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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.

Grouse Hunter's Tech: The Compass
by Joel Schnell
Released February 14, 2015

Every outdoors person needs a few essential tools, cherished working devices that get the job done- flashlight, pocket knife and compass among them. Perhaps none more important than the compass. I also use a gps, but the compass has a look and feel like no other device. Cheap and reliable, it never needs batteries, and durable to last decades. There's no excuse not to carry one whether hunting, canoeing, snowmobiling, or any other off-road travel. It's cheap insurance against getting lost, which can vary from being annoying to life-threatening.

A Little History

According to Wikipedia, early mechanical compasses were used by the Chinese sometime before 1050 AD. They were simply a magnetic needle floating in a bowl of water. The mariner's dry compass, recognizable as a compass by today's standards, date to around 1300. It's a device with a compass rose- the diagram with directions North, South, East and West and a magnetic pointer. In the 1930's, the Silva and Suunto compasses were invented, featuring liquid-filled housings to dampen the needle for quicker readings, and protractor baseplate to use in orienteering with maps. Practical, hand held compasses had arrived.

A Compass for Every Use

I have a variety of compasses, both cheap and expensive models, made for different uses. My most recent acquisition, A Tru-Nord zipper pull model, hails from Brainerd, MN. Manufactured for over 69 years, it is a brass model with jeweled bearing movement. It's a dry compass, and comes custom compensated for the magnetic North in your zip code by request. Another fine brass model model I have, the Marble's pin-on, also dates back to the early 1900's in design.

My go-to compass over the last decade is my cheapest. A lanyard model from St. Paul's J.W. Hulme Co. has served me well, and since the whole lanyard was less than $18, the compass part was pretty cheap. I don't see it in Hulme's current catalog, but Mendota Products in Shoreview sells a similar model for about $16.

Other useful models include a Silva zipper pull, and a Silva Ranger baseplate orienteering model I bought for navigating the boundary waters.

The Compass in Use

I like to carry two compasses, as I often hunt in and around Iron Range country. Metallic deposits in the earth can vary a true reading, so I like to compare two readings when something doesn't seem right. Since one compass is always on my lanyard, I only need a pin-on or zipper pull to bring along.

As entire books have been written about how to use a compass, I'll only offer a couple tips:

Know Where You're At

My first compass bearing is at the car, determining which way the road runs. This will establish the bearing you need upon returning to the car. And as I venture into the woods, I take a reading of my direction of travel. If it's sunny out, I may make note of the position of the sun over my shoulder.

Know Where You Are Going

In the field, when you need to follow a compass bearing to get back, choose reference points. Three points is best at different distances from you along your course of travel. So pick three trees, rocks, hills, or other reference points in a line in front of you. Walk to the furthest of the three points, then take another compass reading and choose three more reference points. Repeat until you have arrived.

Aim Off

Say you know the direction your car is parked, but having to wander around swamps and other obstacles means you can only roughly determine where the car is. Once you hit the road, you may not know if the car is right or left of you out of sight. There's a solution. Simply deliberately set a course a little off your goal. If you aim a little East of where you think the car is, upon reaching the road you know it will be down the road the other direction as it travels West. That way you know which direction to walk, instead of walking around checking out both directions.

The compass. Don't go afield without one!

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

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Snowmobiling in the Heart of Grouse Country
by Joel Schnell
Released January 29, 2015

Winter has it's grip on the North Country. The bogs are frozen, the needle-less tamaracks shine with frost, swamp grass holds the deepening snow drifts. The ruffed grouse will survive, as they always do. Now is the time to visit Mister Grouse in his home by snowmobile, cruising over the icy landscape with ease and going places you can't go by foot.

Go Where There's Snow

I use a few resources to find good riding in a year without a lot of early snow. The Minnesota DNR has a snow depth and trail chart updated every Thursday. Johndee.com offers snow depth, plus a Northwoods trail cam network and discussion forums with plenty of helpful advice. The Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association has links to clubs around the state. I narrowed my search down to Ely, a great little town offering lots of hospitality. I contacted the Ely Igloos snowmobile club, and got a response back the next morning that we were good to go.

