Maximizing the early part of Minnesota’s grouse-hunting season

My hunting partner, Ben Ninas, and I were giddy when we parked our trucks. It was the Wisconsin grouse opener and before us lay 1,000 acres of public land. Even better, it was opening morning and there wasn’t another hunter there yet. We thought we’d walk the two-track through the property and pick off easy birds as our dogs worked the thicker trailside cover. 

A mile and a half later, we hit the back end of the property without flushing a single bird. It was pretty clear they weren’t interested in the clover or the gravel that lined the trail. We walked back to the gate, dejected. As we were unloading by the trucks and discussing a new plan, a bird flushed in the ditch. Then another. 

We quickly reloaded and started wading through the brush near the parking area. I immediately noticed a litany of songbirds flitting through the slanted early-morning sunlight. The first flush surprised me and I missed twice. I missed twice more when a different bird got up on the far side of a downed tree. Ben whiffed as well. 

Poor shooting aside, we had a pattern. Everywhere we spotted clumps of white berries, we found grouse. The gray dogwood berries, which had just turned from green to grayish white, were drawing the grouse in a major way. 

As Ben and I hunted through the midday, we found several patches of dogwood. We also managed to put two grouse in the game bag, which wasn’t bad considering how thick the woods were. 

Minnesota’s grouse season opened Sept. 19. I just stopped to check a neighborhood patch of dogwood while running with my Lab, and it’s pretty clear the clock is ticking on the berries. Those that aren’t in the bellies of birds are ripening daily, so it’s going to be a quick burn as far as any Minnesota dogwood pattern is concerned. 

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