WHY WE HUNT, Member Cooper Rossner

These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt.

Pilot and I with Max, the patriarchI got into this racket sort of backwards. What I mean by that is . . . I was not brought up gun in hand, nor raised in your stereotypical hunting household with time-honored generational sporting traditions. My bloodline has always had a hand in the outdoors, but was primarily concerned with fishing, and when my father had his fourth son (me), he chose to work overtime instead of go hunting. It was well-worth it though, and I am certainly not complaining. My family moved from the congested and dyspeptic, stripmalled and subdivisioned Camden County to Cape May, New Jersey about halfway through my life. This is where I fell in love with all that nature has to offer, but mostly the birds. Cape May has been described in countless ways as an aviary paradise drawing thousands upon thousands of migrating birds from shorebirds to ducks and geese, to hawks, eagles and songbirds all consequently attracting birders, artists, hunters, etc. and ultimately giving me and my shotgun a run for our money.

To answer why I hunt, though in one word, I’d say the connections. I moved down here and almost immediately connected with the birds, mostly the woodcock, and waterfowl logging countless hours of conservation work with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and a whole slew of various agencies. In the midst of it all, I discovered wooden duck decoys and the forgotten culture that is the “traditional sporting world”. This is what I mean when I say I got into this business backwards. I fell in love with decoys, literature, paintings, stories and old guns before I even thought about hunting myself. Now, decoy-making is my primary source of income, I hang around gun shops, art shows and workshops every chance I get, and I’m chasing birds nearly every day of the season.

Some of my decoys, ducks, yellowlegs and woodcockThe fella that got me started carving decoys is also the one who got me started with DU and got me obsessed with hunting upland game birds. He eventually got tired of me hanging around, I guess, and passed me over to an older gentleman who would become my mentor in decoy carving. I consider him one of my best friends now, and we like to chase birds together every chance we get. I have made friends with some of the finest people this world has to offer due to the out of doors. The breeder of my dog and his wife, of Shore Shot Kennels, have become good friends and we enjoy getting out for a woodcock hunts each season. Friends from the waterfowling and decoy-making world have taken the step over to chase woodcock with me, some haven’t turned back. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I don’t really know if my life would be quite as exciting without all of this. As I got into hunting, my dad got back into it seeing as he has some time for himself now. In my dad, I happened to find another best friend with whom I have the pleasure of creating and sharing countless memories made afield.

Shore Shot’s Big River “Pilot”Not to undermine any other connections I had made prior to canine companionship, but I think the most formative relationship I have had in this business has been that which I found in my blossoming, solid-liver shorthair, Pilot. He’s taught me more about the world and myself than I think any of the over-priced textbooks I’m plagued with at college ever could. Bird dogs find birds for us and give us something to brag about at the watering hole, but when we look closer we see that they teach us patience, understanding, determination, motivation to go even when it’s a bitter five degrees and looking like snow, and most of all they teach us how to be and how to have a true friend. There’s a reason that the focal point of upland art, literature, film, storytelling, etc. is and ought to be that of the dog in any given scenario. Humans are abundant and crude, bird dogs, however, well they are something special. These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt. I wouldn’t have my life any other way, and this is the direction I intend on heading for the foreseeable future. The dogs, the art, the history, the birds and the people that I am connected to are what have helped make me the person I am, for better or for worse . . . I’m rolling with it!

More about Cooper and his decoys and stories can be found on Instagram and Twitter: @capemaydecoys

To join RGS or for more information go to www.ruffed.org

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Ron McGinty

Mcginty Photo 2 (800x600)

The first grouse I ever swung on was a right-to-left crosser at “The Wild 80”, a hunting club my wife’s late father belonged to. It was one of those clear, crisp October days we all dream about where the grouse woods abound with a palpable anticipation while being flush with color. Oh, I did swing on that grouse all right – about five feet behind him! To paraphrase what Herb Parsons, the accomplished exhibition shooter, said about shooting clays, “Ruffed grouse aren’t hard to hit, they’re just easy to miss!”

The reasons I hunt grouse are many. Prior to that fella schooling me, I had hunted squirrels, rabbits, deer and bear. From the moment that grouse left me trembling as I shook my head, I was hooked – helplessly, hopelessly smitten. The seed was planted, rapidly sprouted and grew to consume me. Now if a dog isn’t part of the mix, I really don’t care to hunt.

My precious journals go back to 1973. They show 4,160 grouse flushes and 2,976 woodcock flushes over some pretty fair dogs. My heart pounds just as loudly approaching a point now as it did on the first by Britt that first year. The extensive accounts of each hunt since then allow me to relive those memories – as they will for my son and his son and . . .

