“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”[Read more…] about PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: What are “Healthy Forests”?
When I hunt grouse and woodcock next fall, I want to better clear my mind of all things occupying my thoughts . . . I want to stay focused on what I’m doing . . . I want to stay focused on hunting, and when I do, I pick up little cues from the surrounding habitat, I pay closer attention to the dog work, I react to flushes better and shoot straighter, and I’m quite sure you’ve made a similar observation. Staying focused helps us enjoy all the hunt has to offer and gives us a much more fulfilling and satisfying hunting experience regardless of whether we bring back any birds at the end of the day.[Read more…] about PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – Stay Focused on Habitat
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.
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.
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.
In 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
THEY SAID IT! . . . Best Quotes from the Spring RGS Magazine
By Matt Soberg
Are you an upland hunter? Bird dog owner? Shotgun lover?
Have you become afflicted by the grouse and woodcock hunting addiction? Do you care about the future of our sporting traditions?
If you answer “yes” to any of the above, the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine is a must see – a one stop shop for everything grouse and woodcock hunting and forest habitat conservation – hunting tips, bird dog info, gun reviews, book reviews, cooking recipes, classic hunting stories, habitat management information . . . the list goes on and on.
The Ruffed Grouse Society magazine comes as a member benefit – not only do you get all this grouse and woodcock hunting information, but your membership gives back to the resource we cherish of healthy forest habitat and abundant grouse and woodcock populations.
They said it! Here are some of the best quotes from the upcoming Spring 2017 Ruffed Grouse Society magazine . . .
“Much of the pleasure of shooting is what accompanies it and sharing it all with a good friend.” ~ George Bird Evans, The Upland Shooting Life (1971)
“The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting, some as simple as twirling a tail feather in your fingers, watching a puppy’s first day afield and shaking the hand of a smiling new hunter, reveals truly what is at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.” ~ “Editor Note – The Little Things” by RGS & AWS Editor Matt Soberg
“Childhood memories of hunting with my father revolved around the pursuit of cottontails . . . I became as excited as an English setter prior to a grouse hunt when I found out we were headed to the nearby woodpiles and swamps . . . I didn’t spin circles or white nonstop, but set to work gathering vests, shells and guns in preparation for another grand adventure in the woods with Dad.” ~ “Gift Guns” by Kirk Brumels
“If you’re a piece of work similar to either a Van Gogh or a Velvet Elvis, you won’t find them here. Instead, you’ll find a wonderful variety of work that ranges from oils, etchings, line drawings, parchment and ink, watercolors, pastels, wood burnings, carvings and folk art. It’s tough to tell if this crew are bird hunters first and artists second. In the end, it doesn’t matter, for whether they’re running dogs or working in their studios, they are as serious as a heart attack.” ~ “Art from the Uplands and the Lowlands” by Tom Keer
“We cannot and will not allow the Forest Service to 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.” ~ “President’s Message – Cup Half Full or Half Empty?” RGS & AWS President & CEO John Eichinger
“Thought must be given to both site-specific and landscape-scale goals if we are to maximize the value of our work for the species and communities about which we care.” ~ “Adjusting Our Scope to Maximize the Value of Forest Management” by RGS & AWS Regional Biologist Scott Walter
“The failure of the Endangered Species Act to live up to its promise is in part due to elements of the legislation that, although well intentioned, have become substantial hurdles to its successful implementation, in part due to agency and judicial interpretations that have become barriers rather than pathways to success, and in part due to over-zealous preservationists seemingly more interested in producing lists than protecting species.” ~ “RGS Voice – Protecting Species?” by RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker
“So the next time you miss a grouse or two or even three, you may not need to swear into the wind after missing a relatively easy straight away and proclaim out loud that you may be the world’s worst wing shot . . . the answer may simply be that you own one of the poorest fitting grouse guns in America. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” ~ “In Search of the Perfect Grouse Gun . . . “ By Bryan E. Bilinski
“Maybe we don’t see enough pump guns in the grouse woods and woodcock bottoms these days. Back in say the 1920s and beyond, pump guns predominated – all because they were less expensive, extremely durable and light compared to semi-autos of yesteryear. If you’re not a pump gun guy or gal, maybe it’s time to re-think that position.” ~ “A Pump Gun for Grouse and Woodcock” by Nick Sisley
