The state of Maine is one of the world’s top ruffed grouse destinations, and Leen’s Lodge hosts dozens of upland bird hunters every fall.
The Great American Grouse Trip
The ruffed grouse is a wonderful gamebird on numerous levels. Whether or not the species can lay claim to being “the king of all gamebirds” is certainly debatable. What’s not debatable is the fact that Bonasa umbellus is one of the most challenging birds in the world to hunt and shoot. Grouse cannot be successfully raised and released into the wild, which precludes “preserve-style” hunts. Furthermore, there’s nothing casual about walking and shooting in the type of dense cover that the birds typically inhabit. And bouts between inexperienced dogs and seasoned grouse are usually “no contest” affairs in favor of the birds. In short, one cannot fake a grouse hunt. When someone bags a ruff—or merely engages in the bird’s pursuit—it’s the result of having leaned into an authentic challenge.
The state of Maine is one of the world’s top ruffed grouse destinations, and Leen’s Lodge, in Grand Lake Stream, hosts dozens of upland bird hunters every fall. Owner Scott Weeks has witnessed the various motivations for hunters to book a grouse trip.
“We get hunters from all over the country,” Weeks said. “Some are veteran grouse chasers who are addicted to the challenge. But we also have a considerable number of guests who come here for their first grouse and woodcock hunt. The latter group knows the hunt will require above-average effort. However, they recognize that Maine offers one of the purest, real-deal wingshoots in existence, and they want to give it a try. When those folks bag their first grouse, they usually proclaim it to be one of the top accomplishments in their shooting careers—and they are 100-percent correct.”
To get the most out of a grouse hunting trip, one needs to accept that grouse are hunted on their terms, not yours. There have been no developments in terms of gear or hunting methods that have made pursuing grouse any easier. (The invention of the electronic dog collar has perhaps resulted in better dog performance, which can make a hunt much more enjoyable, but the overall challenge of bagging grouse remains high.) It is also important to value all of the ancillary aspects of the trip. For starters, basing a hunt from a comfortable lodge with great dining and amenities is paramount. Creature comforts—like a warm fireplace and well-stocked bar—are always nice, but they are savored to a higher degree after a day in the grouse woods. “Whether you kill a limit of birds or your luck isn't so great,” Weeks said, “it’s wonderful to know you’ll be getting a lobster or prime-rib dinner either way.”
The ambiance of special regions where grouse hunts take place plays a big role too. Maine’s North Woods, for example, is a special place characterized by endless forests and a wide array of natural wonders. Watching loons from the lodge as the morning fog lifts off the lake and you are being treated to the mingling aromas of woodsmoke and coffee is a great example of the unique pleasures to which Leen’s Lodge guests are treated. Later in the day it might be a moose sighting amidst a sea of spectacular foliage. “I have had many people tell me that their trip was 100 percent worth it for the ‘Maine experience’ in and of itself,” Weeks said. “And being able to enjoy great bird hunting ended up being the icing on the cake.”
Yet another thing that greatly adds to the quality of a grouse trip is the opportunity to shoot woodcock, which often are present in the same coverts. Most of Leen’s hunters will encounter these bonus birds. In fact, it’s actually common to encounter more “timberdoodles” than ruffs, making for additional shooting opportunities and, for many, chances to tick off yet another item on their wingshooter’s life list. According to Weeks: “Many of our guests who have never shot a grouse have never shot a woodcock either. So all of the excitement of shooting a unique trophy bird is doubled when they bag both.”
Maine has always been known as a great place to visit, but its popularity has increased dramatically in recent years. “We expect to have a record number of bird hunters at Leen’s this year,” Weeks said. “We’d like to think that it’s a result of our operation serving its clients very well—and that’s a great feeling. At the same time, we decided to own a business in Maine that offers the chance to hunt grouse, because we think it’s the ultimate wingshooting experience; and there apparently are a lot of bird hunters out there who feel the same way.”