Bust-out the blaze orange vests. Dust-off the field jeans and grab a few boxes of #8 game loads. Upland bird season is officially back. And Northern Michigan is a hot spot for Grouse and Woodcock. Zeus and I hunted near Alpena, MI, last weekend and enjoyed a respectable flush-rate of 1.375 per hour. We couldn’t do it alone. We needed some reinforcements who helped us put-up the 11 birds we saw in 8 hours of hunting.
The weather on Saturday absolutely sucked. Northwest winds at 20-30 mph and drizzling rain made the grouse hestiant to fly. Instead, they ran zig-zag patterns through the brush in a constant attempt to get behind us. Making matters worse, the rain washed out scent trails making it hard for Zeus to track these little speedsters. Determined to the make the most of our day at Lost Lake Woods Club Zeus and I employed the help of my beautiful wife to put some birds in the truck.
Our three-pronged plan of attack put pressure on the birds making their eradic running habits a little more predicatble. We located dense stands of 5 to 10 year old aspen mixed with small pines adjacent to logging trails and two-tracks. Zeus and I dove into the dense cover causing the birds to run back to the trails to get behind us. With Erika on the trail the birds ducked back into the woods seeking refuge in brush-piles and pines. My job was to keep up with Zeus and rendezvous at potential hiding spots to make the birds flush. It sounds simple but that ass-kicking terrain is making me sweat just thinking about it.
This technique put the first bird of the season in my game vest. Zeus got birdy, meaning his entire body goes into fast-forward. He charged around and picked up speed as he chased the bird toward Erika. He busted out of the cover, onto the trail, then made a hard right turn back into the woods. I knew he was going to get this bird up. I spotted a brush pile only 40 yards away and figured that’s where the grouse was heading. I had to get there. Quickly. I took the shell out of the chamber and ran. Briars ripped at the back of my hands. Aspen branches slapped my face and bounced off my glasses. Zeus closed in just as I got there, bird-crazed, his tail wagging in full circles. Just as I put the shell back in the gun my veteran bird-dog jumped into the brush. The grouse thundered into the air and flew right at me. I bent my knees, swung the shotgun over my head and fired. The bird crashed to the ground not even 20 feet away as feathers rained down on my hat.
We finished the day pushing through pines along the edge of marshes which produced our second grouse. And this pair of young raccoons which Zeus treed like an experienced Coonhound.
Sunday morning we teamed up with the fishing addicted author of the awesome blog Angling Obsession and his yellow lab Berk. It’s hard to get this dude out of Salmon waters this time of year but he’s always willing to lend a hand if feathers are involved…so he can tie more flies. We headed out to the Huron National Forest to work creek bottoms and acorn-filled stands of oaks mixed with young maples, aspen and beech trees.
There were other hunters in the area so we abandoned the easily accessable trails. We worked dense cover walking about 75-100 yards apart with the dogs running between us. We covered a lot of ground. We found a couple beech trees shredded by black bears, some buck rubs/scrapes and flushed a few woodcock.
The timberdoodles were hiding along the edge of creek bottoms in young aspen and beech trees. Like the grouse, these birds waiting for us to walk past then flushed-up behind us. I managed to connect with one to keep us from getting shut-out. We headed back to the trail to find the truck. We weren’t on the track for 100 yards before Berk flushed the only grouse we saw all day.
Early season upland hunting is tough work so team-up. Great dog work and heart-pounding flushes are just too exciting to keep to yourself. Besides, bragging will be more fun when your hunting buddies actually witness you gunning down a grouse in flight. Good luck this weekend and stay focused on my favorite upland motto: Flush ’em and Crush ’em.