Mcginty photo 1 (1280x960)

Here are some of the reasons I grouse hunt:

– Dogs. To bring a puppy laden with promise into your life, train that pup to be a bird dog and then foster an unshakable bond that defines teamwork – and love. There’s nothing quite like watching a dog you trained learn to handle wily grouse. Points reign supreme. To see your dog quiver with excitement while nailing a grouse is only exceeded by your own exhilaration and is the stuff of dreams.

– To witness Ruff point his last grouse that I fortunately connected on. Then, stumble bringing that bird, struggle to get up with wings beating him in the face and proudly deliver it to hand. He didn’t want to release it – I think he knew. He was buried with the wings from that bird.

– Watching Feathers display an unmatched resolve after having a leg amputated for cancer at 11 years of age. Being in awe of her 1,000th point – on only three legs – with tears streaming down my face. She taught us lessons about grit, devotion and determination we’ll never forget.

– To be there when your son (or daughter) harvest their first grouse. Save that hull and other memorable ones that follow in a GBE inspired “BOX OF SHELLS”. Memories.

– Woodcock. I would be remiss without including woodcock. Grouse and woodcock go together like . . . well . . . grouse and woodcock! God, I love the Little Russet Fellow. As GBE inscribed in my copy of A DOG, A GUN, and TIME ENOUGH, “We speak of woodcock with a softer voice.”

– As a long TIME Michigan Hunter Safety Instructor being able to introduce scores of young people to grouse hunting and the all important elements of gun safety.

– Grouse Camps. Preferably on a lake where you saunter to the shore with a steaming cup of coffee to warm your hands on a frosty morning with mist rising from the placid water as the sun enhances the fleeting colors that line the shore. The robin’s egg blue sky soothes your soul. You long for a way to blend and capture the enticing aroma of the coffee with the distinct scents of the fall grouse woods. Your senses are nearly overloaded. You savor it knowing as Octobers before it, it won’t last – it will vanish on the ephemeral, gossamer wings of TIME.

– Campfires. Finding a suitable clearing for night viewing in the most remote, secret locations in the Upper Peninsula. Carefully removing sod to form a circle, placing it to the side and outlining its circumference with rocks. Later replacing the sod and hiding the rocks for another hunt so your fire pit won’t be trashed.

– Sitting close to a fire on a chilly night after a day of hunting with your dog curled up beside you. Before she settles in, she places her lovely head on your knee for a pat, then looks longingly up with eyes that say, “Thanks, pa”. She twitches in a sound sleep as she dreams of the birds she encountered. A deep inner peace envelops you as you run your fingers through her corn silk soft ears. You are grateful – even proud – of the way you worked together. The misses no longer seem as important.

– Enjoying the fire with someone special on a night so clear the stars seem close enough to touch. The smoke from pungent oak curls and furls upward in tight columns before disappearing in the darkness. The glowing coals consume your thoughts as you listen to every sound and every silence of the night.

– How good a fluffy pillow feels as you drift off to sleep from a good tired while your only thoughts are where you’ll hunt the next day.

– Having “Johnny” tell me he got his first grouse, then seeing him lower his head after I asked, “Your grouse was flying, wasn’t it?” Three weeks later watching him burst into class one morning with a huge smile and him excitedly proclaiming, “Mr. McGinty, Mr. McGinty, I got another grouse yesterday and this one was flying!” “Attaboy, Johnny!” Followed by a big hug!

– To have a library of the upland classics by authors like Evans, Spiller, Hill, Foster, Ford, Smith, Norris, Valdene, Bump and Sheldon that serve to sustain one during the off season.

– An odyssey that afforded our family the opportunity to share a splendid evening with George and Kay Evans. I’m also so grateful to have spent an afternoon woodcock banding with Andy Ammann. All icons I greatly looked up to and admired.

Yup, there’s a lot to like about grouse hunting. While it’s not surprising, I was taken to the grouse woods, I could have never imagined I would be so taken by the grouse woods. The journey has been meaningful and enriched my life beyond measure. I sincerely hope your’s will be as well.  Please go make some memories this fall, Birddoggers . . .

To join the Ruffed Grouse Society or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

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SUCCESS: Inaugural Maryland Dog of the Year & Chukar Challenge

By Dave Hansroth, RGS & AWS Regional Director

good photo

End of a successful run at the Inaugural Maryland Dog of the Year & Chukar Challenge

For several years, Maryland RGS chapters floated the idea of a Maryland Dog of the Year Challenge.  Both active chapters in Maryland (Potomac Valley and Backbone Mountain) previously held individual chukar challenges, and logistics were complicated to make the new idea happen.  However, it really started to take shape when Brad and Mark Minnick offered their Twin Ridge Game Farm for an entire weekend for just the cost of the birds.  They also agreed to help market the event and to provide some of the help needed to run an event of this magnitude.  It was hard to turn down a deal like that!

