and parasites, or from exposure to severe weather, or accidentally by hitting trees or branches while in a panic flight after being frightened.

grousewawanglakeAcross the major portion of the Ruffed Grouse range, the winged predators or raptors are most efficient at taking these birds. Although the goshawk is certainly the most efficient of all grouse predators, the horned owl probably kills more grouse annually than any other predator. This is due to the cosmopolitan distribution of these owls and the likelihood that any woodland capable of supporting grouse will have resident horned owls, or at least be regularly visited by them. Yet, where cover is adequate, grouse can find security and maintain their abundance even when goshawks and horned owls live and nest nearby.

Conditions are seldom static in the world of the Ruffed Grouse and their numbers fluctuate from year to year, and from decade to decade. Across most of their range in the northern states, Canada and Alaska, Ruffed Grouse numbers have risen and fallen in a somewhat predictable pattern for most of this century, in what is often called a “10-year cycle”. In the Lake States, for example, periods of abundance usually coincide with years ending in 0, 1 or 2, and the bottom of the depression in years ending with 5 or 6. This is not invariable, but a general, regional trend. These “cycles” sweep across the continent more or less as a wave, beginning in the far Northwest and Northeast, and progressing southward and southeastward.

The factors responsible for these periodic fluctuations remain poorly understood, and appear to involve a number of different factors interacting with one another in different ways at different times. The one factor which does not appear to be important is hunting during the period of fall dispersal.

grousewawanglake3

The primary causes for the short-term fluctuations in Ruffed Grouse abundance appear to be related to weather trends and variations in the quantity and quality of food resources. These are interrelated to a large degree. Superimposed upon these two basic factors is that of predation – as predators take advantage of grouse placed in jeopardy by unfavorable weather conditions or inadequate food resources. A favorable combination of weather factors and food resources may allow these grouse to survive the winter nearly immune to predation. These combinations of factors also affect annual production. If grouse spend the winter feeding on poor quality foodstuffs, or have to use an excessive amount of energy to keep warm, hens may not have sufficient reserves to produce a clutch of viable eggs, or vigorous, healthy chicks in the spring. Across most of their range, the most productive and most abundant Ruffed Grouse populations are those living where they spend most of the winter burrowed into 10 inches or more of soft, powdery snow, and emerge for only a few minutes once or twice a day to take a meal of the male flower buds of the aspens. Our Ruffed Grouse can be considered snow lovers or “Chionophiles.” Ruffed Grouse tend to be less numerous and less productive if they live in regions where they cannot burrow in snow and feed on aspen (poplar).

grousewawanglake2There also seems to be a poorly understood relationship between the color-phase of a Ruffed Grouse and its ability to survive severe wintering conditions, and its vulnerability to predation.

Longer term changes in Ruffed Grouse abundance reflect how we have treated our woodlands and forests. There is also reason to suspect that much of the severity of the “10-year cycle” is largely a result of how we have treated forested lands. These birds depend upon the food and cover resources produced by a group of short-lived trees and shrubs growing in full sunlight which develop following the severe disturbance of forests. In earlier times, fire and windstorm were the ecological agents periodically renewing forests and creating satisfactory habitat for Ruffed Grouse and many other species of forest wildlife. Ruffed Grouse should be considered a “fire-dependent” species in the natural scheme of things.

giphyOur current reluctance to cut forests, even under strict management plans and the suppression of fire to protect growing forests, have upset this natural sequence of events. In the early part of this century, farm abandonment and the recovery of forests from unregulated logging and fires produced habitats which probably resulted in the greatest abundance of grouse in recent times in most of Canada & northern  United States. But as forests mature under protection from fire and cutting, they lose the habitat qualities Ruffed Grouse require. In many regions, Ruffed Grouse numbers have declined as forests have become more extensive and older.

Ruffed Grouse abundance can often be readily restored by proper harvest management of forested lands, or through the judicious use of prescribed fire that is ongoing in northwestern Ontario.

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Posted by on January 4, 2019 in grouse, hunting, Wawang Lake Resort

 

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Ontario’s Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed GrouseAlthough 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.

wawanggrouse1The 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!

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Get More Early-Season Birds

It weave left, slip right, then disappear through the auburn treetops. It’s not often you get such a clear look at an escaping grouse during the early weeks of the season, but there I was, frozen as the bird slipped through the prettiest shooting lane I’d see on the entire trip. I never pulled the trigger.

ruffed-grouse-flying-down-from-limb-timothy-flanigan

The embarrassing reality of this scenario is that I’d been caught off guard. It was my first grouse hunt, and I wasn’t prepared for the surprise of the flush. That was a tough lesson, but it wasn’t the only one I learned during that trip to the hallowed grouse of NW Ontario’s Boreal Forest. Here are some more hits and misses that, if you’ll consider before you reach the woods, should help you bag more early-season birds.


