All hunters have heard of the mysterious cycles involved in the abundance or the scarcity of the numbers of ruffed grouse. Now in 2008, we are definitely on the up cycle and we'll have some pretty good hunting of this grand upland bird. Last year was pretty fair hereabouts too, and the peak in numbers has been estimated to be two seasons ahead, perhaps 2010. So this may be the year when you should shoulder that light, small gauge shotgun and follow your flushing dogs into the under-brush. Hunting with a pointer-retriever is common when you're after the pheasants, but a four-legged hunter can be a great asset too. It's just that fewer hunters put their dogs into the woods.
The ruffed grouse season has been open daily since the Sept. 15, but hunters still are putting up with the greenery on the trees. Until a heavy frost and some wind or rains come, foliage will be a problem. Some hunters have been putting up a few birds.
The Chippewa National Forest tote roads are expected to produce birds when the season is a bit further along. Simply drive east on Highway 34 and strike off on either side. The woods in the vicinity of Lake George have always been productive. Drive north (from 34) on Hubbard County Highway 4 into the Paul Bunyan Forest areas and you will find ruffed grouse.
A great deal of fuss is made about New England grouse hunting. Burton L. Spiller's classic "Drummer In The Woods" is a collection of good grouse hunting tips and stories, but it totally ignores the other areas -- the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where ruffed grouse numbers far exceed any that the famed New England areas ever produced.
What's the best shotgun to carry when seeking grouse? The 20 gauge is all the gun you need. If you're fortunate enough to have a 28 gauge, this is perhaps the ideal shotgun. It doesn't take a lot of pellets to kill a grouse, one or two will usually do it, as this bird is not particularly tenacious of life. Small shot, 7 1/2 or 8 is what you want. Heavy loads aren't required either. The 3" shell in the 20 gauge is far too much, but many do use it, with success.
We're not at the peak yet, but this is the year when you must get out into the woods for grouse. Ruff is the grandest shotgun target of them all, and this bird is the very best on the dining room table. There just isn't anything better, and Minnesota's woods are going to be the best place for hunting them this fall.
The Outdoor Channel
If you have cable TV, you have probably watched "The Outdooor Channel." This hunting and fishing show features professionals, mostly, sometimes the amateurs, shooting turkeys, black bears, waterfowl, or fishing the northern lakes of Canada. They are sometimes educational, showing techniques that are secrets of the pros, but mostly, they are advertising commercials for a host of outdoor products. The big manufacturers don't advertise here. Mostly it is some compound bow that you've never heard from, or a little known scope or tree stand. A very large part of the half hour show is commercial in nature.
The cheapest way to stage such a TV movie is to have a couple of guys standing up in a boat and casting a bait into the dark waters. Most of the time, these will be southern good 'ole boys from Arkansas, Mississippi or Louisiana. It is very seldom a Minnesota or Wisconsin locale. Filming a pair of anglers in a fishing boat is a pretty inexpensive way to shoot some film. And at the moment the fish breaks water or the dip net is put into the water, there's usually a break for a commercial for some fishing equipment.
Often these programs on Outdoor Channel or one or two other channels will feature four or more shotgunners occupying a duck blind, hundreds of decoys set out and the sky rains ducks. These shows are generally shot at the private hunting areas where the patrons have paid big bucks, have guides, and luxury accommodations. I seriously doubt that these gunners are your average outdoor sportsman. The conversation usually ends with "huntin' doesn't get any better than this," with the name of the lodge and its 800 number prominently displayed.
I suppose that marketing strategists for outdoor products require this approach to informing you of the success that you'll experience if you buy these products.
The notable exception to this criticism, is the Ron Schara outdoor show which is produced in St. Paul, and can be seen on one of these TV channels. Schara is an avid outdoorsman, and is a professional dog trainer. His shows are much better than the average seen on these shows, but these too, have a large percentage of air time directed toward the commercial messages.
Wet spring was bad for pheasants
Cool, wet, spring weather, combined with a net loss of grass land habitat in Minnesota's pheasant zone has led to a 24 percent drop in the number of birds this year. Last year we had a high harvest. But the DNR, nevertheless, predicts that we may have another kill approaching half a million birds. I'd say that's a pretty good season.
If you owned a hundred guns
Would you be able to come out and state which single gun was your all time favorite? I have been ably cared for by a certain MeritCare physician, Dr. Richard Arness, in Fargo. From my very first visit to this doctor's waiting room, I've been aware that he is an enthusiastic hunter, fisherman, and general outdoorsman. On a recent visit, he told me that his firearms collection is over a hundred items, pistols, rifles, shotguns.
Dr. Arness told me that he has some favorites, including the Super X semi-automatic shotgun, the M3 model. He has some nice over-under shotguns, of course, but he did make mention that his Ithaca Model 37 shotgun in 20 gauge with modified (fixed) choke was a particular favorite with him as he has made some long record pheasant kills with this little gun. This is a gun that's been made by Ithaca for more than 75 years, and was made by Remington, as the Model 17. It loads and ejects from the bottom of the receiver, a rather awkward arrangement, I've always thought. Dr. Arness, however picked this one, lowly, inexpensive pump gun and mentioned it to be a favorite. If I were the owner of a hundred guns, perhaps I'd be able to pick out a certain Model 12 Winchester. Then again, maybe a Browning.