Blog: Midwest & The Rest

Photography, experiences, and essays about conservation, restoration, ecology, and all things nature in the Midwest and the rest of the world!

Gun Dogs and Bird Guns

Trekked up to Hibbing, Minnesota for my first grouse trip with Scott and his two dogs. Both are wirehaired pointing griffons and brothers, Huck and Finn. Scott lives for upland hunting and actively is introducing new upland hunters to the ropes; I am his fifth mentee of the season. What follows is an excerpt from my daily journal:

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“Finnie is the elder and has the white hair to show for it. He knows what to look for and can get staunch on point, whilst Huck backs and is eager to chase after his older brother.

Huck, Scott, and Finn. Here mid-hunt, Scott is helping remove packed snow from Finn’s paws.

Huck, Scott, and Finn. Here mid-hunt, Scott is helping remove packed snow from Finn’s paws.

Dogs all squared away, geared up, and soon put boots to the snow covered trails. Walked open paths and through thick brush finding few tracks and droppings, and fewer grouse. Had dad’s Remington 870 Magnum 12 gauge and it weighs more than it looks.

Collar time for the doogans.

Collar time for the doogans.

Huck waiting to explore the grouse woods.

Huck waiting to explore the grouse woods.

Good luck kiss and pep talk for Finn before the hunt begins.

Good luck kiss and pep talk for Finn before the hunt begins.

Grouse tracks.

Grouse tracks.

Huck galloping, following Finn along the path.

Huck galloping, following Finn along the path.

Scott describing the next plan of attack to the dogs and me.

Scott describing the next plan of attack to the dogs and me.

Traveled roughly 4.5 miles in 3.75 hours, quite fair for conditions, new terrain, and following dogs. Got back to truck around 16:00 and reversed ‘gear up’ sequence. Began driving back to Hibbing.

Beardcicles all around.

Beardcicles all around.

But wait! On the right side of the road I spotted a grouse leave a low branch from an aspen and land confidently on the snow. Scott slowed to a gradual stop, this way we did not spook the bird and it allowed me space to quickly gear up before getting in range. Moved steady and slow, heart quickening with each step, no dogs leading the way.

Found the grouse where I last saw it! And another grouse in accompaniment! Whilst moving to get a closer shot, one grouse decided to leave, but the other remained fixed. Gun up, creeped in closer, and took aim. Safety off and took a deep breath. Knew instantly that my shot was true. Immediately looked to Scott who was waiting, watching from the truck with the dogs. He shouted as did I and he released the pups to join me. Finn got on the bird and brought it to me, but would not drop it. No luck for Scott either. We’re sure he was a little upset and dejected that I went after the grouse on my own and this was his redemption; all day of hard work getting on tracks and sniffing out birds only to be left behind in the eleventh and final hour. His hesitancy seemed reasonable.

First and surely not final grouse. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane

First and surely not final grouse. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane

Weightless in hand. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane.

Weightless in hand. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane.

Deep in thought and deeper in emotion. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane.

Deep in thought and deeper in emotion. Picture credit: Scott Kinnane.

Held bird in my hands and lap all the way home as we shared some genuine talks. Both emotional, especially me since I was after this for so long…had this life path in mind since I began working for Jed and the DNR. Knowing that Leopold’s kin, Scott as mentor and friend, and others all led me to this moment gives me such joy.

All for tonight. We are all gassed.

-M-”









Subtleties

Found more than harvested afield this fall so far. Somewhat of an understatement…have yet to harvest anything. It is a harsh reality especially when major, future meal plans call for meat, yet have learned to aim truer and shoot straighter, in both practice and in life.

Even if nothing was harvested, I always take photographs and lessons. This is one takeaway from this hunting season:

Subtleties.

Subtle deer highway into eventual private land.

Subtle deer highway into eventual private land.

Fine, delicate intricacies should not go overlooked. Rather they should be lived for some time in the moment, recorded to a degree, and studied afterwards.

