Posts Tagged ‘ruffed grouse’
Monday, March 11th, 2013
Today marks the first birthday for my youngest bird dog, Izzy. During the standard “what’s for dinner” chat with my wife this afternoon, Meredith informed me she’d be late arriving home this evening. The delay – she had to stop at the “fancy” pet store on her way home to purchase Izzy a special birthday present. Truth be told, I hadn’t realized it was the pup’s birthday . . . or that we’d be celebrating said occasion.
After an initial scoff gurgled out of my clenched cheeks, I warmed to the idea of rewarding the newest member of our family with a minor indulgence. After all, this youngster has already played a sizeable role in answering our daily “what’s for dinner” question with pointed pheasants, grouse, quail and woodcock.
While I’m admittedly guilty of anthropomorphizing my bird dogs . . . and I’m guilty of posing this same question at Christmas . . . do you celebrate your bird dog’s birthday?
Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
Although most of my favorite outdoor publications annually run the same old tired stories about “getting into shape before bird hunting season,” I don’t think the non-hunter realizes the physical demands of a walk across the prairie, or through the forest, with a shotgun in tow. Similarly, I doubt most forest grouse hunters appreciate the exertion needed for a wild pheasant hunt and vice versa. It’s along these lines the debate in the Pheasants Forever offices last week commenced.
At 5’8” tall, some consider me relatively short . . . Okay, I’m really 5’7” and a ¼” . . . Anyway, I’ve always considered pheasant hunting to be far more physically demanding than grouse hunting. The resistance of the tall prairie grasses, cattails and brush against my short legs have always led to extreme leg fatigue and cramping, while ducking in and through alder swamps and aspen thickets have been relatively easy for me.
To my surprise, my taller colleagues Andrew Vavra, Anthony Hauck and Rehan Nana complained of finding the grouse woods to be far more difficult than the pheasant fields. They find the ducking out of the way of branches, climbing over deadfalls, and squeezing through poplar thickets to be much more of a physical workout than a sojourn across a pheasant prairie. I grew up hunting ruffed grouse in Michigan’s northwoods, while all three of these guys cut their teeth on the open pheasant prairies of Minnesota and Kansas, respectively.
So the debate has got me thinking about the classic nurture versus nature debate, from a bird hunter’s perspective. Are the physical demands of pheasant hunting and ruffed grouse hunting directly related to your height or to the type of hunting one is introduced to in the beginning?
How tall are you, what kind of bird hunting did you grow up on, and what type of bird hunting is hardest on your body?
Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
I recently visited my local Gander Mountain retail location to purchase a Wisconsin small game hunting license in advance of a trip east in search of ruffed grouse and woodcock.
“Is this the first time you’ve purchased a hunting license in Wisconsin,” the Gander Mountain clerk asked.
I annually buy a fishing license during visits with my brother’s family in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, but this was indeed the first Wisconsin hunting license of my life.
It turns out Wisconsin has a fantastic promotion to help encourage hunter recruitment in which all first time hunting licenses are sold at a 50 percent discount. In other words, my non-resident small game hunting license cost me $42.75 instead of the normal $85 charge. In fact, Wisconsin residents buying their first adult small game license are only charged $5.
The following note appears on my license:
“Thank you for your license purchase. Wisconsin implemented a Recruitment Program that offers incentives to first time participants and the individuals who recruited them into hunting, fishing, and trapping. You paid a reduced license fee since it was either your first time purchasing this type of license or you haven’t purchased one within the last 10 years. This recruitment program also gives you the opportunity to recognize the individual who encouraged you to participate in this activity. If you would like to designate the person who recruited you, call the DNR at 1.888.936.7463. Enjoy Wisconsin’s great outdoors.”
Another nice nugget about Wisconsin is the fact their ruffed grouse hunting season remains open across the state’s northern range through January 31st. That’s an extra thirty days of late season bird hunting when compared to neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan’s grouse season. I’m already planning a snowshoe hunt in January.
Wisconsin can consider this bird hunter hooked for life.
NOTE: A pheasant stamp (resident or non-resident) costs an additional $10.
