August 30, 2007 at 9:25 a.m.

Ruffed grouse -- a rite of fall

Ruffed grouse -- a rite of fall
Ruffed grouse -- a rite of fall

I have many fond memories as a boy and young man grouse hunting along logging roads and two-tracks with my brother, Jim, near Remer, Minn. Our long excursions into the woods, aspen stands and thick alders didn't result in high numbers of birds, but the ruffs we did slip into the game bag were hard-won and it was a rite of fall that we looked forward to each and every year.

If you're like me and got away from grouse hunting in recent years, allow me to encourage you to plunk down the paltry $19 license fee, take up that old shotgun and rediscover this wonderful upland sport.

Minnesota is the top ruffed grouse producing state in the U.S. No other state harvests as many ruffed grouse each fall or provides as much public hunting land containing ruffed grouse. With that said, you might be wondering where all of this public hunting land is located and the answer is easy enough. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Public Recreation Information Maps (PRIM) can greatly assist people in finding land open to public hunting this fall.

Minnesotans who hunt are fortunate because the search for that place is not nearly as difficult as it is in many states, where public land is rare. In this state, hunters can choose from 1,300 state wildlife management areas (WMAs), 56 state forests, two national forests, federal waterfowl production areas (WPAs) and county lands.

The 51 different PRIM maps display the location of public lands throughout the state, their boundaries and related facilities, such as parking lots, campsites and other things hunters may need to know. PRIM maps, which cost $5.95, are available through the DNR, some major sporting goods and map stores, and Minnesota's Bookstore. Additional information about these maps can be found on the DNR's PRIM website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/prim.html. PRIM maps may also be purchased online at www.comm.me dia.state.mn.us/bookstore/catego ry.asp?category=F5&CatID=30.

Another thing I'd strongly suggest is to get online and visit some upland hunting sites to reacquaint yourself with the grouse's preferred habitats and how to visually locate them quickly. Also, if you decide to get out and chase grouse, be prepared to do a lot of walking -- and I don't mean casually strolling through the open woods. There's an old grouse hunting saying that goes something like this: "If the walking is easy, you're in the wrong place." I'm not saying that the walking will be impossible, but if you plan to flush and swing on birds, you'll soon discover that grouse do indeed require cover and it's that cover that you'll need to walk through.

If you have young hunters in your family, it's my opinion that there is no finer way to hone the skills they gained in their firearms safety course than to get them out in the woods grouse hunting. We owe our kids the opportunity to experience, just like we did ourselves, those first crisp days of September and October spent in the woods, anticipating the heart-stopping whirr of wings as a startled bird bursts from cover. It is a sound that you'll rarely hear -- unless of course you are chasing grouse. It is a sound that shouldn't be missed.

Dan Brown's weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie's Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

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