Maine Grouse Trip

by Chris McCotter

What would make seven men drive 20 hours through Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, around Boston and finally two-and-a-half hours on logging roads to stay in a cabin with no running water and a wood stove for heat?

Two words: ruffed grouse.

The current grouse population in the North Maine Woods is at historically high levels but getting there and then finding accommodations is the trick.

For three days in October, members of the Woods & Waters Adventures Maine Grouse trip experienced the journey to and the destination of northwestern Maine. This is the story.

It actually started last year when a guiding client told me that I need to go to Maine and hunt grouse. I was intrigued and began a search for accommodations in the region I was told to target. I happened upon Ross Lake Camps, located about four hours northwest of the Medway exit off I-95.

After hours of Delorme Gazetteer map book and Google Earth study, three of us set off to find this Oz of grouse hunting. At the end of a long journey northward we found this is a traditional Maine camp owned and run by husband and wife, Don and Andrea Lavoie. It’s rustic, but comfortable and right in the middle of prime grouse cover. Our hunt was so amazing I began to dream of grouse hunting this summer.

Fast forward to 2011. This year we had seven men (Jeff, Derek, Terry, Kevin, Todd, Clint and myself) and two bird dogs (my Brittany, Kate and Todd’s German shorthair, Bogen) sign up for the adventure. It was up to me, Don and Andrea to show 2010 was no fluke.

We had a careful plan off meeting at a motel in Millinocket on October 19th, then hunting our way into the camp on the 20th and hunting also on the 21st and 22nd. We’d return on Sunday, the 23rd.

Incredibly, everything went according to the plan and we all made it to the motel. Mother Nature was not in on the plan, though as she decided to send a drenching rain all day Wednesday during our ride up 95 as well as for most of the day we were to hunt into Ross Lake Camps.

Our plan had us drive within 20 minutes of the camp, then split up and explore various hunting areas. Jeff and Kevin would hunt with Kate and I. Todd, Cliff, Derek and Terry would hunt over Bogen. Using the Delorme Gazetteer we would meet at the lodge to unpack and take dinner at the lodge.

Day One

After breakfasting and syncing radios, our group of seven had an 85-mile ride from Millinocket into the North Maine Woods before reaching the camp. We would pass by beautiful, 5,000 ft. Mount Katahdin (the start of the Appalachian Trail), the Penobscot and Allagash Rivers, so the ride was scenic, especially with the last of the peak leaves. I wish I could say we saw the sun on this day.

On this first day we had to overcome some conditions that were less than ideal for grouse hunting. With a steady rain falling, the birds didn’t want to come to the edges of the forest and collect grit on the logging roads we hunted. We tried walking several stands of woods in the early afternoon, but the only thing we bagged was a snowshoe hare I took when Kate jumped it.

At 3 pm we were getting a little disheartened, but as it were, luck was with us and our first introduction to the Golden Hour came.   

The rain lessened to a fine mist and we started pulling the trigger. On one logging road we walked about a mile and flushed 16 birds, bagging seven. I took a four-bird limit, Jeff had two and Kevin had one. Kate pointed nearly every bird hidden in the ditches and undergrowth along the edges of the mixed hardwood and spruce forest. 

These were big northern woods grouse in both the grey and red varieties. We admired the black feathered tufts on their necks and noted some had 12-inch tail fans. It was a good way to start the hunt.

Sunset was upon us by 5:15 pm and we needed to get back to the lodge to unpack our gear before supper. Rain began to fall as we ferried our gear into the Swamp Buck cabin Don and Andrea had waiting for us along the shore of Ross Lake. I noted Todd, Clint, Derek and Terry had made it back and they had a few birds, too.

We set the post-hunt routine that evening. Everyone just took to doing something. Jeff and I would clean the birds shot that day, then wash and vacuum pack them, finally labeling and stashing them in the generator-powered camp freezers. Terry would wipe down and oil the guns. Kevin would get the wood stove lit. Clint would make us laugh and Todd cared for the dogs.

The cabin was an upgrade from the duplex we stayed in last year. There were beds for eight men with two doubles. We had ample room for our gear, homemade boot drying racks above the wood stove, refrigerator, stove and sink we used with seven-gallon water jugs. The dogs were comfortable, too, each picking a bed or couch to sleep on despite us bringing beds for them.

