Hunting season kicks off despite low ruffed grouse numbers

License? Check. Coffee? Check.

Camouflage jacket and duck call? Check.

With the start of the waterfowl hunting season last weekend, turkey season opening this weekend, and the ruffed grouse and deer archery seasons already on the go, UMD hunters are making checklists and waking up early for the hunt.

Already, senior Justin Grossinger has a fridge full of Canada geese, wood ducks and ruffed grouse. He and his dad got three geese the weekend opener of early goose season, Sept. 1, and have been feasting ever since.

“I cooked them up and they were phenomenal,” Grossinger said. “Put a little seasoning on there. Some butter. So good.”

The grouse in his fridge, however, are not freshly harvested, but leftovers from a successful season last fall. This year’s grouse hunt has proved unproductive so far not only for Grossinger, but for junior Jon Dordal as well.

“It was tough because there’s a lot of undergrowth still,” Dordal said about his grouse hunt. “The woods are really thick.”

Once the undergrowth vegetation in the forests dies off for the winter, it will be a lot easier for hunters to spot the well-camouflaged grouse before they take off flying and it’s too late to shoot.

Although the winterkill will work in favor of hunters, the low numbers of grouse will not. The Minnesota DNR’s spring ruffed grouse drum count fell by 10 percent from last year’s, meaning that the bird population is in a decline. The drum count refers to the number of male grouse mating calls observed in the spring.

The decline, however, is part of the natural cycle for grouse, which peaks every 10 years regardless of environmental impacts. Given that the last peak was in 2009, the lowered population is expected.

Grossinger, who is aware of the declining population cycle, isn’t discouraged from hunting the bird.

“Hopefully, I’ll just get out and see a couple here and there,” he said. “I’m happy to walk eight miles and see two birds. I’m fine with that.”

For him, hunting is less about the kill and more about enjoying the outdoors.

“A lot of the trails in this area are beautiful,” he said. “You hike around the woods. See if you see anything. If not, hey, you got some exercise and it was beautiful out. Even in the rain, it’s still fun.”

Grossinger walks the public Wildlife Management Area trails (WMAs) by Island Lake with his Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun in search of coveys of grouse.

The last time he went out for grouse, two weekends ago, he stumbled upon a ten-point buck instead.

“If I’d had a bow, I’d have seen a grouse—it’s just how it goes,” he said and laughed.

Dordal hasn’t had any luck with the grouse, either, but waterfowl have been a great success for both.

After a weekend of 5 a.m. mornings, sitting in duck blinds and patiently waiting for their decoys and calls to lure in a flock of ducks, Dordal was rewarded with three mallards, one wood duck and one blue-winged teal in Duluth while Grossinger got three wood ducks in Chaska, Minn.

The Minnesota DNR predicts it will be a plentiful season for duck hunting due to the healthy amount of wild rice crop in the state and the above-average breeding numbers in the spring.

Grossinger suspects the low water levels will help hunters find the ducks more easily.

“The only place where there’s water is where the water fowl will be,” he said.

Along with spending plenty of time walking the trails for grouse or hiding in the marshland for waterfowl, Dordal plans to attain his goal of getting a mature buck with his bow.

“I’ve already done it with a rifle, but it’s harder with a bow,” he said.

For Dordal, the joy in deer hunting comes from the entire hunting experience.

“When you’re in a deer stand, it’s not about taking a deer,” he said. “It’s more about being out there in the woods. And, as cheesy as it sounds, being one with the woods. You’re there when it’s dark and the woods are waking up around you. All of a sudden the birds start waking up and the squirrels come around. It’s a really cool experience.”

But, after a day of sitting in the stand, bellies are empty and a kill can liven the spirits of both the hunters and their friends.

After successful hunts, both Grossinger and Dordal have feasts with their college housemates.

Grossinger, who lives in a house full of “outdoorsy guys,” isn’t the only one to put food on the table.

“We have venison steak, fish dinner, and then geese,” he said. “That’s a pretty good set of meals for a college kid.”




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