With ruffed grouse seasons finally coming to a close here in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I have now begun the annual reflection period and will inevitably begin looking ahead to next year. The late season hunting was ok this year aside from a few cold snaps and an unusual thaw that left the woods covered in ice, however once the snow covers up the ground, grouse hunting just isn’t the same for me.
One of my final days in the woods this year was a quick hunt on a Saturday in late November. Hartley and I hit our favorite new spot we discovered earlier in the season and had a most enjoyable trek through a beautiful piece of bird cover. As we begun the hunt, we traversed a sloping hillside covered with patchy young aspen. I couldn’t help but think about the timberdoodle flights that landed here in October. I thought of the times that Hartley and I so rudely interrupted the resting doodles. There were of course none to be found on this bare November day, yet the memories of staunch points, twittering wings and two barrels, swinging where they could, were enough for me.
Out of the aspens and into the hardwoods, tall stands of oak and maple made up the next section of our hunt. We never did flush a bird in this section over the course of the season, no matter though, it’s simply a means to an end as we pass through in search of what lies beyond. We moseyed on by the old deer stand next to the swamp and I paused for a minute. I wondered if the gentlemen who hunted the stand had success just a few weeks prior during the deer season. Regardless, the woods are now back to the way they were, and grouse hunters like me are free to roam, pause, wonder and then continue on our way.
Next we dropped down into the alder swamp, as we made our way across the brief section of lowland towards the sloping hillside that rises out of it. Across the swamp lies a secluded ridge that has grown in thick with aspen and hazel brush. I remembered the first time we stumbled upon this little hidden place. I’d been walking along the edge of the alder swamp adjacent to some mature aspen when a grouse flushed wild out from under a log. He made a straight line flush deep into the alder swamp that was shaded out by cedar and spruce. The ground looked wet and boggy, but relatively open. It didn’t seem to be ideal escape cover for a flushing bird. Had he not flown with such purpose I may not have followed him but I thought better this time and whistled for Hartley.
Sure enough the alder swamp was no more than 100 yards across and out of it rose the little hazel covered hillside. It is a near perfect piece of bird cover with a stem density so thick you can barely see the ground in front of you. However, this place offers something for the effort of the hunter and dog that find it as well. On the crest of the hill, the hazel brush grows so thick that not many aspens have punched through it yet. With the hazel brush reaching only chest height, the shooting opportunities can be terrific and Hartley and I had our fair share throughout the year. In the times we returned to this place we flushed plenty of grouse and woodcock from the little sanctuary. I estimate it is in its prime right now and probably has a good three to five years left of great bird shooting.
The little ridge, with swamp on either side of it, snakes its way back to higher ground and transitions into a mature forest, again laced with hazel brush. It makes up the final section of the cover as we made our circle back to the vehicle. I can’t remember a time in which we didn’t flush a grouse or two in this section, which included some of Hartley’s most memorable grouse points of the season. I can replay three of them vividly in my mind, as if it were yesterday, reason being that I missed all three birds. I’ve replayed them many times in my mind and will likely do so again and again. All three resulted in an apology to the dog and a few choice words to myself under my breath. Still, they remain some of my favorite memories from the season and they have begun to fuel my excitement for next year.
And so the season has come and gone. The year of 2016 was an awesome year for Hartley and me. We joined old friends at grouse camp and made some new friends as well. We hunted three different states and shot some birds. More importantly, we made memories that will stay with us, despite closing the books on another hunting season. Memories like the trip to Michigan Garrett and I made in late September. A truck full of guns, dogs and gear piloted by two friends that hit the road for a week to chase birds in someone else’s covers. Memories like the opening weekend my dad and I spent hunting out of our new family cabin in Wisconsin. And memories like the weekend in October a friend of mine joined me for our inaugural and hopefully annual grouse camp in Wisconsin. A whole season of them piled up and stored away, to be enjoyed on some cold winter day as we bask in the heat radiating from a wood stove.
Garrett and I would like to thank you all for following NorthwoodsR, commenting and sharing your stories along with ours. Neither of us write on the blog as much as we’d like to but that hasn’t prevented it from opening a world of opportunity with respect to our favorite passion. The people we meet and the places we find ourselves never cease to amaze us and NorthwoodsR has played a role in most of our adventures over the past three years.
It’s safe to say that NorthwoodsR has exceeded all of our expectations we set way back when we formed the idea. At that time we simply wanted to create a place that we could creatively record and save some of our outdoor adventures over the years. The social and business aspects were secondary to say the least and yet we’ve developed many of them anyways. Needless to say, when you put your passion into something you will often enjoy yourself, but don’t stop there, take that passion and put it out for world to see and share in, that’s when good things really start to happen.
I hope you all had a fantastic season in the field and forest, and for those of you still out there enjoying it, best of luck to you!
Happy New Year from the boys at NorthwoodsR, hope to see you all somewhere soon!
NorthwoodsR: Nick Larson