Nate Potts' new hunting partner is a birdbrain.

No disrespect intended.

Potts, 27, of East Bethel, bagged a deer on opening weekend of the deer season in Isanti County accompanied by a friendly ruffed grouse that flew into the deer stand with him.

That's right, a ruffed grouse that deer hunts.

A couple of weeks before the deer opener, he and his dad, Jerry, were getting their hunting shack and deer stands ready when they noticed a ruffed grouse hanging around camp. The bird followed them into their shack, and it seemed unafraid, if not downright affectionate.

"We nicknamed him Ruffy, had a good laugh and continued with our business,'' Nate said.

Then last weekend, after taking a hunting break, Nate headed back to his deer stand Sunday afternoon. On the way through the woods he thought he heard a rustling noise. He climbed up into his stand.

Here's Nate's tale:

"Then up flew Ruffy. He landed on a branch close to the railing of the deer stand. I remained still as Ruffy decided to make laps around the railing, continually getting more brave with each lap. As I would lean back, Ruffy would jump from the railing to my shoulder, run across my chest to the other side, and jump back onto the railing. When I would lean forward he would jump on my back and continue making laps.

"He finally stopped, stretched his neck out and started making a light whoooing sound. Ruffy had spotted a squirrel. He made more laps, then stopped and made the noise again when he spotted an owl. Meanwhile, I'm thinking I am wasting my time -- I won't have an opportunity to shoot a deer with this grouse running around making noise.

"But I still didn't want to move. Ruffy stopped once more, stretched his neck and made the same sound. Finally, a deer! I gently pushed Ruffy out of the way and took the shot. I got my deer, a doe, and Ruffy stayed close by.

"The next day I went to the stand armed with a camera instead of a gun and took photos. Most hunters have dogs that point grouse. Well, I have a grouse that points deer.''

He's never had anything like that happen before and has no idea what motivated Ruffy.

"It was pretty weird,'' Nate said. He's posted video on www.YouTube.com of Ruffy sitting on his lap, walking into the hunting shack, flying down from the deer stand and nipping his hand. (Search "Ruffy the grouse.")

Meanwhile, though grouse hunting season is on, Ruffy doesn't have to worry about ending up in Nate's oven.

"I don't hunt ruffed grouse,'' he said.

Lake Christina hurting

Lake Christina, one of Minnesota's premier duck lakes, is in trouble -- again.

Just five years after officials spent $1 million to treat the 4,000-acre shallow lake with poison to kill rough fish and improve water clarity, the fish are back and Christina has become cloudy again.

"This year was really poor,'' said Jon Schneider of Ducks Unlimited, which helped pay for the treatment in 2003. "Clearly the lake wasn't in good shape.''

Waterfowl hunting on the famed lake has been poor this fall, likely because of the deteriorating conditions.

There still are submerged aquatic plants, which provide food for ducks, Schneider said, but that vegetation is at risk because of the cloudy water. Rough fish such as carp stir up sediment, causing turbidity. Schneider said officials aren't sure if the situation this fall is an anomaly or a trend. Officials knew the treatment was a short-term solution but had expected the lake to remain clear -- and healthy -- for seven to 20 years.

The real permanent solution, Schneider said, is a pumping system now being engineered that will allow officials to lower water levels to encourage winter kill of fish. Ducks Unlimited, the DNR and the local lake association have been working on that project, which will cost about $1 million.

Officials hope that money from the newly passed Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will be used for the project.

Venison donations

Hunters can still donate deer to the state's venison donation program, which distributes venison to state foodshelves, despite the discovering of lead particles in donated venison earlier this year.

Hunters can donate deer and have the processing costs paid by the program. Officials won't know how many deer are donated until after the season, but the numbers could be down because there are fewer processors this year.

The processors are paid $70 per deer, but this year they had to attend a training session on how to prevent lead contamination in the venison to be eligible to be in the program. About 30 have done so -- only about half the number of processors in the program last year.

That means it might be tougher for hunters to find a processor.

Hunters donated about 2,000 deer last year, about half what officials had hoped for. Note: Deer with extensive shot damage will not be accepted. Officials also advise hunters to contact a processor before bringing in a deer. Only entire carcasses with the hide attached can be donated. Hunters also must adhere to the field-dressing procedures.

For more information, and for a list of participating processors, see www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/donation/index.html.

Did you know?

• Good news for pheasant and deer hunters: The state's corn crop was 75 percent harvested last Sunday, when the state's most recent crop report was done. Last year at this time, it was 95 percent harvested.

• Minnesota's waterfowl season is winding down. The recent cold front pushed ducks into the state, but DNR officials said most seemed to depart quickly. To see the DNR's weekly waterfowl migration report, see startribune.com/outdoors.

• Wisconsin's regular nine-day gun deer season opens Saturday. The date this year is one of the latest opening days possible, so deer likely will be at the end of the rut or in post-rut conditions, say Wisconsin DNR officials.

• Minnesota's deer harvest was down 12.3 percent from last year after the first six days of the season. Hunters had bagged 106,000 deer through Thursday, compared to 121,000 last year. Bad weather gets most of the blame.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com