1.  Being Aggressive

There’s no place for methodical shooting when hunting grouse. There’s no time for the shot to develop, as with long, loping shots on the sporting clays course. Grouse are fast, and they live in dense cover. But you don’t have to be a snap shooter to be successful. You just have to be aggressive. You should have nothing on your mind but finding that bird. The sooner you see it, the sooner you can move for it. Visualize beating the bird to the treetops with your gun.

2.  Going Off Trail
We started our morning busting brush but by midday got lazy and stayed on old logging roads & trails. The result was a half dozen points in cover that we couldn’t reach in time. Our hunt picked up tremendously in the afternoon, when we got back in the brush.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3.  Misjudging Range
Twice I flushed grouse that I thought were out of range, although they were visible, only to realize afterward that they were makeable shots. Part of the fault was how I prepared. Before the trip I had practiced mostly fast, outgoing targets thrown from a few yards in front of me—textbook fast-flushing bird presentations. I was visualizing those shots in the field, and when birds flushed from farther away, I had the impression they were out of range.  Be sure to practice at longer ranges.

4.  Starting With The Gun Up
A solid ready position is a key to hitting fast-flying birds. It gets your body and eyes ready to make a quick, efficient move. When you moved in on birds with the stock up under your armpit and the barrel pointed forward, you will shoot much better.

5.  Relaxing After The Flush
Grouse might not covey up like quail, but they do often travel in close proximity to each other, especially where there’s a good food source. I saw this first-hand when we flushed three pairs of grouse over the course of a day. So when a bird flushes out of range or doesn’t offer a shot, don’t drop your guard. Be ready for another bird to flush.

Evening_Flight-_Ruffed_Grouse_large

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TIPS for Hunting Grouse Without a Dog + video

Ruffed grouse (colloquially called partridge) are the premier upland game bird of northern Ontario and are both delicious and incredibly difficult to hunt. They often dwell in the kind of thick, previously logged, new-growth forest habitat that is nearly impossible to walk through and offers a wall of brushy cover that can make spotting and hitting birds a tall order.

grouse (3)

A hunter with a well- trained canine companion can level the playing field somewhat due to the fact that a good dog can sniff out birds and give the hunter a slight edge. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position to give a hunting dog the proper home and training it needs and are thus stuck hunting solo. All is not lost, however, and the following tips will improve a hunter’s chances of bagging a few grouse without the aid of a dog.

1. Locate Food Sources

Omnivorous ruffed grouse have a varied diet that includes insects, snails, slugs, mushrooms, and the leaves and buds of trees (usually poplar), but they have a particular affinity for the various fruits that are common to their habitat.

Other fruits that may attract grouse include choke cherries, blackberries (if they are still present at the start of hunting season), and the fruit of hawthorn trees or “haws”.

grouse

2. Stick to the beaten path

Whenever it is possible, safe, and legal to do so, it makes sense for a grouse hunter to stick to established trails and decommissioned logging roads. The primary reason for holding to roads and trails is that these travel ways provide grouse with a convenient source of dust and pebbles. The birds dust themselves to control parasites, and eat small pebbles to aid in the breakdown of food stored in their gizzards. It follows that grouse often stay within easy striking distance of a path or road. Areas where a food source, such as a stand of apple trees or poplar saplings, is immediately adjacent to gravel path or road typically yield a lot of grouse.

Trails and roads also facilitate easy movement through the thick, brushy, and nearly unwalkable new-growth forests that comprise typical ruffed grouse habitat.

3. On rainy days, take to the pines

Grouse, much like any other terrestrial animal in existence, don’t like to be rained on and will seek shelter during inclement weather. This shelter often takes the form of such coniferous trees as balsams and spruces. Stands of pines that are in close proximity to food sources are particularly good places to look for grouse on wet weather days.

