A day on a guided grouse hunt

Ken, left, and Jim are long-time friends and clients of Bowen Lodge and Northwoods Bird Dogs.

A guided hunt.

Don’t the words evoke images of camaraderie, hospitality, gorgeous locales and excellent hunting?  Whether for pheasants in South Dakota, ducks on Delta Marsh or doves in Argentina, a guided hunt sounds at once fanciful and wonderful.

Anyone can indulge. The back pages of sporting magazines are full of opportunities. Jerry and I recommend the experience highly as we’ve been fortunate to be part of a grouse guiding operation for almost 20 years.

Jerry guides for Bill and Gail Heig, owners of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish, northwest of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Come September, some good fishing remains on the big lake but the family resort side of their business wanes when school begins. All of which makes room for a limited number of guided grouse hunts.

Over the years, the hunters and other guides have become friends and clients. It’s nice to see the same faces each fall but it’s also gratifying to see again all the dogs—whether dogs we trained or puppies purchased from us that have matured into good bird dogs and favorite companions.

Ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting, bird dogs, fine shotguns, great food, and great friendships. These words pretty well sum up the month of October at Bowen Lodge.
~ Bill Heig

Before the morning hunt, Northwoods Chardonnay waits patiently while Jerry puts on her bell and tracking collar.

Guides like to see a recently used drumming log. A Grulla Armas 20-gauge shotgun looks nice, too.

Every guiding day includes a break about mid day. Chairs are unfolded and a cooler full of water and soft drinks is opened. In addition, big, tasty sandwiches, plenty of side dishes and homemade treats are unpacked from the picnic basket.

When hunters stop for lunch, dogs get a rest, too. Jim waters Sam while Roxie, Casey and Morris relax.

Even guides need a break!

Ken and Northwoods Prancer pose with a perfectly retrieved woodcock after a beautiful afternoon in the woods.

A favorite part of the day is cocktail hour when hunters and guides gather in front of the fire at Bowen Lodge.

Gail always sets a beautiful table for dinner in the lodge.

In the lodge, a setter naps in the shadow of a bronze grouse sculpture after another fabulous day in the woods.

Many of the photographs were taken by Ken Taylor. Thank you!

Hunting reports from clients and friends

Chris’ lap is the perfect spot for Piper after a good day in the woods.

October must be every grouse hunter’s favorite month. With careful planning and hopefully without endangering any careers, many spend more days in the woods than in the office. Despite some rather discouraging spring drumming counts and early season predictions, friends and clients of ours are enjoying excellent hunting. Grouse dogs seem pretty happy, too!

From Chris
Piper, Setter Female, whelped May 15, 2010, Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost
Roy, Setter Male, whelped March 12, 2012, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

Perfect day. Limit of grouse and woodcock by 3:30, and that is with a 2-hour lunch. Roy is having lots of fun. Two beautiful solo woodcock points this morning…He is extremely stylish and tall on his points. He was also able to hunt dead on 4-5 birds and had fun with a wing flapping grouse. I think he might be in puppy heaven.

Roy is tired but stares devotedly at Chris.

Piper is hunting extremely well and finding birds at an amazing rate, despite her tendency to range more than I would like. She has become very proficient at pointing birds in trees, which is fun and entertaining even though I don’t shoot birds out of trees.

…three pairs of hunters had a combined 36 grouse flushes in 2 hours last evening. In the light rain this morning, I had 11 flushes in two hours before heading home.

 

Ryan is proud of Biscuit on her second season in the woods.

From Ryan
Biscuit, Setter Female, whelped January 1, 2011, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

It gave me great pleasure being able to tell people that I had limited or nearly limited most days. I would agree that the count was down in the area but for someone with pointing dogs and the willingness to walk there were birds to be had.

From Mike
Sue, Setter Female, whelped June 18, 2011, Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice

Had Sue out several times this weekend and she might be the smartest dog I’ve ever owned….I hope her range extends a little. About 75 yards right now but the way my legs feel this morning that might be good.

