MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today released test results from the third year of the ruffed grouse West Nile virus surveillance project.

The collaborative multi-year study explores ruffed grouse West Nile virus exposure and infection in the western Great Lakes region. The study also aims to identify future research needs in Wisconsin, including a potential survival study investigating sources of mortality.

Although the DNR did not distribute new testing kits in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin hunters with leftover kits from previous years' sampling efforts submitted 36 birds for testing.

As in humans, ruffed grouse can develop antibodies as an immune response to viruses they encounter. Blood test results from birds collected in 2020 showed that 20% had antibodies consistent with exposure to West Nile. Of these samples, 11% had confirmed exposure to the virus, and 9% had likely exposure to West Nile or a closely related virus. Only one of the 36 samples submitted also had detectable portions of the virus present in the heart.

"We are grateful to the passionate grouse hunters of Wisconsin who took the time to submit samples from their harvested birds," said Alaina Gerrits, DNR Assistant Upland Game Bird Ecologist. "Without their support, this study would not be possible."

Hunters who submitted samples and provided contact information will receive test results via email as soon as possible, regardless of whether the results were negative or positive. The ruffed grouse harvested in Wisconsin during the 2020 hunting season were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia, to be analyzed. Partners in Michigan and Minnesota decided not to participate in 2020 due to the logistical challenges of COVID-19.

Read the rest of the Wi DNR article

Flushing Dogs for Grouse and Woodcock

 (Chris Ingram photo)

Flushers can be effective for flushing and retrieving grouse and woodcock because of how close they work.

By Jerry Ray Cacchio

I am the first to admit that for much of my career I was focused on training, trialing, and judging flushers across the country. That said, I made ends meet by guiding upland hunters on pen-raised birds at the many gun clubs near my home in the Hudson Valley.

When I was a boy, however, there were numerous opportunities to pursue wild grouse and woodcock in my home coverts, and this early relationship with forest birds and flushing dogs developed my aesthetic and my training style. Over the course of my career I also spent ample time with my colleagues at The Orvis Company based in Vermont, right in the heart of grouse and woodcock country. I was fortunate to work with several Orvis employees as they trained flushing spaniels specifically for use in the grouse woods.

Why Pointing is a Challenge

Ruffed grouse and woodcock of the Northeast frequent the most tangled, prickly, unforgiving, and altogether overlooked corners of our region, finding in those places both feed and protection from predators. To hunt grouse and woodcock here is to locate what my friend Pat Berry calls “a piece of woods so thick you’d have trouble throwing a dead cat through it.” Nevertheless, we send our dogs into it, hoping to move a bird or two.

Hunting such cover with a pointing dog can be challenging for a few reasons. First, that pointing dog has to learn quickly that ruffed grouse are rarely willing to sit tight and will flush out of a cover quickly. Ruffs also have an uncanny ability to run, skittering through the understory before flushing at the edge of the cover. These characteristics force a pointing dog to work a cover quickly but carefully, to hold a point from a distance at the first sign of scent, and to re-locate as needed, often without the hunter’s direction. Then, of course, the grouse and the dog must be staunch enough to wait for the hunter to get in position for a shot. All of this proves to be incredibly challenging.

Woodcock hunting over a pointing dog is more forgiving. Woodcock tend to hold tight, rarely running or flushing even when a dog on point is near. That said, they often hold so tight, and are so well camouflaged against the forest floor, that a hunter has to nearly step on them to get them up. The resulting shot is often a mount and snap-shoot scenario in tight cover which can prove quite tricky, even for the seasoned gunner.

A Flusher’s Method

So, how does the pursuit of these birds look different with a flusher? Think first about how a flusher, especially a flushing spaniel, is designed to behave. The flushing spaniel needs to quarter close and check in, making sure that it does not range farther than the gun can reach. Ideally, the dog keeps pace with the hunter, and will not stretch out too far if the hunter is picking through tough terrain. Moreover, a flusher can be “hupped’” as the hunter makes up ground and keeps in step with the dog’s forward progress.

Flushing spaniels are also often more agile in the grouse woods than a long-legged pointer. When a hunter ventures into the grouse woods, he or she can assume that the flushing spaniel will hunt the cover thoroughly and stay within range, working quickly enough to get a grouse to flush rather than run, while not ranging so far as to push wary wild birds.

