Grouse populations might be up or might be down but no matter where we are in the cycle and since there are only so many autumns in a life time, October finds me in the woods. And 2015 will go down as another good year.
In early October, I load up our string of veteran grouse dogs and young dogs and head to Bowen Lodge, northwest of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on Lake Winnibigoshish. I’ve been guiding for Bill and Gail Heig for almost 20 years and spend most of the month with them. Even on a day off from guiding grouse hunters, I still walk tote roads and slosh through bogs while training our young dogs.
Bill and I were disappointed in the grouse numbers. We expected an uptick based on good spring drumming counts but reproduction did not follow. We flushed about the same number of grouse per hour as in 2014—which continues as the lowest number since the peak in 2010. We had better dog work on the birds we found and shot more than last year.
As in 2014, we had another big year for woodcock flushes. Fortunately, woodcock keeps guiding clients happy during a slow day for grouse.
As for the dogs, it was a good year, too. Four-year-old Northwoods Vixen put it all together this fall. She pointed and handled grouse as proficiently and stylishly as any. No matter time of day when—or hunting spot where—I ran veterans Ox and Carly, both were, as usual, simply outstanding. Young sisters Carbon and Bismuth and pointer Platinum advanced and by the end of the season, all handled grouse like mature dogs. While not as far along, one-year-old Nickel and Mercury still found lots of birds and pointed many.
My time at Bowen Lodge is special. The dogs and the birds are instrumental but it’s the clients, too. Most have been with us for those 20 years and now are friends. In fact, I can’t wait to see them all again in 2016.