A day in the grouse woods with a forestry professional.
Aldo Leopold wrote in Sand County Almanac that it’s best to just tag along behind a bird dog because it knows “grouseward better than you do.” This tends to be true, but a northern Wisconsin forester, especially one who hunts ruffed grouse with a passion, is a close second. That’s why when Bayfield county forester Mike Amman asked me to join him on a hunt, I immediately asked when and where.
You can learn a lot, listening to a forester in the woods, in his element. I know a little bit about trees, I mean I can identify an aspen or a balsam fir, but that’s about the end of it. A forester’s knowledge of trees and the complexity of the forest ecosystem, however, is gold for grouse and woodcock hunters. Amman once mentioned a bit of wisdom he found in both Gordon Gullion’s and Rocky Gutierrez’s research about how clearcuts were more effective recruiting and holding grouse if they had drumming logs, so Amman thought it would be wise to create a policy to drop a few mature trees in the county’s clearcuts. Not all clearcuts are created equal.
In fact, on one of our hunts, we shot and killed a grouse — a beautiful cinnamon-colored bird — one of our dogs pointed by a drumming log in the midst of an aspen cutting. We inspected the log after admiring and pocketing the bird, and I felt a twinge of regret having removing a veteran drummer from the grouse woods.
A forester understands the complexities of a working forest.
From Amman, I’ve learned a good deal about forestry — harvesting prescriptions, rotation ages, tree marking, logging operations, markets for different wood species — basically the hows and whys of timber sales and how this affects the woods and ultimately our grouse hunting. Logging isn’t automatic. I’ve even absorbed a few things about sharp-tailed grouse and how the county is trying to improve the quality and connectivity of this other grouse’s habitat.
On one hunt, we were walking an ATV trail and came across two older hunters sitting on the tailgate of their pickup. “This is our job,” one of them said. “We’re retired.” We stood around a while and chatted, talking about dogs, bird numbers and in general the prospects for the season.
Then abruptly one of the hunters said, “I sure wish they’d do more clearcutting, though.” Although he might deny it, Amman bristled slightly and was literally taken aback. “Well,” he said, “that’s the first time I’ve heard that. Usually it’s the other way around.” He mentioned he was one of the county’s foresters and went on to explain a bit about the county’s land management policy, which had the hunter backpedaling quickly and apologizing. He left them with the knowledge of a couple of upcoming cuts in that immediate area. The other hunter, with a bit of humor, said he hoped they wouldn’t be too old to hunt them when they matured into good grouse cover. We laughed, said our goodbyes and headed down the trail.
For these two hunters, it was good to see that not all foresters sit behind a desk all day and push paper, but actually got out into the woods and saw firsthand the effects of their practice. For me, it was a lesson in the difficulty public land managers face every day. They have to juggle the wants and desires of a multitude of stakeholders — not just hunters, but hikers, cross country skiers, mountain bikers, ATVers, birders, taxpayers. It probably didn’t hurt his credibility with these two hunters that they could tell a couple of birds were riding in Amman’s gamebag
A forester knows where the birds live.
It’s not just about education however — there’s the hunt too. More than anything, a northern Wisconsin forester knows where the birds are, and that’s a helpful trait in a hunting partner, if he or she is willing to share them. This is what happens when you understand, work and spend a lot of time in grouse and woodcock country. I sometimes think Amman has an inventory of all of the coveys of grouse in the county forest. Once getting into a cover, he told me he put up four coveys of grouse in this spot in early summer. Sure enough, the dogs pointed and we put up several grouse that morning, managing to put a few in our game bags.
Perhaps the one downside to hunting with a forester is they know how to move efficiently through the woods. Amman slips through the woods with his long stride, eating up the miles, a living testament to the saying that more than anything legs kill grouse. After our first hunt, he emailed me the next day saying we’d hiked 13.5 miles according to his GPS. Before hunting with him, I hadn’t considered the professional trekking abilities of a forester. They really do know how to put on the miles in the woods. Even Jenkins, my youngest English setter, was worn out.
About | The Author
Mark Parman lives and hunts in Seeley, Wis. with his wife, Susan, and two setters, Fergus and Jenkins. He has been an RGS member for over 20 years.