4. Keep one eye on the ground and the other on the trees

An easy error to make while hunting grouse is to keep eyes only on the ground. While ruffed grouse are primarily ground-dwelling birds, they do spend an appreciable amount of time perched in trees. A hunter concentrating on spotting birds on the ground will likely miss birds perched in tress and vice versa.

grouse (2)

5. Catch them sitting still

Ruffed grouse are an incredibly difficult bird to wing shoot, especially without the help of a dog to provide advanced warning or a bird’s presence. Not only do grouse take flight in a manner that results in a sudden blur of motion and thunderous wing beats likely to startle an unaware hunter, but the birds are also adept at quickly taking cover by putting trees and thick brush between them and the muzzle of a shotgun. By the time a hunter, surprised by a bird, shoulders his or her gun, disengages the safety, and gets on target, the bird will likely be gone. That’s not to say those hunting sans dog will never hit a flying grouse, it’s just that spotting the birds before they take flight is a surer way to put meat on the grill.

Spotting grouse before they fly is a skill in and of itself as their natural camouflage is just shy of perfect. A good way to spot them is to look for movement rather than trying to recognize their outline on the forest floor. A grouse moves in a very awkward, jerking motion, similar to that of a chicken. This distinctive movement will often give away a bird’s position.

Occasionally, ruffed grouse will also give away their position with sound. The noise that ruffed grouse are perhaps best known for is their characteristic drumming that sounds similar to a distant lawnmower engine starting and stalling. This sound will make a hunter aware of a bird’s presence in a general area, but it is difficult to use it to pinpoint an exact location.  Another sound emitted by grouse is a kind of high-pitched, raspy clucking.  Grouse will occasionally make this clucking sound when distressed a few seconds prior to taking off, thereby giving a hunter advanced warning of its presence in the immediate area.

6. Walk slow, pause often

This last piece of advice is perhaps the single most important.  Most of us have become conditioned to walk through our day to day lives as quickly as we possibly can. This mindset is perfect when navigating the local supermarket, but it will lead to certain failure on a hunt.

Rather than walking quickly and continuously, it is important to move at what at first will seem like a snail’s pace, and to pause every few steps to thoroughly scan the woods. Walking in this manner will not only result in the spotting of more game, but will also result in a hunter noticing other interesting details about the woods that would be missed when hiking at forced march speeds. Noticing such details as a vibrantly colored mushroom, a hawk or eagle circling high overhead, or even just a really cool looking tree are as important to the experience of hunting as bagging game.

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TIPS for Hunting Grouse Without a Dog + video

Ruffed grouse (colloquially called partridge) are the premier upland game bird of northern Ontario and are both delicious and incredibly difficult to hunt. They often dwell in the kind of thick, previously logged, new-growth forest habitat that is nearly impossible to walk through and offers a wall of brushy cover that can make spotting and hitting birds a tall order.

grouse (3)

A hunter with a well- trained canine companion can level the playing field somewhat due to the fact that a good dog can sniff out birds and give the hunter a slight edge. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position to give a hunting dog the proper home and training it needs and are thus stuck hunting solo. All is not lost, however, and the following tips will improve a hunter’s chances of bagging a few grouse without the aid of a dog.

1. Locate Food Sources

Omnivorous ruffed grouse have a varied diet that includes insects, snails, slugs, mushrooms, and the leaves and buds of trees (usually poplar), but they have a particular affinity for the various fruits that are common to their habitat.

Other fruits that may attract grouse include choke cherries, blackberries (if they are still present at the start of hunting season), and the fruit of hawthorn trees or “haws”.

grouse

2. Stick to the beaten path

Whenever it is possible, safe, and legal to do so, it makes sense for a grouse hunter to stick to established trails and decommissioned logging roads. The primary reason for holding to roads and trails is that these travel ways provide grouse with a convenient source of dust and pebbles. The birds dust themselves to control parasites, and eat small pebbles to aid in the breakdown of food stored in their gizzards. It follows that grouse often stay within easy striking distance of a path or road. Areas where a food source, such as a stand of apple trees or poplar saplings, is immediately adjacent to gravel path or road typically yield a lot of grouse.

Trails and roads also facilitate easy movement through the thick, brushy, and nearly unwalkable new-growth forests that comprise typical ruffed grouse habitat.

3. On rainy days, take to the pines

Grouse, much like any other terrestrial animal in existence, don’t like to be rained on and will seek shelter during inclement weather. This shelter often takes the form of such coniferous trees as balsams and spruces. Stands of pines that are in close proximity to food sources are particularly good places to look for grouse on wet weather days.