Monday, September 24th, 2012
I was struggling. It was Sunday morning and I was on the second day of a fruitless grouse hunting/scouting excursion intended to produce some new spots. You see, I’ve been hunting my exact same haunts the last five years and “my” aspen stands were starting to age out of their grousey prime. So, I’d set off east and north of my normal destinations in search of new coverts.
I spent Saturday pounding decent looking grouse woods with very little flushes. And the one layup shot presented to me clanked off the backboard with a horribly makeable miss.
Truth be told, I was really struggling with two nagging thoughts in my mind. First, it was my first solo exploring expedition with two dogs, so I was very nervous about losing my 6-month old pup in the woods. Second, I was nervous about getting lost myself. Despite my GPS lock on my truck’s location, I had trouble diving into the grouse woods with abandon. Fortunately, hope was just around the corner.
Around 11AM on Sunday, I rounded the corner of a state forest gravel road and passed two trucks on my right. To my surprise, I recognized the two faces under the blaze orange hats. If you’ve attended Pheasant Fest or Game Fair in the last ten years, then you’d probably have recognized both of them too. They were Tom Poorker and Mark Haslup from Focus Outdoors Television and Midwest GunDog Kennels.
After commenting on the serendipity of their coming out of the woods at the exact moment I drove by, I shared with them my frustration of learning a new grouse woods. That’s when my luck turned around. Although, they’d both been set to finish their hunting for the day with dog training obligations waiting at Midwest GunDog Kennels, they offered to show me a spot in their home woods. They even went so far as to insist on my two pups being the only dogs in the woods as their bird dogs had already completed their work for the morning.
Needless to say, we found grouse and woodcock in the woods where these two veteran hunters aimed our trio. In fact, Mark bagged a nice opening weekend timberdoodle that my young pup was able to deliver to his hand, and Tom brought down a beautiful ruff with a dandy shot. However, I earned the trophy of the morning’s walk with renewed confidence.
After sharing a few laughs over our impromptu hunting trip and thanking them for their generosity, I went north in search of some spots of my own. And I finally started to find what I was looking for in the woods. In fact, in one particular alder/aspen mix, I elected to hunt my 6-month old shorthair solo for the first time and she produced three neatly pointed woodcock, quickly earning me a day’s limit.
To me, the moral of the story is that membership in Pheasants Forever definitely delivers more habitat on the ground – we’ve got 8.5 million acres of proof of that fact – however, membership in Pheasants Forever also creates friendships. Whether you’re a chapter officer, banquet goer or Pheasant Fest attendee, your involvement in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people. Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot.
To Mark & Tom: Thanks a bunch for a great experience! It truly meant a lot to me for you to take the time out of your plans to give me a little nudge in the right direction.
Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
I had the good fortune of celebrating the ruffed grouse hunting opener in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the weekend with a large contingent of my immediate family. While we didn’t spend every moment of daylight scouring the woods, four ruffs found their way into our game vests. In the afterglow of barbecued grouse jalapeno poppers, I offer the following observations:
- The Woods were Grousey! Although all Midwest drumming counts will indicate our slide on the downward side of the grouse cycle, there are absolutely enough birds to keep the aspen and alder woods exciting. Our group averaged 2.5 grouse flushes per hour in four hours of hunting on Saturday and one hour of hunting on Sunday. And our group included me, my brother, his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, my mom, my dad and two shorthairs. In other words, we weren’t exactly a stealth group of grouse hunters.
- A Special Family Opener. Many folks will complain about the grouse opener being too warm or tough hunting with the woods filled with leaves. The grouse opener is particularly special to me and has become a St.Pierre family tradition. A little over 13 years ago, my dad suffered an aneurysm that nearly took his life. Thanks to medicine and miracles, I am always thankful to spend another walk through the September grouse woods with my dad. This year was extra special as my brother joined us for his first bird hunt in two decades. And, to top it off my niece and nephew slapped on their blaze orange Pheasants Forever gear and joined the family tradition. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
- Grouse Broods already Dispersed. It seems the grouse family groups had already broken up in the grouse covers we walked. Every flush was a solo bird. Perhaps the early spring in the Northwoods did indeed result in an earlier hatch. If that were to be the case, it’d make sense for the grouse family groups to already be broken.
