Hook and bullet club - Grouse hunting

by Nick Wognum

The 2004 Minnesota small game season gets underway this Saturday and it looks to be a great season to get out in the woods. As far as bringing home supper, well, there’s always Dairy Queen. <BR><BR>Local DNR wildlife guy Tom Rusch was in Ely last week and confirmed the reports we’ve heard so far: grouse numbers are still down.<BR><BR>“This is a cyclical thing; it’s not like the sky is falling,” said Rusch. “The good news is Minnesota has some of the best ruffed grouse habitat in the country and our lows are higher than many other places.”<BR><BR>Rusch attributes the continued low grouse numbers to the weather. After a good grouse winter (lots of snow), we had a lousy spring.<BR><BR>“Wet and cold in the spring is the worst thing for young chicks and that’s what we had,” said Rusch. “So we had a low survival rate and that kept the numbers down.” <BR><BR>But Rusch encourages hunters to get out in the field starting on Saturday.<BR><BR>“The idea is just to go, not to fill the bag. Avid grouse hunters enjoy smelling the dead leaves and working the dog and if you’re lucky enough to bring back a bird consider that a good day,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>And for those who get bored watching leaves fall while looking for that adrenaline-driving sound of wings flapping, there are other options.<BR><BR>“Maybe guys will still go out but they’ll go and work on deer stands or spend more time around the shack,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>Agreed.<BR><BR>Getting out in the woods is the main goal, and most guys will continue to hunt no matter how good or bad their luck is in the field.<BR><BR>My guys are coming up for the grouse opener no matter what. We’ll load up the shotguns and walk the trails in search of small game, but we won’t be overly disappointed if we come back without firing a shot. <BR><BR>There’s so much more to the experience and that’s what Tom was getting at. He and I don’t agree on everything but I think we do believe that we need to work to keep hunting alive. <BR><BR>I think mistakes were made when past generations put the guns away when the numbers were low. Their kids missed out on the great experiences that come when you’re out in the woods. The wild game is just a reason (or excuse) to get you there. <BR><BR>We see things all the time that become etched in your memory. A dog sniffing a hot trail in the fading light of day. A young hunter going down a trail ahead of you, taking another step toward manhood. Water rippling off a bay, colored by the fall leaves on the trees. <BR><BR>To borrow a phrase, priceless.<BR><BR>Last year I ran into a guy hunting with a young kid who was not his son. I asked him why he had decided to take the boy hunting. <BR><BR>“Because his dad never does,” was the answer. <BR><BR>I never felt so sorry for the boy nor more proud of the man. He was doing the right thing without looking for a thank you or a reward. He was sharing the experiences that help shape lives and he thought nothing of it. <BR><BR>As the years go by, there are so many other options for kids to spend their time. From after school activities to video games to the Internet to getting into trouble, hunting is often not on the list of things to do for our young people.<BR><BR>I would encourage you to find a way to impact the life of one of our young people by inviting them along on one of your hunts. It can be as simple as a walk in the woods on a trail just outside of town. <BR><BR>But that experience, that opportunity to get out and enjoy the great outdoors is something we shouldn’t take for granted and something we should share at every chance we get. <BR><BR>Good luck to you and your hunting party as we kick off the small game season. And maybe each of us will be able to find a way this season to work at bringing a newcomer along with us instead of being so worried about how much wild game we bring home at the end of the day.