Ely in Winter

The host for the first ride of the year was our sponsor Don Beans at Jasper Inn, on Ely's main drag and right off the snowmobile trail. It offers a large common area kitchen and fireplace room accessible by five bedrooms, great for group riders. Ely had about a foot of snow and we picked up another 3 inches during our stay. Big fluffy snowflakes made for a cheery ride. The lakes were marked and the logging roads good as well. Trails through the woods were hit-and-miss as some were bumpy without enough snow to groom. We still had a good weekend of riding, doing loops staying on the lakes where practical. From Ely a good run took us across Shagawa Lake to Winton, across Fall Lake to White Iron Lake, and there to the Silver Rapids Lodge for lunch. We rode the Tomahawk Trail South a bit, then turned around and looped back for a stop at the Grand Ely Lodge. From there we cruised the Taconite Trail South before heading back.

Things You See from the Trail

I didn't see any ruffed grouse, but nearly had a whitetail deer jump in my lap, and hastened a coyote off the trail. Everything was beautiful with the new snow sticking to the trees. We crossed lakes with pine-covered islands rising from the blowing snow like sailing ships at sea. We tunneled through pine covered lanes, and hastened past mining relics of the iron range. The black spruce bogs and their spindly little pines offered little resemblance to the ankle-deep swamps they become in summer.

Northern Hospitality

Staying on Sheridan Street makes many of Ely's finest establishments in walking distance. The Ely Steak House is recommended, as is the Boathouse Brewpub and Restaurant across the street. At Samz near Winton we learned all about the benefits of Pelinkovac, a slavic liquor served best as a frozen shot for what ails you.

Our trip to Ely offered a good start to the snowmobile season, and we will be back.

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

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A Year in Ruffed Grouse Country 2014
by Joel Schnell
Released January 8, 2015

A year in ruffed grouse country is a year in the best place on earth. It is a year of puppies, bird dogs, curling wood smoke, fishing, hunting, and working the land. There's outdoors opportunity every month in all seasons. Look back on where we've been this last year.

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

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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.

Fellow woodsmen

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.

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

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Ruffed Grouse Camp
by Joel Schnell
Released November 24, 2014

Why let the deer hunters have all the fun, grouse camp can be the highlight of the fall! Nothing like a group of like-minded sportsmen gathered to hunt some new territory, trade secrets and lies, and eat and drink heartily. Round up a few of your friends, call in a favor to borrow a cabin, and let the fun begin.

Gathering of the Nimrods

I teamed up with Dave and Tom for the ride up North, two dogs snoring in kennels in the back. Friday afternoon we hit our first cover. It's a bit awkward hunting with 3 guys, but we put the two dog handlers on the outside and our dog-less hunter walked the trail down the middle. We worked a swampy area I've hunted around before, moved a few grouse and bagged a woodcock. We wrapped up a little before dark and drove the 20 miles to Jim's cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River. Jim and Joe gave us their hunt report over a few beers as we unloaded.

Friday Night Lights

I was assigned dinner first night. I had some venison boudin sausage on crackers for an appetizer, and served Manhattens to whoever wanted one, which was everybody. I had pre-cooked the vegetables and potatoes in foil pans the night before, so into the oven they went to reheat. Part of the trick to cooking for a large group, prep as much as you can ahead of time. Making the camp wait for too late for dinner can lead to an unruly mob. A couple polska kielbasa were simple to brown on the grill for the main course. We caught up on world affairs and solved all of mankind's problems around the kitchen table that evening, then called it a night.

The Main Event

Saturday Morning started out leisurely before daylight with coffee in front of the fire. A few of us early risers cold-started the wood stove; and might as well stay up with a hot cup of joe while the cabin heats up. Nothing like warming your stocking feet in front of the fire with your chair pulled right in front of the heat. Dave shortly set us out with full bellies of eggs, sausage, and potatoes.

The nice part of grouse camp is getting to hunt some new territory. We were far away from my usual haunts. Armed with my Google maps, we hit some areas that looked good from above that didn't from the road. We all got to move some birds, bagged a few, and gave the dogs a workout. We arrived back at camp an hour after dark and it was Tom's turn to cook dinner. Immediately after parking he hit the ground running to get the chicken on the grill. Dave and I put away the dogs and gear, and I got to relax while Tom worked kitchen duty.

Sunday Wrap-up

Sunday we closed up the cabin first thing and hit town for breakfast at the local cafe. We made a little wagon train back towards home and all stopped to hunt at the same spot about 20 miles away. We broke into two groups and worked over an area, then walked out together. Joe had an audience as he bagged the last bird in front of the two groups. And so ended grouse camp 2014. In one form or another I've been enjoying grouse camp for about 15 years. And it's always followed by deer camp a weekend or two later. Who says you can't have too much of a good thing?

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

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