Keeping a field journal most certainly helps, as does a daily journal. Record repeat findings as well as peculiar events. Write down attitudes, thoughts, motivations or feelings. Fleeting or staunch, personal struggles or uncertainties can lead to mistakes or dampen future outings.

I found myself pulled in different directions at times. Upon hearing the “whoosh” of grouse wings preparing for flight, I would lose track of my stalk and plan. Honestly took a few outings and some time behind the wheel to put it together…but many a grouse flushed led to deer being spooked from hiding. Changed my attitude and diligently sticked to plan to follow deer, no matter how enticing the grouse seemed. Early on, the deer were less observant and walked in the open, but later in the season, they were hard to find if at all. This I knew about the deer, but had I noticed this pattern sooner, it may have upped my chances of walking away with a harvest.

Here are a few pictures showcasing some findings:

Stopped at transition in forest, heard grouse, pursued, spooked deer, got nothing.

Stopped at transition in forest, heard grouse, pursued, spooked deer, got nothing.

Ghost grouse.

Ghost grouse.

Ghost deer.

Ghost deer.

As always, subtle wind changes make or break deer hunts.

As always, subtle wind changes make or break deer hunts.

-M-

First arrow from quiver

Following is an excerpt from my journal following my first days of bowhunting for deer:

“Got an earlier start than yesterday and parked at north eastern side of the state natural area. This allows access to plenty of forested areas without river and wetland crossings.

All covered in frost.

All covered in frost.

Transitioning from wetter soils to sandy, drier ones, I flushed five to seven grouse by accidentally stepping on a dry stick. CRACK! Followed covey the best I could and managed to flush another but did so before spotting it. Became infatuated with the grouse hunt, and decided to get back to looking for deer.

Searched for any signs of deer where I was and soon found some markings and trail. Heading the same way the grouse flew. Moved cautiously with the wind as to not make a large disturbance. Also trusted my eyes, ears, nose, and ultimately gut with where my next step should be and when. Stopped in one spot for a bit, thinking I heard and felt the faint whoosh of grouse wings. Waited 10 more minutes and a deer slowly entered the picture. Spotted it about 50+ yards out but heading my way and browsing. Swapped out grouse arrow for a broadhead and tried to calm my heart. Deer was 35 yards and still creeping towards me. Been minutes and I have not moved an inch. Feeling exposed standing next to decaying stump and mature tree, but should be undetectable if quiet and still.

Shadow of me.

Shadow of me.

Deer beginning to turn and I followed it with my peripheral vision as my hearted thumped. Breathed deeply and softly, starting to calm. About 30 yards and quartering now. Just passed behind a larger tree so I can afford to draw back an arrow and take aim. An opening and at least a six point buck! Before I could think any further, I went through the motions and heard my arrow hit.

Middle of picture is where the deer was quartering.

Middle of picture is where the deer was quartering.

He stamped off and I waited to not bump it further, but as I repositioned, off he went. Did best to gauge where he was headed, yet it was getting tough with all the foliage. Shouldn’t he want to lie down by now? Tried following with no luck and could see no signs of a blood trail…not comforting. Decided to start marking where I was, where I have been, and the spot from which I shot the arrow to not get lost or confused. Went looking for the arrow thinking of how terrible it would be to injure the poor deer and to not catch up with it. I was getting truly afraid.

Soon made my way to the spot I thought the deer was standing when I shot, and began searching for any signs and my arrow. No blood but low and behold found the arrow! It was in a decaying log, also no blood…inspected it further and and began laughing aloud earnestly, I undershot and missed the deer entirely! Either that or a twig between us deflected the arrow downward, but the fault is mine. I was assured my marksmanship was dialed in from 10 to 30 yards, but I suppose the sudden sight of antlers excited my heart more than I knew.

Just a stump.

Just a stump.