“We love our bird dogs, though admittedly, many of us have a tendency to be “kennel blind” from time to time. Admit it . . . Guilty as charged . . . I strive to learn every time I go to the field. Here are a few of my observations from seasons past . . . “ ~ “Tips from Purina Pro Plan – Mind Your Bird Dog Manners” by Keith Schopp
“Dogs have 319 bones, compared to our 206. We all – humans and canines – have lots of joints connecting those bones. And as we all know, it’s tough to get a sporting dog to go slow.” ~ “Purely Dogs – Joint Health and Injury Prevention” by Bob West and Lisa Price
“His tales are not built on the redundant plot of points, flushes, gun report and success or failure . . . Each should be individually savored, as they were written as stand-alone works. Among the Aspens is not just a place to spend time each autumn, but an insightful read, enjoyable no matter the season.” ~ Glen R. Blackwood review of Among the Aspens by Thomas Carney
“I have sought to create a recipe that aims to celebrate the ritualistic nature of returning home from the woods after a great day bagging grouse.” ~ “Roasted Grouse with Hunter-Style Gravy” by Jack Hennessy
“I am convinced more than ever that conservation is crucial to the future of our wildlife. It has become my personal challenge to recruit other teenagers to the join the efforts of my peers who attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy.” ~ “My Wildlife Leadership Academy Experience” by WLA Attendee Zara Moss
Check out a sneak peek of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine or become a member at www.ruffed.org to start getting the magazine in your mailbox. For a limited time get the magazine, an RGS-patched had, a Jay Dowd artwork long-sleeve T-shirt, and a chance to win a SportDOG Tek 2.0 – only $35. www.ruffed.org
CONNECTING THE DOTS . . . From Habitat to Hunting
By Matt Soberg, RGS & AWS Editor & Director of Communications
This is what it’s like to watch a spring drummer connect the dots from habitat to hunting . . .
I lifted my Kromer above my left ear thinking I had heard a faint rustle of leaves down the hill from my strategically placed location. I set my Thermos cup of coffee onto the ground’s newly-green, late-April shoots and leaned my head forward toward one of the opened blind windows for a better vantage point. Sure enough, my ears were right . . . the pitter-patter of small feet traipsing across the forest floor was getting closer . . . and louder . . . and closer.
As I carefully, and ever so slowly, peeked out the left -corner window, I set eyes on a young forest moment that is more surreal than you can adequately explain. I knew I was in for a real show, my first time. Through the lowlight of that early morning landscape, I watched that male red-phased ruff approach not as slow and careful as I long-expected, but with a confident air about him. For, as you all know, he was approaching HIS drumming log, his throne so-to-speak, that special place that was his alone, and it seemed that he wanted all to know that he was present.
With great agility, he jumped onto the mossy log, walked back-and-forth turning twice, got himself comfortable and instantly began drumming, wasting no time. The forest was so quiet that morning, I guarantee all creatures, grouse and predators alike, knew exactly where he was performing at that very place and at that very moment. It was quite obvious, as with every booming burst of his drumming act, he was letting all know that the King of the Woods was here.
He stood in nearly the same exact place on the log for over two hours, hardly ever moved except for drumming, and I was a lucky spectator for every second of it. He moved his head from left to right, carefully scanning the immediate area for movement and only occasionally reached his beak toward his fanned-tail to groom his backside. While he stood still, I even watched him periodically close his eyes, almost like napping or maybe basking in the early morning, rising sun. When open, his eyes were wide, bright and vibrant, seemingly looking deep into my soul although he didn’t know I was there.
With every drumming sequence, he’d stick his head high, slick back his crest, stick out his chest, cup his wings, brace himself with fan-to-log and with effortless athleticism, he’d beat his wings the same every time. The sound would literally shake my body, and it is hard to explain if the scene and its effects should best be described as graceful or furious. The sequence would always end the same . . . he’d abruptly stop with his chest out and tail fanned, and at that instant he would perk up his crest, straight up . . . a look of graceful fury, convinced he was king.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure which grouse event I enjoy more . . . watching his majesty perform his spring ritual in-person from 20 yards away or following my birddog hoping to see a mere glimpse of the king flushing through the young forest in the fall. I’m not sure I want to choose . . . it is moments and experiences like this that guide one’s understanding of why we strive to create habit for forest wildlife.
We will cease to enjoy our cherished sporting traditions without spring drummers, and that beating of wings cannot happen without the proper habitat supporting young forest wildlife. It all goes hand-in-hand.
This article first appeared in the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.
Today, the Ruffed Grouse Society brought together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance future young forest habitat in the Driftless Region.
