As expected, ruffed grouse were hard to come by this year in Minnesota. The drumming counts were up last spring but the early-to-mid years of a decade have always been times of fewer grouse. The late spring and wet nesting season did not help as few broods were found. While warm temperatures in October were common state-wide, conditions varied from very dry in the northwest to quite wet in central Minnesota.
Based on personal observation as well as client reports, some areas of the state had higher numbers of birds flushed.
Low grouse numbers usually mean a higher proportion of adult birds encountered. These survivors are the most difficult for both a bird dog to handle and a for hunter to shoot. They run more, flush farther away and when they do flush, they fly low. (Age a bird shot that flushed across a trail and flew straight away and it’s likely to be an immature bird.) The woodcock numbers were again a pleasant surprise and made the spans of time between grouse flushes more exciting.
Besides all that, it was still a great season.
I spend most of October guiding out for Bill and Gail Heig of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish. A special group of hunters have been coming to Bowen for decades and most have become good friends. It’s always fun to see them and share our passion in the woods.
Again, as in recent low-cycle years, we all saw how valuable a savvy, experienced grouse dog can be. With their knowledge and experience, they find and point far more birds. Shaq (age 10) and Ox (age 7) perfectly fit that description; Carly and Vixen (both age 3) came into their own by mid-season. Rum Rickey and Slash filled in when needed and did solid jobs.
An exciting surprise was our 18-month-old pointer male, Northwoods Jaguar (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013). He showed a natural inclination to point and retrieve grouse with very little handling. His composure around game and ability to follow flushed birds and point them again was developed well beyond his young age. Jaguar’s five-month-old half sister, Platinum (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer), also showed her proclivity by pointing grouse and woodcock as well as retrieving/carrying the dead birds around.
All guides and most of the guiding clients at Bowen Lodge have purchased dogs from us over the years. It’s insightful to watch the dogs develop over the years and gratifying to see the bonds between dogs and owners.
• Sunny (Blue Chief x Forest Ridge Jewel, 2003)
• Roxie (CH Terhaar’s Rocko x CH A Rolling Stone, 2005)
• Casey (I’m Houston’s Image x Blue Silk, 2006)
• Cammie and Daisy (Blue Chief x Blue Blossom, 2007)
• Bobbi (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010)
• Tyler (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011)
• Morris (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Chardonnay, 2011)
• Maggie (Dashaway x Good Going Moxie, 2009)
• Ice (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Black Bama, 2011)
• Ginger (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013)
Bill Heig owns Ice (age 4) and she put on clinic after clinic. She proves there are dogs that can pin—freeze in place, not just point—ruffed grouse.
Mike Powers again did a great job working our young dogs. Not only does he know how to put dogs into birds, but he is extremely proficient with a shot gun, too. Low populations can make learning about grouse more difficult and there’s only one way to get that education—keep hunting them.
A big disappointment in our central region was 12” of snow on November 10, followed by bitter cold and strong winds. That put an immediate end to all late-season hunting.
Looking ahead, I’m optimistic that next season there will be more grouse in the woods. But even if there aren’t, I’ll still be out there!
Autumn is every bird hunter’s favorite season. Judging by the plethora of emails, text messages and photographs Jerry and I received from friends and clients, they spent as much time as possible in the woods and fields with their bird dogs—dogs ranging in age from three-month-old puppies to gray-browed, experienced grouse dogs.
Themes for the season seemed to be:
• lots of birds in the bag
• puppies having a ball and learning lots
• kids with their first grouse
• passionate hunters afield with multiple dogs
• dogs on point in the western U.S.
• dogs on point in the north woods
• suburban dogs yet to get out
• bird dog owners who wish they were better shooters
• lots of happy dogs
Finally, the bittersweet end of the grouse season in the central part of the country was sealed with a blanket of snow.
“Oh my God!! There is an aviation term we use for some new guys…..all velocity and no vector! That is Lucy (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014). She is so calm and nice when you stop and pet her…..she just soaks it up…..but take her out side and she is all systems go! And I could not be any happier! Thank you for all your help, and another wonderful dog.”
