Afield: A little rain (OK, a lot) didn't dampen opener

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2008 - 12:54 AM

Hunter and dog got soaked, but a limit of ruffed grouse was taken, and birds seemingly were everywhere.

Axel, an eight year-old Deutsch Drahthaar, posed with a five-bird limit of ruffed grouse taken on a rainy opening day.

Photo: Photo By Bill Marchel

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NISSWA, MINN. — Somewhere I read that ruffed grouse habitat, without the chance of flushing a grouse, is uninviting. I cannot recall if the writer alluded to classic October grouse hunting or not, a time when the air is cool and the foliage ablaze.

What I do know is that last Saturday, on the Minnesota grouse opener, the September woods indeed looked uninviting -- dank, green, thick, almost hostile. Add to the mix a pouring rain, and had it not been opening day, I may have thrown in the towel before the first round.

Axel, my Deutsch Drahthaar, didn't care about the rain; he just wanted to hunt. He enthusiastically bound for the woods while I, with chin tucked and shoulders hunched against the downpour, trailed behind him.

I had yet to reach the jungle into which Axel had run when I heard a grouse flush. Then another and another, and maybe more, I couldn't tell. I waited, gun ready, for a grouse to show, but none did. I knew the birds had landed after just short flights, and I now could hear two of them anxiously clucking from hidden perches in the rain-soaked forest.

Axel was running helter skelter through the woods, invisible, his whereabouts detectable by the sound of the beeper collar he wore around his neck. I was disappointed he had not pointed the grouse, but I knew those birds had likely flushed from overhead perches in berry-laden gray dogwoods and that the heavy rain and still air only added to the dog's difficulty in sorting out the olfactory clues.

I stepped forward and entered the jungle, already soaked anyway. My hunting pants clung to my thighs, restricting my stride to a Frankenstein-like shuffle.

In the meantime Axel was burning back and forth with the reckless abandon of an 8-month-old puppy, and not the 8-year-old hunting veteran he is supposed to be.

Then a grouse flushed from just above my head. I swung my gun quickly, shot, and whiffed. Another grouse rose but landed on a limb before I could shoot. I took a step, and away it went, disappearing in an instant in the heavy green vegetation. A few more steps, and another grouse was airborne. I touched the trigger, and again no feathers flew. Then, one more flush and another miss.

Dog and master were both now failing miserably.

"OK," I thought. "It's raining, my clothes are glued to me from head to toe, and water is running off the brim of my cap. My shell belt shows four empty loops, and yet my game pouch is barren. Settle down."

I took a moment to study the vegetation around me and realized nearly every plant was on a ruffed grouse's bill of fare. Light green berries clung to gray dogwoods, crimson red fruit hung from high bush cranberry shrubs, and ripe wild plums lie scattered beneath tangled branches.

When the next grouse left its tree limb perch I was ready, and it dropped into the wet branches at my shot. Axel retrieved the bird. Soon another grouse rose on thundering wings and it, too, collided with my shot.

I was still only 75 yards from my truck, so I headed in that direction to empty my game pouch. Axel was scouring the cover ahead of me, and suddenly he pointed. The instant the dog stopped, a grouse flushed and flew over my head. I swung, shot and the bird disappeared.

Unsure whether I had connected, I stood in the rain while Axel searched the area where the bird would have fallen. After a minute or two, I walked to the spot, and there floating in the middle of a small creek was a dead grouse. In the pouring rain and still air, Axel had to nearly step on the bird before he scented it.

The truck was in sight when another grouse flushed from halfway up an aspen tree. It was an easy shot, if there is such a thing; straight away and in the relative open. But I missed. I was dumbfounded when the grouse didn't drop, and thus I failed to fire again.

I left the three grouse in the truck and hunted in the direction the last grouse had flown. Axel was working hard, now more focused, and soon he pointed a woodcock. I flushed the stout little bird, and since the season was not open, I watched as it flew away. A minute or so later, Axel ran up behind and in his mouth was a dead grouse. I had indeed connected on the "easy" shot a few minutes prior.

"Good boy, Axel," I said as I took the grouse and patted him on the head.

Shortly, I shot a fifth grouse, which completed my daily limit.

It is difficult for me to judge how many different grouse I had flushed, but without a doubt there were at least 10. Four of the five grouse I shot were young of the year, an indication of excellent reproduction.

Had I just happened upon a ruffed grouse hotspot, or does my brief outing foretell smiling hunters, tired dogs and grouse dinners ahead?

Bill Marchel, a wildlife columnist and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 19 FINAL
San Francisco 3
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
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St. Louis
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Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 1
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
Florida 56
Rice 71 FINAL
Mercer 77
San Jose St 56 FINAL
Washington 78
Washington St 43 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 71
Baylor 71 FINAL
Memphis 47
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
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Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
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Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
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Texas-El Paso
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Fresno State
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(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 61 FINAL
Richmond 56
Oklahoma 68 FINAL
South Florida 83
Princeton 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 55
(19) Oregon State 85 FINAL
Butler 53
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