Today (August 16, 2016) the Ruffed Grouse Society launched the Driftless Young Forest Symposium in La Crosse, Wisconsin to bring together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance young forest habitat in the Driftless Region. Symposium goals include providing a clear understanding of the area forest use trends and wildlife impacts, to recognize challenges of forest management in this region and to identify and embrace opportunities for potential landscape-scale benefits to young forest habitat in the future.
Partners providing resources for the Driftless Young Forest Symposium include the Ruffed Grouse Society, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The Driftless Region encompasses southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois and is noted for its deeply carved valleys and streams that were a result of this area escaping glaciation. Photo from NRCS.
The welcome address was presented by Kurt Thiede, deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who discussed the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership and the importance of agencies working together for the benefit of young forest initiatives. RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist for Wisconsin Scott Walter gave the opening remarks and moderated all presentations while Tricia Gorby-Knoot, research sociologist and economist for the Wisconsin DNR, discussed trends in the composition of the forests of the Driftless Region and urged professionals to take action in the region to make a difference.
The keynote speaker was RGS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker who provided wildlife impacts of long-term forest trends in the Driftless Region. He stated that wildlife conservation need not be complicated by stating, “To sustain the full array of forest wildlife, we must sustain the full array of wildlife habitats.” He urged that public perception is the only reality when it comes to the view of forest management, and that a major challenge for the Driftless area is that the landscape is 90 percent privately owned. Because of that, he stated, “Wildlife is the window through which the public views our forests,” and stressed that it is necessary to help private landowners understand that if they want wildlife on their property, forest management is the key. Healthy forests = healthy wildlife populations.
The Symposium continues through tomorrow (August 17, 2016) with state reports (Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin), small group discussions, open group discussions for future plans, and a presentation on a model for landscape-scale management of the Driftless Region by Brad Hutnik and Greg Edge, forest ecologists for the WI DNR.
For more information about habitat management in the Driftless Region, contact RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Scott Walter, ScottW@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org, or RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, MeadowK@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org.
For more information about the Ruffed Grouse Society, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.
Earlier this spring, the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society determined at a strategic planning meeting that public resistance to scientifically sound habitat management practices was one of the top three significant and long-term impediments to the future of healthy forest habitat benefiting not only ruffed grouse and American woodcock but a wide array of forest wildlife.
Every so often we are given a clear illustration of how the public can be misled on forest management and become resistant to habitat improvements. A perfect example filled with inaccurate information and is consequently hampering efforts by foresters and wildlife biologists to manage for the full array of forest wildlife is the recently published article, The Rise and Fall of the Ruffed Grouse and Associated Myths.
This article provides inaccurate, unsubstantiated and misleading information about the ruffed grouse population decline in Indiana. Ruffed grouse in Indiana are threatened with extirpation and hunting has been suspended. The formerly robust population of ruffed grouse in the state has been reduced roughly 98% in the past 25 years. Drumming surveys have found zero displaying males the past four years (see graph below). Efforts to recover a sustainable population are under threat from legislation being advanced by special interest groups aiming to eliminate sustainable forest management, herbicide use to control invasive species, and the ability to conduct prescribed fire on large swaths of public land despite the fact that roughly 46% of publicly owned forested land is already closed to active forest management.
We chose to briefly respond via social media and were joined by the professional and thoughtful responses from members of the Indiana RGS chapter. The full RGS and AWS response is as follows:
Thank you for bringing attention to the plight of ruffed grouse and, by association, other young forest species in Indiana. Ruffed grouse were once very common in Indiana but are a recent addition to the State’s list of Endangered and Special Concern Species. The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society have a mission of Healthy Forests, Abundant Wildlife, and Sporting Traditions. We strongly support science-based sustainable forest management that promotes all forest ages classes. In order to sustain the full array of forest wildlife, we need to sustain the full array of forest wildlife habitats, young, old, and all ages in between. We are committed to maintaining habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and wildlife that require young forests. To that end we employ 6 full-time wildlife biologists with advanced degrees (24% of our entire staff) who specialize in the study and restoration of young forest habitat and the suite of wildlife that depend on it.
