The day a German immigrant became an adult-onset hunter at RGS Grouse Camp in Wisconsin
Most grouse and woodcock hunters know this situation: standing in young Aspen cover with a shotgun in your hand. All you hear is the tone of the e-collar that tells you a dog is on point maybe 50 yards away from you. Slowly, but with determination, you make your way through the thick cover of late September, just to end up about 15 yards in front of the dog still strongly on point.
Just six month ago I would never have thought I’d find myself in the Wisconsin North Woods, chasing the King of the Woods and the curious looking timberdoodle. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know of the existence of either of these beautiful birds that are now so common to my vocabulary.
German Roots and American Tradition
Growing up in a small town in Germany with a population of less than that of a city block doesn’t expose you very much to this side of the outdoor life. Hunting being very restricted in Germany, and small game nearly nonexistent anymore, I wouldn’t have had the chance even to pick it up. The only experience I could build on was being a young teenage game driver in a driven hunt. My gauge of choice was a wooden stick I picked up just minutes before, and my fancy hunting outfit was an old road construction orange vest. Like this I walked in a line with others and yelled and swung the stick around to make as much noise as I could.
I never understood the satisfaction the hunters got out of this. Not chasing your own game, but instead taking all their advantage from them—the cover, their ability to hold tight as you walk by. I decided this wasn’t for me.
Fast forward about 20 years, to standing about 15 yards in front of this well-trained GSP. One or two more steps, the bird flushes straight up towards the canopy. At this point I make out the unmistakable long beak and know it’s one of those magical birds. I didn’t have more time to think because my muscle memory worked as it should after about 2000 shots at clay targets this summer. My shotgun is shouldered and a single shot is ringing through the North Woods. This was the last day of a woodcock but the first day of a lifetime hunter.
One can already tell that my way into hunting wasn’t the “usual” way. I came to the U.S. on a job assignment about eight years ago and fell in love with Minnesota. My first exposure into the outdoor life this state is so proud of came early. I spent over a week in the boundary waters and caught my share of fish. As an amateur chef I love utilizing the game meat this land can give us, and every time a friend came home with venison or a pheasant I made sure nothing of it went to waste. In the end, chasing my own game was just closing that circle.
A Bird Dog Sparks the Flame
But how to start? I thought about it for a while then gave up on it due to my busy work life and very limited opportunities. I needed a real reason. A kick in my backside. Or should I say, a wonderful dog called Shooter.
After some debating my wife and I made the decision that we wanted to add a second dog to the family. It should be grown out of the puppy phase, we thought, since we both worked and I travel many days of the month. As it so happened my boss just got a golden retriever puppy and he mentioned that the breeder was giving the mother away after her third litter. We went to see her and fell in love immediately. The breeder seemed to really like us but she had one request. The dog is a trial and hunting dog and she needs to be hunted over. I smiled and knew at that moment that I finally could enter into this adventure.
Finding Bird Hunting Mentors in a Modern Age
I realized I needed a mentor. This was the hard part. Who wants to mentor a 34-year-old German who literally never shot a shotgun? I decided to get basics covered first. Hunter’s safety took me about two weeks. I studied most nights in the hotel rooms on the road. Getting into it, I thought, would be a waste of time. What could I possibly still learn from a course made for kids? All of it! With safety being the biggest part.
After that I took all my courage together and messaged the voice I listened to on most of my commutes—Nick Larson of the Project Upland Podcast. After a string of dog training Q&A messages he pointed me in the right directions. From there it was easy. Being an autodidact I googled, watched all the Project Upland videos, The Flush, listened to many podcasts and read more books in three months than I had in the last three years. I spent as much time at the five stand as I could spare. I ran the dog in as many fields as I could find. Needless to say, I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for were the emotions of my first hunting trip at RGS Grouse Camp Tour.
Attending RGS Grouse Camp
Early on it was clear for me that if I take, I have to give. So I signed up for PF and RGS as soon as I could. Doing so I found out about the Grouse Camp Tour 2019 hosted by RGS in Wisconsin. Reading the description I thought it was written with me in mind. It was aimed at the new hunter (not only young hunters) with a full range of classroom sessions and mentored hunts in the afternoons. I looked forward to that as much as to the promised bonfires and friendships I might make.
The event turned out to be much more than I anticipated. The amount of knowledge transferred by the volunteers and the patience of the hunting mentors made this a trip of a lifetime. The culmination of this was my first successful hunt. As they say, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush! But how to get there is not that simple. It started with Forrest Gibeault showing us how to utilize onX hunt maps on our phone, as well as Scout-N-Hunt grouse habitat maps provided to attendees by Ann Jandernoa of Northwind Enterprises. That was followed by Ted Sommer showing us how to read cover and habitat, and continued on to James Sarkauskus explaining what chokes and shot to use to humanely and safely take grouse and woodcock. I changed my chokes, marked the recommended spots on my onX Hunt app and went out with Dan Gannon from Dankar Kennels to get into the woods.
The rest is history. The day was finished with Ted volunteering to show me how to clean my birds and the promised bonfire and new friends. Next morning, like a good student, I skipped class and shot my first wild bird over Shooter. What a success!
Final Reflections on Grouse Camp Tour 2019
If you are a hunter, just buying your license isn’t enough. Support the nonprofits, the habitat creators, and all the public land protectors out there. Make sure events like this inspire more people to hunt and help keep this tradition alive!
My takeaway is very simple and pure. Walking through the colorful fall woods, just Shooter and myself. Taking that first wild bird over my own dog, I couldn’t wipe that smile off my face for the following week. In the end, I knew I wasn’t craving the hunt but the relaxing solidarity in the woods or afield. Bag limits don’t matter anymore.
Thank you RGS for making this possible.
Story and Photos by | Simon Tiedge is a German immigrant to the United States that recently discovered and started upland bird hunting. By becoming a member of the Ruffed Grouse Society, Simon was made aware of the 2019 Grouse Camp Tour event in Eagle River, WI. After Spending a weekend at Grouse Camp with RGS, Simon is admittedly hooked on ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting and was eager to share his experience and gratitude with all those that made it possible, including Ruffed Grouse Society staff, members and volunteers.