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Ruffed Grouse Minnesota is an online magazine devoted to upland hunting in the Upper Midwest. Published twice a month by photographer Joel Schnell.

Return of the Sky Dancer
by Joel Schnell
Released April 22, 2014

It's a special time in Minnesota, as the snow melts, the maple sap runs and the first green sprigs of spring poke through the fallen leaves. It's also the return of the woodcock from wintering down South. This little brown bird's unique whistle can be heard when you flush a woodcock from his little spot of ground surrounded by crusty snow.


Singing Ground

It seems odd that an earthworm-eating bird would arrive before the snow melts, but that isn't all that's odd about this little fellow. With eyes on the sides of it's head, the woodcock can see all around him, even behind. Nifty trick for a bird that feeds with a long beak poked deep in the soil probing for worms. His bill is flexible, making it like a little fingertips to pull out it's dinner from the ground. It even has little backward-facing edges to hold a slippery worm.

The male woodcock establishes his singing ground, a small clearing near brushy habitat that he defends against other males. Here he performs his sky dance by peenting and strutting- before fluttering up to 300 feet in the air. Twice a day in twilight he dances, hopefully for an audience of females. In May the hen lays 4 eggs, and chicks hatch and mature quickly. They can fly in two weeks, and are mostly independent in a month. During October, around the woodcock moon, they migrate South again to spend the winter. It's a most interesting bird, and welcome native to Minnesota's brushy alder and aspen uplands.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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A Picture Perfect Ruffed Grouse Fan
by Joel Schnell
Released April 6, 2014

Every Minnesota ruffed grouse shot on the wing is a trophy. A moment to remember, and to sustain us in the off-season. Take a little extra time to photograph your bird, and share with your hunting buddies. A bird in the game bag should be treated with respect- they don't give their lives easily. Here's a few steps to help you make a memorable ruffed grouse fan shot.


Styling and Propping

It's best to get your picture before you carry the bird around in the game bag. Pick an uncluttered spot in the woods- maybe an old tree stump, boulder, grass or ferns. Spread out the fan and hold it a bit, then place it next to your gun. You may need to re-fan the tail just before the shot if it won't hold. Prop it up with some sticks if you need to. Add some props- spent shells, your compass, knife, vest or hat. Do a little gardening around the shot- pluck out the stray weeds and leaves. Crop it tightly in camera.
Treat the bird with respect, and your picture will show it. Let's look forward to taking a few nice ruffed grouse fan photos in 2014.



Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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Minnesota's Ruffed Grouse Country in Winter
by Joel Schnell
Released March 23, 2014

It's been a long winter with snow, deep glorious snow. Our friend the ruffed grouse escapes the cold nights by burrowing deep in the snow pack, snug and warm. For human travelers of grouse country, travel by snowmobile has made this an epic year. With the first rideable snow in early December, it's been good riding for months.



Scenes from the trail

I've seen the pines heavy in white camo, black spruce swamps frozen like a snow highway, rooster pheasants flushed from a cattail swamp. Deer shacks and stands in silent waiting. Cabins frozen tight, waiting for family visitors to stomp their boots on the threshold. A whitetail deer struggles off the trail to wait for us to pass by. Frost makes a fairy-tale landscape of bare limbed trees. Bubbling brooks betray their rushing water in little windows of activity below.





Riding the rails to trails

This old railroad bridge over the Kettle River makes a fine vista for snow travelers. A new purpose for man's need to tame his environment with steel and wood. For a brief moment, we share a bird's eye view of grouse country.








Beware the roof snow

If you have a steel roof, you know the sound. A brief, deep rumble- maybe a half-second long. Then the terrific cabin shudder, and swoosh! A ton of snow hits the ground. We happened to be standing a few feet outside the cabin when it happened, and a quick dive out of the way was in order! As you can see in the picture, the ice fishing sled we had parked out the front door was buried, along with our coolers and such. Guess I don't need the roof rake this year.

Soon the wet, muddy season of spring will arrive. Says so on the calendar, but we'll let nature tell us when it's time for boots on the ground again in ruffed grouse country.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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Better Photos from your Ruffed Grouse Hunt
by Joel Schnell
Released March 5, 2014

Eager to share those photos fresh from the hunt? Why not make yourself look like a pro, and take a few steps to improve the pictures from your phone or camera before your share. The digital file from the card is just the beginning, a digital negative if you think about it. Simple processing in an app can make a hero out of an also-ran photograph.