Data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey North American Breeding Bird Survey from 1966 until 2013 across private and public lands in Indiana help paint the picture. In Indiana, mature forest bird species are faring considerably better than young forest species which are dependent on disturbance, such as even-aged timber management, to create maximum sunlight conditions on the forest floor resulting in the natural regeneration of thick high stem density habitat (not necessarily edge habitat). Here are the data:
Woodland (Mature forest) breeding species in Indiana:
Species with significant positive trend estimates 38%
Species with significant negative trend estimates 16%
Successional or scrub (Young forest) species in Indiana:
Species with significant positive trend estimates 11%
Species with significant negative trend estimates 42%
The American woodcock is another young forest dependent bird. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts for Indiana in 2015 surveyed 18 routes and found a 6.78% decrease in the number of singing males as compared to 2014. This number is worse than the overall annual decrease of 4.19% since 1968. This is by far the highest annual rate of decline of any state in the American Woodcock Central Management Region (second is Ohio with a 1.25% annual decline).
The preponderance of data and research indicate that the primary driver for the decline of young forest wildlife species in Indiana is the aging of Indiana’s forests due to lack of disturbance and even-aged forest management. Data for public and private land from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program show that 0-19 year old forest stands have declined from 874,259 acres in 1986 to only 252,488 acres in 2013. During that same period the amount of forested land in the state actually increased from roughly 4.4 million acres to 4.9 million acres and forest stands 100 years or older increased from 214,080 acres to 326,793 acres.
The current SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) third party certified management of Indiana’s State Forests is helping shift the balance of forest age classes back to where they need to be to support young forest wildlife. An increase in even-aged forest management on the Hoosier National Forest and private lands will be required to complete this work and begin to restore the ruffed grouse population in Indiana as well as those of other young forest wildlife. Decades of hands-off management have led to the current unbalanced age class conditions of Indiana forests. Since harvest rates were at or near zero for an extended period of time young forest species will require a sustained period of even-aged management across ownerships and the forested landscape at a rate even higher than what is currently being practiced. We hope the management efforts needed will be implemented at the scale required for ruffed grouse and other wildlife to benefit. This will take time as the current habitat is in very poor shape, grouse do not begin extensively utilizing stands until roughly 10 years post-harvest, and the fragmented remnant populations are in isolated pockets of suitable habitat making repopulation more difficult and exposing female grouse expanding their territories through open understory mature woodlands to higher predation by avian predators (by far the main predators of ruffed grouse).
In regards to this quote from the earlier post, “Several other factors that have likely contributed to the decline of Ruffed Grouse include: predation from coyotes and foxes, competition and nest predation from Wild Turkey, a low point in the normal ten-year population cycles (Ruffed Grouse Society, 2015),” there is no scientific merit to these statements and it is unclear why they would be attributed to the Ruffed Grouse Society. The grouse cycle is more pronounced in the northern part of the grouse range and is not a factor in Indiana. All metrics, including grouse drumming surveys, used to monitor the population of this bird in Indiana have clearly and unquestionably shown an exponential decline approaching extirpation from the state and are completely unrelated to any cycle. Finally, examples in the scientific literature of the benefits of even-aged forest management for ruffed grouse and other young forest wildlife are legion.
The following websites should be reviewed by interested readers to further their knowledge of young forest management:
A GROUSE HUNTER’S ALMANAC
The Other Kind of Hunting
By Mark Parman
Published 2010 – University of Wisconsin Press
Mark Parman has been a longtime contributor of classic grouse and woodcock hunting stories to the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine. A favorite Parman articles is “What He Carried”, which was published in the fall 2013 issue and features an introspective story about the possessions and superstitions that make grouse and woodcock hunters a unique group. The story starts with, “Each possession (of a grouse hunter) brings with it reminders of special days gone by.” If you are a grouse hunter, you understand this inexplicable phenomenon. The story talks about the symbols of grouse hunting that captivate us all throughout the year. He writes, “In late winter, he notes a grouse feather floating across the wood floor of his living room or kitchen, escapees from his gamebag, or he finds one stuck to the wet nose of his dog. He doesn’t mind the feathers. He picks one up, twirls the rachis in his fingers and is carried back to October.” Has this happened to any of you during bitter cold January? I suspect it has.
Being a fan of Parman’s writing and his ability to explain simple events in life that resonate with grouse hunters, I was excited to review his book A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac – The Other Kind of Hunting for this issue of the magazine. For the sake of not burying the lead, this book is recommended to any grouse and woodcock literature fan or for any hunter who wants to read Parman’s take on many aspects of the grouse hunt experience. Parman does it again with relating his personal stories to a broader audience and raises some important issues that we as grouse hunters need to discuss and answer. He is clear and honest with his own beliefs on the sport but presents them in a fashion that is open-minded and impartial allowing the reader to make up their own mind.
