Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hunting Grouse In Minnesota

Grouse are among the most suspenseful and thrilling game bird to hunt. There are few things more exciting to me than the intense flush of a grouse whether anticipated or not.

Minnesota grouse hunting is among the best in the country. There is no state that produces as many grouse as Minnesota. It is easy to find land to hunt, but not always easy to find birds. I have on occasion walked several miles without flushing a single bird, and I have on occasion flushed 10 separate birds in a 1/4 mile walk. This post will explain some of the strategies for successfully hunting this mysterious bird.

Equipment Notes: I don't recommend shooting anything less than a number 6 shot size and an improved cylinder choke. Most of the shots you will take are going to be close and quick. Additionally, for safety reasons be sure you have both a blaze orange vest and hat so that other hunters can easily see you in thick woods. Of course, having a map and compass (or GPS device) is important if you are unfamiliar with the area and probably important even if you are familiar with the land. When grouse hunting, you will often leave the trail trying to locate a flushed grouse. It is easy to get lost.

If you are new to hunting grouse in Minnesota, there is no better resource than the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. On the site you will find an annual Grouse Drumming Survey that will help you understand which portions of Minnesota have the highest populations of Ruffed Grouse. The DNR site will also have a public hunting land and hunter walker trail locating tools that are invaluable for finding places to hunt.

Time and Location: Waiting until the leaves have fallen is very helpful if possible. It is easier to see both other hunters (thus more safe), and it is easier to see a flying grouse if you wait. You'll be shocked at how much further you can see in November versus September. In choosing your location attempt to find an area with both young an old trees, and a mix of evergreen and deciduous forest. Forests with large numbers of Aspen (Poplar) trees of various sizes, but with numerous stands of young trees.

Technique: Typically I start by walking a logging trail or state forest trail in a relatively slow manner. I always keep an eye on the trail about 50 yards ahead in case some very wary birds flush early. If this happens note where they flushed and the direction they headed to hopefully try to track down later. It is also possible to sometimes spot a grouse on the to the sides of you as you walk by it. Look for suspicious shapes on the ground or on logs. Trust your instincts while scanning the ground and give anything that looks out of place a second look. Be ready for the grouse to flush as soon as you swing your gun or stop walking.

Pause frequently as you walk. This is an essential behavior while hunting any flushing bird. The act of pausing frequently while walking mimics the behavior of the grouse's natural predators. A bird that thinks a predator is about to pounce is more likely to think that flying away is a good idea. Pausing frequently will guarantee that you will not walk past as many hiding grouse.

If a bird flushes and you can't shoot it or you miss it, go find it. Most grouse will not fly more than about 50-75 yards after flushing. Try to pinpoint where the bird went down and then head for that spot. Many birds will re-flush several times before the hunter can finally get the right shot.  A good dog can help find the bird if you can find the general location of where it went down.

Hunting with Dogs:  A dog can be invaluable if it is well trained. A good dog can track down and flush a grouse that would otherwise continue to hide while you walk by, and the dog can be invaluable for finding a dead bird. It must be trained to stay very close to the hunter. It should hunt within 20 yards of you at all times.  If it is a pointing dog, it needs to stay absolutely still. If it walks toward the bird after pointing it will likely flush the grouse early.

I hope this helps you get some birds. Good luck and hunt safe!

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