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father and son hunting ruffed grouse

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

Where to Begin to Find Hunting Spots
by Joel Schnell
Released October 3, 2014

I got an email the other day, from a veteran returning home and looking for tips on where to start hunting. It's a common question I get. Besides thanking him for his service, I offered the following advice. We have an abundance of public land for ruffed grouse hunting in this state, free to take advantage of. Here's some steps to get started.

Road Maps

I start with an atlas of the entire state. Then narrow it down with the DNR Prim maps or a plat book that show the county lands as well as the state lands. Based on the MN DNR drumming counts each spring, the highest density of ruffed grouse is in the Northeast region. The heart of it is roughly North of US Highway 2 as it winds Northwest from Duluth, I call it the Pastie Curtain (a pastie is a menu item found at the cafe's North of the line, in case you didn't know).

Look for the forest roads and trails in the state forests to begin with. They will insert you in grouse country. Of course, there are plenty of birds South of that region as well. It's just one place to start, to put yourself where the most birds are. Sometimes a drive of an extra half-hour further North will mean lots more birds to see.

Online Detective Work

Next step is to use Google Earth to look over the likely areas. Download the MN DNR hunter walking trail plug-in from their website. Pick out a few of them and look over the cover with the aerial view. The hunter walking trails are in good grouse cover and a good place to start. More detail on the process is from a post I wrote last year.

Boots on the Ground

Look for edge cover to hold birds. Trails are edges, as are swamps. Where a young aspen cut meets older stuff is an edge. You can start on a trail, then veer off to hunt any edges you see. Then return back to the trail to continue on. Also look for slash piles of old logs left from logging. They often have blackberry bushes growing among them, a favorite cover for grouse. I find myself zig-zagging from likely cover spot to the next, following the dog's nose, and my guess which cover holds birds. Don't forget to mark your truck on the gps where you parked before you head out.

But Wait, There's More...

More information can be found at my essays Grouse Maps and the Old Red Barn, and Explore New Hunts in Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Country. Good luck, wear waterproof boots, and get out there.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com . He can be reached by email

Early Season Ruffed Grouse
by Joel Schnell
Released September 18, 2014

Pre-season football is kinda like early ruffed grouse hunting. It offers the flavor of what's to come, but the real deal happens next month. This year we were blessed with the best opener weather for hunting I can recall, cool and sunny with little wind. Savor this moment, we're at the beginning of four months in the field of the best country on earth.

Sights of Early Season

Brilliant goldenrod, friendly daisies, bumblebees on blossoms. These are the sights of September, enjoy them while they last. It's the last gasp of summer, when you can still enjoy your morning coffee from a camp chair without bundling up.

Camp chores are reserved for the hottest part of the day. Clean the cabin chimney and rotate the oldest firewood to the top of the rack. Fall is coming and won't be denied.

Preparing for the Season
Like all athletes, your bird dog needs to ease into the season. A good swim is a low-impact workout for Maggie. She needs to loose a few pounds before the hard running days of October when the hunting is best. A short haircut and nail trim is in order, and check for ticks after every weekend. It'll be dangerously hot at times, so carry plenty of water in the game bag.

For the human athlete, give your boots a fresh coat of waterproofing so you don't have to lug around water-soaked leather. Carry sports drinks in the truck and a snack to keep up the energy.

It's a Jungle Out There
I work edge cover for ruffed grouse in early season. Gives you a better chance to see and shoot a flushing bird. Trails and swamps, timber blow-downs and creek beds might give you just enough clearing to swing the gun. It's pretty wet out where I hunt so the birds aren't crowded near water this year. Normally dogwood berries would be a magnet for grouse but this year's crop seems to have failed.

If you are hunting with a buddy wear plenty of orange and carry a whistle. An orange vest on the dog is not a bad idea either.
Have fun out there, the best is yet to come!

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com . He can be reached by email

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Ruffed Grouse Minnesota- the Video
by Joel Schnell
Released September 2, 2014

Ruffed grouse is the most popular game bird in Minnesota, and hunter Dave Kufahl describes the hunt and what it means to him. Featuring footage from the hunt, fall leaves in full color, bird dogs in action, and scenes of beauty of the Northwoods. Kufahl describes the season, attending a grouse camp, dog work, and cooking a bird. Maggie the brittany and Barkley the Gordon setter are the canine stars.

Take three minutes to enjoy a hunt with us in ruffed grouse country.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com . He can be reached by email

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Gearing Up for Ruffed Grouse Season
by Joel Schnell
Released August 23, 2014

Season's fast approaching, perhaps it's time to think about how to get your gear in and out of Minnesota's ruffed grouse country in one piece. We have an investment in our gear, and it deserves protection from bouncing around in the back of a truck over the dirt two-track.

