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Grouse offer an easy start to hunting

September 28, 2009

by Chris Schultz

From Jay Johnson of the DNR

If you live in Minnesota and want to hunt upland birds, count your blessings.

Minnesota grouse hunting opportunities are among the best in the nation.

It’s often said that Minnesota is to grouse what South Dakota is to pheasants.

I’d argue that the grouse hunting opportunities in Minnesota are even better.

For instance, most of the best pheasant habitat and hunting opportunities in South Dakota are controlled by private landowners.

In contrast, Minnesota county, state, and national forests provide 11.5 million acres of grouse habitat – and each acre is open to public hunting.

So, if South Dakota is the Pheasant Capitol of the World, Minnesota certainly is the Ruffed Grouse Capitol of the World.

Don’t believe me? Well consider this.

Each year the Ruffed Grouse Society, a non-profit conservation organization focused on grouse, American woodcock and other related early successional forest wildlife, hosts its National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt in the Grand Rapids area.

So, if you aren’t hunting ruffed grouse, you are really missing out on the best upland bird hunting in the state.

Have I piqued your interest? I hope so. Here is some basic information that will help you find a place to hunt and hopefully, find a few birds.

First off, you need to know that the season opened Saturday, Sept. 19 and runs through Sunday, Jan.3, 2010.

The daily limit (how many you can have in the field) is five and the possession limit (how many you can have in the field and in your freezer) is 10.

Cock (male) and hen (female) birds are legal game.

You do need a small game license, which you can buy separately or in combination with your fishing license.

Shotguns in 12- and 20-gauge that are light, easy to carry and have open chokes, such as an improved cylinder, are perfect for grouse.

Standard target or field loads of No. 7-1/2 to No. 9 shot are all you need to effectively bring down a grouse.

A blaze-orange hat, a blaze-orange vest, and a comfortable pair of boots round out the necessary equipment you need to get started.

Cover may be thick and it’s crucial that others clearly see you through brush and trees.

Next, you need to know where to hunt.

Top counties in the state include Aitkin, Cass, Itasca, St. Louis, Beltrami, and Koochiching.

But there are quality hunting opportunities across much of the northern half of the state.

While not as abundant, grouse also are available in the hill country of southeastern Minnesota.

Once you decide on the general area you plan to hunt, do some Internet research, talk to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area wildlife office, and the county courthouse and get yourself a plat book for that county that shows land ownership.

Next, you need to know where and what type of cover to hunt.

Ruffed grouse are birds that prefer younger forests and really like the subtle seams and edges of those forests.

Many folks look at a piece of woods and say, “It all looks the same.”

The key to being a successful grouse hunter is being able to see the subtle edges, seams and transitions within any given woodlot.

As a general rule of thumb, try to find places where tree sizes at the base are between the diameter of your wrist and your calf.

Trees of this size will be between 15-30 feet high.

The type of tree, although important, is less important than the size and how close they are together.

Try to hunt in areas where aspen are present and avoid areas that are solid conifers.

While you may find grouse in such cover, your chances of getting a shot at them is slim.

When you have found a promising piece of grouse cover, where and how do you hunt?

Well, if there is a trail that runs through the cover, that’s a great place to start.

Remember, grouse are birds of edges and a trail provides two of those edges.

Growing up grouse hunting with my dad and others, we did the vast majority of our hunting walking old logging trails or “tote” roads as my dad called them.

Many a grouse met their end as the result of their attraction to the clover, forbs, and gravel that make these prime hunting spots so attractive.

If you are hunting without a dog, find a couple friends and put on the patented “partridge push.”

This tactic positions one hunter 20 yards into the cover on the left of the trail and one hunter the same distance to the right of the trail. The third hunter should stand on the trail and serve as the push coordinator.

The hunting team proceeds slowly down the trail stopping briefly every 50 or so steps.

The push coordinator’s job is to make sure that the team members stay abreast of each other and no one gets ahead of the others.

Constant communication among team members is the key to maintaining a safe and productive hunting experience.

On the other hand, an enhanced version of the push uses the assistance of a canine hunting companion.

The dog quarters back and forth across the trail in front of the three hunters, flushing any birds that might otherwise try to sit tight and let hunters without a dog walk past.

If the piece of woods you selected to hunt has no trails, then you need to try to find any other type of edge or seam.

These could include swamp edges, field edges and edges where two different tree types or sizes come together.

You can hunt them much the same way as you would a trail but the walking will be more difficult.

Hunting with a team in a trail-less area makes it more difficult to work together and stay in safe position. Be extra conscious of safety.

Hunting linear cover such as trails, seams and edges is a great way to begin your journey grouse hunting.

Have a great hunt and always remember to be sure of your target and what is beyond before taking the shot.

Firearms sight-in day at Delano

Persons who are not members of the Delano Sportsmens Club will be allowed to use the range to sight in their firearms for the upcoming hunting season. This will be the only opportunity this fall for non-members to use the range. The date is Saturday, Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The range is located at 4505 County Road 50 SE.

The fee is $15 per gun. Targets will be provided.

All guns must be cased and unloaded, and magazines empty.

No alcohol, or persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be permitted on site.

Bring your own hearing and eye protection.

Members of the club will be on hand to assist.

Visit the web site, www.delanosportsmensclub.com for directions and more information.

Waverly Gun Club upcoming events

The Waverly Gun Club will be hosting several events coming up.

Doubles league begins Thursday, Oct. 1 with individuals and teams welcome.

The final ladies night will take place Tuesday, Oct. 13 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The club will also offer rifle sight-ins over three weekends – Oct. 17-18; Oct. 24-25; Oct. 31-Nov. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Migration reports
From Avery Pro-Staff

• Name: Ben Cade

Date: September 22

Location: Buffalo, MN

Weather: Slightly cooler with some rain moving through.

