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Rookie grouse hunter and bird dog owner.


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And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.

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1 hour ago, Swampy 16 said:

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.

Or the one you ask because you weren’t paying attention. At least those are the two I tell my students! 

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I'll give you another tidbit, but I might get a tongue lashing from the crew here that are the expert shotgunners.

 

Again this is just how I do it.  

 

Every shotgunner learns to shoot off his front foot. You lean into the gun and shoot with most of your weight on the forward foot, or somewhat equally distributed. When I bough my first shotgun as a kid in the store I was humiliated by the guy I went shopping with.  You have to have the gun "fit" properly he said and he said to mount the first shotgun I picked up off the rack.  I mounted it casually.  He said "That ain't how you do it! Man up! Don't be a pussy. You have to grab it and lean right into it, like a man!..... like this"

 

As he demonstrated the "Correct procedure".....for mounting a shotgun to a kid who never had shot a gun before or even held one.  

 

Okay so I did that, and I learned to shoot trap that way... 

 

...Then I started my hunting career with duck hunting.....This method works for clays, duck hunting, dove hunting and pheasant hunting...

 

no worries....

 

Then I started grouse hunting, I went quite a while before I killed a bird.  Grouse are in a totally different working environment than say pass shooting doves, or sitting in a blind over a swamp.....

 

The problem is that The King hides in the woods...thick woods...gnarly woods....I shot a lot of trees when I started out, banged into a lot of trees with my gun, missed a lot of birds...(I still do!)....

 

Here is the trick, worth about 40 years of grouse hunting experience...at least my experience....You should learn to shoot off your back foot with your weight more to the rear. Don't lean aggressively unless you got an open shot, because you will get about 4- 6 inches extra of clearance between the end of your barrel and the trees that you are bound to hit anyway....

 

When you kill your first grouse you can thank me and send me a bottle of bourbon.....

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I echo Caleb. Find 10-12 year aspen stands to get your dog on WC. Tball of birds is a great way to say it. Work the edge of the cuts and you are bound to run into RG. PM me and I can give you a rundown on how to use Google Earth to find when the stands of aspen were cut.

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Treerooster

Get some books on the ruffed grouse. Learn it's biology, habits, and life cycle. Some of the stuff you learn will help you find grouse. Some of it, like gestation period and brood survival, won't. But you will learn what it takes to make a ruffed grouse and that will give you a healthy respect for the bird. Having a respect for your quarry should make you a good and ethical hunter.

 

Good luck. Enjoy your successes and learn from your failures.

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WindyHills
On 9/24/2021 at 10:59 AM, FSZ said:

I second the advise on having a compass.  I carry two, plus a GPS.  

 

I've never had a wolf encounter and hunt the lake states and each year I hunt for at least 10 days/100 miles walked in MI, WI, or MN.  My experience is bear dogs are much more likely than bird dogs to have issues with wolves.  What is way more likely than problems with wolves is problems with traps.  Each year, there are dogs who die in snares or connibear type traps.

 

 I carry an emergency "trap kit" with a high quality cable cutter for snares and pre-tied ropes for releasing connibear traps. I was unfamiliar with traps and watched some videos on how to release them.  I then bought a 220 connibear.  I set it and use stuffed toy to spring the trap.  I then practice releasing.  I hate to think about these things but they happen every year.  

 

Minnesota's trapping season opens earlier than MI and WI.  From my research, not coincidently MN seems to have the most trapping related incidents.  

 

To all, I'm not anti-trapping.  But bird dogs do die each year in traps and its much more likely problem than a bad wolf encounter.  Best thing to do is be prepared.  

 

As far as finding cover, ATV pressure can be a real issue in MN on trails where they are allowed (and often where not allowed).  "Traditional" looking cover (e.g. young aspen 7-15 years old) can produce birds but often gets pounded, especially close to roads.  There is an interesting article in this months American Hunter about hunting "secondary type cover" that gets less pressure.  This type of cover is usually an older forest type, often hardwood, with good ground cover and some pines.  There are way less woodcock in this type of cover.  If you are having trouble finding decent grouse numbers in "traditional cover", or they are flushing unbearably wild, consider changing habitat types or getting "further back" in the woods.  

Coon trapping starts in mid October.  I don't hear about as much conflict with that as I do bobcat, Fisher and marten, where ground set conibears are often used. 

 

Not sure how many of our hunters know this, but in an effort to address long running intense conflict between dog owners and trappers, season openers were moved later into December (the 18th this year) for Bobcat, Fisher and Marten.