The Dog Box

My go-to dog box is a plastic tote filled with the essentials for running the dog. It's always packed and ready to go. In it go the dog's gear: canned food and a packet of dry, first aid kit, dog booties, extra bell, water canteen, and a few things residing in the vest like e-collar and extra leash (not shown).

Gun items include cloth wipe, gun oil wipes, oil, choke wrench, shells, and bore snake.

Personal items include gloves, neckkie, compasses, gps, knives, antibacterial hand gel, extra truck key, field dressing gloves, survival kit, and bags for bird transport.

The Dog Crates

Of course our most important asset is the dogs. Safety and comfort makes for productive hunting companions. With the new pup I needed another crate to fit the back of the Jeep. Finding nothing on the market to fit my dimensions for a reasonable price, I made my own. A wire crate, with doors on two sides, fit the bill. With a set of bolt cutters and some wire ties to hold it all together, I shortened one end to make it fit.

The Camera and Video Box

We all love taking the "lucky" shot, the photographic wall hanger to share with your friends. Well in photography, luck is defined as preparation meeting opportunity. And being prepared means having your camera with you and accessible when the great shot presents itself. I have a number of different camera boxes and bags, but this is one backcountry option for the dslr, a plastic ammo box with waterproof o-ring. Line it with foam and your camera can safely reside on the truck floor, under the canoe seat when tripping, or on the shelf at the cabin.

In this age of dslr video, I also might bring a digital audio recorder, like this Zoom H2n. It resides in an Otter case ready to go. While the dslr also records audio, It's no where near the quality of a separate mic. And in video, the imagery can be fixed or replaced but not the audio. No good sound, and nothing will save your production. Good thing to remember if you ever record the oral history of your hunting camp, or other stories the old timers can tell you.

Take some time now to put together your traveling Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting kit. Soon we will be bouncing down the dusty country roads to our favorite covers. Be ready for the action.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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Paddle and Pedal Ruffed Grouse Country
by Joel Schnell
Released August 4, 2014

The best way to see Minnesota's ruffed grouse country in the summer is from a canoe. The second best way is by bicycle. This state offers a number of canoe-able rivers to take, but not all have a shuttle service to retrieve your truck upstream. Try a combination of paddle downstream and pedal upstream to experience the Northwoods in summer.

Where to start

The MN DNR website has maps of many of the best canoe rivers in the state, and best yet is their river level indicator. It will tell you whether you will be floating a river or walking it. There are many canoe outfitters and campgrounds that offer shuttle service for your vehicle downstream, and by all means use them when you can. Sometimes if that's not practical, I shuttle back to the vehicle on my bike on an overnight trip. I leave a beater bike at my pull-out location, chained to a tree a bit in the woods, out of sight. For daytrips,I sometimes pull the front wheel and put the bike in the center of the canoe.

An Exhilarating ride

By canoe, the river often moves at a leisurely pace. Casting for smallies along the way, taking in the sun. The ride back, however, is a trip through the woods at a breakneck speed by contrast. And nice to leave the buzzing, flying bloodsucking companions far behind, struggling to keep up.

A few trips I've taken
Here's a few examples of where I've made the paddle and pedal tripping work.

Parent Lake loop in the BWCAW
The most challenging (but rewarding) trip I've taken is for experienced trippers only, in good physical condition. First you paddle down Hog Creek, one of those beautiful and remote Boundary Waters rivers. You're more likely to encounter a moose fording the stream than seeing other campers. Spend the night at Perent lake and feast on walleye dinner. The next day takes you down Parent River to Isabella Lake. After another night under the stars, paddle down Isabella River, then take the Island River through the wild rice beds on your return to where the bike is stashed at Comfort Lake. From there, ride the Superior National forest logging roads back to your car. Its a trip for packing light, and wet-footing as you line the canoe through a few of the shallow river spots.

The Big Muddy

The Mississippi River between Jacobson and Aitken offers several overnight options. This far North, the river of barges and paddlewheelers is more like a farm country stream. But it holds paddle-sized smallies and walleyes and has enough water to float a canoe all summer long.

The Namekagon

While technically a Wisconsin trip, the Namekagon flows into the St. Croix River bordering our states. A splendid easy-going river with great campsites. Try putting in at McDowell Bridge and taking out at Riverside.

The Kettle River

An outstanding smallmouth river, the Kettle between Willow River and Banning State Park is a shallow, rocky river but worth an occasional portage. You'll pull out at the landing before the big rapids in Banning, which are rated for expert whitewater travel only.

The Cannon River

While not really running through ruffed grouse country, the Cannon is a nice paddle day trip for Twin Cities residents. It features a nice paved bike trail that follows the South bank of the river between Cannon Falls and Welch.

There are many other options for Minnesota river canoeing, and I try to hit several each summer. See the DNR website for more Minnesota Water Trails.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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