Prior to a day in the woods, grouse hunters, guides and their dogs gather at Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish. With the exception of the pointer, all the setters were bred and trained by us.
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.
It doesn’t get any better than this. After a successful hunt on a quintessential autumn afternoon, Ken and his setter Roxie walk back along the tote road.
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.
Hunters John and Brian bagged a big male drummer that had been pointed by experienced bird dog Shaq.
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.
Ray and Carly take a break after a good morning hunt in central Minnesota.
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.
Near the swamp edge at the base of a beaver-chewed maple, Slash has his bird pinned and remains steady as Jim moves in for the shot.
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!
This was the first grouse Ellie (Northwoods Grits x I’m Blue Gert, 2014) pointed. She is a very bold pup, and the check cord you gave us is key to catching her! She is one super little puppy.
~ Tom, Indiana
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
• lots of happy dogs
• bird dog owners who wish they were better shooters
Finally, the bittersweet end of the grouse season in the central part of the country was sealed with a blanket of snow.
Cool and calm after a grouse hunt in western Wisconsin, CH JTH Izzie (Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) is ready to go again as she scans the terrain for more likely spots.
“Oh my God!! There is a 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
That’s our youngest, Rece, with his first-ever ruffed grouse in central Minnesota. Both he and Finn (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2014) were elated. So proud of him for a 9-month-old pup! He’s bumping birds frequently but is learning from each encounter. On one bird he locked up 70 yards in front of me and held 5 minutes or more until I busted through a bog to get to him and flush the bird. And then, he won’t even give me time to praise him afterwards – he retrieves and then takes off looking for more! Feeling pretty fortunate to have one of your dogs – especially from Oscar.
~ Todd, Minnesota
Here is a photo of our youngest son Ryan with his first grouse. It was shot off a beautiful point by Tia (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) a few weeks ago. We’ve been out hunting grouse every weekend. Tia still lives to hunt. Wish I was able to shoot better for her.
~ Ken, 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
Took the dogs (From left: Prancer (Dashaway x Fallset Fate, 2008), Jordy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014), Timber (Westfall’s Black Ice x Nothwoods Prancer, 2011) out on a morning woodcock hunt on Sunday. It was a memorable day. Each dog had some pointed birds and each dog had retrieved birds. Could not ask for anything more.
~ Mark, Wisconsin
Kate (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2010, on left, with Cooper, Blue Chief x Blue Blossom, 2007) was on fire Sunday! For the record, Kate and I had 15 birds in one hour and 30 minutes.
~ Barry, Minnesota
Steve couldn’t be happier after a day in the northern Minnesota grouse woods with his older dog, on left, and Bryn (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014).
Eastern Montana bird season is in full swing with pheasants opening last weekend. Thank you once again for allowing me the opportunity to own one of your fine bird dogs. I’ve had the pleasure of hunting over a number of dogs in my lifetime. Zada (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013) has drive and intelligence, a rare combination in a young bird dog.
~ Tom, Montana
Charlie (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013) has been lighting it up a bit. Was 3rd in the Larry Brech Memorial Open Derby Classic with 18 entries – quite a few from pros. Then won the derby held in conjunction with the the Cascade All-Age Championship. Took him chukkar hunting after trial. Had 9 finds in 90 minutes!!!!
~ Steve, California
“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
I thought I would drop you a line to let you know Frisco (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) is loving her new job…hunting. She naturally loves retrieving and the size of a pheasant is no problem. Other hunters are very pleased as well as us with her disposition; she is so pleasant and well mannered. Frisco listens well and doesn’t go hunting off on her own. She also gets along with other hunters’ dogs.
~ Rick, Minnesota
Tired-but-happy Mac (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013) poses with two beautiful ruffed grouse after a hunt in Minnesota.
Experience counts. At the age of nine, Jake (Gusty Blue x CH Houston’s Belle, 2005) proudly stands over his birds after hunting in Minnesota.
It’s hard to believe Boomer (I’m Houston’s Image x Blue Silk, 2006) is already eight years old. He is still running like a five-year-old, and lots of hunt still in him! Boomer has been a great dog, and I’m hoping his good health will last a few more years.
~ Scott, Minnesota
Duke (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013) has had a fantastic season with several points, but this one tonight on a woodcock is about as “classic” as they get! He pointed 19 woodcock this evening and a ruff. At this point in the season he has pointed sharptails, huns, ruffs, woodcock, and pheasants; and he’s backed on all of these as well as sage grouse! Still looks at me when I miss though…
~ Tom, Minnesota
In our one-hour hunt, we had 4 grouse contacts, 2 points, 1 bagged; 17 woodcock contacts, 8 points, 1 bagged. Tana (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) pointed and held steady for her first woodcock, but it flushed wild before I could get to her and she was off to the races. Her points were as intense as I’ve seen from her.