Dinner tonight was a hearty pork chop with several side dishes. The camp was nearly full with hunters (about 20 guns), and hungry men in blaze orange shirts with hat head surrounded the tables.

We played poker that night for matchsticks and looked again at the Delorme Gazetteer to plan our route for the coming day. Terry and Derek would hunt over Kate with Jeff and I. Kevin would go with Todd, Clint and Bogen.

We were tired and asleep by 10. As advertised Kevin and Terry were strong snorers. Luckily I was prepared with earplugs. 

Day Two

“Who kept putting wood in the stove?” was the burning question in the morning. Kevin admitted he was cold and stoked it a couple of times. We all agreed that Kevin would not be in charge of the stove again, though, as the temperature in the cabin was easily 100 degrees even with the windows open.

Breakfast was quick eggs, bacon and toast prepared by chefs Derek and Terry. The pans could wait until the evening in the sink. The obligatory outhouse visits accomplished, then we were off to hunt.

This day featured heavy overcast and light rain until nearly noon when the sun shone intermittently for the next four hours. We discovered 20 different kinds of mud in our travels. There was watery mud, gray mud, black mud, clay mud, mud with leaves, gravelly mud and many other kinds that dried to a grayish haze on the side of the trucks.

We walked and drove, but most of the birds were spotted as we were driving today. We’d jump out and stalk them. Kate was used mostly to find dead grouse. 

Derek proved himself an excellent shot. He had brought 20 ga. Benelli Super 90 Montefeltro, and I don’t believe he missed on his way to the four-bird limit. 

The highlight of the afternoon came when our two-way radio came alive with Terry calling, “Bogey, bogey, bogey!” The satellite radio was on and I was late recognizing the call. We stopped and jumped out of the Nissan XTerra listening as Terry, behind us, said, “Look up in the trees!”

I looked up and there were six grouse sitting in a yellow birch about 50 feet up. In Maine you shoot grouse in trees. Jeff and I dropped two and I missed one on the wing with my second shot of my over-and-under 20 ga. Daly. Amazingly, there were still birds sitting in that tree as I reloaded, but when I was ready again, the birds had flushed into the woods.

These woods were not dense spruce, but logged hardwoods. The sun was shining warmly, so we moved in with the dog to see what would turn up. Derek found the last bird of his limit. I took bird #3. Terry and I chased the fifth bird, but lost it. I don’t know what happened to #6.

The rest of the afternoon the low sun showed us how dirty our windshields were. We found more birds and our game bags showed it.

When it was time to head back to camp, I was sad. We only had one more day to hunt and we were just settling in, really. That’s what happens with a good adventure. Three days is not long enough.

Back at Ross Lake Camp the game table was covered with grouse. Todd, Clint and Kevin had done well, too. Old Bogen found them birds and Jeff, Derek and I had a cleaning party complete with adult beverages made by some guy from Boston.

Dinner was hearty spaghetti and meat sauce prepared by Don in the lodge. No cards tonight. We were all too tired. Kevin was not allowed to stoke the first but once. Kate snored almost as loudly as he did before I put in my earplugs.

Day Three

Today Kevin would again hunt with Jeff, Kate and I. Derek and Terry hunted with Todd, Clint and Bogen. The latter three had to depart in the early afternoon as Clint had a closing to attend to back in Virginia.

We were breakfasted and rolling by 8 am. This day would feature overcast skies, misty rain and air temperatures around 52.

On a tip from Andrea we drove to an area northeast of the camp where I had not hunted before. We split up at a fork in a road near where Chemquasabamticook Creek flows out of Clayton Lake. Clint, Todd, Derek and Terry did well, finding eight birds on their walk in the woods. Jeff, Kevin and I found no birds.

My hunters piled back into the trucks and headed to a different type of area, higher elevation with a mixed hardwood forest and yellow birch. Here we flushed just one bird into a stand of spruce but couldn’t find it. 

We finally got on the board when Kevin bagged a fine split double just inside the woods off a logging road the had us slogging up the side of a mini-mountain. There was one more bird, but Kate chased it as it ran and it flew no more than 10’ off the ground. I didn’t shoot and we lost the bird.