So on the first weekend in April, handlers and a variety of dogs descended on Twin Ridge.  Weather was great and the first day went without a hitch with 40 runs being completed.  Sunday was beautiful with just a bit of warm weather making dogs and handlers uncomfortable in the afternoon. Fortunately Twin Ridge provided plenty of water on the course and in the staging area.  Forty Four runs were completed on Sunday for a weekend total of 84 runs. Competition was fierce, but smiles and grins went along with good-natured kidding.

The Maryland Chapters contributed a lot of labor to help make this a successful event!  Several members of the Backbone Mountain Chapter traveled from Western Maryland and spent the weekend helping . . . and help they did as that chapter ended up planting all the birds for all runs on both days.  Potomac Valley was not sleeping either, as they took care of all the registrations and money, plus several turned out to help with onsite registration, scoring and various other duties.  This event would not have happened if not for volunteers from those chapters.

Mentor Tim Palmer with his young handler and shooter - Sam Curley

Mentor Tim Palmer with his young handler and shooter – Sam Curley

Handlers and dogs competed in several categories:   Adult Pointing Dog; Adult Flushing Dog; Youth Handler; and Puppy Division (see photos below).  Youth Handlers were 16 and younger and puppies were two years and younger.

The birds flew well, the dogs handled well and the handlers shot well – most of the time anyway! When the smoke cleared on Sunday afternoon, it was time to crown the winners. In many categories, just a tenth of a point or so separated the winners from second and even third places.

This event netted $3,000 for the Maryland Drummer Habitat Fund.  Special thanks to Purina for their considerable support and to Brad and Mark Minnick for donating their Twin Ridge Game Farm – a perfect place for this event.  We are already looking forward to next year.

Adult Pointer Group: From Right to Left: MD Dog of the Year Winner Ryan Gerczak, with English Setter - Bandit 2nd Place - Brad Minnick, with English Pointer – Doc 3rd place – Mark Minnick with English Pointer Rio – handled and owned by Brad Minnick

Adult Pointer Group:
From Right to Left: MD Dog of the Year Winner Ryan Gerczak, with English Setter – Bandit
2nd Place – Brad Minnick, with English Pointer – Doc
3rd place – Mark Minnick with English Pointer Rio – handled and owned by Brad Minnick

Adult Flushing Group: Pictured from Left to Right:1st place - Donnie Sine, with Lab - Lucy 2nd place - Not Pictured - Bruce Durham, with Eng. Cocker - Ichi 3rd place - Mark Robinson, with Springer – Daisy

Adult Flushing Group:
Pictured from Left to Right: 1st place – Donnie Sine, with Lab – Lucy
2nd place – Not Pictured – Bruce Durham, with Eng. Cocker – Ichi
3rd place – Mark Robinson, with Springer – Daisy

Team Group: Pictured from left to Right:3rd place: Robbie Minnick & Mark Minnick 1st place: Mark Minnick and Tyler Wallace 2nd Place: Joe Gerczak & Ryan Gerczak

Team Group:
Pictured from left to Right: 3rd place: Robbie Minnick & Mark Minnick
1st place: Mark Minnick and Tyler Wallace
2nd Place: Joe Gerczak & Ryan Gerczak

Youth Group: Pictured left to right:3rd place - Nathan Weller 1st place - Jordan Minnick 2nd place – (not pictured) – Sam Curley - Tim Palmer in his place

Youth Group:
Pictured left to right: 3rd place – Nathan Weller
1st place – Jordan Minnick
2nd place – (not pictured) – Sam Curley – Tim Palmer in his place

Puppy Group: 1st place - Alan Rudy, English Pointer - Dakota 2nd place - Not pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter - Ricky 3rd place - Not Pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter - Ricky

Puppy Group: 1st place – Alan Rudy, English Pointer – Dakota
2nd place – Not pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter – Ricky
3rd place – Not Pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter – Ricky

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Payton Gunby

I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours.

18643699_10210917671870523_1686915684_nThe story of grouse hunting for me starts somewhere in the Deep South . . . in a part of Georgia, oddly enough, where there are no grouse. I’m still a third generation bird hunter – Every winter from December to the middle of January, we hunt the bird every grouse hunter knows: woodcock.

At a young age I was always with the bird dogs in the kennels until I was old enough to go and watch, then shoot. Prior to grouse hunting, I had hunted quail, chukar, pheasant and woodcock. Most of my hunting was with my dad, so grouse was the only bird he had hunted that I hadn’t. He made his first trip to grouse country a couple years before I did. The bird dogs are my world, and when I found another game bird to hunt, I wanted to burst with excitement.

We first ventured to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northwest Wisconsin. The 20-hour trek, multiple fuel stops and dog walks soon became well worth it with the beauty of the trees changing colors so much sooner than our still snake-ridden October in Georgia. We made it to our cabin as the sun was setting, so we settled in and took care of the dogs.

