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Ruffed Grouse Hunting

Young female ruffed grouse hunter

Each fall in New York 25,000 - 30,000 hunters take to the field in pursuit of ruffed grouse making them the second most popular game bird behind wild turkeys. Despite declines in their numbers over the past 40 years, ruffed grouse are still common, particularly in younger forests. They provide excellent hunting opportunities.

For detailed information about season dates in your area, please refer to the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide or view the grouse hunting season map.

DEC coordinates two survey efforts with cooperating hunters to help track grouse distribution and abundance:

  • Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log - this survey asks hunters to record their grouse hunting effort and the number of birds flushed. This allows us to estimate flush rates (grouse flushed/hour), which are used to monitor changes in grouse populations.
  • Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey - this survey asks turkey hunters to record the number of grouse they hear drumming during the spring turkey season. The drumming survey provides a harvest-independent index of grouse distribution and abundance during the critical breeding season in the spring.

If you would like to participate in either survey, please download a survey form from the grouse log or drumming survey web pages, contact us by phone at (518) 402-8883, or send an email.

Ruffed Grouse Parts Collection

We are requesting assistance from hunters in a study of ruffed grouse recruitment (the number of young produced per adult female). We are seeking rump, wing, and tail feathers from birds taken during the season so we can identify the age and sex composition of the harvest. Information on recruitment is an important part of assessing the well-being of the grouse population.

As part of a multi-state effort to study West Nile Virus in grouse populations, we are also requesting hunters to submit blood samples from harvested birds.

To learn more about these efforts or to sign-up to receive materials for submitting feather and blood samples, please contact us via e-mail or call (518) 402-8929.

Spruce Grouse vs. Ruffed Grouse

Be mindful of the presence of the state-endangered spruce grouse while hunting ruffed grouse in Wildlife Management Units 5C, 5F, 6F, and 6J. Identify your target before you shoot! DEC biologists have supplemented existing populations of spruce grouse in New York to increase genetic diversity and help aid in the recovery of the State's population.

Spruce grouse are frequently seen along roadsides during the fall eating gravel. Spruce grouse are similar in size to ruffed grouse, but have slightly different appearances:

  • Both male and female spruce grouse have a chestnut-colored tail band on a blackish tail that contrasts with the ruffed grouse's dark tail band on a brown or gray tail.
  • Spruce grouse tend to sit still or fly to a nearby branch when disturbed unless disturbed by dogs, in which case they may fly away.
  • Male spruce grouse appear darker than females and have a red eye comb that can be seen only during the breeding season (May).
  • Female spruce grouse are very similar in appearance to ruffed grouse in size and coloration. Differences in the tail band are evident between the two species (see below).
Spruce Grouse vs. Ruffed Grouse

Attention Woodcock Hunters: You may not shoot woodcock unless you have registered in the Harvest Information Program (HIP). To register, call 1-866-426-3778 or go to the Harvest Information Program website.

Hunting Locations

Ruffed grouse flush rates within NYS
Ruffed Grouse Flush Rates 2004-2008

If you are interested in hunting public lands such as State Forests or Wildlife Management Areas, contact the regional DEC biologist or forester where you want to hunt. They can tell you about areas with active timber management, or areas where there has been timber management in the past 10 years or so. They may even be able to offer tips on the best coverts (areas with cover) within a given area. Visit the DEC website for maps or other information on specific areas or request this information from your regional DEC office.

Based on data collected from the Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log, it appears that several regions tend to have higher grouse densities, so finding and gaining access to suitable habitats in those areas may be most rewarding (see highlighted area of map).

Combining data from the first four seasons of the grouse hunting log allows us to identify a region that stretches from the St. Lawrence Valley in the north through the Otsego-Delaware Hills and the East Appalachian Plateau in the southern tier where we observe flush rates (grouse flushed/hour) similar to or above the statewide average of 1.1 birds/hour (this is illustrated by the Wildlife Management Units highlighted in orange on the map). This region also coincides with portions of New York that have proportionally greater amounts of early successional habitat due to timber harvest, abandoned agricultural land, or other environmental factors (e.g., soil type, natural disturbances such as storms). Wildlife Management Units in blue had either too few observations for analysis (e.g., WMU 4N) or had below-average flush rates (e.g., WMUs 9H, 9J, 9M, 9P, and 9W in western NY).

About 85% of the land in New York State is privately owned, so its likely that some of the best grouse coverts may be on private lands. The best strategy may be simply to ask landowners for permission to hunt grouse.

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