Jerry Kolter

Jerry Kolter is a nationally recognized trainer whose dogs have won numerous grouse dog championships and awards. He has more than 20 years of training, upland bird guiding and field trial experience. He and his wife, Betsy, own Northwoods Bird Dogs, a breeding and training facility.

Grouse flushes up...but hard to see

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: November 9, 2009 - 1:55 PM
So far this season, my days in the woods have produced more flushes than last year by a good margin—perhaps not as big a bump as predicted but an obvious increase. This is corroborated by many of our clients, guiding customers and other serious grouse hunters.  

And I do mean “flushes.”  A majority of the grouse encountered were heard but not seen due to the latest leaf fall I have ever experienced. Leaves of most trees and shrubs hadn’t even begun to fall until well in mid October—and then many were still green. Later, the culprit was the foliage of hazel, the brushy shrub with foliage at just about eye level, which didn’t drop leaves until late October.

The season has been unusual in another way. Though the prediction was for higher grouse populations, during September I found fewer birds and broods than last year. Or at best, hunting was spotty. By the second week of October, though, I found substantially more birds. Where did they come from? Why couldn’t I find them earlier?

Despite years of research, no one really seems to completely understand ruffed grouse. They are still somewhat of a mystery. But that is okay with me and one of the reasons the ruffed grouse is called king of upland game birds.

Help! My dog is bumping grouse.

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: October 11, 2009 - 12:25 PM
Around mid October, I often hear this complaint from grouse hunters and, according to some legends of the grouse woods, with good reason.   

The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, famed field trial judge and author of Training Your Own Bird Dog

From my experience, dogs bump birds for many reasons. First determine why your dog is doing it and then take proper steps to correct the problem.

Cover and weather conditions.
Early season cover can be thick and heavy or weather can be warm and dry. These conditions can make scenting difficult for both veteran grouse dogs and those less inexperienced.
How to correct:  This will usually correct itself as conditions change and improve.

Seeing grouse on the ground.
Frequently, dogs see grouse on the ground. The temptation is just too much for some dogs and they will try to catch the bird which results in a flushed bird.
How to correct:  Whoa/steadiness training with a bird visible on the ground.

Lack of experience.
While the occasional dog will be a natural and show an innate ability to point grouse with just a few contacts, generally, repeated exposure over several seasons are necessary to make a good grouse dog.
How to correct: More grouse contacts.

Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t understand it is not supposed to flush birds.
How to correct:  Train the dog using the “whoa” command and teach “stop to flush.” Both are critical means to communicate to the dog what we want it to do.

Planted game birds.
The dog has been over-exposed to planted game birds. A dog can get very close to a planted game bird before it stops to point. Grouse, on the other hand, are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
How to correct:  Give the planted bird contacts a rest and provide more exposure to grouse.

The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a genetic reason:  bad nose, bad pointing instincts or physical limitations.
How to correct:  Next time you’re in the market for a grouse dog, thoroughly check out the breeding.

As you can see, some reasons dogs bump grouse are out of our control but many others can be corrected by a sound training program designed to teach the dog what we expect of it and to correct the dog when it makes a mistake. Ultimately, plenty of opportunity to point them is critical. 

Grouse field trial dates

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: October 5, 2009 - 5:21 PM
I'm excited about the fast-approaching field trial season. For several months I’ve been conditioning and training our string of extremely talented dogs.

The trials I compete in are quite different from any other type of pointing dog competition. Trials are held in the woods on native grouse and woodcock. No birds are planted. Handlers and the gallery (onlookers) walk while judges are usually provided horses. No birds are shot but a blank pistol is used to simulate an actual hunting situation.

These grouse field trials are run under the auspices of The American Field and are widely acknowledged as the epitome in grouse dog competition.

While it’s not a stellar spectator sport, visitors are always welcome to walk on any of the braces or to just hang around. Directions to field trial grounds are on our website.

Listed below, in chronological order, are the field trials and championships I plan to compete in this fall.

Chippewa Valley Grouse Dog Association
Wisconsin Cover Dog Championship, Wednesday, October 7, to conclusion
Open Derby, Saturday, October 10
Eau Claire County Forest, near Augusta, Wisconsin

Minnesota Grouse Dog Association
Minnesota Grouse Championship
Monday, October 12, to conclusion
Reuel Pietz Open Derby Classic, following the championship
Rum River State Forest, near Mora, Minnesota

Moose River Field Trial Club
Open Shooting Dog and Companion Stakes
Friday, October 23, to conclusion
Douglas County Forest, near Moose Junction, Wisconsin

Grand National Grouse Championship
Tuesday, November 3, to conclusion
Allegheny National Forest, Marienville, Pennsylvania

Is this the best year to hunt ruffed grouse?

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: September 23, 2009 - 3:16 PM
With the monster drumming counts last spring and evidence that Minnesota and Wisconsin are approaching the peak of the 10-year grouse cycle, this seems to be the year to hunt ruffed grouse. But I have other reasons.
#1.  There are only so many autumns in one’s life and whether at the peak or in the valley of the grouse population cycle, there will be grouse in the woods.      

#2.  Fluctuations in grouse populations don’t matter to dogs. They will hunt their hearts out and search for birds like they do always. They will carefully select which cover to hunt by following their noses along damp alder edges and into aspen cuts. Excitement will mount when one dog catches a scent, gets birdy and stands on lofty, intense point.

#3.  Autumn is a fine season to be in the woods. The dogwood berries will be white on bright red stems and the aspen leaves will turn golden and, permeating the entire forest, will be the evocative smell of damp, fallen leaves.

I can’t predict if my dogs and I will find few or many grouse in a given day. Some of my best days were in “low” population cycles and, conversely, the biggest disappointments have been in “high” grouse years.

But it doesn’t matter. My dogs and I will be out in the woods and we will be hunting for them. For me, the sport is in the pursuit.

See you in the woods.

Appearing at Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: September 15, 2009 - 8:59 AM
Betsy and I will be at Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul for their Hunt and Double Gun Show on Saturday, September 19, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. We will be available to talk about bird dogs and answer questions about breeding, training, conditioning, hunting and field trials. We are excited to be part of this first-time event.

For more information, contact Heimie’s Haberdashery, 400 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, 651-224-2354.



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