Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quick Trip to the North Woods

It is always advised to never leave birds to find other birds and that is always the trouble with heading out of state from Montana in October.  But, I hadn’t been to MN to hunt ruffed grouse and woodcock since 2012 and my Dad had been reporting “average” bird numbers from his stay in the Northland since early October. Most importantly, my two setter girls were now age eight and ten, so every fall is now even more cherished.  
It also helped that I had hunted nearly 20 days already in Montana this season, including blue grouse, sharptail, Huns, sage grouse and pheasants, so I didn’t feel like I was leaving as much behind. In fact, I managed to sneak in an hour pheasant hunt before crossing into the chaos that is the Bakken oil field of North Dakota. It was a memorable, quick hunt as we chased a dozen or so already-ware pheasants around the half-section, combined with one covey of Huns that Abby had nailed in the far corner of the public parcel.
I had picked up my good pal Ryan along the way, so along with his setter and his Griffon, we had ample dog power for just three days in MN.  Again, I was able to make the most out of the final hours of daylight upon arriving in grouse country and was strapping on beeper collars by 3PM. The girls nailed a woodcock, just minutes into the hunt, so they hadn’t forgotten what Timberdoodles smelled like.  We also moved five partridge and I connected on two, one of which sat tightly in a fern-filled clearing, while the dogs moved in very cautiously. An easy shot on ruffs, in an opening, doesn’t happen very often.  I arrived back at the truck at dark, with a sense of peace,  with the pressure already off.  Five birds in a three-hour hunt, with good dog work, made the trip a success two hours into it.  Having older dogs is both a blessing and a curse; they are in their bird hunting prime and hunt at a perfect gait for ruffs, but I also know that their time in the field is coming to an end, sadly.

Overall, it was a good trip to Minnesota. Having hunted the area since I was a kid always helps. Some coverts are still productive after all these years, some are too overgrown and new honeyholes are appearing, as well.  The woodcock were more elusive than expected and Dad felt their numbers may have peaked in early October.  The grouse are still in the trough of their 10-year-cycle, but were definitely in huntable numbers.  Ryan and I returned to the Big Sky State with our two-day possession limits after three days of hunting, so we couldn’t complain that the birds were down too much.  There were a few woodticks around, but the mosquitos were gone, which is always a plus.  Dad and I didn’t get to hunt  together as much as I would have liked this trip, but with other guests in grouse camp and a total of ten dogs included, sometimes arrangements get complicated.

Some random thoughts from the trip:
We saw fewer people “road hunting” from trucks, but the number of folks driving ATVS EVERYWHERE was disappointing. We encountered one slob that ignored a road-closed sign and when I yelled at him, he explained that it was closed unfairly and didn’t care.
We timed the leaves perfectly; the woodcock we may have missed by a week or so.  
I won’t travel to MN again during the annual teacher’s association break. The long weekend is always the busiest in the woods.
I didn’t take enough photos this trip.  I did spend a lot of time wearing my GoPro, but only ended up with a few decent videos. The brush is thick enough to crawl through as it is, without that darn thing on my head.
We brought plenty of food.  Too much.
The older the guests are at the cabin, the more valuable ear plugs are to help drown out the snoring.

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