4. Keep one eye on the ground and the other on the trees

An easy error to make while hunting grouse is to keep eyes only on the ground. While ruffed grouse are primarily ground-dwelling birds, they do spend an appreciable amount of time perched in trees. A hunter concentrating on spotting birds on the ground will likely miss birds perched in tress and vice versa.

grouse (2)

5. Catch them sitting still

Ruffed grouse are an incredibly difficult bird to wing shoot, especially without the help of a dog to provide advanced warning or a bird’s presence. Not only do grouse take flight in a manner that results in a sudden blur of motion and thunderous wing beats likely to startle an unaware hunter, but the birds are also adept at quickly taking cover by putting trees and thick brush between them and the muzzle of a shotgun. By the time a hunter, surprised by a bird, shoulders his or her gun, disengages the safety, and gets on target, the bird will likely be gone. That’s not to say those hunting sans dog will never hit a flying grouse, it’s just that spotting the birds before they take flight is a surer way to put meat on the grill.

Spotting grouse before they fly is a skill in and of itself as their natural camouflage is just shy of perfect. A good way to spot them is to look for movement rather than trying to recognize their outline on the forest floor. A grouse moves in a very awkward, jerking motion, similar to that of a chicken. This distinctive movement will often give away a bird’s position.

Occasionally, ruffed grouse will also give away their position with sound. The noise that ruffed grouse are perhaps best known for is their characteristic drumming that sounds similar to a distant lawnmower engine starting and stalling. This sound will make a hunter aware of a bird’s presence in a general area, but it is difficult to use it to pinpoint an exact location.  Another sound emitted by grouse is a kind of high-pitched, raspy clucking.  Grouse will occasionally make this clucking sound when distressed a few seconds prior to taking off, thereby giving a hunter advanced warning of its presence in the immediate area.

6. Walk slow, pause often

This last piece of advice is perhaps the single most important.  Most of us have become conditioned to walk through our day to day lives as quickly as we possibly can. This mindset is perfect when navigating the local supermarket, but it will lead to certain failure on a hunt.

Rather than walking quickly and continuously, it is important to move at what at first will seem like a snail’s pace, and to pause every few steps to thoroughly scan the woods. Walking in this manner will not only result in the spotting of more game, but will also result in a hunter noticing other interesting details about the woods that would be missed when hiking at forced march speeds. Noticing such details as a vibrantly colored mushroom, a hawk or eagle circling high overhead, or even just a really cool looking tree are as important to the experience of hunting as bagging game.

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Stop Adding Fat to Your Game Meat

While my Wyoming elk tag has so far gone unfilled, my friend Tess was luckier, tagging her first elk in a Nebraska cornfield not long ago. A heat wave prompted us to spend all day Sunday butchering and last night we put about 20 lbs. of trimmings through the grinder.

I’ve been processing my own (and others) deer and elk for about a dozen years and view adding some type of fat to ground venison as a necessary evil. I prefer ground pork, adding anywhere from 10 to 20 percent. Due to a calculating error on my part (I was told there would be no math!), Tess’ grind ended up at about 25 percent pork, a bit more than she preferred.

Ground_Elk_0910_004
This math problem set me to wondering why hunters take a healthy source of protein and fatten it up? That’s like someone on a diet taking a carrot stick and dipping it in ranch dressing. Quick research shows no clear consensus on what or how much fat to add. Some hunters swear by 50/50, others just 10 percent. Some like pork, others beef tallow. Some add bacon ends and pieces.

Certainly, there’s a rationale to adding fat, including enhancing flavor because, hey, we all know fat tastes good. Fat also keeps meat from drying out when you fry it and helps patties from falling apart. But is there a better, healthier alternative? Yes, depending on how you’re planning to cook it.

Burgers on the grill are probably how much of the ground venison in America makes it to the table. I’ll be the first to admit, making a good burger without fat sounds impossible. The fat not only makes a burger juicy, it also helps it stay in patty form. Next time you have some 100 percent ground venison you want to throw on the grill, trying adding an egg and some breadcrumbs to serve as a binder. I’ve also heard of using steel-cut oats, diced onion, shredded potato and even powdered milk.

When frying ground venison for tacos, chili or spaghetti, cook it without fat. The spices should cover any gamy flavor you or your family might object to. (If not, find a new butcher to process your deer or learn to do it yourself. Since I started DIY processing 12 years ago, I’ve never had gamy game meat.) If the dry texture turns you off, try frying it in a little bit of olive oil, or add moisture as the venison browns in the form of stock, tomato juice or other flavored liquid.

As you can see, there are lots of alternatives to adding fat to your ground venison. What about you? How do you keep your low-fat game meat low fat? – David Draper, Wild Chef Blogger

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Ontario’s Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed GrouseAlthough 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.

wawanggrouse1The 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!

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