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Annual Grouse Safari

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By Don Mallicoat-Another of our annual grouse safaris is behind us. This year we chose to go to Mio, Michigan in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. We first hunted there in 2000 and it was my first trip with my North Carolina grouse hunting friends. Since it had been a long time we thought it would be a good time to visit this out of the way spot. Mio is in the middle of the Huron National Forest. Unfortunately, Michigan along with the other Midwest grouse states are at the low point of a cyclical grouse population. We knew this while planning the trip. We just didn’t know how bad it was. So here is a report of the week’s action.

On day one temperatures were ideal in the 50s but the local weather station forecast 70% chance of rain. We had intermittent rain and bird contacts to match. Our first spot, one we’d had success in on the previous visit, produced nothing. We learned later from a friend who could not make the trip that we had not gone in far enough. We also stopped at another Forest Service road where we did manage to flush two birds but both came up wild. We then hunted what would be considered a textbook grouse and woodcock aspen thicket. Again no luck.

The second day dawned cool but with a forecast of temperatures in the mid-60s. That is not good for bird hunting and it wasn’t. We drove to some state lands south of Mio which was a bust. It was being managed for Kirkland Warblers and they evidently like scrub oak and pine. After only thirty minutes there we head east to USFS land and stopped at a likely spot on an ATV trail. My hunting buddy Doug Saunders put his young pointer on the ground and we managed to flush one bird. After that we moved on up a road where we found another aspen cut that looked promising. And it was. We managed to flush three grouse in one hour and Doug killed one. By 3 p.m. it was too hot to hunt so we headed to the cabin.

Day three promised to again by warm with temperatures approaching 70 degrees. We started the day at the aspen cut from the previous day. We split up and both had one flush within an hour of hunting. On the advice of our friend who couldn’t make it we went back and drove deeper into the first location. That’s where we hit pay dirt. We flew our first woodcock of the trip in a small thicket; then flushed another which I shot. That is where it all started to happen. In that same thicket grouse starting erupting from one spot. I guess it was the weather that had them congregated in one cool, damp spot. Anyway, when it was all over we had flown seven grouse from that one spot but weren’t able to bring any to bag. Total of 10 grouse and two woodcock flushes.

The fourth day was a repeat of day three with the weather, warm and windy. We returned to the previous day’s honey hole and didn’t fly one bird. Zero. As the day progressed and the temperatures warmed we did start finding grouse in shaded areas in thick cover or damp shaded areas. Unfortunately, because of the warm temperatures scenting conditions were difficult and many of the birds flushed wild. At the end of the day we had flown seven grouse and one woodcock. But the day ended at 3 p.m. when both dogs and hunters were worn out from the heat.

Our last day was dismal. Again high temperatures and not a grouse flown until mid-afternoon, the only one of the day. We had hunted previous productive areas without success. Again by mid-afternoon our dogs were pooped and so were we from busting brush all day. The week’s weather had done us in. Normal temperatures this time of year are in the mid-50s which allows the bird scent to stay near the ground. During warm weather what little scent is put out by the birds goes straight up. We probably passed by a lot of birds simply because the dogs couldn’t smell them.

This was the thirteenth year we’ve been making our trip up north. The location and hunters vary year to year. We have hunted in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. We can’t control the weather, but no matter the circumstance we enjoy the thunder of a grouse in the northern woods.

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