Observations from the 2012 Ruffed Grouse Opener
I had the good fortune of celebrating the ruffed grouse hunting opener in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the weekend with a large contingent of my immediate family. While we didn’t spend every moment of daylight scouring the woods, four ruffs found their way into our game vests. In the afterglow of barbecued grouse jalapeno poppers, I offer the following observations:
- The Woods were Grousey! Although all Midwest drumming counts will indicate our slide on the downward side of the grouse cycle, there are absolutely enough birds to keep the aspen and alder woods exciting. Our group averaged 2.5 grouse flushes per hour in four hours of hunting on Saturday and one hour of hunting on Sunday. And our group included me, my brother, his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, my mom, my dad and two shorthairs. In other words, we weren’t exactly a stealth group of grouse hunters.
- A Special Family Opener. Many folks will complain about the grouse opener being too warm or tough hunting with the woods filled with leaves. The grouse opener is particularly special to me and has become a St.Pierre family tradition. A little over 13 years ago, my dad suffered an aneurysm that nearly took his life. Thanks to medicine and miracles, I am always thankful to spend another walk through the September grouse woods with my dad. This year was extra special as my brother joined us for his first bird hunt in two decades. And, to top it off my niece and nephew slapped on their blaze orange Pheasants Forever gear and joined the family tradition. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
- Grouse Broods already Dispersed. It seems the grouse family groups had already broken up in the grouse covers we walked. Every flush was a solo bird. Perhaps the early spring in the Northwoods did indeed result in an earlier hatch. If that were to be the case, it’d make sense for the grouse family groups to already be broken.
- Crazy about Timberdoodles. I was amazed by the number of woodcock we encountered on opening weekend: the most I can ever remember on a grouse opener. Presumably, the migration hasn’t yet begun so these would have been local ‘doodles. We averaged 3.5 woodcock flushes per hour. My older shorthair, Trammell, showed mid-season form pointing numerous woodcock right out of the gates, which presented a number of “honoring” opportunities for my 6-month-old pup, Izzy. NOTE: Michigan’s woodcock hunting season doesn’t up until September 22nd.
- Fruity Pebble Forest. The woods are dry and the leaves are changing quickly. While there were plenty of leaves cluttering our view of flushing birds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaves are off the trees a week earlier than normal this autumn.
- Irish Indeed. This summer, after four pairs and a decade of loyalty to Danner’s Santiam boots, I elected to give the more affordable Irish Setter Wingshooter boot a shot. I couldn’t be more pleased. The leather broke in easily after a mink oil application and a couple of days worn in the Pheasants Forever office. They are comfortable and light. Fingers crossed they hold up for multiple years of bird hunting torture.
- Open Up Your Chokes. In the last couple of seasons, I have been shooting a cylinder choke out of my top barrel and a skeet choke out of my bottom barrel with .20 gauge Federal 7 ½ shot. I couldn’t be happier with this combo for grouse flushing 10 to 20 yards off a point. So far, I’m 3 out of 4 on grouse shots this early season thanks to the more open choke selection.
- Stay Cool with Pheasants Forever Apparel. With temperatures crossing into the 80s on Sunday, I was properly attired in Columbia’s omni-freeze long sleeve shirt featuring the Pheasants Forever logo. Don’t let the long sleeves fool you, this shirt is made to wick away your perspiration and keep your skin cool. It works great and is my absolute favorite early season shirt.
Did you get out grouse hunting (ruffed or prairie) over the weekend? Please feel free to keep the conversation going with your personal observations in the comments section below.