Compiled by Joe Albert and Bob Timmons
UPLAND BIRD HUNTING
Meadow Kouffeld, 33, Grand Rapids, Minn.
Day job: Regional biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society
The birds are the No. 1 reason that grouse and woodcock hunting is my greatest passion. Ruffed grouse and woodcock possess beautifully cryptic plumage and are stealthy. No two birds are the same — from their color to their behavior — and every bird is to be cherished. As soon as you think you have them figured out, Ol’ Ruff or a squirrelly timberdoodle teaches you a new lesson.
Fall is king in Minnesota. It can be summed up by the sweet aroma of decaying leaves and burnt gunpowder, the warmth and heft of a bird in hand, and a matrix of warm colors contrasted by an Indian summer blue sky. To me, fall is the culmination of beauty and life here in Minnesota.
In my adult life I have fallen in love with bird dogs that live for birds and fall. Working with and watching a talented pointing dog is a magical experience that is nearly unexplainable. Sharing the woods and your life with these incredible beasts is a pleasure that can only be experienced — never explained. They say you get only one good grouse dog in your life, but I am optimistic that I have at least a few more in my future.
Rob Bignell, 50, Menomonie, Wis.
(Author of “Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota” and 16 other hiking guidebooks)
Day job: Manuscript editor, Inventing Reality Editing Service
Autumn marks the best time to hike, if only for the cooler temperatures and lack of bugs. More important, though, with the changing leaf colors, the world appears repainted, with swaths of scarlet, gold and orange replacing monotonous green hues. As those leaves fall to the ground, the landscape opens up, allowing you to spot interesting rock formations or animals hidden by summer’s thick foliage. Thanks to that thinning, just a few weeks ago on one of my favorite trails I engaged in a minute-long staring contest with a massive gray owl that is extremely rare in this region.
The best trails for seeing autumn leaves are those with a lot of vertical gain, meaning up and down a hillside. Such trails boast a greater range of tree types and so deliver a greater variety of leaf colors. The hike to the Mount Charity overlook in John A. Latsch State Park northwest of Winona is one such trail.
During early autumn, the North Shore delivers the state’s best leaf viewing, but by mid-October most of the region is past its peak. Look for trails near Rochester and Winona this time of the month. The Sinkhole Ridge Trail in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is an excellent choice. In Wisconsin, any of the bluff trails at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wis., are a good call. At Perrot, you’ll still be able to enjoy some of the bird migration as well.
Nick Ronning, 36, Bemidji
Day job: Forester for Koochiching County land and forestry department
In my mind, the one quality that separates duck hunting from other hunting is species diversity. Hunters can easily shoot 20 different species of ducks in Minnesota and also the rare transients that get lost or blown off course from other flyways. That ties into the mysteries of migration. Each morning presents the question of whom and how many might show up over the decoys.
I love getting out to the marsh early to set the decoys in total darkness so I have time to relax with a cup of coffee and watch the transition from night to day. It starts with sounds I can’t even identify — songbirds, insects and other critters going about their business. Then, hopefully, the sounds of duck wings whistle overhead. There is a lot happening in the marsh at the crack of dawn. Most of it is fascinating.
I love eating ducks. I could probably eat ducks everyday. My bride loves to use ducks in southeast Asian and Indian recipes. I’m more of a grilling or braising guy, so our kitchen produces a variety of duck flavors. So while I like the shooting part, these are the things I love about duck hunting.
Sara Holger, 40, Wabasha
Day job: Interpretive naturalist at Whitewater State Park, Altura, Minn.
I love to be out on the water during autumn, and my favorite mode of transportation is by kayak. Like any sport, kayaking can be as inexpensive or as costly as you want to make it. I am fairly small so I can get by with a 6-foot, sit-on-top kayak that I picked up for less than $200. It is small enough that I can load it and carry it by myself, and it doesn’t require a watercraft license. With the paddles, life jacket and waterproof pouch for my keys and phone, I am all set for less than $300. It’s a very affordable hobby.
My favorite place to go kayaking is on the backwaters of the Mississippi River near Wabasha and Winona. If you have never been to this corner of the state, you are really missing out. I have traveled to many scenic places but every time I come back to Wabasha, I think, “Wow! This area is amazing!” In fall, the colors on the surrounding river bluffs are astounding and the movement of migrating waterfowl and other birds can be spectacular. Bald eagles are found here year-round, but in autumn they begin congregating in larger numbers, preparing for the ice and snow that are soon to follow.
Another reason autumn is my preferred season to kayak is because the mosquitoes, gnats and other insects have died down. When the cooler air moves in, the bugs disappear. These nice temperatures also trigger beavers to begin building up their winter food caches, while muskrats prepare their winter lodges with cattails and mud. There also is an earthen smell in the air — the decaying of leaves and the fragrance of mud and damp soil — that is refreshing.
Adam Schwartz-Lowe, 43, Duluth
Day Job: Senior software engineer at Saturn Systems
I love that time of the year when it feels like a switch has been thrown. There’s a feeling of fall in the wind, and the leaves rustle and start to turn. I enjoy getting up early and heading out the door in the cool air and off into the woods. It’s the simple pleasure of having a hard season of racing and training behind me, and having the run be for nothing other than the joy of doing it. These morning expeditions are the best when done right around dawn, it’s still a little dark out, and the sun is just starting to peek out over Lake Superior. If I’m lucky, I can have a quiet moment on an overlook with a clear view, and watch the full colors as the sun makes the rest of its trip over the horizon. Running through the woods, when the colors are popping and the sound of the leaves [is] crackling under your feet, is one of the best times of the year.
My favorite trail to run in the fall is the Superior Hiking Trail heading south out of Duluth. It has some gnarly running, with lots of rocks and roots (which I really enjoy), a lot of climbing, and a variety of views. Starting in Canal Park you can run up the long climb to Enger Tower where you get a great view of the hillside. From here you begin a long traverse up and down, regularly descending and winding through groves of brightly colored birch and maple. Then, climbing back up onto the rocky outcroppings that Duluth is famous for, you get expansive views of the harbor and a palette of trees covering the city.
The best fall running event is the Fall Superior Races the weekend after Labor Day. This is series of a marathon, 50-mile and 100-mile races all run at the same time on the Superior Hiking Trail between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Lutsen. It ends up being a miles-long party and a reunion of friends enjoying an autumn day and the shared trial of a long run. No matter what the weather, there is pleasure to be found, whether it’s from a sky full of bright, clear stars or the mindless pleasure of running through a tunnel of trees with your friends. The Superior races are a great welcome to fall on the North Shore.