Posted by Jesse White on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 Under: Grouse hunting
Don't get me wrong, I love summer and boating and swimming and barbecues and baseball and all that other fun stuff.
But when the calender flips from July to August I instantly get restless. I NEED September to roll around as quickly as possible so I can get out into the woods and back on the trail of game.
First on the list of course is the grouse.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a grouse is because you either A: Don't live in the greatest grouse hunting state in the U.S.A. or B: You've been living a sheltered, sad existence under a rock, let me educate you a little.
The ruffed grouse, or bonasa umbellus (I had to look that up), is found across much of Minnesota but is especially at home in the aspen forests of northeastern Minnesota. They can grow to about 12-inches and can weigh-in at a pound to a pound-and-a-half and sort of resemble a small chicken in the way they walk.
But they taste so much better.
Minnesota is one of the top states in total rough grouse harvest per year, along with Wisconsin and Michigan, with hunters bagging an average of 250,000 to 1.4 million birds per year depending on where the population is at.
The grouse, unlike deer or bear, is managed a little differently because it goes through a 10-year cycle where the population will hit low and slowly climb until it peaks at the 10-year mark and then it will start to drop again.
Nobody knows exactly why this is but everyone who hunts or studies the bird knows that the few years on either side of the peak, and the peak itself, are the prime years for hunting.
You can still bag birds outside those windows but it is a little tougher.
However, to say that is sort of saying that hunting grouse is easy at some point and it really isn't.
Sure, you run across the dumb bird here and there that just sits in the middle of some dirt path and waits for you to walk up and blast it with your shotgun.
But for the most part, grouse hunting is a challenge whether you use a dog or not. The fact that the grouse season lasts from mid-September through Dec. 31 each year and the average Minnesota hunter harvests only between three and seven birds annually should tell you something.
Personally, I've done better than that since I started grouse hunting in 2008, averaging seven to 12 birds per year but I spend A LOT of time in the woods chasing them.
While most hunters probably get out one or two weekend days each fall until deer hunting and the holidays take over their schedule, I've managed in the past few years to get into the woods for at least an hour or two daily in September and October.
As the "outdoors" writer at a local newspaper I was sort of expected to be in the woods doing "outdoors" things at least once in a while and believe me, I took full advantage.
Still, if you consider how many hours I've put in compared to the number of birds I've gotten, it's plain to see bagging grouse is not an easy chore.
Because despite having a reputation as a dumb bird, they are quite crafty - and they have to be to survive with such a limited ability to realize that eating dirt on the side of a road or trail is not the best recipe for survival.
In my case, I think it's their ability to sit tight in the woods until the last possible second that gives them a slight advantage over this shotgun wielding hunter walking down a brushy trail.
It's that heart-startling explosion that occurs when these less-than-graceful birds take off in what some would call flight, crashing and bashing their way through the thickest section of woods they can find, that delays my reaction just enough to never, ever get anything near a perfect shot off.
I'm not too proud to admit I've fired off my share of hip shots and half-aimed hail Mary's at grouse flying away from me in multiple directions only to end up standing on the trail bird-less and cursing myself out for not taking that extra second to dial in the bead on their backside.
In fact, since 2008 I've only managed to hit two grouse in the air, both of those coming last fall.
But it's that kind of challenge and the idea that no two flushes are ever the same, that keeps me coming back year after year after year, striving to improve and looking to bag more birds.
That, and they are so darn tasty!
See you in the woods.
The 2012 ruffed grouse season opens on Sept. 15.
In : Grouse hunting
Tags: "ruffed grouse" hunting hunt minnesota shotgun mossberg partridge bird shell aspen "department of natural resources" flush dog