This was a frustrating morning because of the lack of birds for my group and our dwindling time left to hunt. According to plan, we rendezvous with the other guys near where the Pelletier family (of Swamp Logger TV fame) compound looked out on Clayton Lake. We made sandwiches on the tailgate of Derek’s truck and heard about each other’s morning hunt.

With only the afternoon session to go before our hunt was over, I was hoping the Golden Hour would improve our take. Todd and Clint headed back to the lodge to pack up and head south. Derek and Terry wanted to retrace their morning path. Kevin, Jeff and I unknowingly followed the same route, looking to hook into another road that would loop us back to the lodge road.

About three quarters of the way, we met Derek’s Ford and they told us the road was flooded ahead. Our plans changed as we hauled iron back to where we started and each group choose another route that would eventually bring us back to the lodge at sundown.

Jeff, Kevin, Kate and I hunted some thinned hardwood stands with no sign of birds. The endless woods were beautiful but empty. 

It wasn’t until we drove several miles to an abandoned air strip near the St. Johns River that we bumped grouse. A group of three ran across the road as we were leaving the strip access road. Kevin and I darted out, stalked and I made a poor shot as the birds moved into the woods. 

Kate then joined the hunt and one bird flushed across the road, where I thought Jeff’s Beretta would have caught it. Another bird flushed across the road with no shots fired.

We crossed too, but the cover was full of fallen logging scraps and we couldn’t find those birds! Frustration was increasing as the sun sank lower in the sky.

The golden hour arrived and we decided to hunt an area called The Badlands by Don and Andrea. It was a wooded hillside leading down to the St. Johns, bisected by a main logging roads with several side branches running perpendicular. 

Jeff, Kate and I started down the hill. Kevin elected to stay back as we were in a cell phone “bubble” and he wanted to check messages.

Kate got birdy real fast, her little stub of a tail wagging furiously, then she locked up. This first bird flushed into dense spruce and with the failing light we couldn’t see it and abandoned the chase.

About 20 yards down on the left side of the road this time, Kate held steady and Jeff and I moved in. 

Birds flushed everywhere and we dropped three in the first round. Stalk and mop-up in the woods produced two more for me, and a miss. 

I watched Jeff take a bird down from 30 yards with a beautiful crossing shot. Then I took the last bird of the night as it was flying back to the road. It was a technically difficult shot at 30 yards but the bird dropped. Kate found it and actually brought it back to me as if to say, “Finally, a nice shot.”

As we drove back to the lodge with the light waning we saw many birds along the road. They had waited all day for the rain and overcast to lift and now was their time to get grit. I wished we had one more hour of daylight, but our hunt was over, unless we had night vision goggles!

We pulled into Ross Lake Camps and found out Derek and Terry had experienced a similar afternoon, birds everywhere at dusk and hard-to-find before then.

Total bird tallies were good for seven guys with a very little grouse hunting experience. We flushed over 100 birds and came close to bagging the possession limit of 56.

On the drive out early Sunday morning Jeff and I counted eight ruffed grouse and two spruce grouse along the roads. We also raced three moose much to the delight of Kate who barked excitedly from the back seat.

This trip only makes me want to go back again and stay longer. I feel strongly my currently nine-year-old son should experience this adventure so when I am old, he can find his way back and take me.

If you’d like to go on this Woods & Waters Adventure next October, please contact us ASAP at 540.894.5960, as we will fill our cabin and extra space is limited. 

For more information about Ross Lake Camps, visit and their Facebook page. More photos of the W2 trip can be seen on the Woods & Waters Facebook page.

Related Posts

Woods & Waters Magazine contains monthly features on awesome destinations, new techniques, outdoor personalities, tide charts, our Regional Focus Reports, monthly columns from our staff experts and more. If you want to receive the best hunting and fishing magazine for Virginia, consider subscribing today!

Woods & Waters Magazine is Virginia’s source for hunting and fishing information featuring award-winning articles and photographs by top regional experts intended to inspire you to get out and enjoy life outdoors! Pick up a copy today at over 100 retailers or subscribe here.

Featured Articles

Latest Articles

©2022 Woods & Waters Magazine, LC. All Rights Reserved.