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Dokken: Whatever killed the ruffed grouse will remain a mystery

A closer look told me the kill had been fairly recent so I cleaned the grouse. The breast had a couple of small bruises but was otherwise untouched.

Ruffed grouse.jpg
Something had killed the ruffed grouse, but most of the bird was intact, as seen here Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – Trail cameras do a remarkable job of revealing the natural world, and I wish I’d had one set up at the site of a ruffed grouse kill last weekend.

It was early Saturday afternoon, Oct. 29, and a friend and I had just gotten to the getaway Up North when I saw the bird laying breast-down in the grass below a flowering crab tree in the yard.

Its back was ripped open, its head nearly torn off, but the grouse appeared to be mostly intact.

A small pile of feathers was scattered on the ground.

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One can only surmise, but I’m thinking some kind of avian predator – an owl, perhaps, or maybe a hawk – had nabbed the grouse while it was eating fruit on the flowering crab.

Considering ruffed grouse basically spend their entire lives trying to avoid being killed and eaten, that certainly seems like a plausible theory.

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What stumps me, though, is why the predator wouldn’t have eaten the whole bird – ruffed grouse are as good as it gets, after all – or carried it away. Whatever the predator was, something must have frightened it off.

It’s been a tough year for ruffed grouse hunting in the area I hunt – one of the poorest in several years, actually – and the ratio of birds to miles walked hasn’t been particularly favorable, at least for me.

I picked up the grouse to see if it was salvageable.

It was.

A closer look told me the kill had been fairly recent so I cleaned the grouse. The breast had a couple of small bruises but was otherwise untouched.

The grouse that died under mysterious circumstances now is stored with two other ruffed grouse in my freezer, to be enjoyed with wild rice, perhaps, and a glass of tasty wine or robust dark beer sometime in the not-too-distant future.

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Ruffed grouse in the yard – “yard pets,” I call them – are off-limits for friends who come up hunting in the fall, but when one falls prey to mysterious circumstances, I’m glad the best part of the bird was left for me to enjoy.

Oh, if I’d only set up a trail camera.

Fine fungus find

In late July, I wrote a column anticipating this would be the year I’d once again find a Hen of the Woods mushroom growing at the base of a certain oak tree Up North.

Also known as maitake, the large mushrooms seem to show up in the same spot every four years.

If history was any indication, this should have been the year.

I first saw one of the large mushrooms, which looked like a big brain, growing at the base of the oak tree in late July or August of 2014.

Not knowing what it was, I didn’t pick it but snapped a couple of photos and texted them to a mushroom expert in Bemidji who was quick to reply.

The mushroom, he said, was a Hen of the Woods – one of his favorites.

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By the time I got back up there again, the Hen of the Woods was dried up.

Four years later, in August 2018, I spotted another Hen of the Woods growing at the base of the oak tree.

I wasted no time picking it, and the mushroom was every bit as tasty as I’d heard; definitely as good as a morel, but much larger.

Based on the previous two finds, this should have been the year I’d find another Hen of the Woods at the base of the oak tree.

August – nothing; September – nothing.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, after several hard frosts and an early snowfall, there it was: A Hen of the Woods, right where it was supposed to be at the base of the oak tree – albeit about two months later than expected.

Cut up and sauteed, the big mushroom was a hit with a crew of friends who converge every October for a grouse hunting gathering – one night in venison stew and another night in spaghetti sauce.

I’ll be on the lookout again in ’26.

Hen of the Woods 1.jpg
Growing right where it was supposed to grow at the base of an oak tree, a Hen of the Woods mushroom, shown here in an August 2018 file photo, resembled a brain.
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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