Breaking a Few Eggs for Conservation

Breaking a Few Eggs for Conservation

How habitat is made

by Joel Schnell
for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

Sometimes conservation is messy. Creating early successional forest from an older alder and aspen stand qualifies. Like breaking eggs, you may have to wreck a few things to make an omelet.
It means shearing, bulldozing, cutting, mulching, or chopping standing trees and brush. The results are worth it, for ruffed grouse, woodcock, whitetail deer, and threatened songbirds like the golden-winged warbler require little trees. Most of the critters we hold dear in Minnesota love early successional forest- or inhabit nearby.

a month later, a game trail already- visible on right border

First, some background. A year ago I contacted my nearest NRCS representative, as listed in my county soil and water newsletter. The NRCS is a part of the US Department of Agriculture. I completed my paperwork, and waited for my application to be approved. After that, I needed to hire a contractor to do the work. I investigated a few options. A forestry mulcher was most appealing, as it leaves a completed path of chipped wood. But it is the most expensive of treatments and out of my budget. A bulldozer I feared would take too much topsoil and leave a muddy mess. A hydro-axe or other cutting blade brusher would work, but leave lots of little stumps and a possible need to be brush piled. So the choice I made was a roller chopper- a drum with blades that is pulled behind a skidder. It folds everything down and chops it in 3 foot sections. It regenerates fast and leaves the soil less disturbed.

Roller Chopper

My project was a little over 11 acres, on a 40 acre parcel. The NRCS funding paid for the contractor work. Working with the forester, we defined older alder stands and the aspen lowlands border them. We identified a feathered edge treatment, like the teeth on a saw blade.

The prescription called for up to 30 percent existing trees to remain. A few months after the roller clearing I was able to walk around and plot walking paths and areas for new planting.

greenery

A month later, things started to green up.

Making trails

To make best use of the new clearings for hunting, in April I cut trails leading to the opening.

June

In June, the forest cover came back with a vengeance. Mother Nature has a way of cleaning up broken eggs after all.

March to July

In this split photo, you can see the same view taken in March and later in July. The forest is well on it’s way back. The ruffed grouse and woodcock are back, nesting in the trees left standing. The forest will have two age classes of timber, 15 years apart.

Levi approved trail

And about the remaining 39 acres? Prime habitat, now with a patchwork of early successional forest nearby. Perfect.

Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

He can be reached on facebook messenger.

© 2021 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Is this Heaven? No, Minnesota in October

Is this Heaven? No, Minnesota in October

By Joel Schnell

for Ruffedgrouseminnesota

Grouse week. 

What a glorious concept. Nothing to do but hunt, eat, sleep, and repeat. It’s about good friends, loyal dogs, and ruffed grouse in the coverts. Where else but Minnesota would you want to be when the woodcock moon comes around?

It all changes so fast this time of year. At the start of the week, it was a riot of colored leaves. By the end of the week, the leaves were down and snow covered. 

Don’t blink, you might miss it.

Our best hunt. 29 woodcock and 6 grouse flushed in 2 hours and change. Oh sure, there could be- should be- more grouse, but I got two of them so all’s well. Dave got a limit of woodcock, and I picked up the one I needed, to fill out myself. Those are the memories we cherish through the long winter.

We had a little bump in the road, with this thistle seed. Lodged squarely in Levi’s eye. With help from Jim, we got it out. Then I gave Levi the day off, he deserved it.

This is the road to Nirvana. Leaves off the trees, a clear, cold, blue sky, and ruffed grouse in the aspens. Sprinkle in a few woodcock dropping in overnight on their flight. Can you smell the fallen leaves? Taste the gunpowder swirling in the air? Hear the jingle of dog tags on a bird dog? 

I give a single tweet on the whistle, and they reply. It reveals where my buddies are, busting brush off to one side. 

Hunt, eat, sleep, and repeat.

Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

He can be reached on facebook messenger.

