Wisconsin’s ruffed grouse season well under way, but also just getting started

The Wallenfang brothers, Ryan (l), of Chicago, and Kevin, of Middleton, recently shot four woodcock with the help of Kevin’s dog, Penny, in western Vilas County.

If most of the 2017 crop of leaves weren’t down by Oct. 29, they should be down by now, considering the winds that rattled the trees across much of the state on Monday, Oct. 30.

So, if you’re a bird hunter and you used the excuse of leaves still being up to not go out hunting, well, you now have no excuse. The leaves are as down as they’re going to get.

Yeah, I know, you’ve probably heard some negative comments about ruffed grouse numbers this fall. Those reports are probably fairly accurate. I’m hearing from a number of friends that bird numbers don’t appear to be up as much as might have been expected, considering that we’re on the “climb side” of the cycle.

Friends who have seen birds have encountered more adult birds than juvenile birds. That makes sense. The cold, wet month of June likely killed off a good share of this year’s grouse chicks.

Still, there are some birds to go after. Recently, I hunted with two friends – the Wallenfang brothers – in Vilas County near Boulder Junction. Vilas County really isn’t known for its grouse hunting. The county’s sandy soils really don’t seem to hold birds like the heavier, wetter soils in Iron, Price, and Ashland counties, but hey, it’s close to home, so why not?

We only had a little less than three hours to hunt, so we gave it a shot. In 2-1/2 hours we put up nine or 10 woodcock and four grouse, thanks to the hard work of Kevin’s Jack Russell terrier, Penny. Ryan shot three woodcock, Kevin shot one. I missed one of the easiest shots ever at a grouse, and didn’t shoot at all at another one. So overall, that didn’t seem like too bad of a morning to me, based on what I’d been hearing from other hunters.

Now, we were in some pretty good cover. Steve Peterson, the now-retired superintendent of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, had done a great job of planning timber sales on the state forest to keep those forests healthy and productive.

We hunted a mixed-age piece of woods with everything from 2-year-old clearcuts to select cut pine/oak woods. I know other hunters are doing the same thing – most upland game hunters understand that we need young forests to produce the type of habitat needed by upland species, deer, bear, and, yes, even wolves.

So how did we do well in that type of cover while others have been struggling? I don’t know. All I can say is keep plugging. Bird hunting might be tougher than we expected, but one thing is certain – you’ll never find a grouse sitting in your living room. Might just as well wear out some boot leather and give the dogs some exercise.

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