A blue grouse perches on a limb.
The blue grouse hen has a more mottled appearance than its male counterpart.

Finding, identifying and hunting forest grouse in Washington state

A four-month season with at least one of the four forest grouse species found in nearly every county means you won’t want to skip this opportunity.

A fun and fruitful fall hunting opportunity enjoyed by new and experienced hunters alike is forest grouse season. Washington’s season is right around the corner, running from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31.

Ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse are common throughout the foothills and lowlands of Western Washington and some areas east of the Cascades. There are regional color morphs in Washington, with both gray-phase and red-phase birds present.

A ruffed grouse eyes its surroundings.
Ruffed grouse are just one of the species of grouse found in Washington.

Dusky and sooty grouse (blue grouse)

The sooty grouse and dusky grouse, formerly known as blue grouse, are found in forested areas throughout the state. The dusky grouse is found in the Blue Mountains of Southeastern Washington, Northeastern Washington, and areas on the east slopes of the Cascades in Northern Washington. The sooty grouse is found from sea level to the alpine conifer forests of the Olympics, the west slopes of the Cascades, and east slopes of the Cascades in Yakima County and south.

Blue grouse are the largest of the state’s forest grouse, often measuring over 20 inches long and weighing more than two pounds.

The sooty grouse is found from sea level to alpine elevations. Look for them in conifer forests (especially Douglas fir) or where conifer forests are adjacent to open grasslands or shrublands. These can include clear-cuts, natural openings, and avalanche chutes. The dusky grouse is found in similar habitats but can also include sagebrush and antelope bitterbrush areas in close proximity to conifer forests.

Spruce grouse

The spruce, or Franklin’s, grouse is found in the lodgepole pine, subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce stands of the Cascades and mountains of Northeastern Washington. Spruce grouse have sometimes been referred to as the fool hen because of their habit of not flushing when approached. However, this behavior can also make them difficult to find.

A male spruce grouse stands on a patch of snow.
Spruce grouse have earned the nickname “fool hen” because of their habit of not flushing when approached.

Essential info

Hunting dates: Sept. 1 to Dec. 31

Hunting strategies

The options are many when it comes to ways to harvest grouse in Washington, from hunting with shotguns and dogs to selective shots with a .22 rifle or revolver, or even a .223.

Whether hunting open territory or thick cover, a stop-and-go approach often works well, especially on ruffed grouse.

Walking logging roads, cat trails, abandoned roads, and fire trails are good ways to look for forest grouse. Besides providing a ready source of grit and places for birds to dust, walkable roads and trails allow hunters to cover more ground in less time. Just make sure to keep your shot legal and safe if near public roads. Remember that it’s against the law to shoot from, across, or along the maintained portion of any public road.

Guns and ammunition

The window of opportunity for a shot at the fast-flying bird in heavy cover can be very small, so many hunters prefer a small, lightweight shotgun for the kind of quick shots they get at grouse. Although often hard to hit, grouse are usually easy to knock down if you do hit them, so 20-gauges are about as common as the ever-popular 12-gauge.

Typical grouse loads range from an ounce to an ounce and a quarter.

As for ammunition, more, not bigger, is the answer when it comes to shot size for grouse hunting. Some hunters like size 6 shot, but you get a lot more pellets in the same size load of size 7 ½, and they’ll knock down a grouse just as well. Some hunters even go as small as size 8 shot, at least for ruffed and spruce grouse. Typical grouse loads range from an ounce to an ounce and a quarter.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.