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This doesn’t always fly well, and is a mute point at this point for the OP. But I think that a truly newbie grouse hunter is better off starting out hunting ruffed grouse without a dog. And yes you can successfully hunt and wingshoot grouse without a dog. I had a mentor in my older brother and we hunted dogless for many years. This was in SE Mass before the rash of development completely took over. The covers were still small and the birds were nuts skittish. The experience of learning their habits, habitat and behavior without the distraction of a dog was priceless. The slow movement through a cover and intense concentration on the hunt and on the birds is probably what spawned a lifetime of grouse hunting obsession for me. A dog can and should come later for the earnest wingshooting ruffed grouse hunter because it completes and enriches the experience. JMO.

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WindyHills

Gordy Gullions books are a great place to start for lakes states grouse education.  Just be aware that he'll give you a long view and total habitat or year-round view.  That's great, if more of our hunters were familiar with all habitat needs we'd see less confusion and more effective advocacy.

 

But needs and where you find birds in the fall is what you want to focus on.

 

It's a lot easier with a dog that finds birds, but I tell new hunters to think like a grouse.

 

You need to eat and avoid being eaten-and everything wants to eat you.

 

The less time you spend in the open, the better.

 

So you spend most of your time in cover.  Thick and dense enough above you  that aerial predators have a hard time flying through it to grab you, but open enough down at your level that you can see most ground predators before they see you. 

 

When you eat, you move..and moving catches the attention of things that want to eat you. So you look for clustered and/or large foods (like berries) that allow you to fill your crop fast and get back into cover.

 

You don't want to be far from cover when eating either.

 

Look for foods and cover, hunt the places where they occur together or in close proximity (often edges), and follow your dog, and you'll find birds.

 

As dry as it is this year if you don't find much in the uplands, I'd work alder/Willow edges, stream and pond edges with cover, and trust the dog if it wants to lean towards low/wetter cover.

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2 hours ago, Brad Eden said:

This doesn’t always fly well, and is a mute point at this point for the OP. But I think that a truly newbie grouse hunter is better off starting out hunting ruffed grouse without a dog. And yes you can successfully hunt and wingshoot grouse without a dog. I had a mentor in my older brother and we hunted dogless for many years. This was in SE Mass before the rash of development completely took over. The covers were still small and the birds were nuts skittish. The experience of learning their habits, habitat and behavior without the distraction of a dog was priceless. The slow movement through a cover and intense concentration on the hunt and on the birds is probably what spawned a lifetime of grouse hunting obsession for me. A dog can and should come later for the earnest wingshooting ruffed grouse hunter because it completes and enriches the experience. JMO.

What Brad said, 100%. I’ve never had a bird dog and probably will never get one. I honestly prefer it without. I like the solitude, lack of distraction, and one to one approach. I like the surprise of a flushing bird and I still kill more birds than some dog owners I know each year. I do have friends with great dogs that I hunt with and enjoy it at times. But, like Brad said if you really wanna learn the right way, go after them one to one the first few seasons. You learn to rely on you, not the dog.

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During bird season I sometimes hunt without the dogs. I keep a shotgun in the truck and if I see a bird or know of a birdy spot, I will walk them up. Bonus birds for the skillet. Very much like still hunting. I can usually hear them vocalize and run before they flush. 

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OutlawTorn

In nearly 20 years of hunting ruffed grouse in Northern MN, I've had two wolf encounters and no bear encounters (that I'm aware of) - sure, be mindful of it...but it's just not common enough to spend your time worrying about it at every turn.  Just know how to release your dog from traps, carry a first aid kit and redundant navigation tools (GPS and compass) - and know how to use them.

 

As for cover, edges of 10-12 year old aspen cuts are good, and remain productive until sometime between 15-20 years old.  I'm not afraid of looking in slightly older secondary habitat either if it gets me away from areas pounded by other hunters and wheeler traffic.  I do tend to look for swampy or wet areas in dry years like this, but cover and food are primary indicators.  

 

As for the dog, grouse are tricky - my older GSP never figured them out, despite (maybe because of?) being hell on pheasants.  My younger GSP is in his second season and I think he'll put it together with training and exposure to wild birds, but he's not one of these guru dogs that just gets it.  And, a friends DD took until it was 4 before she really turned on for grouse - all well bred dogs.  Other dogs might turn on much faster - but the point is, they are going to go at their own pace.  Your job is to get them as much exposure as they need, don't shoot unless the dog does it's job (no shots at bumped birds), make sure you can stop them on flush and reliably recall no matter what...repeat - as many times as it takes without getting frustrated.

 

Most importantly, enjoy - you're about to start a really fun journey.

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