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Grouse are on the upswing this year

In this photo from Dec. of 1970, the author, Bernie Revering, left, shows off grouse with hunting partner Harry Johnston.

The mysterious cycle in the life of the ruffed grouse is definitely nearing one of the peak years. Scientists and biologists don't fully understand its cause, but the effect, well, we all know about that. The next peak in grouse populations is expected in the autumn of 2011, so this year we should have some pretty satisfying trips into grouse covers in search of the birds. Grouse hunting is improved this year. In some locations, they're appearing in hunters bags in very satisfying numbers. Hereabouts, hunters are having average to better than average shooting. The season opened on Sept. 15, and it will continue way until the Jan. 4, 2009. In the Chippewa National Forest, the Walker area, and in the Beltrami National Forest of Fourtowns, and a few other places, hunting has been excellent. With a flushing or a pointing dog, hunters I've talked with spoke glowingly of success. And, there haven't been a lot of hunters in the woods. There's been very little competition in most instances.

You need not be in the woods at daybreak. After the morning's dew is gone, grouse become active and are out after clover, berries and buds.

The daily limit is five birds, and some gunners have been able to achieve this. A light gun is what you want. A 20 gauge pump or semi-automatic with an open choke is what you want. Of course, a bigger, more cumbersome 12 will do if that's what you have, but a 20 is plenty! And if you have an elegant 28 gauge over-under, well you have the ultimate. Lucky you.

Ruffed grouse are real homebodies, seldom venturing more than more than a mile or so from the woodsy cover where they were chicks. That's good news for hunters, as you can observe the type of cover in which you've taken a grouse, and then merely mosey along in similar cover. Burton L. Spiller, in his classic book "Drummer In The Woods" said it best: "Grouse are where grouse have been!" So if you hunt the same woods from one season to the next, you'll remember the spots where you've met success, and will simply head for those places again. I have a spot near Rock Lake, which has put grouse in my game bag for season after season. It hasn't failed me, and is a relatively small stand of aspen and some low, tangled brush that a brood or two must have found to their liking.

Where aspen of various ages grow after logging is past, these areas merge as pure gold. Where there are some mature spruce mixed in, so much the better. These trees provide safe roosting for grouse in the night-time hours.

Like many critters, ruffed grouse like the edge areas. You'll not find them in the deep woods as often as they'll be in the thinning edges of aspens with mixed hardwoods mixed in.

Where's the best place to find grouse? Well, it varies, but edge cover is the best. If you're fortunate to find an overgrown tote road, used by loggers years long gone, well this is the place to travel, quietly and slowly. Permit the dog to roam. Ruffed grouse aren't the runners that pheasants are famous for. Usually, a flushed bird will not move very far from the spot where you saw him disappear. Approach, with the gun at port arms, finger to slide the safety to off, and, keeping your eye on the intended target, take a well-directed shot. Ruffed grouse aren't difficult to kill. Usually, just two or three small shot is all that's needed. Many hunters like #7 1/2 shot, but I've always preferred #6 in an ounce load in the 20 gauge. Traploads in 12 gauge #7 1/2 will be all you'll ever need. Take home less than your limit of five.

A pair or three ruffed grouse is a quarry you'll be proud of. Grouse is by far the best there is for the dinner table. Beats pheasant or mallard by a long ways!

Grouse seldom present an easy target. They flit through the trees, after a noisy, explosive take off. They'll flush from unexpected places, so you'll need to remain alert and ready.

Northern Minnesota is the grouse spot. Much better than the much touted wooded areas of New England or Appalachia, Michigan or Wisconsin. So get out this year into the grouse woods, and take your chances with this grand bird.

Pheasant season opens on Oct. 11

You may elect to avoid the extra cost involved in going to the Dakotas this year for pheasants. Minnesota has reported a slight decline in the numbers of birds we'll have, but it still looks like we'll have a good season. The limit again will be two roosters, with six in possession.

The past decade of pheasant hunting in Minnesota has been pretty darn good. Not the spectacular numbers of the Dakotas, mind you, but hunters with good hunting dogs, whether flushing or pointer, will do wonders for your success, so by all means, invade the fields with a dog if at all possible.

Pheasant hunting tactics have changed markedly from those employed five decades ago when I first toted a ponderous full choked 12 gauge Browning automatic in quest of roosters. Parties often comprised 20 to 40 eager shooters in those days, combing the fields of harvested corn or the wheat stubble, hay land or waist high grass. These days, four guys and one or two dogs is the sensible, successful rule.

A flushed pheasant isn't a difficult target. He rises slowly. With a noisy flush, but if you wait him out for a second, note his direction of flight, then coolly bring up your gun.

The 20 gauge and an ounce of sixes is usually all you'll need, but the 12 gauge remains king, and heavy duck loads of five or six shot will be the choice of many. An excellent load for pheasants is the 1 1/4 ounce load of #5 shot, produced by Fiocci. This is in the 3" shell -- more than you really need. Winchester's copper plated #6 shot in the 3" 20 gauge is also excellent.

You'll probably need to travel some distance to find good pheasant hunting in Minnesota. This Minnesota zone is usually meant to be the southern two tiers of counties along our Iowa border. There are some good picked corn fields and cat tail sloughs in Wilkin and Lac qui Parle counties, that aren't so far away. There are some good public hunting areas available, and if you're there in the middle of the week, these can be productive.

Roosters will spook out of range if they hear you coming. So don't slam that door on the pick up, don't be constantly directing the dog and move through the fields slowly. There are pheasants to be hunted right here in Minnesota, and they're not too far away. So, I'm hoping that you'll take your four roosters in a weekend hunt, having safe fun doing it. Pheasant hunting is returning to Minnesota, and many eager hunters are anticipating it. Best of luck to you, and your hunting party.

Minnesota's duck season

The duck season opened yesterday. There were some ducks around last week, when I visited some of the local hot spots. I'd predict that our season will not be great but we'll bag some teal, wood ducks and ringbills mostly. Most hunters aren't aware of the efforts that our DNR spent toward an increase in bluebill daily limits, but lost out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials who have the final say on the regulations.