A year ago I finally returned to some of my old haunts for hunting grouse in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a trip long delayed because of the loss of a good friend some years ago, Ed Schierer. Ed and I met in Colorado Springs at the Broadmore Hotel in April of 1995. I was there doing a story on the resort and shooting facility and he and Michael Murphy were conducting a shooting school on the very nice shooting grounds of the Broadmore at that time. We decided to all get together for dinner the next day at a cabin they owned up in the mountains. We grilled some great steaks, drank some good beer and talked about the great bird hunting in different parts of the states.
I mentioned to Ed that what I missed the most in living in New Mexico at the time, was the great grouse hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It turned out that it was Ed’s passion as well. Later that evening he told me that I’ll be his guest for two weeks come that fall for grouse hunting. He mentioned the grouse count has been going up and it should be a peak year for grouse hunting. He said that I should call him in late September or early October to find out how the trees were doing.
When I did call Ed, he mentioned it hadn’t been cold enough to have the trees drop all their leaves as yet, so he was going to Canada to hunt grouse up there. He said I should call back the last week of October or the first week of November when he’ll be back.
Summer never seemed to end, as I was so looking forward to the hunt with Ed. When the time came, I gave Ed a call and Virginia answered. She said, “haven’t you heard, Ed disappeared up in Canada.” “They have been looking for him for over a week and they haven’t found him, even the Royal Air Force was looking for him with Infra-red.” To this day they haven’t found Ed. Needless to say, I didn’t go grouse hunting back in the Midwest that year.
As the years slipped by, I kept telling myself I’ve got to go back and do some grouse hunting as it’s been a dream of mine for some years. A couple of years ago I finally got myself a dog that was a good companion and a bird dog. A Viszla named Jack, who was mister personality plus. Wherever I went with Jack, we made friends, or I should say Jack made friends.
Jack really only had two modes, play with me or pet me. He should have been a bald headed dog he was always petted so much. With Jack at my side, I felt the time was right to head back to the Midwest and do some grouse hunting in remembrance of Ed. I decided to do a trip and hunt both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In the past, I had hunted northern Minnesota, but I wanted to try something new and contacted the Rochester, MN Convention and Visitors Bureau in the southern part of the state. They sent me a wealth of information on grouse hunting in the southern part of the state along with a listing of places to stay in Rochester, restaurants, points of interest and plenty of maps to find my way along with some Department of Natural Resources information. They were very thorough. They even got me a very good rate at the Kahler Hotel that allowed dogs and hooked me up with an excellent guide by the name of Dan Butterfass
I contacted Dan and arraigned to meet him in the hotel lobby at 8:00 AM the day after I arrived. As I waited for Dan to show up, Jack was busy making friends. When Dan arrived, he advised me we’ll start with the most distant place to hunt for grouse so that he can show me some of the other places where we’ll hunt during the week. Many of the places he pointed out were some of the high bluff areas along the Zumbro River where the state was protecting the native prairie grasses. It was beautiful country and it was a pleasant drive of under an hour.
The first place we went out was just off the highway and up a gentle dirt road that meandered back into some heavy cover. Jack and the other dog got along well and were out looking for grouse that Dan and I could shoot. The first shot taken by Dan was a Woodcock that he got. The dogs flushed a couple of grouse from the sound of it, but I never got a good look at them because of the heavy cover, and Dan didn’t see them either. A little later, a grouse flushed close to me and I had a good view and dropped it on the first shot. Dan also got a grouse a few minutes after mine. About that time it was almost noon and we decided to have a snack and feed the dogs as we relaxed and enjoyed the river scenery.
Dan explained how we would make a loop through the timber and end up down by the car. It wasn’t too long before Dan had another woodcock and I ended up getting another grouse on the way back. By the time we got back to the car we each had another grouse. It was pretty good for the first day out in some grand country to explore. The dogs did their job and had a good time as well.
That evening I was pretty tired being the first day out and I decided to stay close to the hotel and have dinner. Right around the corner from the hotel was Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar. As soon as I opened the door and walked in I knew I picked the right place because of the fantastic aromas floating throughout the restaurant. Whenever I go to a good Italian or German restaurant, and they have veal on the menu that’s what I order. I had veal Piccata and was not disappointed. It was a grand meal served in a grand style with large portions and flavors that make you ask for more. Their wine selection was excellent as was the ambience of the restaurant and great staff. (Victoria’s is at 7 First Ave. SW and they can be reached at 507-280-6232.) The other place you have to eat at in Rochester is Jasper’s Alsatian Bistro and Wine Bar at 14 Historic Third Street, Rochester, MN, (507-280-6446). It’s like stepping back in time and having a unique dinner with flavors from the old world that are outstanding.
The next four days with Dan picking the spots for hunting grouse were fantastic. I don’t know who had more fun the dogs or us. We had good hunting and got plenty of birds every day except for one where the state DNR tore up the ground for a fire break to protect the prairie grass. It had to have been within the last week and we didn’t understand why they did it during grouse season. We were both very upset about that. And it didn’t surprise us when we didn’t flush any birds there. The grouse hunting in the southern part of the state was great and I’d recommend it to anyone. Dan really knew a lot of good spots and we had a great time together and the weather was perfect every day. Dan is not only an excellent hunting guide, but as you roll down the highway he’ll fill you in on all the important history and information on the areas you’re passing through. Rochester is a good place to headquarter and was a good jumping off place for hunting or sightseeing as well.
