With deer season just around the corner and ice just starting to skim over the lakes, I think I'm going to be putting the duck decoys away for the year.
I had a fairly successful season in terms of finding time to get out, even with the early cold weather. I managed to hunt and scout a couple new areas and saw a lot of birds, a few of which were actually ducks and geese. I can't say that I was very successful putting dinner on the table, but I did have fun.
This time of year I switch my attention to the upcoming firearm deer season. It's a good time to get out and scout what kind of deer sign is out in potential hunting locations. With the leaves off the trees, it's also a good time to try your luck with ruffed grouse hunting. Ruffed grouse, sometimes locally referred to as "partridge," are a challenging species to hunt from Sept. 15 through Nov. 14. The season closes for rifle deer season but then opens up again from Dec. 1 through Jan. 1.
I find grouse challenging to hunt for a couple reasons. Their plumage is ideal for camouflaging them into their environment, making them difficult to spot before they take off. When they do take off or flush, it can be explosive and startle an unsuspecting hunter.
There are many tactics people use to hunt grouse to improve their success rate. A well-trained dog can be useful for alerting a hunter to the bird's presence before they flush as well as to retrieve them. Having a good idea of a grouse's habitat and diet can help. Grouse tend to prefer mixed aspen forests that have cover available. They tend to feed on tree buds throughout the late fall and winter, including but not limited to, aspen, birch, and maple. They will also feed on acorns and any remaining berries when present. I like to check out old overgrown and long-abandoned apple orchards for birds.
A lot of people, me included, often just cruise the many trails and dirt roads that criss-cross our area hoping to see grouse. This is actually a pretty effective method to find and hunt grouse. Although it may seem like a random approach there is some logic behind it.
Birds sometimes congregate where they can have access to gravel. "Why?" you might ask. Well, I had to do some brushing up of past biology lessons to get an accurate answer, but here it goes.
Since they do not chew their food they need another method to grind their food. The birds will ingest small bits of gravel to aide in the mechanical grinding of their food. This gravel is stored in an organ called a gizzard.
The gizzard is composed of muscle that uses the gravel to grind up the ingested food as it passes through. The gravel will also pass through as it gets worn into smaller particles, so the bird must periodically add more.
If you are ever fortunate enough to successfully down a bird, cut the gizzard open and it will most likely have a pile of gravel in it. Once the gravel and its liner are removed the gizzard is perfectly edible.