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Over 4,000 acres of Potlatch land in Northern MN transferred for public use

Greg Seitz

Almost 4,400 acres of land located between Duluth and Minnesota’s northern border have been acquired by St. Louis County, thanks to efforts by two conservation groups. The deal will transfer lands from forest products company PotlatchDeltic to the county for permanent protection and public access.

The county will manage the lands for recreation, wildlife, and sustainable timber harvest.

“PotlatchDeltic was one of the largest private industrial forest landowners in St. Louis County, and the impact of that land being sold and developed would reverberate across the North Woods,” said Daryl Peterson, director of restoration programs with the Minnesota Land Trust. “Once land is sold off to a hundred different parties, it is nearly impossible to manage the incredible forest ecosystems native to northern Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Land Trust and The Conservation Fund purchased the four large parcels with $4.2 million provided by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment, and then donated them to St. Louis County. The deal was the biggest in Minnesota Land Trust history since it was founded in 1991. Additional funding came from the Four Cedars Environmental Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, and the Wallin family.

The protected land fosters many types of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, gray wolves, Canada lynx, and ruffed grouse. It also provides habitat for sensitive bird species, located at the edge of breeding ranges for the Golden-winged and Blackburnian Warbler, as well as the American Woodcock.


Read the full Quetico Superior Wilderness News article

A Hard Look at the Future of Grouse Hunting

Bruce E. Mathews


With bird numbers down, what does the future ruffed grouse hunting realistically look like? Michigan’s Ned Caveney has astonishing memories that point to many uncertainties

Teddy died two days before grouse camp.

Ned e-mailed the news, and that my 2-year-old Brittany would now be our “A-team” for our hunting visit. His English Pointer, Karen, at 9 months wasn’t coming along as fast as he’d like, and Charley, his 3-month-old Gordon Setter was still chewing up his rubber ducky. Cute as the dickens but not ready for the big grouse woods. You felt the loss and heartache between every line. Teddy lived to hunt for Ned and took his last slow breaths as Ned held him close, telling him what a good boy he had been.

Ned hoped Teddy would make it through this season, but it wasn’t to be. We arrived two days later, with the only certainty for grouse camp being broken hearts and unproven bird dogs.

“The last bird season I didn’t have a good dog was in 1977,” Ned lamented as he greeted us.

Teddy was only 11, but he’d been ailing for some time. He died with a lifetime total of 460 points on grouse and 773 on woodcock. Ned said later as we hunted a certain cover that “Teddy’s last grouse point was in those thornapples. Joe was hunting with us, with his flintlock shotgun. He missed.”

When you hunt with Ned, you see his grouse woods through the eyes of a professional forester, an insightful and talented land manager, a keen-eyed hunter and a man carrying on a full-bore love affair with dogs, birds, and the grouse woods of the North Country. Retiring from the Michigan DNR in 1998 as the regional forest manager for the northern lower peninsula, Ned’s 31-plus-year DNR career and an additional 21 years of private consulting give him an intimate knowledge of the northern Michigan landscape, not to mention a record of every clear-cut and potential bird cover in the area. We’ve been hunting together almost every fall since just before he retired.

Ned keeps meticulous records—since 1970 reporting annually to the Michigan DNR the results of his woodcock and grouse hunts. His records include hours hunted, the numbers of ruffed grouse and woodcock flushed, pointed and bagged, and by which dog.

“How many hours do you think a dog hunts in its lifetime?” Ned asks rhetorically. “Teddy hunted 836 hours, and he pointed 1,233 grouse and woodcock. The only dog I hunted more was Bit, when we hunted in the ’70s and ’80s. She hunted 948 hours.”

Read the full Field and Stream article  



Woodcock Banding – An American Woodcock Society Film

Woodcock banding is probably the closest thing to actual upland hunting you can do in the spring, and is an extremely rewarding activity for any bird lover turned dog lover or dog lover turned bird lover, depending on the category of upland bird fanatic you place yourself in. Love for the dog work and love for the bird are the greatest drivers for the few hundred permitted individuals in Minnesota and Michigan who obsessively take to the dense covers where American woodcock nest during the spring. Ticks, poison ivy, indescribable mosquito hatches, and navigating the thickest of thick covers through thorns and eye-poking branches is not for the faint of heart, but once you hold a fuzzy timberdoodle chick in your hand for the first time, it is worth every moment of the search.