The next morning in our “middle of nowhere grouse camp”, my excitement to hunt this new terrain and bird they called the “King” made my full stomach the most distant thought in my mind. I was chomping at the bit to watch my dogs hunt this beautiful land, so we headed to our first stop.

payton gunby pic 1 (1280x850)There we parked, got the dogs suited up, put on our vests, prepared our guns and shells and then started. We sent the dog off and 100 yards away he goes on point. There were four of us, so we got into a line and boom, the biggest woodcock I’ve seen flushes in front of the other hunters! It was that moment I knew I was in prime wild bird country.

Fifty yards later another point was stuck, two woodcock up, two down. All three of the other hunters had a bird within 10 minutes and about 200 yards from the truck to boot! In shock of how quickly things were going, we carried on and wouldn’t you know, 100 yards away my most faithful setter goes on point again. As I approached, I was nervous because our GPS was malfunctioning, and we couldn’t find the dog! Coincidentally, I was in the right spot as we searched and I bagged a huge woodcock.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start, at this point I was ready to see a grouse. Finally, we get to an area that looked like true grouse habitat, and we flushed two out of the trees. I saw what looked to me like a brown fighter jet weaving through the spruce trees.

We stayed for a week and I was getting to see some more grouse action and my dad and his friends were harvesting birds. I had made a couple attempts shooting at grouse but I couldn’t connect. I was learning so much about the bird and its habitat, plus I was getting to harvest woodcock. I was discouraged as our final day in the northwoods dawned, and my dream of harvesting a grouse hadn’t been fulfilled. I felt so blessed to had fallen in love with the land and to experience something new with my dogs, but it put a lot of pressure on me to make my last morning count.

18685585_10210917600508739_1018526449_nThirty minutes into our final hunt, it finally happened. All the hours driving, campfire stories and time I’ve spent caring for my dogs was instantaneously worth it. I’ll always have that grouse burned into my brain . . . the angle it flew . . . the dog I hunted over . . . and my excitement as I yelled to tell my dad. Our last hunt that evening lasted a few hours and we were on our way back to the truck for the final time, but within 200 yards, I bagged another grouse! I was so proud.

There is truly no other bird similar to a grouse when hunting with dogs. I fell in love with the land, the bird, the people, everything about grouse hunting. My yearly trips are my most cherished hunt. I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours. ~ Payton Gunby, RGS Member from Georgia

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org


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WHY WE HUNT, Member Stephen Faust

Our sport will die out if we’re not bringing in new hunters. In the sales world, we say if you’re not growing you’re dying. In the hunting world, the same may be true.

S Faust Photo 1 I was about 8 years old when I rounded the corner of a bean field in Hyde County, North Carolina, and it was there I saw what would guide me through the rest of my life. That was 40 years ago, and I can still see the combination of five English setters and pointers locked up on the edge of that field. Walking in on that first point was a blur of wings, sights, sounds and pure exhilaration. I am sure I shot in self-defense, and I don’t remember the first quail I bagged, nor the first woodcock or grouse. But I have points and birds from 40 years of upland hunting scattered throughout my memory. I cannot remember what I went to the grocery store for on a normal day, but I can see a woodcock I bagged over an old setter when I was about 12, just like it was yesterday. From the UP of Michigan to Louisiana, the “Little Russet Feller” has haunted me ever since. When my son bagged his first using the same gun on which I learned, he jumped up and down with excitement. He was hooked, and I was delighted.

S faust photo 2 (960x1280)I would not hunt without a dog because seeing a dog point still makes my heart race with excitement, but why I hunt has changed over the years. The desire to bag a bird at first was replaced with the joy of seeing a young pup point its first bird. Then it was watching the young dog learn the games and become a master. Painfully witnessing the old dog become frail, and then watching his last point. Knowing his lifetime has run full circle, even as mine has not changed much in the dozen or so years. Lastly, as my son grew and started shooting, watching him learn to handle the dogs has been the gravy on top. I hunt to pass along our tradition. As a guide, I have taken many folks out to bag their first grouse or woodcock. Seeing the smile on their faces is heart-warming. Not everyone had the chance to have a dog-man as a dad, but I did. Dad taught me well, just the way he learned, the way I brought up my son, and now my new step-children. But also, the way I take new comers on hunts and point out the little things, all which keep them coming back for more.

s faust photo 3 (1151x1280)As a Centurion Member of both RGS and AWS, my aim is to bring as many new people into our sport as possible – not to crowd out my favorite spot, nor your hidden alder run, but to make sure there is a big enough presence in grouse and woodcock hunting so that my children can all take their kids and show them how to cast a young dog into a likely looking spot – then be happy when they see that dog hunt the right spots all on his own. Mentoring is near and dear to me, as it should be to all of us. Our sport will die out if we are not bringing in new hunters. In the sales world, we say if you’re not growing you’re dying. In the hunting world, the same may be true.

