The Male Grouse
The male grouse habitat is very specific. It is 8-10 acres in size and must have food and cover to meet their needs year round. In prime habitat, many times one can find male grouse spaced apart between 150 – 160 yards. These prime areas provide the ultimate in cover and food for the male grouse throughout the year.
One should note that when grouse are at the low of the cycle, often it is finding places like this that gives a hunter the best opportunity for flushes and good dog work. When the population is at its peak, male grouse are pushed out into less suitable areas that are inadequate in both food and cover. In other words, when hunting in the low part of the cycle, the habitat has to be the best of the best.
The adult male grouse will know every escape route. Since the male knows his area, he will be the most difficult grouse to hunt because he will shift with your every move and almost seems to be thinking ahead of every step you and your dog take. He has learned that pressure means to move for cover and not hesitate. Over the years I have watched juveniles sit on their log and let me get very close. Not so with a seasoned adult. He quietly slips off the log and is gone.
In the springtime when the drumming season is at its peak, it is critical to take time to check out potential habitat for future fall hunting by conducting your own drumming counts. This time of year will also let one know when some habitat is past its prime. As an area ages out there will be less suitable habitat and the number of drummers will decrease. Thus one knows that in a matter of a few years this area will not hold birds.
To the left is an aerial photo of an area that I found during the low in the grouse cycle.
The first year I checked this area, there were only three drummers. As the next few years progressed, additional drummers established their own areas. The past year I found drummers in the younger cuts and would expect this next year to find additional drummers, pending the outcome of our winter.
The male grouse creates the noise we hear by leaning back on its tail and striking his wings against the air, forming a momentary vacuum. This noise will last from 5-8 seconds and can be heard up to ½ mile away along lakes and ¼ mile in the woods. In thick pine and spruce cover, one may only hear the grouse 1/8th of a mile. The male grouse will typically beat his wings 45-48 times within 5-8 seconds when drumming.