 

Ken and his son with a nice day’s work by Tia, at rest in the background.

From Ken
Tia, Setter Female, whelped January 1, 2011, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

Last weekend between grouse and woodcock I bet I saw 40 birds in six hours of walking. This weekend maybe 20 or 25. There were good shots on about half or a third of them. Tia has been doing great. She’ll hold some woodcock three feet off the end of her nose (and bump others). She might point a grouse from 30-40 feet away or more if the wind is right.

From Mel
Jake, a French Brittany we had in for puppy foundation training

Thought you might be interested in an update on Jake’s maiden trip for grouse & woodcock yesterday. He pointed or flushed over a dozen birds, found 3 downed birds including one point a second time before it tried to crawl under a log, when he grabbed it by the tail feathers. He had no problem holding the points and responded well to whoa commands. He had enthusiasm and energy to hunt all day so I am quite pleased for his first time out.

 

For a seven-month-old puppy, Snicker shows remarkable maturity and beautiful style on a woodcock.

From Bart
Snicker, Setter Male, whelped March 12, 2012, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

Yesterday was the pheasant tournament that I sponsor through our company…..I couldn’t believe what a fantastic job he did. He quartered in front of all of us (most of the time) like he had been doing it for years and if I needed him to come back in closer he responded to my whistle commands with very little repeats. It was windy and the birds were moving around a bit and it was thrilling for me to watch him as he very carefully worked into the bird. He never bumped a one.

I was also amazed at how well he marks downed birds . . . even those that were out 35-40 yards he was at the fall quickly and it was a thrill I will never forget to see him deliver, to my hand, 11 big roosters.

From Brad
Tana, Setter Female, whelped March 12, 2012, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

Tana and I went on a long hunt. 21 grouse contacts and 2 woodcock. I thought she did great! Saturday we hunted about 5 hours and covered 6 miles and even though we took breaks, I gave her Sunday off….though I’m sure she would have rather gone out again.

She ranged well and checked in with me to stay in contact. I was also impressed with how she already seems to know birdy cover. When we would cross through some open maple stands she would beeline for an alder thicket or edge created with fir trees, etc. ,and ignore the open areas.

Carly Simon: You probably think this post is about you

Accidents do happen—to people and to pets. At the very least they can be painful, expensive and disruptive to daily life. At their worst (ask Joe Mauer or Tom Brady) they can eliminate a star athlete from the roster for an entire season.

For a grouse hunter, the equivalent loss is an accident that removes a promising young dog from his string.

Monday, July 30 was a quintessential summer day in Minnesota—blue skies, bright sun and a slight breeze. Jerry was up early and out of the house to exercise a group of dogs from the four-wheeler. Some he would free-run; others would be harnessed to bars and roaded. Not one hour later, Jerry rushed back into the house, his face ashen and anxious.  He exclaimed, “Carly is hurt!”

An accident had broken all four metatarsal bones in Carly’s rear right foot. The breaks were clean but severe. Pins were inserted into the two larger middle bones and the leg was encased in a hard cast. Stern rules were issued about no exercise. Only short walks on short leads to relieve herself would be allowed. She would have to be confined to the house and, for a good part of each day, a crate.

Northwoods Carly Simon was whelped in 2011 out of Blue Shaquille and Houston’s Belle’s Choice. (That was the year of naming puppies after rock stars and Bob, her owner, chose Carly Simon. The name fits her perfectly.) She had been stellar last fall as a puppy and had shown incredible talent earlier this year in Tennessee on bobwhite quail. Her pain and loss were keenly felt.

Throughout this ordeal, Carly has made the best of each challenge. She adapted effortlessly to her new routine and seemed, in fact, to gain confidence and strength.  She stands stoically while we put on her big plastic bonnet. She was easy to house-break and, in fact, never had an accident. She even loves swallowing the endless rounds of antibiotics when hidden in small slices of wieners.

She has tolerated everything she’s had to endure not only with calmness but, judging by her tail, with happiness.