It never hurts to use the Aldo Leopold quote from A Sand County Almanac, “There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting and ruffed grouse hunting,” which Parman uses to set the tone on the inside of the cover, a quote that sets grouse hunting apart from others. His preface honors his bird dogs, a Weimaraner and an English setter, through time and connects them specifically to the purpose of the book, a theme that readers will see hold strong throughout. He writes, “I can still see them pointing, retrieving, and tearing around the woods and fields in the prime of their short but full lives.”
Parman takes us on a journey through the seasons of the grouse hunt experience (early season, midseason and lateseason) in his northern Wisconsin covers. Through his personal stories, he explores a wide array of grouse hunting topics from the birds themselves, bird dogs, how woodcock fit in, the grouse cycle, grouse as food and huntable covers. He weaves in discussions on whether to shoot wild flushes, grouse gun preference, the pace of the hunt and hunting gear.
In comparing grouse hunting to other types of hunting, Parman introduces deep-level discussions on ethics and etiquette, “Today the goal often is to dominate nature, unlike Leopold’s purpose, which was to participate in nature. Hunters talk about ‘crushing,’ ‘smacking,’ or ‘smoking’ birds, as if the hunt were a contest scored between the hunter and the hunted . . . fortunately, record books for grouse don’t exist.”
With the ever-present need to diversify grouse hunting to youth, women and new hunters, I found how Parman raises the issue particularly interesting, “In our postnuclear information age, grouse hunting seems quaint, old-fashioned pursuit, like making firewood or hiving bees, and I often wonder if the younger generation will continue the tradition or trade it for a video game that simulates the experience indoors. Grouse hunting seems connected to our distant past, the one peering out at me from old black and white photos at the courthouse and the county historical society, and it’s difficult to project its future, particularly when much of the younger generation doesn’t seem all that interested in walking a couple of miles over rough country just to get a shot at a bird.”
Overall, A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac – The Other Kind of Hunting is a great addition to your grouse hunting library – Parman celebrates the intricacies of grouse hunting, and through his experiences, the reader learns valuable information from dogs, habitat to gear while being challenged by issues that need to answered for the sake of grouse hunting’s future. ~ Review by Matt Soberg
A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac can be purchased for $19.95 on RGS-Mart at ruffedgrousesociety.org. – Use the Discount Code USA1776 by July 4, 2016 to get approximately 11% off plus free FedEx SmartPost shipping.
**Excerpt from A Grouse in the Hand, Tips for Examining, Aging & Sexing Ruffed Grouse published 2014 by RGS and authored by S. DeStefano, R.L. Ruff and S.R. Craven.
Many species of wildlife show various color phases. “Red” foxes can be red, black or crossed. “Black” bears can be black, brown or blond. And, screech owls are red or gray. Ruffed grouse are rare among birds in that they can exhibit so much color variation. This color variation is genetically controlled and unlike most other birds it is independent of sex.
Although somewhat subjective, there are five color phases typically recognized for ruffed grouse, and these are determined by the color of the the tail feathers. These five color phases are gray, red, intermediate, brown and split.
“Gray” birds, not surprisingly, have tail feathers that are uniformly gray, and likewise, “red” birds are characterized by chestnut or umber tail feathers. “Intermediate” birds have gray tails with a wash of light brown throughout. “Brown” birds, which are always males, have light brown tails and relatively distinct black and white transverse bars that stretch across most of the tail feathers. A hybrid color phase is the “split” bird, which is always a female. Split phase birds are generally gray or intermediate with some or all of the tail feathers showing streaks of the chestnut of red birds.
The vast majority of ruffed grouse have a black tail band and a black ruff of feathers around the neck. Approximately five percent have a tail band and ruff that are bronze or chocolate in color. Tail band and ruff coloration is independent of color phase.
Geographically, gray, intermediate and brown birds are found in the northern portions of the range (northern tier of U.S. and north) – red birds are predominate further south, and not surprisingly, there is some mixing of gray and red in the transition region. Red birds are better camouflaged on a forest floor of predominantly oak leaves, and gray birds are less conspicuous on snow – hence the geographic separation.
Interestingly, grouse in the relatively moist climates of west of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific northwest can demonstrate some of the deepest hues of red, and birds of the west more arid climates in the intermountain west are often very light gray. However, other researchers believe that color phase of the bird may be tied to its physiological response to cold. For example, gray phase screech owls are more common in the northern parts of their range than red phase screech owls, and it has been shown that gray phase owls are more capable of withstanding cold temperatures. The same may be true of ruffed grouse.
**Excerpt from RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker following the 2015 National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt.
