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.
In the back lots of Hollywood, when you say Jack, everyone knows you mean Jack Nicholson. In the shotgun industry, when you say Jack, everyone knows you're talking about Jack Muety.
If you ever owned a Beretta, Benelli, Franchi, Stoeger or Blaser, Jack Muety has helped you find the right shotgun -- and made sure you enjoyed it.
You would be hard-pressed to find another person with more insight into the American shotgun market than Jack. So when he says change is imminent in the shotgun sports, you have to take notice. He has the experience, stats and instincts to know what's coming down the pike -- and how it directly affects you.
He served as CEO and President of Blaser USA for 18 months before retiring in January 2008. While at the helm of Blaser USA, he introduced the company's F3 shotgun to American shooters. With Jack's marketing savvy, the F3's rave reviews served as a springboard for its continuing success.
Jack was an easy choice for the Blaser USA corner office.
Before joining Blaser, he held the position of Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Beretta USA. The Beretta spot was Jack's hard-earned reward after six years as the Vice President of Sales & Strategic Markets for Benelli USA, where he created the most successful brand of semi-automatics in America. He also applied the same ingenuity and experience to increase the popularity of Benelli's extended family of shotguns which includes Franchi and Stoeger.
Reaching the Top the Old-Fashioned Way
Jack's achievements came the old-fashioned way -- from spending quality time with customers. He's been recognized for his countless hours of volunteer service with Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, Ruffled Grouse Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association. He serves as a volunteer coach of the trap and skeet team at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Now that Jack is retired, he spends his days sailing, hunting and hanging out at his beach house with his wife and friends. And even though he no longer reports to work, he still lives and breathes guns.
We First Met Jack Pheasant Shooting
We first met Jack at a pheasant shoot on Maryland's Eastern Shore. We began talking and discovered that we shared many ideas about the shotgun industry.
Since then the economy has changed fast. Suddenly, we were hearing people we shot with bring up the prices of gas and shells in our conversations. These are the same people who only bought premium shotguns, who never hesitated to drive hours for wingshooting and sporting clays, and who spend just about every weekend enjoying the shotgun sports.
Of course we knew gas and ammo prices were skyrocketing, but when you start to hear it from investment bankers, advertising executives and software developers you realize how deeply the problem has crept into the psyche of the shotgun community.
We thought it would be a good time to give Jack a call to get his big-picture take on what was going on.
We caught up with Jack at the Fador Irish Pub in Annapolis.
"Right now, in the current market, there are several influencing factors," he said. He went down the list: the upcoming election, a sour economy, a drop-off in new shotgun sales and the decline of the dollar against the Euro.
The New Regionalism
Jack saw a potential convergence of political and economic forces that could give rise to what we call a New Regionalism in the American shotgun sports. Shooters would stay closer to home for their clays and wingshooting. The local gunsmith would see a growth in business as people put off new-gun purchases. And the corner shotgun dealer would have a better inventory of used shotguns.
In a way, it was a return to the fundamentals -- forsaking the bling and getting back into the heart and soul of the American shotgun sports. New Regionalism could be a homecoming to simpler days.
"The [shotgun] market is in transition right now driven by the national economy," he said.
Whether you shoot a Holland & Holland, a Beretta or a Benelli, the rising prices of shotgun shells, gas and airfare is a point of conversation that comes up. For some shotgun owners, the higher cost of shooting has absolutely no impact. They shoot the same number of rounds, travel to the same wonderful destinations and buy the best guns available. Other shooters, meanwhile, feel the pinch and they comprise the majority of the market who will embrace the New Regionalism.
What Louise Terry Wrote
You can already see it happening. In the June 2008 issue of Skeet Shooting Review, the National Skeet Shooting Association President, Louise Terry, wrote how the "economic conditions" are forcing shooters to "curtail their shooting plans, and they may not be able to participate in as many shoots as usual this year."
She laid the resolution squarely on the shoulders of the local clubs to consider new alternatives for line-ups that could cut-down on driving. In effect, it's a national problem with a regional solution.
Even Jack talked about how he and his shooting buddies have started car pooling for their annual wingshooting trip to New England.
And then of course there are the escalating prices of shotgun shells. The culprits are the war in Iraq and the surging prices of lead and copper.
For the majority of shooters, higher gas and shell prices are an economic reality. But the decline of the dollar is also taking its toll.
Here in the U.S., the most popular shotgun makers are British and European. People were always willing to pay a higher price for those guns because they are "perceived as being better than guns made in the U.S., Turkey or Asia," Jack said.
For U.S. shotguns, the perception is not just about quality; it's about a company's commitment to its loyal customers. For example, Jack talked about how Wall Street investment bankers like Cerberus Capital Management bought Remington -- after it acquired Bushmaster. The Cerebus portfolio also included Marlin and DPMS Panther Arms. Jack believed that when speculators come into a shotgun company, shooters began to question management's commitment to quality and customer service.
The long shadow of private equity in the shotgun industry is, in some ways, heresy to grass-roots shotgun owners. Fiercely independent, there could be a gathering of sorts around the home fires -- the gospel of New Regionalism.
From Jack's perspective this also presents a unique opportunity for shotgun makers. It gives them a chance to get back to basics. While their sales slip, the biggest shotgun makers should place greater emphasis on customer satisfaction. "They just can't count on volume alone," he said. "They have to take the approach ‘How can I help?'"
Well, we thought that sounded downright neighborly. And after all, that is the foundation for New Regionalism.