~ Brad, 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
Whatever you two did, you did it right. Rae (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013) has acclimated to suburban life seamlessly. Not one house accident, trained quickly to the electric yard fence, obeys, very trainable to further commands. She is my constant companion and she is the most stylish dog at the dog park. She and I are the best of pals.
~ David, Minnesota
Belle (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) is getting so big and is always the center of attention. She apparently likes to pose.
~ Robby, Minnesota
It was truly a magical weekend as the weather cooperated and the birds were abundant! Like the birds at my feeder, the grouse knew the weather was making a major turn for the worse and were busy feeding on the ground. We did have a blanket of snow Sunday morning, but it was actually warmer than the previous days and made for a wonderfully peaceful hunt before we all departed.
~ Chris, Wisconsin
Nick Larson, on left, and his hunting partner Garrett Mikrut, on right, were joined for a day of grouse hunting by Sam Cook, center, Outdoors writer for the Duluth New Tribune, who also reported on the hunt. Photo by northwoodsr.com.
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.
Thanks to Nick Larson’s passion and dedication, his English setter puppy Hartley has gained invaluable experience in the woods this fall. Photo by northwoodsr.com.
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.
Gert is surrounded by soft pillows and cushions after surgery to repair torn ligaments and reposition an out-of-socket hip.
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.
Outfitted with a new-fangled fabric cone, Gert rests in the arms of Rochel Moore.
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.
We still store the traps Jerry used when he was young. The collection includes snare, leg-hold and Conibear traps as well as the necessary chains and stakes. The large trap in front is the 220 Conibear that caught Jerry’s Brittany spaniel in 1985.
Jerry will never forget the day in 1985 when he saved the life of his first bird dog, a female Brittany spaniel. While pheasant hunting in the river bottoms of southern Minnesota, he heard a brief, odd, exhaling yelp and then nothing. The sight was horrific. His dog’s neck was caught in the jaws of a 220 Conibear trap.
After a moment of panic and a good kick of adrenaline, he worked quickly, cursing a broken safety catch on one side, and pried the trap open. She was free but not breathing and her gums and tongue had turned blue. Jerry performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as the final step.
Fortunately for the dog, Jerry knew about traps and CPR.
From the ages of 11 to 18 years of age, Jerry was a trapper. He used Conibear (although never as large as a 220), snare and leg hold traps, matching trap to quarry—whether fox, raccoon, mink, beaver or muskrat. As required by law, he walked his trap lines every day during the season with a wicker pack basket on his back and gained valuable knowledge about the intricate workings of many kinds and sizes of traps.
Even though Jerry and I haven’t known of any dogs—either ours or dogs owned by friends and clients—killed in traps, we do know of some who were injured. But dogs do die as Doug Smith, outdoor writer for the Twin Cities-based Star Tribune, reported in a piece on January 15, 2013.
We think it behooves all hunters to become familiar with the types of traps they might encounter and how to free a trapped animal.
Cut the wire (Carry a Leatherman or other tool capable of cutting wire.)
Step on the spring(s) and the trap will release.
Conibear, also called Body Grip Trap
Print the instructions from the website below and carry with you, along with heavy-duty zip ties as specified at the bottom of the document.
Another life-saving technique that worked for Jerry and his Brittany spaniel is CPR. In addition to resuscitating a dog from a trap, CPR can be useful in other emergency situations.
Many thanks to Chris Bye for the idea of this post.
The play story in the Outdoors Weekend section of today’s Star Tribune, “For the love of bird dogs,” features Northwoods Bird Dogs. Outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson wrote the piece after he visited the kennel and hunted over Shaq and Oscar last week. He also shot the photographs.
Dennis has written about Jerry twice before but those articles centered on training and developing pointing dogs. This time he focused on the background of our business and the significance of our breeding program.
Dennis is an excellent writer no matter whether he’s taking on tough conservation issues or reporting on a fishing trip to a northern lake. I’ve always especially liked his pieces that are essay-like in style and cover subjects not necessarily outdoors-oriented.
In the final paragraphs when Jerry releases Oscar from a grouse point, Dennis perfectly captures the desire of our dogs to find and point birds: “Racing ahead, and quickly up to speed, Oscar was intent on finding still another bird. It’s what he lives for.”
The main photo by Dennis is good, too. Shaq is as fine a bird dog as we’ve owned and Dennis caught the handsome head and breath-taking composure on point.
Grouse run. Always have; always will.
… for the birds are such inveterate runners that unless they are bunched, running themselves en famille, in some southern nook, there will be no scent-cue wanting when once you have come near them.
~ Arthur Burdette Frost, Shooting Pictures magazine, 1895
More than 100 years later, Frost’s words still ring true. When a ruffed grouse is pursued by a bird dog and a hunter, they will run. They will run and run and run—and rarely in a straight line. In fact, I’ve known them to circle back behind their pursuers. Grouse also combine evasive tactics. They’ll run for a bit, then flush and fly some distance; then land and start running again.