- Crazy about Timberdoodles. I was amazed by the number of woodcock we encountered on opening weekend: the most I can ever remember on a grouse opener. Presumably, the migration hasn’t yet begun so these would have been local ‘doodles. We averaged 3.5 woodcock flushes per hour. My older shorthair, Trammell, showed mid-season form pointing numerous woodcock right out of the gates, which presented a number of “honoring” opportunities for my 6-month-old pup, Izzy. NOTE: Michigan’s woodcock season doesn’t open until September 22nd.
- Fruity Pebble Forest. The woods are dry and the leaves are changing quickly. While there were plenty of leaves cluttering our view of flushing birds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaves are off the trees a week earlier than normal this autumn.
- Irish Indeed. This summer, after four pairs and a decade of loyalty to Danner’s Santiam boots, I elected to give the more affordable Irish Setter Wingshooter boot a shot. I couldn’t be more pleased. The leather broke in easily after a mink oil application and a couple of days worn in the Pheasants Forever office. They are comfortable and light. Fingers crossed they hold up for multiple years of bird hunting torture.
- Open Up Your Chokes. In the last couple of seasons, I have been shooting a cylinder choke out of my top barrel and a skeet choke out of my bottom barrel with .20 gauge Federal 7 ½ shot. I couldn’t be happier with this combo for grouse flushing 10 to 20 yards off a point. So far, I’m 3 out of 4 on grouse shots this early season thanks to the more open choke selection.
- Stay Cool with Pheasants Forever Apparel. With temperatures crossing into the 80s on Sunday, I was properly attired in Columbia’s omni-freeze long sleeve shirt featuring the Pheasants Forever logo. Don’t let the long sleeves fool you, this shirt is made to wick away your perspiration and keep your skin cool. It works great and is my absolute favorite early season shirt.
Did you get out grouse hunting (ruffed or prairie) over the weekend? Please feel free to keep the conversation going with your personal observations in the comments section below.
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
I learned to bird hunt behind a Brittany. I don’t remember my dad ever teaching me how to “approach” a pointed bird, but it has always felt natural because it’s how I got my start. What’s interesting and more than a little humorous is watching my various hunting partners the last few years who have only hunted behind flushing breeds react to my German shorthair on point.
In almost every case, I’ve witnessed “human vapor lock” as these friends look at me with twitching eyebrows, tip toe with caution as they approach the dog, then stop behind the dog and look at me again. Are they waiting for the weasel to go pop? Honest to goodness, I’ve witnessed pure fear on the face of a fellow hunter.
“When a rooster flushes in front of my Lab it’s all instinct and excitement,” one friend explained last season. “With your darned pointer, it’s like watching a Friday the 13th movie and you know Jason is around the corner with an axe.”
I’ve also been told by pointing dog purists to never walk up directly behind a pointer, but rather come in from the front or at an angle. The pointer purist worries about inadvertently causing “creeping” by approaching a dog from behind. “Creeping” being the unwanted broken point and creep forward of the dog toward the bird.
With this subject in mind, I called Purina’s “top dog” and pro trainer Bob West for his guidance on how best to approach a dog on point. “There is no clear cut, best way to approach a dog on point. You have to factor in the dog’s level of ability, the scenting conditions that day and the species of bird you anticipate being pointed to properly make the best approach for the situation,” explained West. “When hunting pheasants, it’s not uncommon for me to make a big 20 yard circled approach in front of a dog on point in an attempt to prevent a rooster from running.”
West went on to explain to me that he does believe young dogs could be caused to creep by approaching them from behind and an angled approach would be advised; however, he didn’t think a seasoned bird dog would be susceptible to the same problem. He stressed repeatedly in knowing your own dog’s tendencies and making the best decisions with your dog in mind rather than what some “expert” advised.
West did add that “perhaps more important than what angle to approach is the speed at which to make your approach. It’s critically important, especially with pheasants, to approach a dog on point at a pace as fast as safely possible. That bird isn’t going to hold all day and the conditions of the scent and scenario are also constantly changing for your dog.”
