I had long anticipated heading to Northern MN, to Beltrami State Forest, to get my labs out for the first time chasing grouse. Normally, we hit this part of the state in the fall for bear hunting, but with my tag already filled from another area, and reading that bird numbers in the state were up, I wanted to get out and try some trails. In previous years we would see several ruffed and spruce grouse in the area and would often times have our limit while out setting baits. My hopes were high and I was excited to have a mini vacation with my husband and a group of good friends that were heading up as well.
Weather conditions were looking great at 50-60 degree highs during the day; clouds were plentiful and we were hoping for sun. We’ve had our best luck right away in the morning when the sun is starting to peek out from the horizon. Grouse tend to come out into the open with the sunlight, to warm themselves from the cool nights and eat some grit off the gravel roads. Many times while hiking trails, you can hear them clucking or purring; that’s a good sign to slow down, listen, and figure out where they might be hiding.
Friday morning we woke up early, had a quick breakfast and loaded up our three labs into the truck to hit some hiking trails. About ½ mile into our hike, the girls started to get birdy. Their tails were going round and round and round in circles and I knew they were onto something. A grouse was tucked along the trail in the tall grass and suddenly flushed into the brush. I drew my shotgun, but it was too far of a shot. I praised my dogs for finding their first grouse. Now that they had gotten scent of their first grouse, they knew what they were looking for and they started to work.
We continued to hike several miles with no luck. We decided to head back to camp and ran in to the local conservation officer. He asked how the hunt was going and we replied slow. He said that bird numbers were down in their area due to an abundance of rain they had gotten in the spring. So much rain had possibly drown the nests. We had definitely noticed that it was wetter than previous years and that ditches were full, sometimes almost up to the road.
We continued to hunt the rest of the weekend, enjoying time with friends, and getting to watch the dogs work. Although finding the grouse was tough, the ones we did connect with were beautiful mature birds. We’re hoping to try another area in the state before the season ends or the roads get snow packed. Until then, be safe and good luck.