As every dedicated bird hunter knows, at the end of each season comes a LOOOONNNGGG time to reflect about seasons past and seasons to come. This year, I find myself reflecting back upon a very fun and exciting season of grouse and woodcock hunting. Most of it took place in Minnesota, as usual, however there were trips made to Michigan and Wisconsin as well. This being the second season for my English Setter, Hartley, also helped make it a season to remember. Hartley’s development led to many more finds and flushes than the previous season. As with any season, the memories made go way beyond the number of days and hours hunted and the number of birds flushed and bagged. The 2015 grouse and woodcock season marks another year in which I was able to take to the field with old friends, new friends, family and coworkers, sharing the great outdoors and unique adventures of upland bird hunting.
A quick look at the numbers will tell you that I spent 23 days in the field this season, which is actually 3 days less than I spent in the field last year. So for anyone that thinks working for the Ruffed Grouse Society means I get to go hunting every day, this serves as proof that is not the case! My hours in the field were down even more, clocking in at 58.5 total hours which is indicative of the fact that I spent less full days in the woods, restricted to shorter half-day hunts. With that being said, despite spending a bit less time in the woods this year, our time in the woods was much more productive this year. We flushed a total of 165 grouse this year which translates to 2.82 grouse per hour. We also flushed 210 woodcock which translates to 3.59 woodcock flushes per hour. Combined, our total bird flushes per hour registered at 6.41 birds per hour. To put that into perspective, my flush numbers per hour in 2014 looked like this: 2.14 grouse, 1.07 woodcock, 3.21 combined. At 6.41 flushes per hour in 2015, we’re talking about a flush every 10 minutes. I don’t know about you but if someone told me I could hunt wild birds on public access lands and count on a flush every 10 minutes I’d say “yes” every single time, wouldn’t you?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few of the things I believe to have influenced my change in productivity this year. First and foremost, the number one change from last season to this season was the ability of my English Setter, Hartley. Coming off of his first season, in which he was very young (3-5 months), he’s made great strides in bird finding ability. That fact alone is probably responsible for much of the increased productivity, but it’s also a great example of what a bird dog can do for you. As far as the grouse population goes, the general consensus in MN this year was that there was not much change from 2014 to 2015. There will always be variations from year to year but most biologists tend to agree that we have not yet seen a significant upturn from the bottom of the 10-year cycle yet. Winter conditions in Minnesota so far this year have been moderate. Temps have been higher which is helpful to grouse survival, however snow levels, up until recently, have remained lower which limits grouse’s opportunity to snow roost. The remainder of the winter and spring conditions will play an important role in the number of birds we find in the woods next fall.
One of the goals both Garrett and I had set prior to the 2015 season was to branch out and find some new covers in order to reduce the pressure on some of our favorite spots. Looking back I think we would both admit that we did not meet this goal as much as we would have liked. We did find some new spots, but probably not to the extent we wanted. The main thing we struggle with is trying to justify time searching for and scouting new areas when you could hunt a spot where the success factor is more tangible. Now we certainly know the dangers of over-hunting a spot, but when time is limited to weekends and short trips it can be tough to weigh out those opportunity costs. On top of that, I spent a few weekends hunting out-of-state and in unfamiliar territory so that limited the amount of time I had to explore my home range. Ultimately, in order to be a successful grouse and woodcock hunter you have to adapt with the changing cover and you’ll always be adding and subtracting covers from your arsenal. When it comes to grouse and woodcock hunting one thing is for sure, change is necessary!
With the close of another bird season and the arrival of a new year, Garrett and I would like to thank all of our loyal Northwoods’R followers! One of the main reasons we started this blog was to network and meet like-minded and passionate people within the upland bird hunting community. After almost two years of existence for Northwoods’R, it’s safe to say that our contacts and friendships have greatly expanded and for that we are thankful. We hope you continue to enjoy the blog and encourage you to participate in our discussions and/or reach out to us with questions about hunting techniques, bird dogs, shotguns etc… you know the drill!
Thanks for reading!