Some two months later, Carly is now on the home stretch. The pins have been removed and the hard cast has been replaced by a soft cast with a metal support. Soon even that will come off and we’ll begin exercise and rehabilitation.

The timing should be good. Carly will be ready to get into the grouse woods for some of that excellent, late-season hunting.

Jeff and Izzie: an inseparable pair

Jeff Hintz with his sidekick JTH Izzie.

Anyone who has visited our kennel has probably bumped into Jeff Hintz at some time or another. Jeff and Ron Watson own a very cool hunting lodge about 400 yards to the east of us. Both have been friends of ours for many years through dogs, field trials, hunting and other shared interests. Jeff and Ron are retired now from successful careers in the Twin Cities and so have lots more time to spend as our neighbors.

Jeff is also an invaluable member of our training team. He joins Jerry and Dan during the summer months when our programs are in high gear. He gathers pigeons from the lofts, places them in releasers and then plants them in the field. Too, Jeff is a crack shot with a shotgun when the training calls for dead birds.

Jeff is a pointer guy and usually owns several at a time. Currently he and his wife Carol have Cassie (CH Front ‘N Center x Dancing Queen), Hershey (CH Front ‘N Center x Chickadee) and from our 2011 litter of Northwoods Prancer x CH Westfall’s Black Ice, a beautiful black-and-white female named Izzie.

Like the rest of her seven littermates, Izzie is a sweetheart in the house and a tiger in the field. She was quite precocious and last year Jeff successfully hunted her on grouse, woodcock and the quail of southern Arizona. In addition, Jeff has gathered a couple of nice placements in field trials, including a recent second in the Region 19 Amateur All-Age Derby.

After Jeff’s work for us is done for the day, he usually heads home for some lunch and returns about an hour later at the helm of his gas-powered golf cart. He pulls up close to our front door, opens the cover to his Ipad case and logs onto the Internet using our wi-fi signal. (We joke that he works for free wi-fi.)

Perkily riding shotgun, wagging her tail and acting as if she owned the place is Izzie. She calmly waits while Jeff works. Soon Jeff cranks up the golf cart and the pair head back home.

Hunting sharptails and Huns in western North Dakota

Frankie and Northwoods Blue Ox with sharp-tailed grouse.

North Dakota in early September is for one thing only—sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge hunting. Ian MacTavish and I were fortunate to be included when Frankie Kartch planned a hunting trip at his farm in western North Dakota. Frankie grew up in the area and knows it well.

Frankie brought Ranger, his setter, and Ian had four setters, Pearl, Maggie, Eli and Chet. I never like to be under-dogged so I hauled our dog trailer and brought 12 dogs. In addition to my guiding string (Oscar, Prancer and Lucy ), I brought client dogs Morris, Franny, Harmon, Gale, Tyler, Liz, Jill, Sean, and Grits to train.  That country is vast and can eat up dogs in a hurry. We had just the right amount!

As it seems with most sharptail openers, the weather was warm and dry.  Making it tolerable for the dogs was the abundance of ponds—that is if they could squeeze between all the ducks. The small grain harvest was almost complete so there was plenty of stubble. We hunted native pastures and alfalfa fields also.

Ian’s salad of greens, asparagus, cashews and grilled sharp-tailed grouse.

We didn’t see as many Huns as we would have liked but the sharptail coveys were large and plentiful. Most of the birds we shot were young; in fact a few of the Huns were very immature.

For three guys, if I must say so myself, we did a fine job in the cooking department.  Every night included what became my famous sharptail kebabs, Ian’s delicious sharptail salads and main courses masterminded by Frankie.

A cold beer while preparing dinner and a nightcap of the single malt Laphroaig was all it took to put us to sleep after a long, fun day in the field.

Northwoods Aerosmith with two limits of sharp-tailed grouse.

To start:  grilled sharptail shish kebabs.

A nice mix of prairie hunting ground.

Northwoods Parmigiano backs Merimac’s Westerly Gale.

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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