There are very few sounds in the woods that bring your whole being into focus, but when a grouse thunders off of a spruce limb located just behind your right ear you tend to think of nothing else. Usually you whip around just in time to see a black-barred flash dodging through the alders with six trees in the way.
The ruffed grouse has been in this area for over 25,000 years with parts being found in the remains of predators going back to the Pleistocene period. A close relative of the hazel hen found in Europe, the grouse (Bonasa umbellus, for you Latin fans) was a staple part of the Native American diet for hundreds of years. Although their numbers varied from year to year, they were one of the main food sources for early pioneers.
Unfortunately for the grouse, expansion by the settlers intruded so heavily on the habitat of the birds that they soon became nonexistent in many areas. At first when the pioneers opened up the forests with small agricultural plots the fringe areas benefitted the birds. But as farms started to denude both valleys and mountain sides, there was no place for them to hide. You only have to look at the old pictures of New England to see how the forests were simple leveled for building materials, firewood, and pastures for sheep and cows.
In addition, more and more people relied on others for food. The era of the market hunter began with commercial shooters filling the market place with wild game. Grouse were so prized that they brought as much as $2 apiece in the late 1800’s. By the early 1900’s there was a marked change in the way the public viewed market hunting. State after state started to realize the devastation this was having on the wildlife.