First, I feed the dogs – then I get a chance to eat.
After Rochester, I headed up to the northwestern corner of Wisconsin around Yellow Lake and the town of Webster where my dad had a place. I had hunted there for many years before and after I got out of the service. There were always plenty of grouse in the woods there.
The next morning I headed out to one of my favorite spots for Grouse with Jack. The weather looked threatening, but I decided to go anyhow. We were in the woods for just about a half an hour when Jack flushed the first grouse. It took two shots because of the heavy cover, but I got it. About twenty minutes later Jack got another two birds up but I was only able to get one. The hunting was as I remembered it years ago and Jack was doing a great job. It was getting close to lunch time when the first drops of rain started to fall. We headed back to the SUV and got there before the heavens split open and it really started to pour. It was only about a twenty minute drive back to the Heartwood Conference Center where I was staying.
It may not sound like I was on a hunting trip when you’re staying at a conference center, but this place had the best location and a variety of lodging, from motel-like rooms, to lodge rooms and cabins like the oneI was staying in. It was also great because they allowed dogs and there was plenty of room for Jack to run around. It also had a complete kitchen so you could stay in and cook or go out to one of the many good restaurants in the area.
It continued to rain and drizzle for the next four days and I had run out of time. It was a shame I couldn’t get any more hunting in because of the bad weather, but that’s the way it is at times. My dream still isn’t complete so I made myself a promise I’ll go back for another week or two within the next two or three years.
For more information you can contact the following:Kahler Grand Hotel
Heartwood Conference Center & Resort
The Rochester Tour Co.
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor and travel photojournalist who writes for over 45 different publications nationally and internationally. Jerry is also designing shooting clothing and accessories for Wild Hare Intl. He is the shooting and travel editor for Outdoors Now. He is also the director of the Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been teaching for the last 20 years, and has been endorsed by Browning in Utah. He conducts classes in all the western states. His address is: I. T. I. Shotgun Shooting School, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83401. He can be reached at: 208-523-1545, or online at http://www.itishooting.com.
The ruffed grouse is to the forest what pheasants are to the grasslands. But unlike the flashier, bigger plains bird, you can’t bully a grouse around. The “we-got-’em-surrounded” mentality that often works with pheasants – big crowds pushing a section of real estate to pinch birds and force them to flight – won’t get you anywhere in the grouse woods. No, this is one bird that requires finesse.
Growing up on the North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, Massachusetts was an outdoor kid's dream. Fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, living off the land – this is how I spent much of my childhood.
I remember waking on a cold, frosty dawn, crawling from my tent pitched high on a hill. Ducks and geese were noisily feeding on the pond below. A smoky mist whisked over the water's surface. As I stood up and stretched, I nearly had a heart attack when two ruffed grouse exploded into the air no more than ten feet behind my camouflaged tent. I've studied and hunted grouse all my life, and I still jumped a foot off the ground when they launch themselves into the air like rockets – at 45 miles per hour! If you haven't experienced the shear exhilaration of a surprised ruffed grouse flush, you're missing out on one of the most spectacular rushes nature provides (see your doctor first).
One day, I was hunting a hillside where I had seen and flushed (and missed) a ruffed grouse on three different occasions. Grouse are the hardest game bird to hunt because they are literally as fast as lightning. One flash and they are gone. On this particular evening though, I was confident I would come home with supper.
As I side-winded around the hill, I came to a beautiful pine grove that smelled with the sweet perfume of fall. As I stood there deeply breathing in nature's bouquet, a ruffed grouse came roaring into the grove at full throttle. He spotted me just as he put on the brakes and dropped his landing gear. If ever a grouse was surprised, this bird sure was. I swear his eyes were as big as saucers as he touched down no more than five feet in front of me. (Ruffed grouse are never supposed to come towards you. In fact, they are heard and rarely seen as they pour on the afterburners and disappear through the woods like a super sonic jet at an air show – now you see me now you don't!)
He immediately started making a nervous, red-squirrel-like whistling. He strutted, contemplating, not quite sure what to do. I stood there in utter surprise myself. When I realized supper was at hand, I tried to raise my gun. Only one thing stood between me and the tender, white meat: tall and medium-sized pine trees. Actually there were three and I was standing port of arms right up against them. When I had first come upon the "cathedral in the pines," I leaned against these trees and poked my head into the grove. Sort of like when you crack open a door and stick your head into a room to look around. Now I was so close to the pines, I couldn't snap my gun to my shoulder for the shot.
Suddenly, the ruffed grouse got his wits about him and exploded into the air. I nearly had a heart attack. In the blink of an eye he was gone without a trace. I stood there, heart pounding in my chest, and laughed out loud. Somehow, this bird had skunked me again. As I walked home re-playing the scene in my mind, I wondered – if I were a fox, would he of gotten away?