Flushing woodcocks in Michigan

By Bob Gwizdz Outdoors columnist

Gena, Chuck Riley’s more experienced German shorthair (he also had a young dog with us) was locked on point in about the snarliest stuff you could imagine — under a sprawling autumn olive in the midst of a thicket intertwined with multiflora rose. There were two immediate questions: How were we going to get in there to flush the bird and, when we did, how were going to shoot it?

Riley told me to get ready so I positioned myself between a couple of autumn olives where there was a small window of sky. When Riley got in on the bird, a woodcock burst out and flew the only place I could get a shot at it. I did. The dogs were on it immediately.

“Well that’s 18 minutes,” said Riley, who keeps track of these things when he’s hunting. ”Yesterday we have had 10 flushes in the first 18 minutes.”

We were hunting in southern Michigan, on a state game area that shall remain nameless (as I don’t want to see your truck parked there the next time we go). It’s one of a number of places Riley bird hunts well south of what most folks consider to be woodcock territory.

“I started out hunting in southern Michigan with Andy Amman back in the mid-1970s,” said Riley, a Department of Environmental Quality retiree and involved conservationist. “Actually, we found quite a few grouse down here back then, too. And I’ve talked to guys who said there were a lot more in the 60s and early 70s.”

Grouse in southern Michigan seem rarer than Detroit Lions championships these days. But woodcock? There are plenty from opening to closing day, though they’re not always there for long periods of time.

Cass Lake MN - Ruffed Grouse Hunt - Mid Oct 2014

Friday Oct 17th 2014  Deer River MN.

My friend Mark and his 15 yr old son Martin drove up from SE Iowa to join us for a few days of grouse hunting.  We got to the woods at about 4.  I put both dogs on the ground since we’d only have about 2 hours to hunt.

About 20 minutes into the hunt Tasha went on point about 20 yards off the trail.  As I bobbed and weaved my way in the grouse ended up busting out another 15 yards ahead of her, I didn’t get off a shot.  200 hundred yards up the trail the same scenario repeated with Tina.

We came up to the edge of the field and Tasha locked up tight.  We sent Martin as the cover was pretty thick and we figured his young legs could handle it.  One step into the woods and the bird took off.  On the far edge of the field Tasha got another point and the result was pretty much the same.  One step in and 2 yards out a bird flushed and no shot was taken.

Tina got two nice points towards the end of the trail and I at least got my gun up both times but it was the old “it flushed behind the one pine tree in the area” trick.

We didn’t move any birds on the way back.  We moved a total of 6 birds in the first hour, took no shots and didn’t move anything on the way back.  It would have been nice if Martin had been able to at least take a shot but he did get to see some nice dog work and see that hunting isn’t always like they show it on TV.

Sat Oct 18th - Cass Lake MN.

The team was in full force as our friend Tony arrived with his two GSPs.

After a meal of homemade breakfast burritos we headed north of Cass Lake.  Tony was running both of his dogs and I stated with Tasha.  Within 15 minutes all three dogs started to work the same area and with a couple of flash points the grouse got up.  Three of us took a total of four shots and the bird was done.  We all could claim that we hit it so it was a win all around.  Tony was especially excited as his 2 yr old Beau Jack made a nice retrieve to hand.  Until this bird he would find the downed bird but then just stand over it and not retrieve it.  After another 15 minutes on the trail Tasha went on point about 10 yards off of the trail.  I was able to work my way in and the grouse gave me a straight away snap shot and I was able to connect.  At the time I thought I had barely hit the bird but when I was cleaning it I found that I hit it better than I thought.  Tasha made a nice retrieve to the trail and when she dropped it one of Tony’s dogs picked up and made a nice delivery to hand.

Deer River MN - Early October Grouse Hunt 2014

I’ve rented a cabin near Grand Rapids, MN for the month of October with the goal of chasing ruffed grouse for as many days as possible.  I am planning on hunting Every Thur - Sunday and an additional week right after mid-month.  I’ll be driving back to the Twin Cities each Sunday evening and then heading north on either Wed evening or early Thursday morning depending upon the weather.

I got back home from a work trip at about 12:30 am Thursday and hit the snooze a few times in the morning.  By the time I wrapped up a few things it was about 10:30 before we hit the road.  After checking into the cabin and unloading a few items we hit the woods at about 4.  There wasn’t much wind at all and fortunately the rain had stopped as we were ready to hit the woods.

Tina got the call first.  At 12 1/2 years old she has plenty of experience but is starting to show the miles.  20 minutes after starting she went on point.  Unfortunately I walked past the bird and when it got up I didn’t even get a shot off.  We were almost to the turnaround when she locked up again.  This time it was a straight away shot and I was able to connect.  On the way back we hit an area that is a bit lower than the rest and got 2 woodcock points and I was able to take one.

