Ted Dick and Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen can tell you how to shoot more grouse and woodcock this fall.
Both Dick and Kouffeld-Hansen are avid grouse and woodcock hunters, and they’re in the business of sharing information. Dick is forest game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids. Kouffeld-Hansen, also of Grand Rapids, is regional biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society. She has written pieces on grouse hunting for the past two issues of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.
Here are some of Dick’s and Kouffeld-Hansen’s tips:
Hunt good habitat
“Grouse can live anywhere,” Dick says, “but their densities are higher where there’s a significant aspen component.”
Look for young, dense aspen.
“A lot of things like to eat grouse,” Dick says. “They tend to live in thick places — places where, if you trip, you don’t hit the ground. Work into that cover, or work the edges of it, or send the dog in.”
Ideally, look for different age stands of aspen, some younger, some a little older, in proximity to each other.
“Early in the season,” Kouffeld-Hansen says, “key on where the chicks were raised — young forests along the edges of bogs or creeks.
Woodcock typically prefer thicker stands of aspen than grouse.
“For woodcock, aspen up to wrist-size (diameter of trunks) especially,” she says. “For grouse, wrist-size to pop-can-size trunks. And I’m looking for diversity. If the understory is open, that’s not as likely a place as one with hazelnuts and other shrubs.”
If at first, you don’t succeed
“Switch habitats,” Kouffeld-Hansen says. “If you’re not encountering birds in one type of cover, switch to different habitat and try that out — pine stands mixed with hazel and birch, for instance. If one thing isn’t working, don’t stick to the textbook.”
“Part of it is trial and error,” Dick says. “It’s mostly experience gained over time that makes you most productive.”
Look for sunlight that penetrates to the ground next to good aspen cover, he says. That sun grows strawberries and other forbs on the ground.
Lots of room
Fortunately, in northern Minnesota and much of northern Wisconsin, there’s plenty of public land to roam. County foresters will have maps and information about where logging has occurred in recent years, which usually means young aspen trees are growing there now.
And once you find some good spots, don’t count on keeping them. Good grouse cover is ephemeral in nature, Kouffeld-Hansen says. It might be good for a few years, but as the aspen continues to age, fewer and fewer grouse and woodcock will be using it.
The best thing you can do before or early in the season is scout, Kouffeld-Hansen says.
“Scouting — whether on Google maps with satellite imagery or by driving a lot of roads, is No. 1,” she says. “You need to have lots of options. If you don’t run into them in one area, have another area to check out.”
Hunting with a dog
Kouffeld-Hansen hunts over her Deutsch Drahthaar, and Dick hunts with his 17-month-old English setter. You don’t need a dog, but a well-trained dog can be of great help in finding — and retrieving — birds.
“It’s a nice added feature,” Dick says. “If I get one good point on a trip, that’s all I need for an afternoon. I hunted into my 30s without a dog. I don’t think I shoot any more birds now, but it makes it more special to walk in on a point.”
If you have a dog, Kouffeld-Hansen says, make sure it’s in shape to hunt when the season rolls around.
“Hopefully, you’ve done some preseason training, or maybe in spring run the dog on flight woodcock coming back (north, on their migration). You want to keep them buffed up and ready to go. You don’t want to drive a couple of hours to find the dog’s not ready or is overheating. It can detract from the experience. Time is precious. Be prepared.”
The Minnesota DNR has more than 600 miles of hunter walking trails and more than 40 ruffed grouse management areas. For more information on those, go to mndnr.gov and click on “hunting,” then “ruffed grouse.” You can download the walking trail maps to your smartphone.
Wisconsin has a new upland gamebird mapping app available to hunters. At dnr.wi.gov, search for the Fields and Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool.