Friday, September 22, 2017

Things Are Heating Up

I thought last weekend was a bit steamy for the grouse opener in Wisconsin, but this weekend, according to the Weather Service, promises to be even warmer (mid 80s) for the woodcock opener.  In fact, in all my years of hunting I can't remember such heat.  Here's Fergus after hunting less than an hour on opening morning.

There have been a few cool mornings, so we have snuck out before things got too warm.  Jenkins is also much better in the heat than Fergus.  So we're easing into the season, and I remind myself that a bad day of grouse hunting is pretty much better than whatever -- well, you fill in the blank.

I've been spending more time doing this -- sitting in front of the campfire and recording the day's hunt in my journal.  The beer (Central Waters) tends to embellish the number of grouse seen that day.  You should try it.  Actually, there do seem to be more birds around than last season, which is true to the cycle on the up turn in northern Wisconsin.  We've run into several large coveys, and I've shot only young birds, those unexperienced birds that have hunkered tightly in front of the dogs' points.  You can only see about five yards in the thick brush with all of the leaves on.  

Yesterday, we put up eight grouse and one woodcock, all of the grouse singles.  Through the green curtain of vegetation, the only bird I saw was the woodcock.  The final grouse of the day flushed right next to my head out of a balsam, and I never saw it.   All I could do is laugh.  I remind myself October will soon be here.   

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hunter's Best Friend

Blog I wrote about past dogs for the UW Press: Hunter's Best Friend.  The Press today is officially releasing a paperback edition of A Grouse Hunter's Almanac.  Just in time for the season, which starts here in Wisconsin on Saturday.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Second Season

Ruffed grouse season here in Wisconsin runs until January 31, giving us four and a half months to hunt. But the reality is there's not a lot of hunting after Wisconsin's nine-day gun deer season, which just ended a week ago.  Usually snow and cold effectively end the season well before the end of January.  These last two months, these last few hunts, are the second grouse season.  

I'm happy to get out whenever I can and the weather permits.   And the dogs -- they're happy to be out there whenever in whatever conditions.  To them, there is no bad weather where grouse hunting is concerned. I'm sure they'd go out in a blizzard.  A little snow build-up between the toe pads, no big deal.   

My success rate in winter is considerably less than in September, October and early November. George Bird Evans wrote that he once hunted for 28 days in winter and only fired three shots.  I never seem to shoot more than a couple of birds after gun deer season.  The dogs have a harder time scenting, I think, and I'm simply not all that keen on killing any more birds.  I like to think I'm leaving seed birds for next year, a theory that probably has no biological basis.  Like my dogs, I'm just glad to be out there enjoying another day, another winter day.  If I happen to shoot a bird, I consider it a Christmas bonus, a late season gift.     

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Black Friday Cometh

Tomorrow is what I call Black Friday, when hunting is banned in Wisconsin, on the day before the 9-day gun deer season.  That means no grouse hunting for at least ten days.  If you haven't experienced the gun deer season in Wisconsin, it's a bit like a war out there as 600,000 hunters take to the woods armed with high-powered rifles.  For safety reasons, our setters don't get near the woods during this hunt.      

I'm pretty much a meat hunter, so I go out and try to get some venison and fill the freezer.  This weekend I'm heading down to SW Wisconsin to hunt with a friend and his family in the hill country down there.  I've never deer hunted south of the 45th parallel so it will be a new experience.    

We had a good hunt today, the day ending with me losing Fergus on point in a large popple cutting.  I was walking along thinking about something I can no longer recall when I realized Fergus's bell was silent.  I started to move in the direction where I thought I had last heard him, but after a couple of minutes I still hadn't located him.  (After this season, I'm breaking down and buying a beeper collar.) So I yelled for him, fairly loud, then loader, and when I really roared I heard the faint clang of his bell.  I started to hustle toward where I thought I had heard it, but I still can't find him.  Now I'm starting to think about wolves since we're about half a mile where a depredation had occured in September.  So I beller again, and I hear the clank of the bell, this time closer.  Finally I spot Fergus through the popple. He's pointing and probably wondering what took me so long.  "You got the bird?" I ask, and he relocates once, then twice.  I try to head the bird off because it's moving, but I can only scramble so fast through that nasty popple.  I got a glimpse of the bird as it squirted out ahead of us, and I saluted it with a shot as it flew off unscathed.  Whatever comes our way, though, I can rest content as it was an excellent season.

Now I better go find my rifle. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pennsylvania Limit

Pennsylvania's daily limit on grouse is two per birds.  Wisconsin's is a much more liberal five, which in my 25 years of hunting these birds has been a rare occurence.  I'd be fine if the DNR cut the daily limit to three, the limit of birds I grew up with pheasant hunting in Iowa.  Now pheasants are not grouse, but you can understand how my mind equates the two.  On days when I get three grouse, I have an ingrained reluctance to pursue that fourth and fifth bird.  The Iowa limit of three seems just fine to me.  I have gone after that fourth and fifth bird, something I did much more often as a younger grouse hunter, but not so much these days. The number of birds I shoot doesn't seem as important as when I was a zealous younger hunter.

What struck me about these two birds is the size and color difference.  I have been shooting mostly juvenile birds this season, which bodes well for upcoming seasons.  This hunt, however, I shot a huge, what I call, cinnamon bird.  It's a brown-phased bird, but has lighter cinnamon tints, particularly on the ruff. The tail band is also a much lighter brown.  An altogether beautiful bird.  I saved the fan as well as some ruff feathers.             

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Beginning to Look a Lot Like October 

With a bit of frost this morning and high temps around 50, today felt like the first day of fall.  We didn't have to worry about Fergus overheating or running out of water before we finished a loop.

We ran into a fair number of woodcock, so many that Susan decided to get out the camera.  It seemed like every time we got on a grouse there was a woodcock distraction, although I'd say woodcock are a nice distraction.

Even though it was the Wisconsin youth deer hunt weekend, we didn't run into any kids toting rifles. We did run into a couple of other hunting parties, though, out enjoying the October weather.  No one enjoyed it more than Fergus, however.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting the Shot

It's been pretty tough getting shots this season so far -- both with a shotgun and a camera.  Seems to be good numbers of birds in northern Wisconsin, grouse and woodcock, but I've been mostly hearing them rather than seeing them.  I did get one good look at a grouse last week that flushed simultaneously with a woodcock.  It crossed right to left in front of me in fairly open woods after it flushed out of a mix of popple and hazelnut.  I saw it so well I could see the mottled breast feathers as the bird banked in front of me.  Most of the birds, however, are disappearing into what Susan calls the Green Curtain.

Camera work is also difficult this time of year with all of the brush between the dog and the lens. Many shots seem like nothing but a green blur.  I couldn't help myself a few days ago when Jenkins locked up on a chipmunk in our front yard.  I ran in the house, grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots. Looks sort of like a classic New England shot in an old abandoned apple orchard -- but I know there's a rodent on the other end of this point.

The good news is a few leaves are starting to spin off the trees.  Things will open up out there shortly. A little frost, a little wind, and the trees will be stripped bare.