Although somewhat subjective, there are five color phases typically recognized for ruffed grouse, and these are determined by the color of the tail feathers. These five color phases are gray, red, intermediate, brown and split. All of these color phases are designed to blend in with the local surroundings.
Brown-phase birds account for approximately 7 percent of all birds harvested at the National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt (NGWH) since 1987. These birds are virtually always males – I have found only two brown-phase females in my 29 years at the NGWH.
At the 2015 NGWH, two brown-phase females were harvested from the same team on the second hunt day. One bird was an adult female, and the other an immature female. It’s likely that the brown-phase immature bird was from the brood of the brown-phase adult.
Never in the history of the Hunt have two brown-phase females been harvested in the same year. The odds against a single team harvesting two brown-phase females the same day are astronomical.
For more information about grouse color phases and much more about grouse ecology along with a field tool to help you age and sex harvested grouse in the field, purchase the RGS publication A Grouse in the Hand, Tips for Examining, Aging & Sexing Ruffed Grouse for only $4 from the RGS MART HERE.
Off-season scouting can lead to important clues and fall success in the grouse woods, and NOW is the time to go!
Watching a male ruffed grouse drum his spring beat from less than 20 yards away is quite the surreal experience, especially considering we barely see a glimpse of them post flush in the fall as they dodge young trees toward their escape route.
For the past few years, I’ve been addicted to spending time in the spring woods, just after snow melt, trying to capture images of these elusive birds. I lug my video and still cameras around on forest trails waiting to hear the spring thunder of the male grouse mating ritual. From my time afield, I have learned a few tricks that have helped me locate new covers to hunt in the fall. My spring scouting has improved my grab bag of hunting spots – this is not earth shattering rocket science, but if you put boots to the ground in the spring time, it may help your fall odds too.
Get outside. It is that simple. Get outside and do something, whether it is hiking, biking, turkey hunting, cutting wood or taking pictures of drumming grouse, get outside. After snow melt is one of my favorite times – spring is blooming, the songbirds are back, woodcock are peenting, turkeys are gobbling, and of course, the male grouse are drumming. The grouse are basically pronouncing, “Here I am,” every time they drum, and their thunder and power is really unmistakable. You may be doing some other random activity near the woods and hear a faint drummer in the distance. You won’t hear it if you are on the couch watching golf. During the long, cold winter months, I anticipate spring and can’t wait to find an excuse to get outside. Find your excuse, and you will be surprised how much you can learn.
Hit a forest trail. For me, a forest trail is one of the most mystical places to be, especially in the fall with a shotgun in hand, but spring is almost just as fun for all the reasons stated above. When I’m targeting drummers, I actually avoid my key hunting covers, the places where I know grouse to be. Spring, for me, is an opportunity to scout anew. I will locate a new area on an aerial image or plat book with good access, get there before dawn and start walking. Drumming will start in the dark before sunrise or shortly thereafter, and every “Here I am” is a pinpointed spot where you know a grouse is located. If there is a male drumming (often times multiple drummers on a single trail), you can bet there are females close too. If the spring mating ritual is successful – you do the math – there will hopefully be a good huntable population of grouse in the future. When you find a new drumming trail, put an “X” on your map and load up your dogs and guns at that spot in the fall.
Listen and look around. This sounds overly simple, but it works. I’ve learned the most about my fall hunting covers by slowing down, listening and looking during spring scouting. The location of the drumming log simulates an epicenter of that grouse’s “territory”. Find the log and look around. What do you see? What kind of habitat surrounds the log? In central Minnesota, I find most drumming logs in thick young aspen stands. It may be slightly different where you are, but you can learn the particular habitat that makes a sneaky, sly male drummer feel safe, where he can easily find food, and where he feels he has a good likelihood of finding a mate. Also, back up a ways from the drumming log and take a more global look at the entire area. You will often learn the basics of what a “healthy forest” means – transitions from various age classes, nearby mature forests, young stands of managed forests and others in between. Once you get a feel for what a grouse is looking for in terms of its surrounding forest, you will quickly get the “eye” for it and will be able to easily pinpoint those spots in the future, whether scouting in the spring or hunting in the fall.
By getting out in the spring, I try to make my grouse hunting a yearlong activity . . . at least that is my excuse, anyway. Again, this isn’t brain surgery, but if you are anything like me and enjoy “prolonging the hunt”, I urge you to get outside and enjoy the spring – scouting spring drummers can lead to finding fall covers. ~ Matt Soberg