© 2021 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Tales from the Grouse Hunt

Tales from the Grouse Hunt

By Joel Schnell on Jan 29, 2021 in hunting | No Comments

One wet dog

2020 wasn’t all bad. 

For ruffed grouse hunters, 2020 was the year of the Great Comeback. For a change, we had a relatively dry spring and summer. Normal, you could say. And grouse numbers improved with it. Best year I’ve seen in the last four. Our friends the woodcock were around as usual to supplement the bag. This was a year you could go just about anywhere without flooding your boots. Dry enough to hit all those little covers on the other side of the swamp I normally can’t get to.

three in the bag

As always Levi and I hit the cover running. We slogged through the steamy, wet jungle of early season aspen. And the birds were there to reward our efforts. Whatever was holding them back- poor weather, poor nesting, West Nile, the cycle- it relented for a season. Hopefully for good.

drying out

Not everything got the memo. Here a little tamarack jumped in front of the gun to save a woodcock. It lost it’s crown for the effort.

clipped by a load of 20 gauge

My grouse camp was a welcome respite from days in the thickness. Nothing beats a Northwoods cabin off the grid but fully stocked with firewood.

view of the tamarack

looking outside the window

Life goes on in the grouse woods- old covers grow past their prime, new covers mature. Here a beaver flooded a favorite trail with his dam. Making early successional forest you might say.

Dam!

A grilled grouse and woodcock combo makes my day. 

It’s my favorite recipe: pluck the birds and leave the skin on. Oil the birds to get the seasoning to stick, then dust in Montreal chicken or lemon pepper. Or if you have dried basil from the garden, crush it in your hand, then douse the bird with sea salt and cracked pepper. 

Oh, and as long as you have the charcoal hot, throw on tomorrow’s thick-cut bacon for breakfast.

Kingsford ‘licious

I suppose it’s normal to have a few bumps in the road. A few times i stopped at a trailhead where someone’s camped. But then I have to chase the dog out of the food trash they left behind. Pack it out, folks. My dog doesn’t need to eat your leftover chicken drummies.

bad manners

One thing I can count on, is the companionship of a bird dog. He never let me down. Even made his first water retrieve across a creek. He knows not the good season from the bad. They’re all good to him.

lunch break

The best was yet to come.

Grouse Week.

It should be a national holiday. It was for us. Tune in next time for the rundown.

Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota.

He can be reached on facebook messenger

© 2021 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Mentor A New Hunter this Fall

Mentor A New Hunter this Fall

Posted by Joel Schnell on Aug 2, 2020 in Uncategorized | No Comments

By Joel Schnell

for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

Last fall I had the honor of guiding a couple of hunters new to ruffed grouse hunting, in an event with the RGS and Her Wilderness. The key to a successful event like this is an orientation before we hit the woods. A little safety refresher, an overview of the gear and clothing required, and a description of what we will encounter in the hunt.

We had a great group of volunteer guides that allowed small groups of 3-4 to hunt together. Each guide knows the area so we could hit productive spots without a lot of guesswork. Everyone got to see some birds, and even a few bagged their first.

A few pointers to help make a great experience for the guided: we gave the gals a whistle on a lanyard. Everyone likes a little gift, and we instructed how we give one tweet to our fellow hunters when in thick cover for position. Another tip, provide lunch. Maybe just a sandwich from the grocery deli. Our guests both didn’t bring lunch in the hustle to pack up and drive North. We shared our lunch and that was fine. It just eliminates one more detail the guests don’t have to worry about.

Upon returning to base camp, the group provided dinner. I overheard much happy chatter from our new friends about their hunt. It’s a less stressful introduction to hunting if family or significant others are trying to teach and hunt at the same time.

Mentor a young person to hunt this fall. You will find it as rewarding to the guide, as it is to the guided.

By Joel Schnell

Posted August 2, 2020.

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Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

He can be reached on facebook messenger.

