Late Season Grousing
by Joel Schnell
Released December 17, 2014
As ruffed grouse season nears it's close, the lack of deep snow makes a winter hunt possible yet in Minnesota. It's a different kind of hunt, silent and bleak as the blanket of winter descends upon the land. There are grouse out there to be had, if you are willing to bundle up and get after them.
Snow tires for dogs and man
Properly dog booted, our canine friends relish a winter grouse hunt just like earlier in the season. There's a trick to booting a dog, as I've outlined before. I booted Maggie at the truck, then off we went in pursuit of winter grouse. In this cover snow was crusty and too thin for roosting in. It was easy walking for the dog, compared to deep-snow years. Mags got hot around the deadfall trees that provided a grouse winter cover. But none were home. With nary a glimpse of sun, we wandered around following a swamp edge until it was time to turn around. I even came across my own tracks as I inadvertently walked a circle with no sun as reference point. But we got back on track and slowly made our return trek. With heavy fleece and long johns, I had to stop and rest my hat on a tree branch to cool off for a spell. It's not easy going in the December Northwoods. At a swamp crossing, there was open water under the snow, so I had to watch my footing to stay dry.
As often this time of year I find the only ones sharing the woods are muzzleloaders looking for the last chance to fill a freezer with venison. After our first hunt I wolfed down some soup from a thermos, then drove down the road to another cover. I chatted with a deer hunter taking his break at the parking area and he gave me a tip- three birds flushed along the river trail!
Off we went, hoping they will still be in the vicinity. Sure enough, Mags suddenly veered off trail and pushed parallel to me. Soon one bird went up, then another. Since they had already been pushed, they didn't let us get too near before making a break for it. The birds flushed to our left and up the hill following the river. So I continued along the trail, and made a push up the hill when I figured I reached the point the birds set down. I was right, as we got a third flush quite nearby. With tricky footing on a hillside I let loose a few rounds, but the bird was unscathed. With gathering darkness we headed back. I took a moment to admire the sound of rushing water as the river dove under a sheet of ice at the tail of a rapids. In the stillness of winter, it sounded like a large broom sweeping the floor, swish-swish-swish-swish.
As we drove home, the sun finally broke out. Huge and orange, it hung on the horizon and painted the snow-covered landscape in amber highlights and blue shadows. Tired, a bit wet and chilled, we returned home. Man and dog slept well that night.