What makes a grouse dog?
No one who is at all sensitive to criticism or who does take kindly to being disagreed with, should speak openly of his grouse dog ideas; much less permit them to become recorded in lasting print.
~ William Harnden Foster, New England Grouse Shooting, 1942
Ruffed grouse tend to inhabit wooded areas with high stem density which makes it more difficult for ground predators to approach. Generally, they prefer a bare forest floor with good visibility and an over story for protection from aerial predators. Grouse live singly and are therefore responsible for their own survival. Their preferred means of travel is walking. When threatened, evasive options are many and grouse will run, flush, fly into a tree, sit tight or any combination.
What Betsy and I seek in a grouse dog are qualities that allow the dog to find the most birds and the ability to point them in a manner that provides the best shooting opportunities. We choose our grouse dogs based on the habits, and habitat, of the birds.
Ruffed grouse are solitary birds that live in big woods.
Even though the woods are vast, only a small portion holds grouse. We require a dog that will cover a good amount of territory searching for these individual birds while staying in contact with the handler.
Ruffed grouse inhabit some nasty areas.
Not only does a grouse dog have to penetrate the bird’s realm but it also has to get there. This includes traversing rough cover of debris-strewn, moss-covered, logged-over areas, tall grass, thorny berry briars and lots of water—whether in swamps, streams, marshes or ponds. A grouse dog is constantly ducking under, jumping over or otherwise dodging something in its path. We want a tenacious dog that is not deterred by tough terrain.
Ruffed grouse also like bare forest floors.
A grouse leaves little scent on a bare forest floor. That open-ness at bird level also gives grouse a good view of its surroundings. We require a dog with superb scenting ability that can follow a bird’s movements. The dog should have the dual qualities of strong pointing instinct and boldness to engage the bird.
In addition to those qualities that are bird-oriented, Betsy and I want a tractable, intelligent dog with physical ability and style. It should have good hearing with natural ability to orient to its handler. It should effortlessly adapt to different cover. It should move easily and hunt for long periods of time, even under hot, dry conditions. Finally, we want a stylish dog that hunts with zeal.
We know that’s asking a lot of a dog but we’ve seen many dogs do it.
And the only way to find out is to work dogs on grouse. It takes time, knowledge of the bird and boot leather. Some abilities can be ascertained when a dog is young but most will be at least three years of age before its true capabilities are known.