Entering into the center of a tightly wadded covey of quail will do issues to your coronary heart that may concern a heart specialist. However once you’re looking late-season grouse and a chicken erupts from beneath a mantle of unblemished snow, the percussion all however drops you in your tracks. You see the snow start to maneuver, and also you assume, What the… Then the world explodes. At this level, you’re confronted with two issues: The primary is pulling your self collectively so you may carry your shotgun into play and performance as a hunter. The second is discovering your goal by the dreamlike crystal cloud hanging within the air between you and the grouse—which is exiting the scene at an alarming charge.
That’s just about how issues went down on a hunt in Wisconsin final winter. I’d seen a couple of meandering tracks within the contemporary powder, and my English setter, Tina, had gotten birdy a time or two. However the makers of these tracks appeared to have vanished into the winter woods. Finally, we got here to just a little clearing. I turned to whistle for Tina, took a wading step by the snow, and had the feeling that I’d detonated a land mine. Now got here the onerous half.
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Find out how to Hunt Late-Season Grouse
Late-season grouse looking is a feast-or-famine proposition. A grouse that’s lived to see December is an expert survivor. Examined by predators of each stripe, its nerves are cocked towards a hair set off. Excessive alert is its default setting; on the slightest trace of hazard, a grouse that feels weak rockets for the closest concealing cowl. If this implies diving headlong into the snow, so be it.
Grouse spend extra time in bushes in winter than they do earlier within the season. I’d recommend that you want to be ready for this, however as a result of nobody’s that cool-headed, I’ll simply say that you need to be conscious of the chance.
The variable situations typical of winter looking complicate the equation as properly. You may encounter deep snow, however you may as simply have naked, hard-frozen floor; someday is likely to be bitter chilly, one other balmy. Sarcastically, a heat day with out snow cowl is probably the most difficult state of affairs. The strolling is nice, however the birds are at their wild-flushing worst. That is the time to go to tighter chokes—Modified in a single-barrel gun, IC/IM in a double—and to stay with No. 71⁄2 shot or, if you’ll find them, No. 7s.
When the powder is piled excessive and the thermometer plunges, then again, surprisingly shut flushes are the order of the day. Plus, as soon as the swamps freeze, you may generally get to islands of canopy which are inaccessible earlier within the season and discover birds that will not have been shot at.
The spots the place I’ve had constant success on winter grouse all had a range of canopy: a mixture of traditional brushy popple, conifers of various sizes, low-lying swamp and marsh, and grassy clearings. A south-facing slope is one other plus, as is the presence of meals sources aside from the aspen buds, that are the staple winter ration of grouse. My Elhew pointer, Traveler, as soon as pointed a December grouse that was feeding on delicate maidenhair ferns rising the place a cluster of tiny springs saved the bottom away from snow. To come across that patch of inexperienced in the midst of the winter-white forest appeared nearly magical.
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The Massive End
I received fortunate that grouse exploded from a snow roost. As a substitute of utilizing that glittering cloud of flakes as a smokescreen, the grouse made a tough left flip and got here into such clear view, I may rattling close to depend the feathers in its rusty-brown fan. It was making for the apple tree, however I overtook it with the muzzles of my 16-gauge Fox, pulled the ahead set off, and folded the chicken cleanly. One other cloud now hung within the wintry stillness, this one composed of feathers.
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Bonus Tip #1: Discover Late-Season Grouse By Discovering Corn
Some tight-lipped late-season grouse hunters know a secret that you would be able to boil down to at least one phrase: corn. In areas the place conventional woodland grouse vary and ag lands quilt collectively, grouse, whereas not grain eaters by nature, will slip out of the thick stuff and fill their crops within the stubble. Not solely can cornfield edges grow to be winter grouse hotspots, they will additionally present thrilling mixed-bag taking pictures for bonus birds comparable to pheasants and Huns.
Bonus Tip #2: Find out how to Hunt Late-Season Grouse by the Solar
Winter grouse spend a great deal of time in thick conifer cowl that gives safety from chilly winds and sometimes much less snow at floor degree. However there are particular days once you in all probability received’t discover them there, and what makes all of the distinction is the solar. When winds are low and the solar is shining brightly, winter grouse transfer to open cowl to feed and take full benefit of the solar’s warming rays.
All of this makes for a superb rule of thumb when looking late-season grouse. When the solar is shining, hunt the comparatively open dogwood and viburnum thickets, the groves of younger birch and aspen, and the overgrown orchards. When clouds roll in or winds whip up, head for conifers. And be prepared for grouse to rocket from the treetops. —Dave Hurteau