Lastly, West reminded me that the bird isn’t necessarily where the dog is looking. “It’s important to be ready the entire time you approach a pointed dog and be alert in all directions. The bird may be exactly where the dog is looking, but it oftentimes is not. Where the dog is looking simply is where that dog picked up the scent to lock into a point. That dog has been trained not to move any closer than the moment the scent reached a level to cause the dog to freeze. Its eyes should have nothing to do with it.”
To learn more about the pointing instinct and a variety of dog training questions, tune in to FAN Outdoors radio this Thursday evening at 7:45PM (CDT) as Bob West joins the show for a live interview with me and host “The Captain” Billy Hildebrand. FAN Outdoors airs live on 100.3 FM in Minnesota and can be streamed live across the globe at www.KFAN.com.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
As I reported in the first installment of this blog, my wife and I will pick up our second bird dog this weekend. The pup will be a 10-week old female German shorthaired pointer from the same bloodlines as my five-year old GSP, “Trammell.” Trammell is named in honor of my childhood hero, Alan Trammell, who played baseball for the Detroit Tigers during my formative years growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Truth be told, my wife used her veto power to overrule my favored name for this new pup. Had I the sole vote in the matter, the new GSP would be named “Fidryich.” You see, Fidrych references Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the deceased Detroit Tigers pitcher, 1976 American League Rookie of the Year, Yankee killer, and pop culture transcending character. “The Bird” was known for his quirky personality, which included grooming the mound and talking to the baseball between pitches. To me, Fidrych’s nickname – The Bird – made it a perfect fit for a bird dog’s name.
My wife’s veto was used because of the tragic nature of “The Bird’s” life and untimely death. You see, Fidrych flamed out after a torn rotator cuff injury ended his career after only a few shortened seasons. Then in 2009, Fidrych died while working underneath his 10-wheeled dump truck. In the best interest of a happy marriage, her veto ultimately ended this name’s contention. And in all honesty, I can see her point. It’s probably bad karma for the new pup to name her after such a tragic character.
So, back to the drawing board I went. Finalists included:
- Whitaker (call name Whit) – referencing Trammell’s double play partner with the Detroit Tigers, Lou Whitaker.
- Yooper (pronounced You Pur) – I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and some would say I’ve never left either. Ultimately, this name didn’t make the cut because it also happens to be my nickname with some circles of friends.
- Bine (pronounced BeNay) – The Ojibwa word for ruffed grouse was a contender for a moment, but ultimately it seems odd for a Pheasants Forever guy to have a dog name referencing a bird other than a pheasant.
So ultimately, I circled back to a name I’d penciled in years ago for bird dog number two:
Yzerman (pronounced I zer man / Call Name Izzy)
Steve Yzerman is my generation’s Gordie Howe. The retired center and captain of the Detroit Red Wings, Yzerman was to hockey fans from Michigan what Alan Trammell was to Tigers fans during my childhood years of the ‘80s. Ultimately, the call name of Izzy will be an easy two syllable pronunciation in the field, I’ve never encountered another hunting dog with the name and it personalizes the pup to me while adding on to the story of my Michigan upbringing with Trammell as my bird dog tag team.
Did we make the same choice you would have made in selecting our second bird dog’s name?
Monday, January 30th, 2012
- I believe bird dogs take on personality traits of their owners.
- I believe bird dogs “recognize” individual dogs they’ve “met” before.
- I believe my bird dog can hear the lid of her treat jar from distances greater than sound should be able to travel.
- I believe my bird dog knows if we’re hunting for pheasants versus ruffed grouse when she leaves her truck kennel by assessing the habitat around her. A forest equals ruffed grouse, while grasses equal pheasants.
- I believe bird dogs recognize their own kind. Released into a group of other bird dogs, I’ve watched golden retrievers sniff other goldens first, Labs sniff Labs first . . . same goes for shorthairs, Brittanys, and springers.
- I believe bird dogs are the key ingredient to getting a new generation interested in bird hunting and wildlife habitat conservation.
- I believe bird dogs equate blaze orange with “it’s time to go hunting,” even if they don’t see colors the same way their human hunting counterparts see colors.
