Michigan’s World Class GROUSE HUNTING

Last year the grouse hunting in many parts of Michigan was phenomenal. The 2012 spring drumming counts were also high. After a mild winter and an early spring this year, grouse reproduction was very high and broods seemed to grow exceptionally fast. All indications point towards an exceptional year of grouse hunting for 2012. In fact, 2012 could very well be the peak of the grouse population cycle in parts of Michigan. It’s time to plan that grouse hunting vacation to northern Michigan to take advantage of this tremendous recreational opportunity.

Last year I hunted grouse a fair amount with my pointing Lab, Harry In his prime, I chased birds on 33 different days. My flush rate in 2011 was just shy of five grouse per hour during September and four per hour during October. I certainly would have added a lot more hunts to that total had it not been for an injury that my dog sustained while grouse hunting in late October. My dog got a stick impaled down his throat while he was running through the woods bird hunting. The stick actually pierced through his esophagus at least six inches into his neck meat. It was a scary situation that nearly killed him. He went through two surgeries and had many setbacks with infections, however he did eventually make a full recovery, but not until Christmas. Unfortunately I never did get to hunt grouse during November or December though.

I’m probably looking forward to bird hunting this year more than ever before. With bird numbers sky high and my dog and I in great shape, this is going to be a fun season indeed. I spoke with Bill Scullon, who is a wildlife biologist for the DNR. Among other things, he specializes in Michigan’s ruffed grouse. Scullon said, “Drumming counts conducted in the spring of 2012 were similar to last year in most areas, but up in the western U.P. brood numbers were exceptionally good this spring. With the mild winter and early spring, hatching came early with excellent chick survival. Chick development has also been phenomenal so the carryover of young of the year birds into the fall should be very good. While much of northern Michigan has been somewhat dry, it doesn’t seem to have impacted the grouse negatively yet.”

Scullon went on to say, “In the U.P. the western counties of Gogebic and Ontonagon seem to have the highest numbers of birds. Baraga County is also full of grouse this year too. These counties also receive some of the lowest hunting pressure in Michigan too. Compared to 10 years ago, the number of grouse hunters has really declined in the U.P. and especially the western counties. That decline is largely due to the economy, since bird numbers have been increasing in recent years.”

One doesn’t need to travel all the way to the U.P. to experience some quality grouse hunting though. Almost every county in the Northern Lower Peninsula has at least some areas with good grouse numbers. The key is to find public lands that have the right kind of habitat. If the conditions remain dry into the fall, water will be the key to success. Grouse need to drink water daily, so thick habitat around streams, lakes and swamps are usually good bets. Grouse also prefer young to middle aged aspens in their habitat. Locations I look for have a mixture of aspen and evergreens with plenty of edge cover where different types of trees and brush create diversity.

I took a trip to the U.P. to work on my hunting property during the last week of April this year. While there I saw more grouse in the area than I have ever seen before. I saw three different broods and all the young chicks were developed enough to fly. I have never seen grouse chicks so developed during April ever before. I also took another trip to my camp in late June to spray and fertilize my food plots. I also saw a bunch of grouse on that trip too and heard grouse drumming all over the place then too. That’s the latest I’ve heard drumming grouse. I talked to a lot of people that are avid bird hunters and everyone is seeing lots of grouse.

I have this cool new GPS unit this year that has all the standard mapping along with topographical and satellite overlays. It also shows all the public lands too. With a tool like that it will be easier than ever to locate those public land hot spots where grouse live in copious quantities. This is going to be a good fall indeed.

The author offers fishing charters for Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay walleyes along with trips for salmon and trout at Manistee on Lake Michigan. Contact Mike Veine at www.trophyspecialists.com or 734-475-9146.