To join RGS and AWS or for more information, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

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New Hunters Gain Momentum in Pennsylvania

By Richard Elliott II
Treasurer/Retention & Recruitment Coordinator Allegheny RGS Chapter
Assistant Huntsman Coordinater UBH RGS Chapter
Brockport, Pennsylvania

I’m very grateful for and to the RGS and AWS staff and to the many other people making this program a possibility. I believe this is a program every chapter can use to benefit the next generation of upland hunters.

ANF-New-Hunter-Mentor-programWhen I first saw the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society New Hunter Mentor Hunt Program (NHMP), I said to myself, “Finally a non-age discriminating program!” I eagerly researched the program learning the requirements and setting standards for considering a participant as a new upland bird hunter. Our current participants range in age from 12 to 61, both male and female. I quickly requested a workbook from RGS and AWS Director of Member Relations and Outreach Mark Fouts so I could then coordinate and locate volunteers to help us make the program successful for the Allegheny RGS Chapter. Program content and supplies offered have been a great basis to get us started administrating the first Allegheny RGS Chapter  NHMP in the PA Wilds Region.

I choose to break up the program by starting with a spring gun safety awareness and shooting event in late April. This is allowing our new hunters to go through a gun fitting/patterning process early enough to spend the summer practicing shooting skeet or other shot gunning games. We choose the first weekend in August to have a habitat awareness, field skills and mapping event day in the morning before our Chapter fun luncheon banquet. I believe habitat identification is probably easiest at this time of year in the PA Wilds Region. We already do a fun bird dog challenge in September so pairing the bird dog safety awareness and demonstrations with this day is looking like a sure win. We will be holding our first NHMP Upland Bird Hunter Program Hunt in the PA Wilds Region in October.

ANF-New-Hunter-Mentor-program2I’m very grateful for and to the RGS and AWS staff and to the many other people making this program a possibility. I believe this is a program every chapter can use to benefit the next generation of upland hunters. You can stretch it out like our chapter or condense it down to just a day or two. Many of our mentors are as excited as the new hunters. I believe for myself and fellow upland hunting enthusiasts that it is very rewarding to share our beloved upland bird hunting experiences with new hunters who have a desire to become a part of what we love.

For more information about the RGS & AWS New Hunter Mentor Program, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Noah Smith

1The sun was making its way across a high top in the Nantahala Mountains, and the first rays of light hit the frozen windshield of my truck. The thoughts of previous hunts high in the Carolina hills fought for a piece of time in my memories. The memories make grouse hunting so unique . . . no two are ever the same. Every dog has its own slot, every bird too, and the covers, well they reside down the deepest passage in the rooms of the brain, only visible to me and those in which I choose to share them.

I started grouse hunting the first semester of my freshman year at Western Carolina University, and all my friends would tell you I would have been better off on drugs. On more than one occasion I would leave my dorm room around the same time my friends would be coming in from a night out on the town. I would walk nearly a mile to freshman parking, drive to a friend’s house where I stored my side-by-side scattergun and meet up with one of my mentors somewhere in the national forest for a hunt. That first grouse flush over a setter’s point, miles back in the land of the noon-day sun hooked me for life.

2It wasn’t long before a dog consumed my thoughts, a setter of course, and a road trip to New York State from my Carolina home to pick up my male Llewellin, “Jeb”, only added fuel to the grouse hunting fire that burned in my mind. This past season was our first together, and I would not trade the memories for anything. It amazes me that most days in my busy life I cannot remember what I had for lunch, but I can travel in my mind to Jeb’s first grouse point, the way the wind was blowing, where I was standing, the staunch concentration on his face, how long he held and the direction that old mountain bird flushed out from under the grape vine from where it was feeding and effortlessly disappeared into the mountains that hide its legacy.

At the end of the day all grouse hunters hunt for different reasons. Some repetition is found in explanations of why we hunt when asked. Some say it’s for the dogs, some for the exercise, but for me, it is the creation of memories. I know as the years pass and my season’s change that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to visit my covers even if I can no longer traverse these Southern Highlands where I’m rooted. I’ll be able to travel in my mind to that first point with Jeb or our first bird. I will never be storyless when in company because I have the memories locked in for good. Joy, solace, exhaustion, love, accomplishment and many other emotions can be summoned at any time because of these memories.

3My Name is Noah Smith, and I am a proud member of the Ruffed Grouse Society. I cherish the memories I have made and look forward to making many more. We all hunt for different reasons, and I encourage you to take someone new and help them find theirs.

Noah Smith is an RGS member from North Carolina who will be a new intern handling communications and social media for the RGS through the summer. Welcome Noah!

