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Hunting ruffed grouse in December

Best in: Ontario

Ruffed grouse, or ruffies as they’re affectionately known, are truly the royalty of our native upland game birds. They’re widely dispersed, challenging for hunter and dog alike, and unsurpassed on the table. What more could you ask for?

The best ruffed grouse hunting is in second-growth forests, where the birds can take advantage of the diversity of food sources in the understory. While they prefer the berries of many different plants, ruffed grouse will eat a wide variety of food, which helps explain their broad population range across the country. In particular, Ontario is generally acknowledged as providing more quality ruffed grouse habitat than any other province.

Hunters with dogs enjoy the best success, working the edges of suitable habitat while their canine companions nose through the tough stuff. Shots can be quick—and humiliating. As most grouse hunters know all too well, that heart-stopping explosion of whirring wings can test the skills of even the most experienced wingshooters.

Technique

Ruffed grouse hunting is all about covering ground near good food sources. Work the edges of old clear cuts, through second-growth forests and along alfalfa fields. Hunters in groups must always be aware of their partners’ positions, as flushed birds will often swing back to where they were originally flushed. If you think you know roughly where a bird landed, don’t be shy about following it and trying to put it up again.

Essential gear

I think 20-gauges are the ideal ruffed grouse smoothbores, choked either skeet or improved cylinder. Opt for 2 3⁄4-inch loads in #7 1⁄2 or #8.

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Ken Bailey

Ken Bailey

An all-around hunter, Ken Bailey enjoys pursuing waterfowl the most. Based in Edmonton, Outdoor Canada's longtime hunting editor Ken Bailey has hunted every major Canadian game animal, in every corner of the country. For many years, he’s shared his deep knowledge of game behaviour, and wide expertise with all manner of firearms with OC's readers. His work has been recognized numerous times by both the Outdoor Writers of Canada and the National Magazine Awards. Ken is a committed conservationist, dedicated to habitat preservation, sustainable harvests, and passing along our hunting heritage to the next generation. He's also an avid fly fisherman, and a pretty darn good game chef.