As I sit and reflect on the 2013 grouse season, it is hard for me not to think about how different this season was for me compared to all of them leading up to this point. On August 13th, 2013 I became a father. One cannot know the kind of happiness, joy, challenges, and fear of the unknown this can bring until you experience it for yourself.
Even with the cyclical decline in grouse numbers and gloomy spring conditions, I had high expectations for the season. My German Shorthair, Stella, now had three seasons under her belt and I felt like she was coming into her own as a grouse dog and she would provide me with plenty of opportunities.
Opening weekend of the 2013 season came with its challenges as can be expected. The cover was thick and temperatures were warm. We had three hunters along with three bird dogs. Over the weekend we were able to connect on a handful of grouse, most of which were young birds with short tail fans. The heat did a number on the dogs and they were always happy to see a full water bowl waiting at the truck. We took the opportunity to rest the dogs, scout out new covers, and enjoy the company. I was surprised to put up over ten woodcock in a thick patch of young aspen we found, so I marked the location on my GPS in order to return during woodcock season.
The season progressed as they always do with the days getting shorter, temperatures dropping, and the leaves changing colors and eventually falling. I welcomed the change with open arms and took advantage of every opportunity to escape to the woods.
At less than two months old, my daughter, Grace, made her debut grouse hunt. We woke up early one Saturday morning and drove up to Ely. My wife, Sarah, carried Grace and we hiked a few trails and hit a couple coverts. We flushed a few birds and enjoyed the weekend away as a family. It was a quick trip and not as intense as they typically are but that didn’t matter. I was doing what I love to do and was able to spend time with my new family at the same time.
One Saturday morning in October, my fellow grouser, Ryan, and I decided to take a day trip to a Ruffed Grouse Management Area north of the Twin Cities as we were unable to escape for the whole weekend. We no sooner had our boots tied and the guns loaded when Stella’s beeper started going off indicating that she was on point. As I approached, a woodcock flushed! As shocked as I was, I got a shot off and waited for the retrieve. This promised to be a good day, having action right off the bat. I lost count of how many points Stella had throughout the day, but I can tell you that it was over twenty combined on grouse and woodcock. We were able to connect on five woodcock and one grouse for the day. The grouse made a fool of us several times throughout the day and reinforced the fact that they are indeed the King of the Woods.
Another notable hunt was a weekend away with the boys up the North Shore to the R&R Shack. We split up into groups and hit a number of coverts throughout the weekend. My partner in crime, Nick Larson, and I were driving along an old logging road when I witnessed, for the very first time, a grouse “strutting” and staking out his territory. It’s a site I have only seen in pictures and magazines. This guy was fanned out and had his ruffs puffed out like you wouldn’t believe. I first spotted the strutter about 100 yards away while we were driving in the truck. I came to a slow stop to analyze what we were looking at. It was surely too big to be a grouse and an odd place for anything else in the road. It was only when Nick pulled up his binoculars that we were able to witness this guy in all of his glory! It was quite the sight and one that will be burned in to my memory for ages.
My best hunt of the season came in late October. My dad and I were hunting around our deer camp north of Duluth. The rain had been keeping our spirits at bay, but we unleashed the dogs and hit the brush anyway. We were a few hours into the hunt when both dogs locked up on point. We surrounded the dogs and a grouse flushed in the way we always dream about. It flushed in front of us and flew across the trail as we both shouldered our guns and took a shot. The grouse went down hard. We aren’t sure who connected on the shot, but that doesn’t matter. We were happy to share the moment, father and son, each with their GSP on point and a grouse in hand. I also shot my first double this same day, but that will be saved for another blog post.
I would be lying if I told you that I could do all of this on my own. It was difficult being away from my family and they were always on my mind. Sarah has been supportive every step of the way and I could not do what I do and be who I am without her. I was even blessed enough to have her and Grace join me on a grouse hunt in Ely and a pheasant hunt in North Dakota this year.
All in all the season was the best of my record. While bird numbers weren’t fantastic, we saw our fair share and Stella definitely showed me something that I have been waiting for and proved that she has what it takes in the grouse woods. She was able to range out and locate birds, providing me with an intense adrenaline rush each time her beeper indicated she was on point.
For me, grouse hunting is about more than just grouse. I was able to spend quality time with my family, friends, and dogs. When it comes down to it, we need to enjoy every outing we have and never take them for granted.
Hail the King!