It’s official, spring has FINALLY arrived in Northern Minnesota and the grouse have taken notice! This past weekend I took a trip up to the North country on a mission to locate and capture, via trail cam, the Spring King on display in the grouse woods. Unlike our snow-covered excursion in March, we are happy to report that this mission was a complete success and much more!
The weekend began Saturday morning when we hit the road North to a friend’s hunting camp, that I am fortunate enough to frequent in the fall! I do my deer hunting here as well, but we probably spend more time grouse hunting out of this camp than anything else. We arrived at camp around 11:30am on Saturday. We knew it was going to be a good day the moment we stepped out of the truck and heard the all too familiar sound of a not-so-distant drummer in the woods! We packed pretty light for the weekend as we only had twenty-four hours to work with, so it wasn’t long before we had our brush pants on and packs strapped to the ATV. We hit the trail and went straight for a log that my wing-man had scouted out the past season.
This particular log rests underneath a couple of large pines just off of a meadow surrounded by mature aspen. As we pulled up to the side of the field all was quiet, yet we were not alone. We passed through the stems and entered the forest. It was at this point we realized we had set foot on occupied land, the King’s territory. My eyes quickly scanned the forest floor and immediately picked out a lengthy moss-covered log some twenty yards ahead. Smack dab in the middle of the log, I locked eyes with the King himself, well aware of his audience/intruders! I excitedly motioned to my buddy and we advanced on the log. Once our feathered friend realized that we were moving in on him he decided he had better things to do than wait around and see what we had planned. He hopped off the log and darted towards deeper cover.
The log was not overly tall, only about a foot off the ground along most of its length. We knew right where to put the camera however, as this drummer made no attempt to hide his favorite spot on the log, evidenced by a large pile of droppings and a worn down section of moss. We made quick work of the trail camera and had it set up in no time. We set the camera up perpendicular to the log as we knew exactly where the bird was likely to be. We opted to set it slightly higher than “log level” and placed a stick behind the camera to angle it downward, a technique I’ve had success with when placing cameras on game trails. We chose a small aspen stem about eight feet from the log, activated the camera, set it to video and quickly vacated the area so the King could get back to work!
We set off in the direction of another log my buddy had in mind, however after some searching on foot we came up empty-handed. I had spotted a few logs with some evidence that grouse had visited, however not the plentiful dropping amounts that signify a true King’s throne. While we conducted our search we continued to hear various drummers sounding off throughout the property so we opted to get back on the ATV. From the trail I spotted a large moss-covered log through the trees and tapped my buddy on the shoulder. He killed the wheeler and we were immediately greeted, or possibly warned, by the drummer! Not more than fifteen yards away, we watched through the trees as he completed his drumming and then we made our approach. Just as the other bird did, the grouse did not flush. He simply jumped off the log and scurried off only to return after we had finished our work.
The log was fantastic, about two to three feet tall, covered in bright green moss and droppings. The droppings on this log, although plentiful were much more scattered up and down the log. It was clear to us that the resident drummer did not utilize one particular spot on the log like the other grouse. As result we opted to aim the camera lengthwise down the log at exactly log height. We felt this set-up would give us the best chance for the most pictures and as it turns out we guessed right! We set this camera to still-image, and headed back to camp.
We spent the rest of the day shed hunting and scouting new territory for the fall deer season, but we couldn’t wait for the sun to set! At dusk we dawned our headlamps, fired up the ATV and set out under cover of darkness. When we arrived at the first log, we weren’t sure what to expect so we made a slow approach, nobody home. We excitedly fired up the camera, thirty-seven pictures! This was good news of course but we wouldn’t know for sure until we made it back to camp. We checked in at the other log, ninety-nine videos! We couldn’t believe it! We swapped memory cards in both cameras and made our way back to camp. The rest, as you can see from our pictures is history. We spent happy hour that evening perusing the hundreds of pictures and videos we’d captured throughout the day. When we pulled the cards the next morning before we left we found much more of the same.
As we dissected the footage and pictures captured we observed a couple of things about the Ruffed Grouse that we had under surveillance. A few key takeaways for us are as follows: when the birds are on the logs they are very consistently drumming every two to three minutes, which we learned from the timestamps on our trail camera pictures. At any point during the day it was not uncommon for the grouse to hop on or off the log. When this happened the birds were sometimes gone for a couple of minutes, sometimes a couples of hours. Also we were surprised to see that although both of the birds left the logs at dusk, one of them returned to his log at 12:30am and continued to drum all through the night until about 9:30am the following morning. The other grouse, we assume, remained in his roost until just before dawn at which point he returned and began to drum as the sun rose. One of our favorite pictures of course, is the one and only picture we captured of the Ruffed Grouse on full display with ruffs out and tail feathers fully fanned, truly an epic photo of the Spring King!
Overall we had a fantastic weekend in the grouse woods! We were very impressed with the bird numbers as well, giving us hope that the heavy snowfalls up North aided the grouse in surviving the brutal winter. We encountered a good number of birds in our travels and scouting work, as well as all of the drumming we heard. We hope you enjoy the pictures and videos we were able to capture. Please feel free to share similar experiences, pictures and/or videos in the comments section below!