With the season closed, I finally got around to entering the last of my field days into my spreadsheet. As a result, I’ve put together my final days in the field, hours hunted and flush count numbers to share on the blog. 2016 felt like a decent year to me and the numbers have come to show that it in fact was a good year. Improvements across all major statistics categories indicate more birds in the woods and more productive hunts for me.
This year, I spent time in the woods on 29 different days which amounted to approximately 62.8 hours of hunting. During the course of that time in the woods, I flushed 230 grouse and 315 woodcock. Compared to my 2015 numbers of 165 grouse and 210 woodcock that translates to 40% and 50% increases respective. Not a bad increase from year to year! Now before anyone gets too excited or too skeptical, allow me to add some color to those numbers. This year I spent an extra 6 days in the field compared to 2015, which surprisingly only amounted to an increase of 4.3 hours this year over last. I attribute this to the fact that I hunted more half days and quick afternoon outings.
Certainly a more direct apples to apples comparison of 2016 to 2015 can be gleaned from my flushes per hour. These numbers again paint a pretty picture when reflecting on the 2016 hunting season. My grouse flushes per hour this year were 3.66 compared to just 2.82 in 2015. Woodcock increased as well to 5.02 from 3.59 flushes per hour. And perhaps the biggest and best number of all, 8.68, my total bird flushes per hour which includes grouse, woodcock and a handful a sharptails from an evening hunt in September. Clearly my time in the woods this year was more productive than 2015.
Also in 2016, I started tracking a new statistic which was miles walked. With the availability of GPS tracking on my phone I found it very easy to track the number of miles I walked during each hunt. I have no reference point as this was my first year tracking, but my total amounted to 106.84 miles walked. Such is the life of a grouse hunter, beating away the brush and chasing points 100+ miles over the course of the season. I don’t think I’d have it any other way. By the way, I don’t think that number is high by any means, I know there are plenty of grouse hunters that log more miles than me!
When I report these stats each year, I often hear from people who could never see themselves keeping track of these things while they hunt. I understand that perspective and I respect it, to each their own. That being said, I truly enjoy keeping track of the numbers as many a grouse hunter has before me. For me, it adds another level of study and enjoyment to my greatest passion and that is why I continue to do it. For anyone considering trying this or looking to improve their method I will briefly explain mine.
I do all of my tracking on my phone which I take out of my pocket once each time I leave the truck and once when I return. During the hunt I track my flushes with the flush counters on my lanyard. To record and store the information, I utilize Evernote, which is a note-taking app on my phone. I create a new entry for each day I spend in the field. When I leave the truck I jot down the time, and begin my GPS tracker (onX Maps). When I return to the truck, I check my finishing time and then record the hours hunted rounded to the nearest quarter of an hour. I then enter the miles walked from my GPS, grouse flushed, shot at and killed followed by the same numbers for woodcock. That’s it! Evernote stores the information and I then enter multiple days worth of information the next time I have a few minutes at my computer. I have found it to be quite a simple process and very efficient.
I’ve only been tracking the numbers in this way for a few years so my sample size is still relatively small. I will be curious to see how 8.68 flushes per hour stacks up to future hunting seasons, especially as we ride the grouse cycle roller coaster. All signs seem to indicate we are on the rise which means the next handful of seasons should provide ample opportunity. My English setter, Hartley, will be three years old next season and entering his fourth hunting season. With the grouse population on the rise and Hartley continuing to develop and mature towards his full potential as a bird dog, I am very excited for what lies ahead.
For now, we are both looking ahead with anticipation to the spring training season. As a bird dog owner, the spring season has quickly become one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a wonderful change of pace from the hunting season and a fantastic time to get your dog in the woods to train on wild birds. While I have some covers nearby that are great for getting the dog contacts, I also hope to spend a couple of weekends scouting for new bird cover in the areas I hunt, especially in Wisconsin around the new grouse camp.
After the spring training season comes woodcock banding which I got a taste of last spring. I highly recommend it for those that are interested. This year I plan to do some more apprentice work with experienced banders and perhaps even get out on my own. There is a dedicated group of banders in Minnesota that are passionately trying to create more interest and gain more support in their efforts. If you would like more information on woodcock banding in Minnesota, you can do a couple of things. First check out this page on Pineridge Grouse Camp’s website as it details the annual clinic they host which is your first step to becoming an approved bander. Second, you could attend the 2017 Ruffed Grouse Society MN State Workshop where Donna Dustin (certified bander) will be speaking about woodcock banding. Lastly, check out this episode of the Hunting Dog Podcast with Ron Boehme and Donna Dustin where they talk about all things woodcock banding.
I hope you enjoyed the quick look at my 2017 upland bird season. We would love to hear about yours, let us know how you did this year. Also, both Garrett and I will be at Pheasant Fest in Minneapolis this weekend. I’ll be most easily found in the Ruffed Grouse Society booth all three days. Garrett likely won’t be too far away. If you’re going to be at the show stop by the RGS booth and say “hi”. It should be an excellent show and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. Where else can you find 30,000 upland bird hunters packed into the same building?! Hope to see you there!
NorthwoodsR: Nick Larson