Snow hampers grouse hunt, but delivers on promise of winter fun
Less than a week had passed, according to the calendar, but the woods had undergone a dramatic change in those few short days. Just like that, the seasons had shifted from autumn to winter. A friend and I had made the trek north to try and match ...
Less than a week had passed, according to the calendar, but the woods had undergone a dramatic change in those few short days.
Just like that, the seasons had shifted from autumn to winter.
A friend and I had made the trek north to try and match our skills with some late-season ruffed grouse. Deer season had passed in this part of northern Minnesota, and we'd likely have the woods to ourselves.
The white that blanketed the ground, though, would change things.
I've hunted ruffed grouse, with varying degrees of success, since I was old enough to carry a shotgun. If there's one thing I've learned in those years -- besides how difficult the birds are to hit when they rocket through the trees in a blur -- it's that hunting becomes even more challenging once snow hits the ground. Places where I might have seen grouse earlier in the season suddenly turn barren.
Still, there's something special about being in the woods on a snowy day.
Another thing I've learned -- and one of many reasons I enjoy hunting ruffed grouse any time I get the chance -- is that you don't have to be out there at the crack of dawn to be successful. If you don't hit the trail before noon, well, that's fine.
Besides, hunting wasn't the only reason we'd made the trip last weekend.
Just as important, perhaps, was the opportunity to celebrate the first measurable snowfall of the season by building a fire in the outdoor pit. Winter might mark an ending, of sorts, for many people, but it also marks the beginning of good things for those who don't mind the cold and snow.
Time spent by a roaring fire in the snow offers the perfect opportunity to tell stories and plan ice fishing trips and snowmobile excursions. And as we rediscovered our first night in camp, it's easy to pass several hours this way.
Under a gray sky, light snow continued to fall the next day, and our first walk produced no birds. My hunting partner heard a grouse flush back in a cedar swamp, but that was as close as we came.
We headed back to camp for lunch and a quick warm-up. Days are short this time of year, though, and our late start meant we didn't have much time if we wanted to get in another good walk before dark.
We had reason for optimism. Two weekends earlier on the Friday afternoon before Minnesota's deer opener, we'd seen or flushed nine grouse in less than two hours.
But that was before snow covered the ground.
The woods seemed empty, but the tracks in the snow told a different story as we started down the trail. Sometime earlier that day, a deer had walked the same route, and tracks of squirrels and snowshoe hares crossed our path in several locations.
No doubt, I thought, the hares were better off with snow. Their fur turns white in the winter, and the previous weekend, against the backdrop of bare ground, their lack of camouflage made them easy targets for predators, even far back in the trees.
We finished our walk in the snow without seeing a grouse, but a buck and doe lying back in the brush provided some excitement when they jumped up and broke the silence.
They would have offered perfect shots a week earlier.
Still, it's hard to be disappointed when you're in good company and traipsing through woods that are so quiet the silence almost overwhelms. Throw a few inches of snow on the ground, and you develop a sense of oneness with your surroundings that isn't there any other time.
The snow intensified after dark, and we woke up the next morning to another 4 inches of snow on the ground. The opportunity to fire up the snowmobile was too much to resist, and riding conditions were nearly perfect.
Winter had arrived, and on this snowy weekend in late November, we were fortunate enough to get outdoors to embrace it.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to email@example.com .