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Shae
SHAE
BIRKEY

Versatile Hunter

Of grouse and woodcock. . .

Sun, November 11, 2018

If you’ve never been grouse and woodcock hunting and live here in Illinois you are missing out.  Within about a 6 hour drive you can be in prime habitat for both in either Wisconsin or Michigan.  Michigan boasts the largest overall harvest of woodcock in the country annually and the second or third highest harvest of grouse.  Wisconsin is top 3-5 in both as well.  I warn you, however—hunting these birds is not for the faint of heart.  This is young man’s hunting, which I no longer consider myself.  That means myself and the dogs paid a bit more than usual this year. . . .

Perhaps the best part about pursuing this quarry is the environment in which they live—absolutely beautiful northwoods filled with bogs, cedar swamps, pine forests, oak flats, aspen cuts, and clear trout streams.  Partner that with fall’s beautiful leaf color change and the ability to walk for days without ever seeing the same cover twice all on public ground—well, it might be heaven for some of us.

This year’s hunt was a challenge as usual.  After all—grouse hunting statistics show an approximately 5% harvest to flush rate.  Grouse tend to flush wild and are awesome at getting a tree or two between you and them before flushing.  They are not tolerant of dogs that press them.  I’ve historically found them early around berry bushes (honeysuckle and dogwood in particular) as well as acorn flats and then later in 15 year old or so aspen stands.  Grouse breasts are white meat and they are every bit as good, if not better, than pheasant. 

Woodcock have about a 20% harvest to flush rate and hold really well for pointing dogs—one of the many reasons I love to hunt them so much. I find them mostly in low, moist ground with open forest floor so they can find worms and walk about.  10 year old or younger aspen with interspersed alders are generally winners—as long as you have a good migration of birds.  They tend to migrate and appear in areas overnight with a good cold front/storm front.  I’ve hunted an area one day and then hit the same area the day after a storm front and the spot was absolutely loaded with them.  They are a neat looking bird with a long, movable beak for moving around in the mud searching for worms.  They have dark meat breasts about the size of a large dove that is generally not good when eaten without marinade; however, if you marinate them in mesquite over night and then add bacon wrap while grilling people will pick them out over many other generally better tasting game animal meat.  Try it—you won’t be disappointed.

This year’s hunt in Michigan was awesome in so many ways.  We hunted over 3 different drahthaars of varying ages.  From 3 to 12.  The old man did a great job working his old nemesis Mr. Bogsucker (woodcock) and stuck numerous points on them.  The middle dog hammered point after point and retrieve after retrieve on both birds and the young dog figured a lot out this his first year chasing these two birds.  The first two days were tough going with bird numbers low and hunter numbers high in our chose public spots.  Day 3 was following a storm front and it resulted in a 3 man limit of woodcock (we probably flushed 30 or more) and a couple grouse.  What a way to finish a great several days in the great outdoors. There were many lessons learned by us and the dogs.  One that will stick in all of our minds involves the subtleties of pulling porcupine quills out of a dog’s face, shoulders, and legs.  Two of our dogs took direct hits.  Luckily we were prepared with a pair of pliers.  With over 100 quills to pull, they were essential.  Most of the quills could not possibly be pulled out by hand and several of them broke off under the skin.  After a call with a local vet we learned that the ones under the skin will find their way out on their own generally and no emergency vet trip was needed.  I still think I’d rather the dog take a porcupine hit over a skunk!

Before I go let me plug a product that finally saved my feet from pain and agony (not to mention forcing me to leave the woods due to cold feet. I’ve tried it all—huge heavy boots, socks of all types, battery socks, heated insoles, and none have provided me with consistently warm feet—until now.  Flambeau made a Li-ion battery sock that works for 6 hours (on low setting).  I tested them multiple times with a pair of wool socks over top of them and a pair of 400 gram leather boots at temperatures down to 10 degrees.  Not even a hint of cold feet.  This is seriously a game changer for me.  Cold feet have been a serious issue since I started venturing outdoors as a young man.  Get a pair!

On another, similar note, the best I can do for cold hands (also a serious problem for me) have been a midweight pair of gloves and hot hands in a waterfowl muff or pockets for archery in dry conditions.  For wet conditions, I found that the Seirus heat liner gloves inside of the Glacier Bay waterproof rubber gloves are pretty incredible for waterfowl and archery in wet conditions. 

Comments

Miss my days of college in Ashland WI - grouse hunting is a great time.

Posted by jswamp on November 15

What years were you at Northland?

Posted by NHFG11x on December 09

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