Ice-age ruffed grouse: Hunting in extreme cold poses quite the challenge for man and beast (dogs)
When you’ve got a house full of little kids and limited time, you’ve got to hunt when you can. That’s the reality for most of my hunting partners as well as myself, and we carved out a couple of days last week to wander the northwoods of Wisconsin with our dogs. Much of the Badger State stays open for grouse hunting through January.
The problem? The temperature wasn’t going to hit zero for the first two days. In fact, the second day of our hunt, it was still nearly 20-below by the time we’d sipped some coffee and munched a few doughnuts.
The air hurt our exposed skin as we wandered into a chunk of public land to wade through a sea of upstart poplars. The dogs didn’t seem to mind, although one’s paws started to bother her pretty fast. My Lab didn’t have any foot issues and she hunted the whole time, but there were several times during the first two days where it seemed she was wondering whether any birds were around.
The problem with sustained, Arctic-like conditions is that most animals don’t move much. Or they’ll move when the temps peak at midday. The grouse we found were either tucked tight in snow roosts or sitting in a tree munching on catkins. At least for us, we shot fairly well, and while we didn’t set the world on fire, we killed enough for dinner both nights.
When we woke up for the last morning, the temperature had swung nearly 30 degrees in the right direction. We let the dogs go on a new chunk of public land and started hunting. A few singles played the game well, and we were feeling pretty good when we ran into a wad of ruffs feeding together.
It was a short hunt but we walked out of the woods with five in our game bags and the affirmation that if you’re going to hunt this late in the season, time it around the best conditions possible. We had more and better flushes in those two hours than we had in the previous two days, and they nearly erased all of the misery we felt for most of our hunt.
In fact, we are planning to return during the last weekend of the month before the season closes. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we won’t be in another air-hurts-your-face weather pattern. But if we are forced to deal with those conditions, at least we know what to expect.