The birds aren’t running randomly. They’re going to places where they’ve escaped pursuers many, many times before.
Running grouse pose a special challenge and provide the ultimate test for a pointing dog. Few have the knowledge, experience and talent to follow a running grouse as far as it takes to ultimately get the bird pointed. These special dogs—perhaps less than 10% of all pointing dogs—don’t just run through the woods looking for a grouse. Instead they are constantly seeking even the vaguest trace of grouse scent, maybe long after the bird moved through the area. Once the dogs get a whiff, they have the ability to determine which way the grouse went, follow until they determine they’re close enough and then pin it.
The expertise necessary to follow a running grouse isn’t acquired in one season. It might take two years, three years or even more. But when the dog finally puts it all together and, more often than not, takes on the king of the woods on the bird’s home turf and outwits it, that is a real grouse dog.
Northwoods Jaguar, on left, and Buddy, littermate brothers by CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013. Photo taken July 14, 2014, by Jerry Kolter, Duxbury, Minnesota.
Most of the dogs we sell are as much beloved pets as stalwarts in the woods and fields. Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) is large for a lap dog but manages to get plenty of attention from Chris Senkler.
Even though Jerry and I focus on breeding bird dogs used in the pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock, families who buy dogs from us hunt other birds. In fact, September found many hunters and their dogs heading west to the prairies of North Dakota and Montana. (First group of photographs.)
September is still a busy training month for Jerry and Dan…..and there’s almost no place they’d rather be than out in the woods and fields training bird dogs.
The CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay puppies and three neighbors out of Northwoods Rum Rickey by Northwoods Parmigiano watch kennel activities.
Then, of course, I must include photographs of puppies. Our two August-born litters are coming of age and ready to go to their new owners. The last group of photographs is from buyers of 2014 litters. These puppies are getting plenty of play time with their new families and their first introductions to birds and hunting.
Jack (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013) after a long Sunday, with the afternoon’s work on the tailgate!
~ Barry Frieler
This was Finn’s (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2014) first-ever pointed wild bird – cold, wet and windy in endless native grasses 5 miles from the northeastern corner of Montana. It was a short point; but an excellent find and retrieve right to hand. PRICELESS!
~ Todd Wiedmann
Look who I ran into out in Montana!
~ Joe Montgomery (on right) owner of Buddy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013), on finding another long-time friend/client of ours, A. G. Murray, Jr., from Oklahoma, who is now on the fourth NBD-bred setter.
Piper (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010, on right) still ranged, but was in control and purposeful and she was the same bird-finding machine she is in the grouse woods. Roy (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) is an extremely good “warm weather” dog, and everyone who hunted behind him wanted him or a puppy from him.
~ Chris Bye
What a pretty sight! Jerry often braces two dogs together because it offers many training opportunities. Occasionally, he runs three dogs, especially when one is experienced. Morris (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011), on left, has a beautiful find on a wild covey of sharptails. Veteran setter Choice (Gusty Blue x Houston’s Belle, 2005) and derby Smooch (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) honor Morris’ point.
From the age of eight weeks, we put puppies on the training barrel for initial lessons in whoa training. Five-month-old Northwoods Platinum (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) shows extraordinary poise and composure.
During one of those perfect mornings to be running dogs on the prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for his multiple champion Homemade (on right), who is backed by Lucy (Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011).
Franny (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle, 2010), on left, and Gus (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) score a divided find on sharp-tailed grouse in a scrub oak patch on the barrens.
I took Frisco (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) out for her first walk in the wild last weekend. We found grouse immediately and she got her first taste of feathers. She was not going to give up the grouse and ran around showing off with a lot of pride. So let the training begin….which will be all fun!
~ Rick Buchholz
We took Ellie (Northwoods Grits x I’m Blue Gert, 2014) for a walk at the club today and she backed Betty…..pointing what turned out to be a covey of 20 chukkar that must have been released last week. When they flushed Ellie went charging in the woods and was pretty amped up on the scent.
~ Tom Beauchamp
Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) continues to do well… everyone who meets him comments that 1) his name is very fitting; 2) he is so nice and sweet and calm; 3) he’s soo soft!!
~ Kjellrun Olson
Boatswain (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) is doing great, doing just what puppies should—tearing up anything he can get his mouth around, and exploring and learning lots everyday! He seems to be a natural retriever, because he is always carrying something around in his mouth and loves to come show it off.
~ Ben Whitten
Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) has been an outstanding addition to our family. She is full of life and our children absolutely love her.
~ Joe Byers
The very first covey of three grouse we ran into, Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) clearly indicated he scented birds. He was very excited and attempting to bust through some very thick cover on his own…I know he’s still very young and I just want him to have fun out there, which he did.
~ Nick Larson
Snix (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) is owned by Bart Salisbury, who wrote: “The woodcock was about 15’ off the end of his nose. I could see it walking away from him under the bracken ferns.” Photo taken September 21, 2014, by Bart Salisbury, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.