SOMEWHERE NORTH OF CLARE — When we got out of the truck, well down a two track, miles off any paved road, we could hear a ruffed grouse drumming in the distance. It was in the opposite direction of where we’d planned to head into the woods, but my partner, Al Stewart, suggested we try it, anyway.
You’d got to admit there’s a certain challenge to trying to hunt a drumming grouse, no?
So we headed into the aspen woods with our setters. Mine, Rub, is kind of a big-running dog. Tighe, one of Stewart’s setters, is a little closer-working dog. We wound our way downhill toward a thick alder bottom when Rub, who was leading the way by a good margin, slammed on point. Tighe immediately followed. But even as we picked up the tempo, the bird flushed well before we could get to the dogs.
“You don’t often kill a drumming bird,” said Stewart, who is the upland game bird specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “They’re adult males, you’re in their territory, they know every inch of it, and they know every way out of it.”
Not getting grouse — in fact, not even seeing them when they flush — is par for the course during the early days of grouse season. So much so, that some folks consider it a waste of time hunting grouse much before October. Some would go so far as to suggest that the season opens too early.
But grouse managers, such as Stewart, will tell you there’s no reason not to go early as you’d miss out on opportunity.
Famed ruffed grouse researcher Gordon Gullion noted that when the so-called “fall shuffle” — when family groups break up — occurs, the grouse population begins to drop by one percent a day.