I don’t grouse about grousing in the northern woods in fall. Walking for ruffed grouse is one of my favorite kinds of hunting. It’s great exercise and it gets me out in the woods during a beautiful time of the year.
Walking through the thickest forest cover you can find in search of ruffed grouse may be one of the best ways to be distant from others during this pandemic. I enjoy the comradery of hunting with others, but when out for grouse, it’s mostly just me and my dog. After many years of practice, I occasionally manage to shoot a ruffed grouse and enjoy a delicious dinner.
I’ll leave it up to botanists to explain why the forests this fall are so spectacular with color. For whatever reasons, this fall is a memorable one for beauty in the woods in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A friend in northern Pennsylvania and my cousin in New Hampshire have sent pictures of beautiful fall colors there this year as well.
A couple of weeks ago I went hunting with friends from Beldenville. We hunted north of St. Croix Falls and west of Cushing, Wisconsin. The combination of scrub oak, aspen, sedge meadows and alders along creeks makes for good grouse habitat. When my friends went off another direction, I walked into the westernmost part of Wisconsin in the Governor Knowles State Forest.
Leaving the sand barrens and scrub oak, I climbed the ridge of forested old dunes along the St. Croix River. Dropping down the steep slope into the valley of the glacial St. Croix River, I followed finger-ridges lined with oaks, yellow birch and ironwood. Springs gurgled down the ravines into the valley bottom.
I forded a creek. My dog, Jack, swam to cool down and we went out into a valley-bottom sedge meadow to a forested "island." We didn’t get up any grouse, but we flushed a number of woodcock that I didn’t shoot. Hiking up the steep hill out of the valley we flushed a couple of grouse where I’ve bagged some in past years but I didn’t get a shot.
The next day my friends and I flushed seven grouse. I got a couple and friend Jeff got three. That was one of the best days for hunting grouse in that area that we can remember.
Last week Wednesday after putting our boat away for the winter in Washburn, Wisconsin, I went south to the Flambeau River State Forest. Jack and I hunted south of Mason Lake through an area where I have hunted since 1970. Much of the area has grown up in thick aspen after logging, but it was great to be hunting that familiar forest. It was a fine day; shirtsleeve weather with a mild breeze from the west.
Jack and I hunted south into the "big valley," around the south end of the river ridge and out into a loop of the Flambeau River known as Schreimer’s Camp where a spectacular stand of old pines was left uncut around a logging camp.
We saw or heard seven ruffed grouse that day. I took two shots but didn’t hit any. I used a navigation application on my smartphone to track our progress out hunting. After five miles of walking through some of the thickest cover, with countless high steps over blown down trees, I was dog-tired as was Jack. But I’m not grousing about that. It was a beautiful day for grouse hunting.
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