They call him King Ruff
for a dozen years.
Ruffed grouse hunting confuses most Missouri bird hunters. Grouse are solitary birds, except early in the fall when they still are in family groups (young birds also tend to sit better for a bird dog).
Missouri's grouse season runs Oct. 15 to Jan. 15, with a daily limit of two and possession limit of four. Hunters need a $3 grouse permit, in addition to a small-game hunting permit.
Ted Cooper of Chesterfield may be Missouri's preeminent grouse hunter. He's taken more than 100 birds in a dozen seasons, with a high water mark of 22.
That's low compared to what a dedicated hunter can do in a traditional grouse state -- one Minnesota hunter once logged more than 100 birds in a season -- but it's outstanding in Missouri.
"I hunted grouse in Ohio where I grew up," Cooper says. "It was oak and hickory woods like Missouri." Cooper thinks clearcut areas on state land offer the best chance. "It's also the hardest," he says. "The thicker the better." He also hunts brushy bottom fields and explores each little side draw.
Even though grouse are woodland birds, they aren't deep forest birds. They need openings and young growth. Old trees are no help to grouse, except when they fall over and create drumming logs for males.
Ideal grouse habitat is an old farmstead, abandoned and growing up in briars, with ample insects for young birds that feed almost exclusively on them. Small clearcuts that open a dense forest encourage shrubby growth that will be ideal for grouse in a half-dozen years.
Grouse are what they eat, so it makes sense to hunt where the birds are feeding. That isn't always the same place. Grouse prefer various buds and the flowers (or catkins) of some trees, but they also eat fruit, seeds, acorns and just about anything that doesn't eat them first, including frogs and lizards. "Grouse eat wild grapes, greens and dogwood berries," Cooper says.
Early in the season, grouse will key on fruits. Wild rose hips are a favored food and grouse will feed on acorns. Hunters should work strips of woods extending into fields, from the base of the strip to the point to force birds to flush into the open.
A methodical, careful bird dog is vital for grouse -- they are fidgety birds, apt to walk off or dither in indecision. If the dog sees the bird on the ground, it's an