For more information about how the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society enhance habitat and hunting, go to: www.ruffedgrousesociety.org

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President’s Message – Glass Half Full or Half Empty?


Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? That is the classic question people ask to decide if someone is an optimist or a pessimist. When considering the mission of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society regarding healthy forests, abundant wildlife and our sporting traditions, what are you . . . an optimist or pessimist?

The pessimist could argue that we have plenty to worry about. Today, there are grouse hunters in Tennessee who know when they have moved off the Cherokee National Forest and onto private property, not by crossing a fence or spotting a posted sign, but by taking note of how much better the land is managed on privately held woodlands. Too many of our nation’s federal forests are being neglected, are getting older and gradually being overtaken by climax species that crowd out, or shade out, the pioneer species preferred by ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. The devastating wildfires and tragic loss of life in the Southeast last November is the direct result of neglect and mismanagement of forests and woodlands – an area of the country that formerly supported abundant ruffed grouse and woodcock populations and provided many days of hunting enjoyment for local hunters and those who traveled to the Southern Appalachians specifically to hunt ruffed grouse and woodcock.

It took decades of inaction by the United States Forest Service to place ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife of young forests in their current precarious positions on many of our national forests. RGS will closely monitor on-the-ground actions and regularly interact with the Forest Service at local and national levels to ensure that the conservation imperatives outlined in our legal challenge are consistently and effectively addressed by the Agency.

Each national forest operates under a forest plan that is developed with substantial public involvement. These forest plans are, in essence, contracts with the public. Unfortunately, over the past several decades, individual national forests throughout the Eastern United States have met, on average, only 24 percent of forest plan minimum acreage goals for these important young forest habitats. Not surprisingly, wildlife dependent upon young forest habitats are experiencing substantial population declines on many of our national forests. Clearly, the Forest Service has broken its contract with the public.

The optimist’s view would include words like “opportunity” and “potential”. Check out the videos of the 2016 Grouse Camp Tour on www.grousecamp.org to see first-hand some of the optimism we found. Last year’s Grouse Camp Tour celebrated habitat, membership and the grouse and woodcock hunting experience by making stops throughout the Southern Appalachian Region that spans across several states. We saw and heard the absolute determination that so many of our members have in restoring healthy forest habitat and returning grouse and woodcock populations to historical levels. That determination is founded on an optimism that recognizes the potential for those forests to provide recreational enjoyment for far more citizens than is the case today. We cannot and will not allow the Forest Service continue their failure to provide the young forest habitats required by the ruffed grouse, American woodcock, golden-winged warbler and other game and nongame wildlife on national forests throughout the Eastern United States.

The Forest Service and RGS met in November 2015 to find a path forward to resolve the issue raised in the Petition for Rulemaking and to secure the future for wildlife of young forests on our national forests. To its credit, the Forest Service acknowledged that the picture painted by the data provided by RGS is indeed accurate. On our part, RGS recognized that the Forest Service faces multiple challenges that affect what the Agency can and can’t accomplish on a daily basis. However, RGS reiterated that despite these challenges, the Forest Service has the personnel and financial resources to pay far more attention to the habitat needs of young forest wildlife species.

The Forest Service and RGS met again in March 2016 at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference to discuss steps that the Agency had taken to address the compelling need for additional emphasis on the conservation of wildlife of young forests since our Petition was filed. The Forest Service identified several recently proposed habitat management projects on national forests in the Eastern United States that, if fully implemented, will help move the ball forward. In addition, the Forest Service set aside a big chunk of time during its regularly scheduled meeting at the Conference with wildlife conservation organizations from across the nation to specifically address the status and trends of wildlife of young forests. If was gratifying to note that these organizations were unanimous in their support for additional attention to the needs of these critters.

We will again meet with the Forest Service this spring in Washington, DC. RGS has been patient and appreciative of what appear to be sincere efforts on the part of the Forest Service to substantively address the compelling needs of wildlife of young forests – after all, the Agency is a bit like a super tanker – it can’t be turned on a dime. However, this patience is limited, and we will need to see consistent progress in turning the ship around.

One measure of progress will be the goal for young forest habitats set by the Nantahala/Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina when it completes its ongoing forest plan revision. The public, including many RGS members, spoke loud and clear at the numerous public forums sponsored to identify issues of concern. A primary issue, if not THE primary issue raised by the public, was the need to dramatically increase sustainable timber harvests to dramatically increase the availability of these habitats on the Forest. RGS hopes that the Nantahala/Pisgah is indeed listening to the public and will act accordingly.

At the end of the day, RGS is optimistic and sincerely desires to work collaboratively with the Forest Service – and we sense that this desire is mutual. However, should the need arise, RGS will take whatever steps necessary to compel the Agency to meet its legal and principled obligations.

