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!