Oh my goodness how funny was this morning! Lots of thoughts, but relieved the deer was unharmed. Second day afield with limited scouting, saw plenty of grouse, stalked a deer on foot on public land, and was presented with a beautiful opportunity, but came up short, literally. Humbling and educating. This is the type of lesson that I will never forget and will only make me more thoughtful and resilient.”

-M-

June outing at Whitewater Fish Camp

Fly fishing at Laughing Trout „Whitewater Fish Camp“ 

Randy, Craig, Chip, Rufus, Rich, Bob Trevis, Steve W, Jason, Larry, Dick, Tom, Al, Joan, & Grace

Weather  Forecasted to rain the entire day, but it held off until we ate dinner! Remarkable. Air temperature in the 60’s, partly cloudy with gusts of wind topping 20mph here and there in the morning. Sunny afternoon with calm breeze.

Fishing Arrived at the fish camp around 09:30 and ate breakfast whilst preparations for the day were being finalized. Craig and Steve left the area for hope of clearer, more productive waters. Fished river from Randy’s towards Chip’s until Randy was ready to begin. No luck with soft hackle, but found tiny mayfly larva, size 18ish. First walkie talkie transmission of the day was hard to hear over the toppling wind. Passed Chip, Rufus, and Rich before meeting Randy in his Jeep. Al was watching from his camp.

Al onlooking as we passed his abode.

Al onlooking as we passed his abode.

Chip mending his line, trying for trout.

Chip mending his line, trying for trout.

Rich loading his line to cast to a new spot.

Rich loading his line to cast to a new spot.

Rufus walking upstream before giving it another go.

Rufus walking upstream before giving it another go.

Two of us made our way to Joe’s cabin through Loyd’s pasture. Randy informed me of 2007 flood and relevant stories, how the river changed course, and how they had to move camp locations. He’s been fishing here since 1965, first years were spent in a tent. Cow city! Parked at cabin and fished first downstream, then up. Tied on black woolly bugger given to me by Arthur, coworker and mentor, per Randy’s suggestion given the murky water clarity. Fished the banks. Foam is home, wood is good. Was not long before landing 11“ brown at the head of a pool. Later brought a 7.5“ brown to hand from the following pool. Fishing upstream, Randy connected with a decent brown that packed a punch for his 2/3 weight rod. He was fishing an „old 56“ fly (could be mistaken on exact name) and then a chartreuse woolly bugger. Landed a 12“ brown with same tackle but as I pulled it out of the water, the barbless hook came out and fish flipped out of my grip. So it goes. Randy said it counts because it was brought to hand, even if for a second. Randy landed another fish or two before departing area.

Cow City!

Cow City!

Randy fishing downstream.

Randy fishing downstream.

Throwing a loop!

Throwing a loop!

Caught and released promptly to river home.

Caught and released promptly to river home.

Made way back to camp. Randy tended to thawing fish filets, told me to fish more. Not about to argue. Entered river near Mike Tanguay’s camp as Dick was leaving for graduation party. Told me that he found the „Stop & Go“ to be successful. Suggestion taken to heart. Headed upstream to fish riffle with larger boulders. Ted on a size 16 or 18 nymph. Convinced I caught one of the boulders, but it did not look to be such as it jumped out of the river! First fish ever caught hiding out feeding at the head of a boulder. Had to trot downstream to follow fish instead of overpowering it. Brought it to hand. Solid 13“ brown. One for the highlight reel.

Definitely not a boulder...

Definitely not a boulder...

Followed river downstream and noticed a mayfly falling. And then another. Then a third! Spinners! Before reacting to the sudden event, rises were left and right of me and quite consistent. Cut off nymph, traded for a sulphur dun made with deer hair and observed rises. First hook ups were downstream approaches and either hook was pulled away from fish too soon, or hook set was off from being upstream from fish. Changed placement stealthily to be downstream and instant tight line! Others did not believe me, but radio batteries died out by this time in the afternoon, so this event was enjoyed alone. Lasted a good 30 minutes with many connections. Simply marvelous.

