A Must Hunt For Grousers…
Emmet County, in the Northwest section of Lower Michigan, receives a lot of attention due to the recreational opportunities it offers the millions of visitors it hosts year after year. However, there is ample room for the outdoorsmen in this mix also. This nearly 300,000 acre county has very diverse and yet, plentiful terrain which lends itself adequately to the grouse hunter even into late October and early November. Too often local upland bird enthusiasts travel out of county in search of their drumming quarry, when the proper ingredients for success are sometimes just outside their doors.
As with other animals, there are three essentials for survival with the grouse: food, shelter and water. To me, the most significant factor is the availability of a water source, and Emmet County offers an abundance of choices. Yet these birds do not have to attach themselves to a river, pond or lake, they can make themselves comfortable around little streams, rivulets, and standing water. With potential plots for public ‘pat” hunting receding near the bigger bodies of water, upland birders need to seek out these smaller water sources. Throw in a food source nearby and you have the likelihood for a successful hunt.
Many turkey and deer hunters do a bit of scouting before opening day, looking for rubs, runs, scratches and roosts which will help determine where they will sit when the hunt commences. This same approach to scouting should apply to grouse season also. There are hundreds of acres of public acres in Emmet with water sources and late ripening blueberries and raspberries. Keep in mind as your traverse the two tracks that berries grow best in openings and openings are a thing of beauty when a grouse takes flight, so GPS them or commit to memory these prime spots for the September opener. In addition, find a road or trail to explore and search out other food sources like beechnuts, acorns and apples. Birds feed in tight family groups so when the food and water sources are located don’t be surprised with the amount of birds you might flush.
Petoskey is the hub of the county and offers forest cover, rolling topography and roughly, 68 miles of Lake Michigan. Two-track roads are plentiful especially to the north and east. However, look for those roads that haven’t been tracked, beaten, or scrapped up by four wheelers and dirt bikes. When an access point is located, look for small clear-cuts that are ringed with poplar, alder, evergreen and, as mentioned earlier, a water source.
The same topography holds true for the more northerly sections of the county also. On the outskirts of the small village of Levering and the more renown, Mackinaw City are numerous paved roads which lead to two tracks which hopefully lead to your quarry. Dotted here and there are the remnants of orchards and into October numerous blackberry leaves which seem to almost glow as your approach. Find the water in this area and your chances of filling the game bag are excellent.
There is very dense cover in many sections of the county so a good bird dog is a plus. However, hunting in dense cover without a dog tends to slow the pace down giving more time to stop, listen and then move again. I have never heard the often accompanying cluck of a young bird as it prepares for flight from a flush, while working the area with a dog. Yet, I have never flushed more than five birds in any day while working the woods by myself either. The pros and cons of hunting with dogs is the subject for other articles. Suffice it to say, Emmet County offers terrain that can be successful for dogless and dog-based hunts.