By Ron Anlauf
It wasn’t supposed to be that good, but it sure was. Last year was believed to be the start of a cyclical slide in ruffed grouse numbers but instead we saw a nice increase, especially in the north central and north eastern parts of the state. The drumming counts gave all of us hardcore bird hunters guarded hope and fortunately it all came together. The good days included twenty to thirty flushes or more and the tough days were still busy enough to make it fun.
This year’s spring drumming counts are up again throughout most of their range and one can’t help but get a little excited about what might be waiting for us. The real key to what could be a super fall includes good nesting weather and a successful hatch and only time will tell how it all worked out. Lots of young birds make for fast action and heavy game bags. The thing is with those high drumming counts even if conditions weren’t optimum for big hatch there should still be enough carry over to keep you on your toes.
A lot of grousers ride four wheelers to find birds and that’s fine for them but there is now way you’d find me on one, except maybe for last year. Don’t worry; it’s now what you think. I still had my dog with, and we still did our flushing with boots on the ground, and I still went deep into cover and got my usual workout. It’s just that my buddy and I used four wheelers to pull a trailer loaded with a kennel and my dog Annabelle to get back, back, back, way back, to cover that hadn’t been hit yet and the action was nothing short of spectacular. We had birds flushing at our feet, over our heads, and were never that far from the next flush. In fact it might have been too good at times, with that many birds getting up it’s hard to concentrate and keep your wits about you and get the job done. What I’m trying to do is offer an excuse for not dropping as many as we should have.
With a utility trailer like the Utrax X2 you can carry a kennel and your precious cargo and go where no man has gone before(a little theatrical) and get to birds that haven’t been pushed yet which can make for super close flushes and lots of action. We strapped the kennel down and took it nice and easy especially over the rough stuff. Even though the Ultrax has big floatation tires it doesn’t have the suspension that a four wheeler has and you could subject your dog to undue duress.
Absent a four wheeler you can still find your birds, it’s just that you might have to work a little harder for them. The key to finding pressured grouse is to get off the beaten path (at least twenty yards or so) and dig in. ATV pressure will push birds off the logging roads and trails but they’ll probably still be close. By working parallel to a trail maybe twenty to fifty yards in you’ll run into birds that others have missed. You may have to dig even deeper if there are hunters on foot. Fortunately most of them won’t work that hard at it and will stay close to the trail. You can improve your flush per hour ratio by going where the underachievers have never gone before, but it’s not going to be easy. The hiking is going to be tougher and so is getting a shot off but if that’s what it takes to put birds in the air then that’s what it takes. The key is trying to be prepared and be in position, especially when you get to key areas like where a thick stand of young aspen hit’s an opening, or where the cover looks a little thicker than the rest, or when the dog starts working a little quicker. When that happens “you know what” is about to hit the fan and is time to either embarrass yourself (happens to me much too often), or put another one in the bag. See you in the woods.