Not grousing about grouse huntingAfter a cold and wet October, we got a reprieve in early November. We enjoyed above-average temperatures including a string of five days with over 60 degrees of Indian summer.
By: Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist, River Falls Journal
After a cold and wet October, we got a reprieve in early November. We enjoyed above-average temperatures including a string of five days with over 60 degrees of Indian summer.
My brother-in-law, Ken “Buck” Schreiber of Osseo and I took advantage of the good weather and went north to do some grouse hunting a couple of weekends ago. Tom and Jill Kohl of River Falls have a nice cabin on the Chippewa River near Radisson. They let Buck and I stay in luxury in their cabin on our hunting trip.
Saturday morning was clear and frosty. Buck and I drove east to the Foster hunting camp at the south end of Mason Lake near the Flambeau River. The day warmed quickly and we were comfortable hunting in light clothing. We hunted south of the cabin on Flambeau River State Forest land.
South of Mason Creek is a clear-cut area where some salvage logging was done last year after a tree blow-down. Badger and I went around the east side of the clear-cut and Buck and Jasmine hunted around the west side. I sat on a stump to cool down and looked out over the clear-cut valley. Badger rolled on his back in the grass, something he does when he’s happy and wet.
I noticed a large-bodied 8-point buck with a wide rack bedded down about 40 yards away intently watching us. After several minutes the buck got up, snorted a few times and wandered off into the clear cut through 6-foot tall aspen saplings. Oh, to have that kind of opportunity during deer hunting season!
The buck circled to the west in front of where Buck and Jasmine were hunting. Buck never saw the buck. That clear cut should hold plenty of deer and grouse in a few years as the dense aspen saplings grow up.
As we progressed down the valley into uncut forest and brush we got into good grouse habitat. A couple of grouse got up from under a balsam fir, startling me with their loud wings. With a quick snap shot, a bird was down and Badger found it. Buck bagged another grouse soon after.
We flushed 20 grouse in several hours of hunting, not bad for a grouse population that’s patchy around Wisconsin and still on the rebound. We each burned up a handful of shells but most of the grouse flushed where we only heard them or didn’t have a shot at them.
As the day wore on, we grew leg-weary of hiking through the rough terrain with gnarly brush, tree-tip holes and mounds and blown down trees. But I’m not grousing about the grouse hunting.
Grouse hunting is good exercise and fun, one of my favorite things to do. It gets me and the dog up north into beautiful country. We enjoyed seeing deer, eagles, ravens and golden-eye ducks on the Flambeau River.
Ruffed grouse populations in northern forests vary in abundance over about 10-year cycles. Wildlife biologists have not yet been able to fully explain the causes of these cycles, but they may involve weather, the abundance of food and predators like goshawks.
Grouse are adapted to living in deep snow where they can dive in to keep warm and away from predators. They have fringes on their feet that act like snowshoes. Winters with little snow make them easier prey.
Most grouse predators, including me, think that they are delicious. Grouse have a surprising amount of meat on them for such a small bird. They are especially good stuffed with apples and baked.
Woodlots and forests can be managed for grouse habitat. Ruffed grouse like dense young aspen and thickets of American hazel, tag alder, and balsam fir. Around here grouse really like dense stands of gray dogwood and the white berries that they produce in the fall.
Grouse like their salads and fruit too, like blueberries, wild strawberries, wild grapes, and staghorn sumac. A bit of chainsaw work and some shrub plantings can welcome the birds that drum in the spring and startle us in the fall.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at email@example.com.