Small game means big fun in the Northeast!

Small game hunting is a great introduction to hunting, especially in the Northeast! Read on for some tips.... and a delicious recipe!

Small game enthusiasts truly are the unsung heroes of Ontario’s wily North woods, often overlooked by big gamers whose sites are set on larger quarry like black bears and moose. But make no mistake, small game species are the backbone of this province, and hunters are capitalizing on big fun on our backwoods trails.

Of the smaller-variety species found in the Northeastruffed grouse, spruce grouse, American woodcock, and snowshoe hare rank among the most popular quarry, with grouse accounting for the lion’s share of interest.

The ruffed grouse is the most popular small game species, the king of all upland game birds; the Cadillac of wild foul if you will. Spunky and plump partridge are popular from both a sporting and culinary standpoint. They are a challenge to harvest in the field and a joy to behold on the table. The racket of a flushing grouse has likely startled anyone who has spent time in Ontario grouse country.

lodge opportunities

When seeking places to pursue upland game birds and other small game, Marten River Lodge—located on the boarder of WMUs 40 and 41, just 30 minutes from North Bay—is a good place to start.

The lodge is encompassed by Crown Land with hundreds of miles of backwoods trails, located right outside the lodge door. Your hosts Ray and Donna Sapiano spend time monitoring bird activity, and are happy to help hunters to go over area maps and direct them to known habitats. As Ray points out: “Dry summers produce a good grouse hatch, allowing hunters the opportunity to put up many birds in the fall”.  While hunting conditions and bird numbers vary year to year, this year looks promising, and dedicated small gamers will enjoy the experience and quality of forests and trails in Marten River.

Another great lodge option for small game located a stone’s throw away is Olive the Lake Lodge, owned by Dave and Cara Smetana. Dave is an avid hunter himself, and accurately aware of game species populations on his territory throughout the year. “Grouse numbers are definitely on the upswing in our area this year,” he explains, “with lots of young birds around as well.” 

Olive the Lake has a few groups of grouse hunters already booked and, judging from the number of birds spotted thus far, it is going to be a great autumn hunt. The lodge is open for grouse until October 3, so keep Olive the Lake in mind, and tell Dave the Outdoors Guy sent you!

For hunters staying at either Marten River Lodge or Olive the Lake, and seeking alternative game species such as the American woodcock or snowshoe hare, populations in this region do offer incidental game opportunities while pursing grouse.  Small game enthusiasts should always keep their wits about them while meandering the trails. You never know what you might see! For more infomation on Olive the Lake, Lodge check out their website and give them a call at (705) 892-2204. For more information on Matrin River Lodge here is their website!

Small game table fare

The wily ruffed grouse, or partridge as many still call them, are one of the tastiest small game you will find anywhere in North America. As an avid grouse hunter in my teens, I enjoyed many long hours hunting my uncle’s farm, followed by enjoying fruits of my labour at home. Grouse are quick and challenging from a sporting standpoint, and extremely mild and flavourful as table fare. Unlike chicken, these wild foul contain little to no fat. With scant fat to keep them “self-basted,” they will stick in a pan and dry out quickly if overcooked, so keep that in mind when cooking.

Good luck on your small game endeavors this fall and if happen to bag any delectable grouse, be sure try this recipe from my Canadian Outdoor Cookbook, available in bookstores everywhere.

grouse on the grill

Serves 4

Four grouse breasts split in half

Salt and pepper

marinade

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/2 onion, finely chopped

3 Tbsp pomegrante molasses

1 tsp each cinnamon and cumin

1 tsp lime juice

sauce

1 cup diced bacon

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup pomegrante molasses

1/2 cup whole pistachios

Salt and pepper

Blend marinade ingredients together in mixing bowl. Season grouse with salt, pepper, and place in marinade. Place in cooler or refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours. Prepare campfire or preheat grill to medium. Fry bacon in pan until crispy. Drain off all but 1 Tbsp of bacon grease. Remove grouse from marinade, and discard marinade.  Add grouse and remaining sauce ingredients and cook on grill until grouse is no longer pink and separates easily from breastbone. Serve with rice and drizzle sauce over top.

If you wish to pursue small game in Ontario, you will require a small game permit, and should read up on the rules and regulations that apply to your Region.

This is the Outdoors Guy wishing you a safe and happy hunt, and hope to see you on the trails.

For more information on small game hunting in Ontario read up on the regulations here. 

About Jeff Morrison

Jeff Morrison is an award-winning outdoor writer, book author, and nationally-syndicated newspaper and magazine columnist.

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