Finally, I made it out with some friends to the ruffed grouse haunts of northwestern Wisconsin for a day of flushing fun. It was the perfect fall day, leaves still being stripped from the trees, and just cool enough to make our long walks extra comfortable.
We covered a lot of ground, but flushed only four or five birds in total. It wasn't until the end that I finally shouldered my gun. With no thundering wing-beat warning, a bird glided directly toward me with its wings set. I cracked off one shot and missed when the bird was merely 10 feet from the end of my Versa Max's "flooded timber" choke tube, but followed through with a successful second shot as I swung with the bird to my left. Many miles and hours of hunting for one decent opportunity—that's ruffed grouse hunting, and I love it.
It took me a few years of walking in the grouse woods to truly absorb and practice a critically important concept: Take it slow. When I first started chasing drummers, I thought it was advantageous to cover as much ground as possible, which meant high-speed pursuits. I can't imagine how many grouse I still manage to walk by without so much as a hint of their presence, but in my fast-walking days I'm sure there were an absurd number of birds that snickered as I cluelessly cruised by their camouflaged hideouts.
Walk slowly, keep your eyes open, and most importantly ... be sure to take it all in. The grouse woods are an enchanted world of their own.