A day in paradise.

A day in paradise.

By 16:00 or 16:30 returned to camp and met Craig and Steve. Started dinner preparations and soon others trickled in. Chip, Jason, Tom, and maybe a fourth chef fried up about 70 crappie/sunfish and we feasted under a large tent and maples as it began to rain. Randy said two prayers, we all talked smart, and Craig gave me one of his home-brews, and American Wheat, the ones with his face printed on the bottle cap. Could not imagine a more desirable place nor friendlier folk. Surely this day will be recollected time and time again. My sincerest thanks and good wishes to everyone involved. Wish I could stay longer, but it’ll do.

Talking smart during happy hour. 

Talking smart during happy hour. 

Yours,

-M-

River Tour

Rose early to ease into an outing on my day off, but was adamant to prepare food and camera for I had no clue when I would return home. Drove to Cabela's parking lot to meet members Rich and Gary of my fly tying group, Laughing Trout. Waited 20 minutes to ensure no stragglers were straggling, and then we were Wisconsin bound. Our destinations were the Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers and Rich was our own tour guide.

Gary and Rich, Rich and Gary.

Gary and Rich, Rich and Gary.

Began as most ventures do, with the sharing of friendly stories and questions of what lies ahead. Both Gary and I are relatively new Minnesotans, he moved here over five years ago and I barely five months ago...luckily Rich has been here since 1966. Took 94 eastbound to 65 northbound, heading towards the upper branch of Kinni. First stop, there were 22 in total for the day if I counted correctly, was just off the highway. Pull into an unplowed, snowy lot to find one party fly fishing. No luck and lines were freezing, yet spirits were high. As we talked smart, a father and son arrived, determined to give a try. Said our goodbyes and headed onward.

Snuck a photograph of stranger fly fishing. Seconds later he took his fly, rid it of ice as best he could, and then gave it another go.

Snuck a photograph of stranger fly fishing. Seconds later he took his fly, rid it of ice as best he could, and then gave it another go.

Taking a moments break from the rivers, parked the truck on the main drag of River Falls to visit Lund's Fly Shop. First time there, fell in love with a cap, but since I am saving money, had to forego the desire to take out my wallet. Wish to return when I begin hunting for Muskies on the fly because they have a great selection of large fly tying materials!

Back on the road and into the backseat. Leaned forward to peer over dash, spotting the holes and riffles Rich suggested. Can you guess at which bend along the river the Mcdonald's Hole is located? 

"Across the river you'll see a path, follow it across the field..."

"Across the river you'll see a path, follow it across the field..."

Soon after drive to Rush river, it is roughly 27 miles long and has about 25 miles of fishable waters. Rich told stories about annual river clean ups along its shores that involved upwards of 70 volunteers, taking half of a day of work or so. Instinctually more fond of the Rush, not only because it shares the name as my favorite band, but also because it has more topography. 

A look at the Rush river.

A look at the Rush river.

Hard to fathom, but this picture is exactly 180 degrees around from the previous picture...how a river can change depending on structures in the water and condition of its riparian zone.

Hard to fathom, but this picture is exactly 180 degrees around from the previous picture...how a river can change depending on structures in the water and condition of its riparian zone.

Some access points have camping sites available. Two nights maximum stay at the bridge park past the Red Barn. Just after saw Rich's namesake hole, located adjacent to a couple feeder springs and distinct riffles.

A few more stops and then the tour was up. Instead of taking a right turn to get home, we continued straight into Ellsworth. When in Wisconsin, one must visit a creamery and gorge on cheese curds. Not sure why, but that is tradition.

Land alongside river donated by Koch family.

Land alongside river donated by Koch family.

The tour was direct, yet personable. My excitement to fly fish is growing past the point of containment and once a warm day aligns with an off day, may have to duct tape my hole ridden Neoprene waders and jump in a river. 

Thanks to Rich, Gary, and Laughing Trout, now I know where to jump in.

-M-