First Things First

I always start with exposure first. Is it too light or too dark? Before I fix color problems or anything else I fix the exposure. Using iphoto or similar program, move the slider until it looks right. This image started out too light, so I gave it -44 exposure.

Next Up, Color

If the color is off, my next step is to reduce saturation. Most consumer cameras over-saturate, giving those vibrant -though unrealistic- colors we all love. Problem is, any color shift gets exaggerated as well. Reducing saturation may just clean it up. Another thing to try, is adjust your white balance. If your software offers a menu of options, toggle around from the "as shot" setting to auto, daylight, flash or others and see if it looks better.


Finishing Up the Edit

So we've fixed exposure, saturation and color balance. Stop there? I usually crop out any distracting elements from a photo and straighten it. Just remember what your subject is, that should be prominent. And how about a little clarity? Clarity is just a fancy word for improving contrast and sharpness at the same time. When you reduce the size of an image to share in social media, it likely will look out of focus and flat. So I punch it up a bit before sharing.



Add a Few Effects

Effects are popular and simple to apply. Make your image black-and-white, or tone it if you like. Make it old-fashioned looking with sepia tone, or warm it up - like an old 70's polaroid. One effect I use a lot is vignette, which darkens the corners of the image. It really makes your subject pop out.

The Editing Environment

Be aware of your surroundings when performing photo editing. If you are in bright sunlight, or there is bright light behind your screen, your eyes will lie to you. Better to be in a car, in the shade or darkened room. You need to be looking at your photo as your audience will see it on their screen. It's the only way to get your photos to look accurate.

Sharing Your New Photos

Last thing, share 'em! If you use email to share with family and friends, do them a favor and size the image down. Nobody needs their inbox cluttered with huge images that they have to look at in a photo browser. Just knock them down to 800 pixels on the long edge or less. That's the size that will show up in an email window, and is small in size too. Social media sites will do this automatically for you as they are displayed.



This is the final image as I envisioned it. Compare it with the first image in the article to see the difference. Now go ahead and give it a try with your photos. Good Luck!

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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Mischievous Maggie
by Joel Schnell
Released February 20, 2014

I've had two Brittanies in my life, one mild mannered; and the other... is Maggie. A ball of fire in fur from the day I brought her home. My brother once said "Maggie is powered by nuclear energy". Never a dull moment with Mags, but a bird finding machine she is.




Maggie and Cody were like Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple. Maggie is Oscar, the sweatshirt wearing jock, always up for a card game and a few brewski's. Cody was the Felix, mild-mannered, polite and intelligent. When I put the two together, one couldn't stand it if I petted the other. I had to stand between them, holding them apart with each hand.




As Mags grew older, she took over as lead bird dog when Cody retired. I had my doubts at first, as she just didn't seem disciplined enough to figure out this whole bird hunting game. She needed to slow it down and point the birds, instead of busting them like a brawler. It took a trip to North Dakota pheasant hunting to turn on the light bulb. The sheer number of bird contacts possible, in the days before ethanol production ruined the conservation set-aside programs, taught her what to do.




I once questioned her smarts to a buddy of mine in a pheasant field. Not one to figure the birds out, I'd say. Not too bright like old Cody was. He begged to differ. He said during our hunt in the tall grass, Mags ran up to him expecting to find me. Surprised she was, finding the wrong guy. So she stood up on hind legs, looked around over the tops of the grass, spotted me, and headed off in my direction.




Always a possessive dog, she doesn't like to leave me or her birds out of sight. Once I bagged a ruffed grouse on my land and hung it in a tree until I cleaned it. When my buddy and his dog arrived, Mags camped out beneath the tree and wouldn't let the other dog near it. Even took a little snooze while on guard.




Old Cody has been gone a few years now, and now Mags is getting pretty gray around the muzzle. She doesn't know it yet, but her world will be rocked in late May, when I bring the new pup home. She's not going to like sharing my attention. But dogs are pack animals, and she will come to appreciate some company when I'm not around. My vet said an old dog lives longer with a pack-mate in the house, and it proved true with Cody.




I'll have lots more adventures with Mischievous Maggie in the next few years. As long as we can find birds together, we will both be happy.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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