© 2020 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Covering Ground in Grouse Country

Covering Ground in Grouse Country

Posted by Joel Schnell on Apr 15, 2020 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Levi riding in style

By Joel Schnell

for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

As a foot-pounder grouse hunter, I have a love/hate relationship with ATV’s. When they keep the old forest walking roads clear of brush and trees ahead of me, it’s love. When I find them where they aren’t supposed to be on a walking-only trail, well, not so much.

I’ve always been a walking hunter. But I snowmobile too, and enjoy a trail ride. When my projects on the hunting land required a workhorse, I figured why not try it for hunting too.

I had to build a platform for the kennel. And with some ratchet straps we were ready to ride. The gun rides in a hard case strapped on front. I have more than a few old trails in mind. I could use a lift to get past the first mile where everyone else hunts.

I have to trailer to get to my spots, and my first attempt was foiled by a washed-out road. But soon we got to the second spot, rode back and parked, and hit some fresh cover on foot.

The experience generally worked out. 

Dealing with the trailer is a bit of a pain, and takes some extra time loading up. Also, Levi’s not so eager to get back in the kennel once he’s out.

So I’ll still hit most of my covers on foot. The ATV will just let me mix it up a bit and hit more areas.

selfie in orange

I’ve been troubled by the major decline in the grouse population in my regular covers. One way or another, I need to find new ground. Now I have just the tool to do that.

Until next season I’ll keep the buggy moving on the firewood and driveway gravel. And I won’t miss huffing and puffing walking around with a chainsaw in hand.

Love at first sight

Just kidding.

Saw this thing at Gamefair.

But ya know, it would haul a couple dogs and a buddy to some seriously grousy spots…

By Joel Schnell

Posted March 11, 2020.

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Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

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© 2020 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Hunting on Tamarack Road

Hunting on Tamarack Road

Posted by Joel Schnell on Mar 11, 2020 in hunting | No Comments

By Joel Schnell

for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

I can still smell it. 

The grouse woods, damp and cool. At times colorful, but mostly drab and quiet. It’s just Levi and me, prowling for woodcock and grouse. Past prime time, but before deer hunting, is the moment.

That old white pine stump in the photo above, I’ve been watching it for ten years. Nice to see a youngster fir take root. That stump has seen a lot of ruffed grouse around it, some of them falling to my gun.

A hush in the pines, mossy and wet. Like we stumbled upon a lost and ancient land. Black spruce and tamarack are like sentinels to another world.

Tamaracks in the sun. Anything more vibrant? It’s like they emit light of their own. A window of color that doesn’t last long. Take a moment when you find them.

When the tamarack needles fall, it becomes a carpet. A road to grouse land, paved with great promise. Levi is fierce on the hunt. No time to mess around, there is big business ahead. It’s November in the Northwoods, where would you rather be?

At the end of the day, Levi finds the spot, between the hot wood stove and my drying boots. He’s earned a break. Soak it up, buddy. Tomorrow we hunt again.

A few grouse feathers to decorate the sun visor. Something to take home. Brings a smile to my face every time.

By Joel Schnell

Posted March 11, 2020.

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Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

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© 2020 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.

Grouse Hunting the Frozen North

Grouse Hunting the Frozen North

Posted by Joel Schnell on Jan 1, 2020 in hunting, Uncategorized | No Comments

Levi at the hunt

by Joel Schnell for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

An early December snow meant finding a hunting cover South of the big snow zone. Even just a foot of snow makes for an exhausting walk.

Leaving footprints

Winter hunts for grouse mean searching for the cover that a ruffed grouse may hide under- fallen trees, conifers, deep snow drifts.

Levi had a blast

We kept our silent search to an hour. Levi investigated a number of snow roosts that held birds previously, but none were found this day.

majestic

It was a nice break from cabin fever. Quiet and beautiful. I had a dog that slept for a day just to recoup. And so we said goodbye to Minnesota’s grouse season 2019. It’s gone by so fast. As Levi naps beside me, he yips and runs his legs, hunting grouse in his dreams.

By Joel Schnell

Posted October 23, 2019.

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Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

He can be reached on facebook messenger

© 2019 Joel Schnell, All Rights Reserved.