- I believe bird dogs enjoy fireplaces, sleeping in on Sundays and quality habitat as much as his/her hunting master.
- I believe if you name your bird dog “Trouble,” “Tank,” “Precious,” or “Crash,” then that dog is going to live up to their dubious name.
What about you? Are there things you believe about your bird dog that may be considered a little left of center?
Sunday, January 8th, 2012
Every holiday season, my wife and I host a party we call “Pheasant Feast.” In fact, last month we hosted Pheasant Feast IX . . . Yes, we’re now using Roman Numerals in our invitations. Nevertheless, this has become an annual tradition and a lot of fun for our friends and family. I’ve even enlisted my hunting buddy Matt Kucharski as co-chef for the event. This year, we were joined by two dozen guests for a night of taste-testing comprised exclusively of wild game.
The 2011 Pheasant Feast menu included:
- · Peking Pheasant
- · Pheasant a l’Orange
- · Poached Blueberry Ruffed Grouse
- · Roast Moose with Coffee Gravy
- · Pheasant Tortellini with Brussels sprouts
- · Minnesota Wild Rice Soup
- · Duck Rumaki
- · Jalapeno Pheasant Poppers
- · Tenderloin of Venison
- · 7-Up Northern Pike
- · Pheasant Pesto Pizza
- · Desserts, Beer & Vino
As you can imagine, some of these dishes turned out better than others when more than ten preparations are on the grill, stovetop and oven. The low spot of this roster was certainly the 7-Up Northern Pike . . . I won’t be reproducing that funky fish anytime soon. However, I plan to do my best to replicate Matt’s Peking Pheasant recipe this weekend. All in all, leftovers were non-existent which I consider a good indication of success.
As I reflect on this menu, I naturally think about the camaraderie of a day spent afield with friends and family pheasant hunting. However, what Pheasant Feast also reminds me of is the power wild game has of bringing family and friends together around the table. For me, the meal is almost, almost as important as the hunt and also nearly as fun.
What about you, have you ever hosted a wild game dinner party?
Thursday, November 10th, 2011
There’s little doubt South Dakota rules the roost when it comes to pheasants. But if you throw all the upland game birds in the mix, what state offers the single best opportunity for the upland bird hunter?
Top Contenders for the title of “The Upland Hunter’s Mixed Bag Capital”
- California. The top producer of valley quail is also complimented by roosters in the Sacramento Valley.
- Colorado. The best pheasant state secret also features quail and chukars.
- Idaho. A climb up Hell’s Canyon can produce pheasants, quail, ruffed grouse and chukars.
- Iowa. The longtime pheasant powerhouse also features quail in the south, a few pockets of ruffed grouse, and a smattering of Huns.
- Kansas. The #2 pheasant producing state is also the #2 bobwhite quail producing state. There are also respectable numbers of greater prairie chickens to chase and it’s the only state in the country with an open season on lesser prairie chickens.
- Michigan. A top tier ruffed grouse state also boasts the top woodcock harvest in the country and ringneck opportunities in the southern farm country and “thumb” region of the Lower Peninsula.
- Minnesota. The top-harvesting state for ruffed grouse adds a top five pheasant harvest, a smattering of sharpies, greater prairie chickens and Huns.
- Montana. Big Sky boasts pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse and the best Hungarian partridge numbers south of Canada.
- Nebraska. Cornhusker country produces top tier pheasant and bobwhite numbers, along with significant sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chicken populations.
- North Dakota. Another top tier pheasant state accompanied by Huns, sharpies, a few greater prairie chickens, and even a few ruffed grouse.
- South Dakota. The king of the ringneck also offers greater prairie chickens, sharpies, Huns and even a small population of huntable bobwhites.
- Texas. Lots of space for ringnecks, some chickens and four species of quail to hide.
- Wisconsin. Like Michigan, cheese country is a top tier ruffed grouse and woodcock producer in the northwoods and delivers respectable pheasant numbers in farm country.
Okay, so the question IS NOT “what state is your favorite to hunt?” or even “which state are you from?” The question is this: What state offers the best mixed bag for the upland hunter?