Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No griping about grouse

Choice game birds abundant despite rainy spring

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IF I were asked what my favourite wildlife species is I would unhesitatingly reply, "ruffed grouse," commonly referred to as "partridge" in Manitoba. The presence of this wonderful bird brings any woodland to life. Many hunters, myself included, are completely "bonkers" about the bird and we devote countless hours to ruffed grouse habitat management, conservation, and, of course, ruffed grouse hunting. There's even a many-thousand strong North America-wide Ruffed Grouse Society.

Like many ruffed grouse hunters, I wait for the leaves to fall before I get serious about ruffed grouse hunting. And it's only when the leaves fall that we get a true picture of how well ruffed grouse populations are doing; you can actually find these elusive birds! That's because many factors, from predators to parasites to weather, affect fall populations. A female ruffed grouse can lay up to 15 eggs but only half, in a good year, will ever make it to adulthood. One theory, that many hunters seem to stick to, is that wet weather in spring translates into very poor chick survival and low fall populations. Newly hatched chicks, so the theory goes, are unable to take prolonged rainy spells. Well, we had one of the wettest Junes on record this year and lo and behold, the ruffed grouse are doing fine. Be wary of hard and fast rules when it comes to Mother Nature! I've been receiving reports from across Manitoba that just about everywhere ruffed grouse hunters are experiencing great success. And since ruffed grouse are considered the finest game bird on the table, some very fine meals are being had.

Just last week I decided to take Mountie for our first ruffed grouse hunt on one of the new trails that I constructed this spring. There was lots of fresh green growth, which grouse love. After about 10 minutes Mountie treed a young bird that just looked at us. Now I ain't perfect, but one thing I will not do is shoot a sitting ruffed grouse. So I must have been quite the sight as I threw sticks at the bird, shook the tree and generally acted silly in my attempt to get the bird to fly. But once it flew I took my shot and the first one was in the bag. The second bird was more "classic" in that Mountie first became "birdy," then I got into position, and the bird finally flushed. I flubbed the first shot and thought I nicked the bird with the second. Sure enough, after following along the flight path, Mountie dived into a thicket and came out with the grouse. That was Bird 2. Bird 3 was caught trying to be clever. I was watching Mountie, looking somewhat "birdy" on one side of the trail, when for some reason I glanced on the opposite side. There sat, still as a statue, a ruffed grouse trying its best to look like a log. I called Mountie over and when the bird flushed it quickly moved behind a big poplar which I promptly shot -- the poplar that is. Anyway, we were able to "walk up" that last bird and add him to the bag.

"Looks like there are more ruffed grouse around than people think," I said to myself as I ambled on home thinking of the great meals my bride, the inestimable Caroline, and I would soon be having.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2010 D6

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