A shotgun, fly fishing gear and a mug of hot coffee. The essentials before heading off on a cast-and-blast trip into the Maine woods for bird hunting and fishing. Credit: John Holyoke / BDN

On Saturday, many of the state’s bird hunters flocked (see what I did there?) to the woods in hopes of finding a few ruffed grouse.

OK, maybe you don’t call ’em ruffed grouse. Maybe you think that sounds a bit too uppity and prefer the word “partridge,” or even “pah-tridge.” That’s fine with me. We’re all (more or less) on the same page.

Except for the fact, that is, that some of us shoot ’em when they’re on the ground, and others of us think it’s only sporting to try to hit those regal birds when they’re flying away at an extremely high rate of speed.

Whatever you call ’em, maybe you were out there on Saturday, on opening day of hunting season for those … um … ruffed-partridge-grouse-birds. 

Maybe you found a few. Maybe you did even better than that. Or maybe you didn’t, and you’re looking for a little bit of help from your old outdoor-writing pal?

That’s what I’m here for. And while I usually don’t end up finding a lot of birds for myself, I do have a network of sources who are willing to pass along a few tips every once in a while.

On Monday, I drove north to Ashland to interview a few successful moose hunters on the first day of moose season. And every time I sidled over to another group of moose hunters, I kept hearing the same semi-whispered reports. “Man, it was hot out there,” someone would say. “But boy, are we seeing a lot of birds.”

Then a real voice of authority, Maine Game Warden Lt. Tom Ward, stopped in for a visit. It turns out that he had a few statistics that put more weight into those anecdotal reports.

(Before I share the doozy of a stat with you, you might want to go load up your truck and get it aimed for Aroostook County. The news is that good.)

Ward told me that on Saturday, wardens set up a checking station where they could talk to hunters as they headed out of the woods after their bird hunting outings were finished. In all, wardens talked to 60 bird hunters, according to Ward. Of those, 27 of them had successfully shot their four-grouse limit.

To put that in a bit of context, my buddies and I hunt 100 miles south of Ashland, in an area where the grouse population is solid, but not spectacular. In years of hunting together, none of us have ever shot our bag limit in a single day afield. Never.

In northern Maine, that’s not the case, and I’ve been hearing those tales for years. Last year, I heard of a hunting party that headed out one particularly productive road and returned an hour later with the two hunters having each bagged their limit.

But until Ward’s report, I’d never really heard a definitive statistical analysis of just how good northern bird hunting can be.

Now I have. And shortly after this story was posted on our website, I heard from another knowledgeable source with a similar report.

“From recent travels, I can report that this year comes with the largest grouse population I have ever seen in my lifetime,” said Al Cowperthwaite, executive director of North Maine Woods Inc, which oversees access to that vast commercial forest.

“[Sunday], while traveling for work in the Telos region, I counted over thirty birds,” he said. “This travel was on main haul roads that were busy with lots of traffic and not side roads, where we’d usually expect to see grouse along the roadways. The woods are full of hunters, and with word getting out on social media, we expect we’ll have record numbers of grouse hunters this fall.”

And with millions of acres of commercial forestland open to hunting up there, it’s possible to spend a day of hunting some great areas without feeling as if you’re always dodging some other hunter’s truck.

Good luck. Be safe. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...