After a quick snack I let Tasha have her chance.  A short way into the trail she took off running hard and bumped a grouse.  I had a left to right passing shot but did not connect.  I was a bit worried as the blasting through birds was something she did all too frequently on grouse last year.  We hit a number of side trails but didn’t move any more birds until we got closer to the start of the trail.  She had 2 nice points on woodcock that I again was not able to finish off for her.  It was nice to see her hold her points on the woodcock as she had not pointed any last year.  On the last stretch before we got back to the truck she locked up hard along the edge of a field.  I started to walk up the side and a grouse broke too far out for me to get a good shot.

In 3 hours of hunting we moved 4 grouse and 4 woodcock taking 1 of each.

Ely MN - 2014 Grouse Opener

We started the 2014 MN Ruffed Grouse season in Ely again.  Our luck hasn’t been too good the last few years in this area so I was anxious to see how this year would pan out.

We hit our first spot at about 9:30.  45 degrees, sunny, and slight breeze.  I started Tasha the two year old setter.  The trail spits into a Y, the dogs and I usually go to the left but this year we went to the right.  The trail drops down to a creek that has been low or even dry recently.  This year it was the highest that I’ve seen it in a while.  Tasha plowed right through the deepest part and I carefully picked my way across.  We made it to the end of the trail without any bird activity.  

About 1/3 of the way back Tasha’s bell went silent.  I tired to make my way back to her but the thick cover slowed me too much and the bird broke before I could get into a position to make a shot.  Tasha continued to work the cover well be we didn’t make contact with any other birds.

Trail number two was Tina’s turn.  Tina is 12 1/2 now and has me spoiled as a hunter.  I can go on autopilot.  I can just walk and listen for her bell to stop.  About 15 minutes into her hunt I saw her locked up on the side of the trail.  I moved into position and took one step into the woods and the bird broke, I was able to snap off a shot in the general direction of the flush.  Tina went into the woods and picked up the bird.  We worked to the end of trail and turned around.  Tina continued to work the cover but we didn’t move any more birds.  The trip back ended up being just a little too far and Tina started to limp about 15 minutes from the truck.  I’m hoping that she is able to do a short hunt on Sunday.

Mixed results at National Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt

Hunter harvest was mixed at the 33rd annual Ruffed Grouse Society’s National Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt (NGWH) in Minnesota. The hunt was held Oct. 9 and 10 with favorable weather conditions.

Hunters harvested an average of 1.07 grouse per day, up slightly from 1.06 in 2013, according to data released by the organization. The 2014 woodcock harvest was 1.8 woodcock per day, down from 2.03 in 2013.

The NGWH is conducted during the second week in October each year in and around Grand Rapids, Minn. The event is sponsored and coordinated by the Grand Rapids chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society.

The NGWH provides an "unparalleled opportunity" to study the population ecology of ruffed grouse and woodcock, according to the oranization. The event is conducted in the same locale, at the same time each year and using the same methods, thus providing a valuable study of annual variation of the local ruffed grouse population and how that variation relates to the 10-year cycle.

Minnesota’s 2014 ruffed grouse spring drumming survey documented a significant increase over the 2013 survey.

Physical examination of grouse and woodcock harvested at the NGWH demonstrated that the 2014 spring conditions may have affected local populations.

“The drop in reproductive success for both ruffed grouse and woodcock was expected given the delayed, wet and cool spring that northern Minnesota experienced this year," said Dan Dessecker, RGS director of conservation policy.

In addition, the proportion of immature birds harvested in 2014 was 10% below the long-term average for ruffed grouse and 20% below for woodcock.

Grand Rapids, MN and The Ruffed Grouse Society Host 33rd Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt

The Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) is holding the 33rd annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt (NGWH) in Grand Rapids, Oct. 7 through Oct. 10. Since 1982, the NGWH has delivered a forum to promote the organization’s wildlife conservation activities, to provide an opportunity to study grouse and woodcock ecology and to celebrate the sporting traditions inherent in grouse and woodcock hunting.

The event features a sporting clays competition and outdoor festival at the Grand Rapids Gun Club, which includes professional shooting instruction, interaction with Purina and SportDOG representatives and a deluxe barbecue. Hunting will occur on Thursday, Oct. 9 and Friday Oct. 10 followed by various social events at the Sawmill Inn.

Read the full Herald Review article

Maine Bird hunter returns with ruffed grouse

ALLAGASH, Maine - Bernard McMahon of the District of Columbia harvested these ruffed grouse on Wednesday, Oct. 1, in the forests around Allagash.

McMahon has traveled up to the St. John Valley each year since 2001 to go bird hunting with Registered Maine Guide Sean Lizotte of Allagash.

Ruffed grouse season throughout the state started on Oct. 1 and continues through Dec. 31.

Read more: St. John Valley Times - Bird hunter returns with ruffed grouse Includes full article and photo