For more information about how RGS and AWS preserve sporting traditions by creating healthy forests, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

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Risk and Reward for the American Woodcock

Risk and Reward for the American Woodcock: the Energy Balance of an Early Migrant in a Late-Winter Storm

By Andy Weik, RGS & AWS Regional Wildlife Biologist

Woodcock huddle together in Central Park, New York City following March 2017 snowstorm. Food stressed woodcock are at increased risk of starvation and predation. Photo by Thomas Schuchaskie, from Facebook March 15, 2017.

Woodcock huddle together in Central Park, New York City following March 2017 snowstorm. Food stressed woodcock are at increased risk of starvation and predation. Photo by Thomas Schuchaskie, from Facebook March 15, 2017.

In the snowy North, we look forward to the arrival of woodcock and red-winged blackbirds as the first signs of spring. Woodcock are among the first – if not THE first – ground-nesting birds to begin nesting. Woodcock really push the envelope as they migrate north from southern wintering grounds, moving into open ground along spring seeps, streams and south-facing slopes in search of earthworms and grubs as snow cover recedes. In years when winter segues smoothly into spring, the early-arriving woodcock is rewarded with sufficient food and mild weather to hatch its four-egg clutch within a month of arriving on the breeding range, before most of its predators have extra mouths of their own to feed.

But this year in the Northeast we had spring conditions in the heart of winter. Mild February weather and bare ground enticed woodcock to arrive back in parts of the Northeast up to a month or more earlier than usual, and freeze-ups and snow-falls were brief enough to pose little problem to these hardy birds. Although woodcock hens may not have found enough food to develop eggs and commence laying, woodcock likely were able to find enough food to maintain weight, in other words to not expend more energy than they took in.  Woodcock that had arrived on their nesting areas were in a holding pattern until spring arrived and food became more abundant.

And then in March came a sharp cold snap followed within a few days by storm Stella, dumping significant snow across the region.  Snow-free, frost-free cover – feeding access – became very limited. Already stressed by the energy demands of migration, woodcock had a hard time finding food, and their energy budgets turned negative. Many lost weight, some died.  During the second day of storm Stella I got a call from a worker at the Newark, New Jersey airport reporting several dead or weakened woodcock, and a gentleman in Connecticut emailed asking how to care for and release a weakened woodcock he had picked up.  Social media sites lit up with pictures and video of woodcock feeding or huddled in snow-free gaps along small brooks or next to houses. A wildlife rehabilitator in NYC reported a sharp uptick in emaciated and dead woodcock, and one in Maine also reported receiving numerous emaciated woodcock. The Raptor Trust (Millington, NJ) posted on Facebook “Winter Storm Stella – we admitted more Woodcocks at The Raptor Trust than in the entire 2016 calendar year.”

ManhattanNY16March2017by AndersPeltomaa (2)

Distressed woodcock were photographed in Manhattan, New York on March 16, 2017. Photo by Anders Peltomaa.

So, what does it all mean in the big scheme of things? Late winter or spring snow storms that stress and kill woodcock are nothing new. The most memorable for me was 2007, when a Nor’easter hit the Northeast hard in the middle of April, causing widespread flooding and dropping several inches of snow on coastal Maine. For eastern Maine, this was one of 3 or 4 significant snow storms that maintained nearly complete snow-cover for the month of April, after many woodcock had returned in March. The woodcock singing male count at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge dropped by 41 percent that spring, and surveys on the Refuge indicated minimal woodcock production. It took three years for Moosehorn’s woodcock population to recover to pre-2007 numbers; Maine’s statewide singing male count dropped that year also, but rebounded one year later.

This year, the mild weather and lack of snow in February was more significant than storm Stella in March. In a typical year, this snow storm would not have generated nearly the discussion among timberdoodle enthusiasts, as typically the landscape would be snow-covered in February and most of the birds would not have been back yet; however, birds were back and the snow was significant and widespread.  The effect of a “Stella” will depend largely on two factors – weather that follows (duration of freezing temperatures, a warm spell, additional snow storms, rain, etc), and the proportion of woodcock that have migrated north vs. those that were still south of the storm. We’ve learned through research, such as the recent satellite telemetry migration study, that not all woodcock have the same migration strategy – they follow varying routes to the same destination, and some arrive as early as possible whereas others lag behind. Now we can look forward to the results of local and regional woodcock singing ground surveys as we keep an eye on the activity of the little russet fellows in our home coverts.

For more info on American woodcock ecology

For info Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society habitat programs

Become a member of the American Woodcock Society: www.ruffed.org



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By Meadow Kouffeld, RGS & AWS Regional Wildlife Biologist

Despite the current negative state and federal climate toward public land holding, RGS and partners are working with government agencies to reverse this trend.

