Opportunities abound in October for those people who wander Minnesota’s woods and fields with firearm or bow in hand.
On any given day, one can hunt ruffed grouse, woodcock, ducks, geese, pheasants, deer with bow and arrow, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys. The list goes on, too.
October starts out balmy. We are treated to a fantastic display of fall color as we pursue our chosen quarry. Then, as the October wanes, only a few stubborn leaves remain. As November cold descends upon the landscape, the colorful countryside is transformed into a brown-and-gray setting.
Or white and icy cold.
I vividly recall the Halloween blizzard of 1991. Snow, wind and below-zero temperatures spoke of January, not early November. Let’s hope that won’t happen this year.
I recall one glorious October morning a few decades ago when Ace, my German wirehaired-pointer, and I walked nearly a mile through the dark woods at dawn to hunt ducks at a secluded beaver pond. We bagged five: two wood ducks and three blue-winged teal. Then, with a hunting vest loaded with the ducks straining on my shoulders, we took an alternative route back to the truck.
It was mid-month and numerous migrating woodcock had made a stopover in my hunting spot. Ace pointed bird after bird as we hunted toward the truck, and I ended up bagging five woodcock. I also added a ruffed grouse.
Ace is long gone, but I have a photograph of my canine buddy with our daily take of game birds. It was an unforgettable day.
This fall, with ruffed grouse numbers low though likely on the rise, hunters may want to concentrate on woodcock. Oftentimes, habitat preferred by both birds overlaps. During the past cyclic grouse low, I hunted woodcock almost exclusively during October, taking the occasional grouse that presented itself.
Hunting action can be exceedingly fast when migrating — or “flight”— woodcock are in. However, the birds have a here today-gone tomorrow reputation, which adds to their already secretive existence.
I remember hunting an aspen thicket so thick with October flight woodcock that at sunset (the end of legal shooting hours) I had to leash Ace to get him out of the woods. Even while on the leash, he pointed two woodcock on the way out to the edge of a field. Then, against the afterglow of the setting sun, we sat quietly and watched woodcock after woodcock silhouetted against the orange sky, twitter over the tops of the aspens and settle in a nearby meadow for the night.
Two days later they were gone, basking some place to the south I assumed. Only their characteristic “chalk mark” droppings would attest to their presence.
A word of advice: Be sure to study the 2015 Minnesota hunting and trapping rules before heading afield. For example, the waterfowl season is split into three zones, and the line between the north zone and central zone runs directly through Brainerd. Regulations differ between north of town and south of town. Fall turkey hunting licenses are now available over the counter. I suggest you carry a copy of the hunting regulations, or at least keep a copy in your vehicle to refer to immediately if needed.
Remember, October is a rare period. Get out and enjoy the hunting opportunity it affords before it’s too late.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd.