Author’s Note: This post is dedicated to the memory of George King, the author of That’s Ruff!, one of the finest books ever written on the pursuit of the ruffed grouse. George founded the newsletter “Grouse Cover” and the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Brush Worn Partridge Hunters, or “Brush Worns” for short, and brought grouse hunters from all walks of life together as few have ever done. George left a grand legacy for all grouse hunters and he will be missed.
TWENTY THINGS EVERY BRUSH WORN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OL’ RUFF
1. When I hear the phrase, “from sea to shining sea,” I think of the ruffed grouse, or Ol’ Ruff, because he can be found from east coast to west, even up to Alaska. Wherever he is found, Ol’ Ruff is a grand game bird.
2. Every single ruffed grouse is a masterpiece of art from the palette of the Creator. All ruffs are beautiful, but a red phased bird is a rare trophy to be celebrated, especially in the west.
3. Ol’ Ruff is a trickster. Using his fan tail like a rudder, he can juke and jive like no other grouse and can magically put obstacles such as trees or rocks in your way quicker than any other game bird. They don’t call him “The Trickiest Thing in Feathers” for nothing!
4. Ol’ Ruff inhabits the gnarliest places that few men see, cover so thick that you might just get twigged in the eye, scratched on any exposed skin, or, as Grandpa Grouse called it, “horse collared.” Most people shy away from such places, but not Brush Worns because they know this is where Ol’ Ruff dwells.
5. There is no finer table fare than the ruffed grouse. Get creative! Think fajitas, Tandoori grouse, or Makhani grouse. You can’t go wrong with the delicate meat of the ruffed grouse unless you overcook it!
6. Ol’ Ruff has inspired the very best in sporting literature from Burton Spiller, the Poet Laureate of Grouse Hunting, to George King, George Bird Evans, Grandpa Grouse, Corey Ford, Bill Tapply, Tom Davis, Tom Huggler, Ted Nelson Lundrigan, Steve Mulak, Robert F. Jones, and many others. Reading their books is almost as good as pursuing Ol’ Ruff himself, but not quite.
7. The ruffed grouse is known by many names, Ruff, Ruffie, Partridge, Pa’tridge, Fool Hen, Pine Hen, The King, but no matter the name, he is a prince of a game bird and well loved by all who know him well.
8. Every successful shot at a ruffed grouse is a lucky shot and Brush Worns are truly surprised at every single one that falls. No bird can bring on a shooting slump quite like Ol’ Ruff. Remember shooting is instinctual, especially for ruffed grouse. Don’t think about it so much and just keep swinging and under Tapply’s law of averages you’ll start hitting again.
9. To be successful at hunting Ol’ Ruff, you’ve got to learn to snap shoot. William Harnden Foster invented skeet shooting to practice shooting for grouse hunting, but there is nothing that can replicate the thunder of a grouse flush, the resulting adrenalin that pumps through your veins, or the difficult shots in tight cover. In my humble opinion, snap-shooting can only be learned through real-time experience.
10. Ruffies are a bird of the second growth forest. They need young, diverse forests to thrive. Old growth is no good for Ol’ Ruff, or most other wildlife for that matter. Logging and fires can work wonders for grouse habitat and grouse and create the tangles they need to survive.
11. Ol’ Ruff is a noble game bird and he deserves respect. Brush Worns know that to take one on the wing is the only sporting way.
12. A Brush Worn never forgets his first ruffed grouse taken on the wing. It’s at that moment that he changes from a child, or a meat hunter, to a sportsman. Welcome to the fold, Brother Brush Worn!
13. The drumming of a ruffed grouse in the spring, like a Tom turkey’s gobble, is a herald of good things to come. The noise carries a long way and is deceiving as to where it originates. A drumming grouse can be ten feet away or a hundred yards, but it’s often hard to tell.
14. The places Ol’ Ruff lives and the experiences had therein inspire names that flow so naturally like, Grouse Springs, Viet-Freakin’-Nam, Grouse Alley, The Pinch Point, the Outhouse Covert, Grouse Rock, The Blazing Saddle, The Forgotten Covert, Center Stage Dusty’s Nub, or the Sleepy Hollow.
15. The pursuit of the ruffed grouse with a good, close working dog is the very height of hunting. When you load up the car and the dog overhears the jingle of her bell, she’ll get as excited as you about the upcoming grouse hunt. The teamwork necessary to successfully take a ruffed grouse will forge an unbreakable bond between the hunter and his dog.
16. Some have written that the western ruffed grouse is a subpar bird, the quintessential fool hen, but despite this slander, Ol’ Ruff is a quick learner and, though he can be naïve at first, after a few encounters with dogs and bird hunters, he will be as wily and challenging as any other game bird, maybe even more so.
17. Brush Worns are an odd, reclusive lot and are very protective of their secret coverts. Despite this hard shell, with the common love of Ol’ Ruff and the places he dwells, Brush Worns, when they break through that crusty barrier, often find instant camaraderie with other Brush Worns, the likes of which is not found in most other endeavors.
18. Ol’ Ruff can be a cyclical bird and some years there are more birds than others. The years of scarcity sure make a Brush Worn appreciate the years of plenty, but the pendulum always seems to swing back and, if the habitat remains, the numbers will return. Be sure to not overshoot your coverts and make sure and leave some seed birds.
19. Keep a journal of your pursuit of Ol’ Ruff and you will enjoy your hunts for years to come.
20. Above all, remember that no day in the grouse woods with your bird dog is wasted. Life is fleeting and every single day afield in pursuit of Ol’ Ruff is a blessing to be savored. Soak it up because the hunting season only comes once a year.