Snow Cover: None.

Water Conditions: We could use a little more rain to fill up the wetlands. There is some standing water still from all the rain we had in August, however we could use more.

Feeding Conditions: The birds have started to find the few silage fields that are starting to come down. Most of the small grain fields are grown up with sprouts.

Species and Numbers: Very few waterfowl using the area. We are waiting on cooler weather to bring some new birds into the area.

Migrations: A few small flocks of migrating birds have been seen in the area. I suspect most of the movement that occurred on Saturday the 19 was due to hunting pressure from the youth waterfowl day.

Season Stage: Early goose season ended Tuesday. Our general waterfowl season begins Saturday, Oct. 3.

Hunting Report: Goose hunters who have been putting in plenty of scouting time have been seeing some success. I haven’t heard of many groups shooting limits of birds, four to eight geese per group per day has been common.

Gossip: I witnessed a very good flight of new birds entering the area on the morning of the youth waterfowl day. Saturday the 19th would have been a great day to be out hunting in my area.

Waterfowl hunting to continue on Greenleaf and Sioux Lakes
From the DNR

With the 2009 Minnesota waterfowl season set to open Saturday, Oct. 3, hunters who wish to hunt either Greenleaf or Sioux lakes in Meeker County are advised that both lakes will be open to hunting.

LeRoy Dahlke, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife supervisor at Willmar, said there have been questions due to the establishment of the Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) adjacent to the lakes.

While the upland area that is currently in the Greenleaf SRA is not open to public hunting (with the exception of a limited youth deer archery hunt), “we do not plan to change the way hunters can use the lakes for waterfowl hunting,” Dahlke said.

Hunters will be able to access either Greenleaf or Sioux lakes from the west public access and are allowed to hunt anywhere on the lakes provided they can conceal the boat in emergent vegetation that is in water. Decoys can be used as normal.

Dalhke also noted that a construction project on the road leading to the access may not be completed prior to the Oct. 3 waterfowl opener.

Hunters are advised to check the road’s condition prior to the opener.

DNR research project aims to increase insects for wildlife
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be conducting a research study with the goal of increasing plant diversity and insect populations to benefit grassland birds and their broods, including pheasants, prairie chickens, meadowlarks and other species.

Molly Tranel, a natural resource specialist at the DNR Farmland Populations and Research Station at Madelia, will be conducting the project on portions of 15 state Wildlife Management Areas and one federal Waterfowl Production Area in Minnesota’s farmland region.

Tranel said insects are an essential food source for grassland birds and their broods.

Because insect abundance and broad-leafed plants (forbs) are closely associated, the DNR plans to interseed forbs on the selected sites this fall and winter and then monitor the insect response beginning next year.

Prior to the interseeding, however, it will be necessary to conduct prescribed burns on 10 to 15 acres of each unit in late September or early October, although exact dates will depend on weather conditions.

“That could mean that a portion of these sites might not be suitable for hunting this fall,” Tranel said. “We hope hunters will look at it as a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.”

Tranel said many public lands that were restored 10 to 20 years ago were seeded at a heavy grass rate with little or no broad-leaf plant component.

The interseeding project is one attempt to help determine how different management approaches might be applied to help prairie and grasslands more fully meet their wildlife habitat potential.

“We’re optimistic that as we monitor these sites we’ll notice an increase in insect abundance that will result in improved habitat and hunting opportunities in coming years,” Tranel said. “The broad-leaf plants should also help reduce the impact of non-native invasive species.”

Interseeding directly into the existing vegetation without plowing or using herbicides will also reduce labor and fuel costs and protect against soil erosion, Tranel said.

Future management techniques such as mowing and the application of grass selective herbicides will also be monitored to determine which produces the best forb diversity and abundance.

Outdoor notes

• The 2009 Minnesota regular waterfowl hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.

Water levels should be fair to poor on many of the waterfowl lakes in the area, and hunting prospects aren’t great in our area.

However, duck numbers and pothole conditions in far western Minnesota and in the Dakotas are excellent.

In those areas advocates are saying it could be the best duck hunting season in years.

• The best fishing of the season for lunker northern pike and walleye is just around the corner.

Pay attention to the moon phases and plan on fishing during the October full moon.

• The Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 10. Look for a full report in next week’s column.

• I’ll most likely be one hunting partner short this season.

My old lab Angus, a pooch I have written about many times over the last 12 years, finally ran into some significant health issues last week.

Like many labs, his hips gave way, and although he still has a pile of desire left in him, his legs just won’t be able to handle the cattails anymore.

• Several local hunters and wildlife enthusiasts have noted a significant drop in the number of wood ducks in our area, especially along the north and south forks of the Crow River.

One caller, who spends a lot of time on the south fork, felt the drop in wood numbers might have something to do with the increased number of bald eagles using that stretch of the river.

• Remember the 10 commandments of firearms safety, and make sure you keep you firearms and ammo locked and out of a kid’s reach.

Finally, take the time to do some pre-season shooting and get used to your firearms before you hit the field, woods, or slough this fall.

• You can all expect more information in the next few months on the continued effort to complete major improvements to the Luce Line State Trail from Winsted to Cedar Mills.

• Regarding the Smith Lake waterfowl project located just west of Howard Lake that we have reported on several times in this column – information I received last week indicates that agencies working on the project may have jumped the gun a bit and there are still some details to iron out before the project can be completed.

Look for more information in future columns.

• Take a kid hunting or fishing; he or she will have fun and so will you.