A funny thing happens the longer you query upland bird hunters about their sport: The conversation typically turns to their dogs, and how pulling the trigger on flushed birds pales in comparison to the simple joy of watching their canine companions follow their noses through the woods.

The same is true for Garrett Mikrut, a ruffed grouse nut from the northern Twin Cities suburbs who hunts behind two German shorthaired pointers — 7-year-old Stella and 3-year-old Surly.

“One of the most enjoyable things about it is just following the dogs through the woods. They really bring you into country where you might never have gone otherwise,” said Mikrut, 31. “The woods can make you feel really small and somewhat insignificant. Just being out there and enjoying that solitude is unparalleled.”

Mikrut hunted as a boy with his dad, primarily for whitetail deer on public land around their deer shack north of Duluth. But his dad also had a good pointing dog and did some grouse hunting. After Mikrut graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth, he bought a house. Then, he bought a dog. It wasn’t long before familiarity with grouse hunting turned into more of an obsession.

“Ruffed grouse are No. 1,” said Mikrut, a financial analyst who lives in Circle Pines with his wife, Sarah, and two children. His son Paul, 1, hasn’t been in the woods with him yet, but Mikrut’s daughter Grace, 4, has accompanied him on at least one hunt each fall. Last year, he bagged a woodcock while carrying her on his back.

Part of the allure of the ruffed grouse season is its length: It runs this year from Saturday through New Year’s Day. Also, the grouse population index is up 57 percent from last year, and Minnesota boasts millions of acres of public land where people can try the sport.

“I would say 99.9 percent of what I hunt is public land, and I’m guessing that’s true for most other grouse hunters as well,” Mikrut said. “There are a ton of opportunities in Minnesota. With a little bit of research and putting some miles on your boots, anyone can go out there and have a good time.”

And it doesn’t have to be all that gear-intensive. “At the end of the day, you really don’t need that much to grouse hunt,” he said. “You need a pair of boots, a license and a shotgun. Of course, everything evolves over time, and that one pair of boots turns into five or six, and the bluejeans have turned into brush pants and chaps. It can be a slippery slope, but you don’t need that much to get into it.”

Here is what Mikrut uses when he hunts grouse:

SHOTGUN

Mikrut’s gun of choice is a 16-gauge, double-barrel Fox Sterlingworth that dates back to 1929. He likes a 16-gauge because it’s light enough to carry all day, but has plenty of power to kill grouse and woodcock.

SHELLS

Mikrut loads his shotgun with 7.5 or 8 shot from RST, which makes shells for older and classic guns. He’ll shoot anything from 7 or 8 shot for grouse, and says heavier loads like those used for pheasants are unnecessary for grouse. (rstshells.com)

CHAPS

Filson chaps are good anytime there is a need for an extra layer or protection from moisture. (filson.com)

LANYARD

His neck lanyard includes whistles, a compass and a flush counter that enables Mikrut to keep track of the number of birds that take wing in front of him.

HUNTING PACK

A Wingworks vest has plenty of room to carry water for humans and dogs alike, as well as extra ammunition and other gear. Mikrut also carries in his vest a Leatherman tool, Paracord and zip ties, in case his dog encounters a trap and needs to be released. The DNR’s hunting regulations booklet includes information on how to use rope or zip ties to free a dog from a body-grip trap. (wingworks.biz)

GLOVES

Waterproof goatskin gloves keep Mikrut’s hands dry, and also protect them from getting cut. (geierglove.com)

BELLS

Bells attached to his pointers’ collars help Mikrut keep track of them in the woods, and also help him determine if they’ve stopped to point a grouse or woodcock.

SAFETY GLASSES

Grouse hunting often means busting through brush, which increases the chances of taking a stick to the eye. To prevent that, Mikrut always wears a pair of Orvis safety glasses. (orvis.com)

HAT

Mikrut wears a blaze orange hat when he’s in the woods.

GPS collars

Collars with global positioning systems help Mikrut keep track of his dogs, and also allow him to mark the spot where he parked his truck so he can find his way back.

BOOTS

One of the most important pieces of gear for grouse hunters, Mikrut wants boots that are lightweight but also have plenty of support, given it’s easy to twist an ankle while hunting in the rugged, sometimes tangled terrain where grouse live. (russellmoccasin.com)

BRUSH PANTS

These lightweight pants keep his legs dry and afford a little extra protection when he’s walking through brush. (mountainkhakis.com)

 

Joe Albert is a freelance writer from Bloomington. Reach him at writerjoealbert@gmail.com