Late-Season Grouse Prove Elusive
Stevens Point – A late-season grouse hunt isn’t always a walk in the park. Chances are, you’ll end up having to deal with cold temperatures, deep snows, slippery ice and bitter winds. With conditions like that, some might prefer to stay home. To further complicate matters, in the late season, you’re hunting birds that are survivors. They are wary, gun-wise grouse that know how to hide high-up in the pine trees. They know how to hold so tight that a dog might walk past them. And they know how to run like a pheasant and flush out in front, way out of shotgun range. We knew about all those problems before we set out, but we decided to go anyway. Why? Because a tough hunt is better than no hunt at all.
Our die-hard party for this late season grouse hunt was made up of four hunters and a whole bunch of dogs. There was David Matthews of Menomonee Falls and his American water spaniel, Bailey; Frank Liska of Greenfield and his English pointer, Simon; Tom Waite of Greendale and his English setter, Mac, his English pointer, Jenna, and his water spaniel, Raison. And there was me and my golden retriever, Buck.
Waite, a dog trainer, spends a lot of time hunting grouse in the late season. “I’d say I spend as much time out there in the late season as I do in the regular season,” he told me. “The birds are spookier and a lot harder to get close to. It’s a real challenge.” But there are some advantages. “There’s less hunters,” Waite said. “Most people won’t go out there and freeze.” Not fearing that prospect, we loaded our trucks and headed up to some public hunting grounds, north of Stevens Point, one day last week.
The woods were blanketed with ankle to knee-deep snow that was covered with an icy crust. The temperature was in the low 30’s and the winds were strong and harsh, gusting, I’d guess, up to about 30mph. We pulled on felt-lined pack boots and a couple layers of warm clothes. “Don’t dress too heavy,” Waite warned. “If you break a sweat, you’ll get so cold and uncomfortable you’ll have to stop.”
We let the flushing dogs – Bailey, Buck and Raisin – hunt first. In the late season, all the leaves are down and there is a lot more open space between clumps of cover, so visibility is good. But the dry, powdery snow that day seemed to make poor scenting conditions for the dogs. They worked close and we found plenty of fresh grouse tracks on top of the snow, but the dogs didn’t get very fired up. In fact, the first two grouse of the morning flushed wild in front of Waite and me. The dogs didn’t move them, they just flew, and they were well out of gun range.
The dogs and the hunters pressed on. But ice and snow was gradually sticking to the pads of the dog’s feet. After a couple hours, they were slowing down and looked like they were ready for a break. So we returned to the trucks, kenneled the flushers and switched to the pointers.
Ordinarily, pointing dogs will run harder and cover a lot more ground than flushers, and that’s how the pointers started out. But it didn’t take much crashing through that crusty snow for them to get cuts and scrapes on their legs and feet that slowed them down. Instead of moving constantly through the cover, they would hold up every 50 yards or so, as if they couldn’t decide what to do next. Waite’s setter, Mac, was the only dog to point birds. He did it twice and each time, the bird ran out from under him and flushed wild.
It was frustrating. But, fortunately, one of those times, the bird flushed past Matthews, who shot our only grouse of the day. “It was a very difficult hunt,” Waite, said afterward. “But that’s late season grouse hunting. You might walk all day and see three or four birds. And, if you shoot a bird or two, it’s like getting a limit earlier in the year.”
And it’s lot better than not hunting at all.
Written by Bob Riepenhoff
January 16, 2000
Category: Gundog Articles