Grouse hunting is more than flushing birds and burning powder. It’s also getting out on cool crisp mornings with the dog and going for a nice long walk while taking it all in.
The changing colors, the wildlife, watching the dog work, it’s all good.
That said you still have to put a few in the air to make it fun and it’s looking like that might be more of a challenge this season.
Last year’s flush rates were off considerably over the previous season which was pretty darn good. Although grouse had supposedly hit the downside slide of their 10-year cycle, there were plenty of birds in 2010 and was a really nice surprise.
On the other hand, we never did hit the big bonanza that comes with the top end of the cycle and was probably due to bad weather during the all-important nesting season for a number of years in a row.
2011 was more like what was expected and hunters definitely had to work harder and spend less time squeezing the trigger.
Time will tell, but it’s looking like the numbers are going to fall off again. Even so, there will still be pockets with decent numbers of birds to push. It’s just that it might take some extra effort to find them.
In the heart of the grouse belt of northern Minnesota the drop in flush counts have been most dramatic. That part of the country also had the most birds to lose and the fall off appeared more severe.
I’ve seen it before, flushes of 20 or 40 birds followed by years with days without bumping a single bird. By moving a little farther south though I was able to keep putting birds in the air in enough numbers to keep myself and Annabelle interested. Not nearly as many as when working the Northome to Arrowhead regions during prime time, but enough to make it fun.
“Fun” the last couple years in the southern grouse range was six to maybe eight flushes in a four-hour walk. That’s not fabulous but it’s not bad either.
In years past that move to the southern end of the belt has kept me heading back to woods for five or six more years, long after the previous peak has come and gone.
The key is to keep trying new areas in different parts of the grouse range until you start finding birds and not give up. They’re there – you just have to give it some extra effort.
See you in the woods.
Ron Anlauf is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.