~ Mike, Minnesota
“Just wanted you to know that Rose (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010) is killing it this year. She is not only a delight at home—but a first-class grouse finder. Chris could not be happier with her and I just overheard him telling her in all earnestness how proud he is to have her as a partner!”
~ Laura, Illinois
“Had a great pheasant hunt with Piper (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013) in South Dakota last week. She was able to pin them pretty tight most of the time. She’s a workaholic who just keeps finding birds and points them beautifully.”
~ Chuck, Minnesota
“…Bates (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) is doing well. He has been running in the woods 4 times a week off leash, and becoming a nice family dog. Thanks for the great dogs.”
~ Jeff, Minnesota
What a cool idea. Nick Larson and his friend, Garrett Mikrut, recently completed a grouse hunter’s dream—seven days pursuing ruffed grouse across its northern Minnesota range. They traveled from Duluth, Two Harbors and Ely to Hackensack. Completing the hunting party were two German shorthairs owned by Mikrut and a 4½-month-old English setter puppy, Hartley, owned by Nick and his wife, Lacey MacLean.
Sam Cook, Outdoors writer for the Duluth News Tribune, reported on their trip in the November 2 edition.
Hartley is out of our Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice litter, which is how Jerry and I met Nick and Lacey. Whether through breeding, training or guiding, we come across many, many people interested in bird dogs and bird hunting but those as passionate as Nick are rare.
In addition to their exploits in the field together, Nick and Garrett maintain a lively blog, Northwoods’R, with beautiful photographs and posts about hunting, fishing and dogs.
Late in the afternoon last Wednesday in a remote area of central Minnesota, Dave Moore was grouse hunting with Gert, his eight-year-old, multiple champion English setter. Light was fading and he decided to walk the half hour back to his truck. He popped out of the woods and up onto a gravel road. Gert, meanwhile, was still hunting.
Just then, a pickup careens down the rural, dead-end road. Dave thinks to himself, “Gert, just stay in the woods,” and he stands in the middle of the road, waving his arms. Events unfolded rapidly—the pickup didn’t slow down, Gert sprang out of the woods onto the road and the speeding truck hit her. In a further, unthinkable behavioral breach, the four kids in the truck didn’t stop.
Gert was down and blood seemed to be everywhere. Dave rushed to her and ensured she was alive. He then gently lifted her, back legs dangling like broken sticks, and carried her for the half-hour walk back to the truck.
By now it was pitch dark and Dave drove directly to the veterinarian’s office. The diagnosis was serious—Gert’s right hip was grossly out of its socket, all four ligaments of her right knee were torn and her left leg suffered severe road rash, down to the bone. Incredibly, no bones were broken.
Dave and his wife Rochel own Gert (registered name I’m Blue Gert). They bought her from our 2006 breeding of Blue Silk to the rarely used but talented I’m Houston’s Image. The entire litter was outstanding, producing another grouse champion, Satin From Silk (owned by Greg and Dianne Gress), wonderfully sweet, now deceased Blue Ghost (owned by Mo and Randy O’Brien) and two cool dogs Jerry and I named Boomer and Moxie.
Gert has had quite a year. With full support and encouragement from Dave and Rochel, we leased Gert to breed to our young, handsome Northwoods Grits. During whelping, she had some difficultly and underwent a C-section operation. Within weeks of weaning her three female puppies, Gert was back at work getting in shape for the fall field trial season.
Dave’s first message read: “Gert is so tough.”
On Thursday evening, Dave sent a second message with an uncanny, bittersweet note about Gert and their 14-year-old pointer, Tucker.
“She has surgery in the a.m. for the knee and they will put the hip back in place at the same time. Tucker passed away tonight—he went the Green Mile for Gerty.”
The last message from Dave came this morning: “She is using her leg just fine. I have her on a leash because she wants to go! I can’t believe it. I didn’t think she could walk for a month.”
It’s true; dogs are tough, as Dave wrote, but resilient and strong, too. And thanks to Dave and Rochel, Gert will get through this. There are still field trials to win. Don’t count her out.