Ruffed grouse is finest fowl as table fare
There is no finer fowl as table fare than ruffed grouse. Better than ring-necked pheasant, better than bobwhite quail, better than any other gamebird – and by far, better than any domesticated poultry.
You may have to take my word on that – as odds are you have never tasted ruffed grouse. Heaven forbid the masses would taste this delicacy prepared properly – as new, stricter rules and regulations on the harvest of this wild gamebird would need to be enacted and enforced.
Unlike domesticated chicken, turkey, pheasant and quail, ruffed grouse cannot be raised in captivity.
Thank goodness for that. Many have tried, but have had little success in breeding the wildness out of this unique upland gamebird. They simply do not do well in cages or pens. Mark my words, if they did and the word got out, demand would cause grouse farming to flourish.
Last week, my sons and I hunted grouse just down the road on paper mill land. River bottom property with a mixture of pine plantations, regenerated aspen stands, birch, lowland alder, dogwood and willow – perfect grouse habitat.
According to the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS), “Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) are the most widely distributed resident game bird in North America, living now or recently in all of the Canadian Provinces and in 38 of the 49 states on the continent.
“Their range in the East extends from near the tree-line in Labrador to northern Georgia and northeastern Alabama, and they once occurred as far south as Arkansas in the central part of the continent…
“By far the major portion of the ruffed grouse range and population is in regions where snow is an important part of the winter scene and consistently covers the ground from late November to late March, early April or later.
“The ruffed grouse is a hearty, snow-loving, bud-eating native which thrives during severe winters that decimate flocks of partridges, quail, pheasants and turkeys.”
We hunted the day after last week’s snowstorm which left about 6 inches of snow on the ground. Our German shorthaired pointer Finn found several birds in a 15-year-old aspen clear-cut. No. 1 son, home for the holidays, connected on one bird that Finn pointed and retrieved.
We missed a few others, but enjoyed being together in the crisp winter-like conditions the woods provided us that day. Ruffed grouse actually thrive in deeper snow than that.
As RGS notes, “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.”
So like snowmobilers and skiers, ruffed grouse hunters in the know pray for snow – lots of snow – despite the fact deep snow hinders hunters and their birddogs. But knowing the majority of their favorite gamebirds will survive better in the long run, they will concede a portion of late season hunting opportunities.
The ruffed grouse season ends in Wisconsin on Jan. 31.