When it comes to ruffs, the whisper numbers for overall populations always spread through the upland crowd like juicy gossip. If the numbers are up from the previous year, the general mood seems pretty good. If they drop, then the opposite happens.
What I’ve found as someone who’ll hunt regardless of how many birds are supposed to be on the landscape is that it really doesn’t matter. This year I’ve heard plenty of hunters say the grouse numbers are down and what they imply is that hunting isn’t really worth it.
My limited time in the woods targeting ruffs has led me to believe that it is, indeed, worth it. It always is, if I’m being honest. I rarely shoot limits of grouse, so heading out with the expectation that Luna and I might get a few flushes and perhaps a bird or two for dinner is good enough. What I find, and what I found last weekend, is that this is possible in the worst years.
Even when the grouse cycle has bottomed, West Nile Virus has hit the birds and whatever else has conspired to wipe the grouse slate clean, it seems that enough miles behind a good dog will result in those ever-so-sweet flushes. And anyone who upland hunts knows it takes flushes to fill the game bag. It’s a simple equation, really.
More to the point, not hunting because it might not be easy is a strange excuse. Hunting isn’t supposed to be easy, and when we work hard to make it that way, we dilute the benefits of the experience.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that if you like to grouse hunt, you should go. There are birds out there to be had, and the hunting is only going to improve as the temperatures, and the leaves, drop. And if what I’ve seen so far indicates anything, even though there aren’t supposed to be as many ruffs in the north country as in certain years past, there are still plenty of them just waiting to get flushed.
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