Grouse

During the 1940s and ’50s, ruffed grouse were abundant locally on overgrown dairy farms.

Probably the best partridge hunting I ever experienced in my life was when I first started hunting at the age of 16.

With a shotgun slung over my shoulder and dog on leash, I would walk down our road to the Cranwell Golf Course. Maintenance on the part of the course behind Blantyre had been discontinued at some time by the Jesuits and allowed to grow wild. I well remember the berry patches, brush and small trees growing out of what once were fairways and greens. The place was loaded with partridge and their unexpected, heart-stopping explosions when they flushed startled me. With the help of the dog, I got pretty good at shooting partridges and frequently walked home with a couple of them. I didn’t know it at the time but I was hunting an early successional growth area. A few years later, Cranwell started reopening that portion of the golf course and the heyday was over.

Of course, there were other reasons for the grouse’s demise — new predators and habitat destruction being two of them.

A recent news release from MassWildlife discussed what makes up good grouse habitat. Here are some excerpts from that release:

“Grouse thrive in areas with a patchwork of young forest habitat of varying ages, overgrown fields and mature woods. In Massachusetts, the ideal habitat mix can be hard to come by, but MassWildlife’s Habitat Program is working to change that on state lands.

“Cover for grouse has been described by hunters as areas ‘that are hard to swing a gun and challenge the toughest dog,’ but it’s much more. Grouse need a variety of young forests between 1 and 40 years old in patches ranging from 10 to 40 acres with mature forest and grassy openings nearby. Dense young forests of sapling trees ranging in size from the width of a pencil to as wide as your forearm provide the safety grouse need from predators like hawks. Downed logs or stone walls provide critical drumming sites for male grouse to announce their courtship ritual in spring.

“In addition to cover, good grouse habitat provides nutritious food — especially during the winter months. A large part of a grouse’s diet comes from the buds and catkins of aspen, birch, alder and cherry saplings. Grouse also rely on food from soft mast-producing trees and shrubs like apple, blueberry, grape, high bush cranberry, and hawthorn along with hard mast like acorns, hazelnuts, and beech nuts. Overgrown, brushy fields provide an abundance of protein-rich insects in the summer for developing grouse chicks.

“The combination of habitat types needed for quality grouse habitat has become more and more scarce in Massachusetts over the decades due to development and other land use changes. With the goal of reversing these declines, The MassWildlife Habitat Program actively manages and promotes patchy young forest habitat on some of its Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that grouse — and many other declining wildlife species — depend on. Through limited and strategic timber harvests, MassWildlife emulates the conditions of natural disturbance events usually caused by wind, ice, and fire. These operations remove tall trees from an area but leave oaks and cherries that are important to wildlife. Some logs are left on the ground for grouse drumming logs. Because this habitat is only beneficial to grouse for a short time (20–40 years), periodic timber harvesting is conducted on WMAs to create new patches of young forest. MassWildlife also uses prescribed fire as a tool to promote the growth of aspen and to create and maintain the shrubland habitat that provides cover and valuable food for grouse. These practices have been extremely successful in maintaining healthy grouse populations where habitat management has occurred.”

I’d be willing to bet that anyone who grew up small-game hunting in the 1940s and 1950s totally agrees with MassWildlife’s Wildlife Habitat Program. During that era, many of our local dairy farms were going out of business. As a result, the farmlands and pastures were not kept down by grazing cows or were no longer mowed for hay. They turned into young forests where grouse (I still prefer to call them partridges) were abundant, especially near abandoned apple orchards and grape vines

I’m glad that MassWildlife included these words in its release by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac: “Everybody knows that the autumn landscape in the northwoods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either mass or the energy of an acre. Yet, subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.” Aldo Leopold, considered the father of wildlife management, recognized the importance of the ruffed grouse as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

Season 2: bear huntingThe second of the three black bear hunting seasons begins tomorrow morning and runs through Nov. 21. In this season, hunting implements allowed are: rifle chambered (.23 caliber or larger), muzzleloader and archery. No handguns or shotguns are allowed. Readers may recall from my Oct. 11 column that the first season produced a harvest of 233 statewide, shattering the old record. Obviously, that harvest record will continue to grow.

Be alert driving at nightReaders may also recall from that same column a cautionary advisement from MassWildlife to watch out for moose while driving, especially at night due to difficulty in seeing them. Now comes another MassWildlife advisement for motorists to also watch out for deer, especially at night.

Mary McGuire, Director of Public and Legislative affairs for AAA Northeast cautions motorists to be vigilant and expect deer to be crossing roads and to anticipate deer darting into the roadway, especially at night. She said that in 2019, there were 1,557 deer-related crashes in Massachusetts from October through December and that 81 percent of them occurred outside of daylight hours.

Marion Larson, Chief of Information and Education for MassWildlife, said that fatalities from deer collisions are relatively rare. Nationwide it is estimated there are 200 fatalities a year. There have been two in Massachusetts — one in Beverly and one in Weston. State Farm Insurance estimates 7,000 to 10,000 deer-vehicle collisions take place each year in Massachusetts. Larson said that deer populations are growing in our state, especially around Interstate 495, where there are more communities with firearms or hunting restrictions.

2020 International Fly-Fishing Film FestivalOn Thursday evening, Nov. 5, the International Fly-Fishing Film Festival, featuring world-wide angling adventures, is coming virtually to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and a few other states at 7 p.m. It will feature 10 films, 6-to-16-minutes in length, from all corners of the globe showcasing the passion, lifestyle and culture of fly fishing.

Admission to the Fly-Fishing Film Festival, viewable throughout the state, is $15 and may be accessed at www.watch.eventive.org/if4us/play/5f4d3bfc2f75db00851f30f3. Viewers may log on to the site anytime within 48 hours of the showing. Tickets will be active for seven days.

One attendee will be selected to win the 2020 Grand Prize drawing consisting of thousands of dollars of fly-fishing gear provided by International Fly-Fishing Film Festival sponsors. In addition to the films, there will be fly fishing product giveaways and other promotions at the event.

It is hosted by The Fly-Fishing Show.

Among the films to be screened are:

· Particles and Droplets, by Gilbert Rowley, a look at the world from a different perspective with fly fishing the catalyst.

· Aurora Fontinalis, by Intents Media. An adventurous trip after giant brook trout in the far north.

· Iqaluk, by Hooké. A far northern fly-fishing adventure to Nunavik in search of Arctic Char.

· The Mend, by Broc Isabelle. A father-son relationship complicated by career and responsibilities all set to a fly-fishing background.

· Nine Foot Rod, by Dana Lattery. Four fly-fishing guides embark on a trip to Oman in search of giant trevally and Indo-Pacific Permit.

Others include: AK 30, seeking a 30-inch trout in Alaska’s Naknek River; The Bull Run, looking for a bull trout north of the 49th parallel in the Rockies; and Poetry in Motion, the story of Maxine McCormack’s journey to become world fly-fishing champion.

Trailers for all films can be seen online at flyfilmfest.com.

For information, contact flyfilmfest.com.

It’s time to have your sayThis Tuesday is election day. Get out and vote if you can.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.

Gene Chague is a longtime sportsman and editor of The Eagle's Berkshire Woods and Waters outdoors column.