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RGS member Tracy Lee hunts with her English setter puppy on public land during the RGS National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Coming from the West, I appreciate public land. The nature of our western big game requires that large tracts of land are available to support populations substantial enough for hunters to pursue. Huntable numbers of mule deer, blacktails, bighorn sheep, moose, caribou, mountain goats and elk don’t occupy 40-acre stands of trees in seas of corn. Very few people have the financial wherewithal to own thousands of western acres, however America’s greatness comes from our ability to enjoy the great outdoors, hunting and fishing notwithstanding personal wealth.

Access to public lands (of which every single American citizen is part owner) is key to hunting and the future of outdoor recreation. Ruffed grouse are much like western big game. Huntable populations need large tracts of contiguous habitat, and hunter’s need access to those tracts in order to pursue them. A few fortunate landowners have several hundred private acres to hunt ruffed grouse but even those parcels can sustain so much pressure.

Fortunately, the State of Minnesota is blessed with an abundance of forest lands accessible to the public. Public lands are arguably one of the State’s greatest assets, but unfortunately a big chunk of publicly accessible land is on the docket to sell.

There are 17.4 million acres of forest in Minnesota comprised of diverse ownership and even more complicated management regimes; 2.7 million in national forest, 0.3 million in other federal ownership, 4.2 million in state, 2.6 million on county and local government and finally the lions-share at 7.6 million acres in private and tribal ownership. In total, the forest products industry is the fifth largest manufacturing sector in Minnesota by employment, worth $17.8 billion dollars annually (gross) and critical to the economic vitality in the non-metro northern areas of the state.

DSC_0317 (1280x848)A healthy proportion of those private lands are private-industry owned, meaning they belong to companies focused on paper, lumber, fiber and even pharmaceuticals, textiles and biomaterials products. Some of the names that one might recognize include Blandin (UMP Paper, ~188,000 acres) and Potlach Corp. (~158,000 acres) among others. Much of the acreages these companies hold are available for public use, under active forest management, and often have extensive infrastructure (i.e. roads) that make the acreage as well as adjacent public owned land accessible. There are several key benefits those private industry lands provide to both our natural resources and the human population. One of the most significant benefits to the public is access.

In recent years, many people return to hunt areas they have hunted for decades only to find them suddenly posted as private property or greatly altered. The resulting consternation and sense of loss is coupled with the stark reminder that the land is in fact private and can be sold with no notification.

I have experienced both sides of this coin. Potlach Corp. is one such company that is divesting (selling off an investment they no longer need) some of their land ownership. From the public’s perspective, the trouble is this land transfers to private ownership that either restricts access (permanently, unlike recreational leases on industry land) or the forest is completely removed and the land repurposed (e.g. conversion to agricultural fields such as potato fields in Cass and Hubbard counties). Both remove public access to the land itself and the land beyond the far side of the ownership boundary. Beyond selfish interest, one should look to the long-term impacts of the decline in land access. The fact is the future of hunting in part hinges on access to public lands where people can hunt!

In a state and federal climate negative toward public land holding (“government owned”), the hope that some of these divested industry lands can join the ranks of public ownership through acquisition is not likely. In general, state, county and federal governments often hold a “no-net gain” policy toward public lands, meaning that no additional acres can be held in public ownership within their jurisdiction. In order to acquire a new parcel, some other acreage needs to be sold to private ownership. Justifications range from tax-base loss (which is an extremely controversial topic and not always a benefit to the tax base) to anti-government sentiment.

The average hunters, regardless if they are from one political extreme or another, will need access to public lands to hunt. Selling public-owned land has been used to balance budgets, once. This short-sighted move deprives future generations of opportunity to benefit from access to natural lands and the economic benefit of access to surrounding communities. The future of publicly-owned land is one thing that all sportsmen and women, regardless of political affiliation, should rally around.

In Minnesota, despite the current negative climate toward public lands, several conservation organizations are working with a few select counties to buck the trend. You may have already read about it, but the Conservation Fund, Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and the Ruffed Grouse Society have been working with several northern Minnesota counties to acquire private-industry lands and transfer to public ownership.

UntitledIn two years, the partners have applied for Legacy funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund Committee for the purchase of these private-industry lands. Nearly $6 million dollars have been awarded and up to 8,000 acres are targeted for acquisition (Cass, Hubbard and St. Louis Counties).Once acquired, the partnering counties have agreed to receive the land and hold it in trust of the public and continue to manage the properties for forest products and wildlife habitat. Timber revenue will compensate local taxing districts for loss of current property tax income (at property taxes somewhere around $6/an acre, timber revenue will likely exceed projected tax income).

The Conservation Fund, Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and the Ruffed Grouse Society have worked together to make this significant project possible. Without partners, the project would not have been made possible. The Ruffed Grouse Society hopes to continue to do good work with partners across North America to preserve the future of our sporting traditions and maintain healthy forests.

For more information: www.ruffedgrousesociety.org

Become a member: www.ruffed.org


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