Monday, October 19, 2009

Pesky grouse

This weekends trip to camp was the usual multitasking event with deer stand relocation, scouting, and putting a steel roof on the new 'cut up shack'. That thing is rapidly morphing from a place to process venison without freezing one's behind to a luxury suite but that's another post. The main goal this weekend was to put a couple grouse in the cooler and we failed miserably.

There is nothing better than grouse hunting in the northern Wisconsin fall. The air is crisp, the leaves are multicolored, humidity and biting insects are just an unpleasant memory, and the woods smell wonderful. The Ruffed Grouse, or partridge, is a unique bird as well. Unlike the Ringneck Pheasant it's not raised in captivity and hunted on 'game farms' and the native population seems to be pretty much unaffected by outside forces like predators, hunters, weather, etc. The grouse cycle is a 10 year high-low cycle that seems to happen as regularly as clockwork. Some years there are lots of grouse and other years they are impossible to find. In any event they are damn near impossible to hit with a shotgun this time of year.

I started grouse hunting, or more precisely was exposed to grouse hunting, at about age 8. My grandfather, a guy born in 1900, never had the frustration of missing a flying grouse because he always shot them on the ground, 'ground swatting' as its known in these parts. No sense wasting a precious shell on an iffy proposition like hitting a grouse in the air. He would stroll the dirt and gravel roads and fire lanes and shoot the dumb ones where they stood with his cheap single shot 20 gauge. Since I'm really not hunting them to put meat on the table, I like the alternating frustration and exhilaration of wing shooting. In that particular sport the grouse 'wins' about twice as often as the hunter, a ratio I'm pretty much fine with.

A couple years back I had an encounter in the woods with another grouse hunter. I was trudging up the ravine from Reefer Creek at the end of the day and had just about reached the trail that runs along the ridge. I felt something looking at me and when I glanced up I saw a Great Gray Owl staring at me from a balsam about 20 yards away. We watched each other for quite awhile and then I turned down the trail to head back to camp. I had only gone about a dozen steps when I saw the classic 'dumb' grouse, sitting right in the middle of the trail. I could almost hear my grandpa urging me to 'shoot...SHOOT!". Instead I figured that this guy belonged to Mr G.G. Owl and continued back to camp. About a forty down the trail I was rewarded for my selfless act when another grouse sitting on the trail took off and flew right down it. He wound up in my famous bacon wrapped stuffed grouse breasts with white sauce, a culinary delight that I have not enjoyed yet this season.

Halloween weekend is the Annual Grouse Kill at Camp Olympia. This year I actually plan on bringing a gun and grouse hunting, a concept absolutely foreign to most of the attendees of this fine event. There may even be a couple hunting dogs in camp (unlike the thick headed beast pictured above), which makes the experience even more enjoyable. There is nothing quite like watching a good grouse dog, whether it be a pointer or a flushing dog, work. The kayaks will be on the roof for the traditional late season cold weather rolling close to the hot sauna, but my mind is pretty much switching from paddling to the hunting season. Even though I have not yet began to paw the ground or rub my head against trees, I think I may be officially in the rut for the 2009 hunting season.

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