Once upon a time, September 15 was a public holiday. Hordes of bird hunters would storm the forest after the grouse. The children would go straight from school to the squirrel forest. The rabbits were probably left alone until the winter, when they are easier to spot. Suffice to say it was a great day.
Fast-forward 50 years and we’re coming out of junior hunting, gearing up for archery season and most of us won’t think twice about grouse, squirrels or rabbits.
But grouse still taste good, squirrels are still fun to hunt (and rabbits are even more fun, once there’s snow on the ground).
In this article we will focus on grouse and squirrels, mainly because they are the most available prey at the moment.
If you want to find grouse or partridge, you have to find aspen. It really is that simple. These birds simply prefer aspens to any other cover. Can you find them in some mixed softwood and hardwood areas? Yes. Will you be more successful if you find those monoculture stands of aspen? Also if.
So the best place to start looking for grouse is where you find aspen trees. I can rattle off a few areas in Northwest Mason, Southeast Mason, Central Manistee, and West Lake counties where you can find these positions, or you can do your own driving survey. But wouldn’t it be easier if you could search for these groups of trees online before you go out? I have written about the Mi-Hunt app on the Michigan DNR website before and will do so again. This allows you to search land by coverage type. Just enter what you’re looking for and they’ll highlight it on the map. You can find it at www.mcgi.state.mi.us/mi-hunt/.
The other nice thing about the Mi-Hunt app is that it not only shows you parcels of public land, it also shows you private parcels under the Commercial Forestry Act where public hunting is legal. If you’re not familiar with CFA land, know that in exchange for a tax break, landowners allow public hunting on their land.
While you’re online, you should consider subscribing to OnX Maps. This app is an aerial GPS map with property boundaries and property information. It’s an invaluable tool for your home desktop or smartphone when you’re out driving around potential hunting grounds and need to find out who owns what. Keep in mind, though, that most GPS apps have a margin of error of about 20 feet, so believe more what your eyes tell you than what your phone tells you while you’re out in the field near the property boundaries.
Get ready for the grouse
Ideally, you have a trained dog that will hold the point until you tell it to wash the birds. Second best is a dog that works a little slow and close to you and washes the birds for you. Around third or fourth place is hunting without a dog.
Regardless of whether you have a dog or not, you’ll want good boots with great ankle support, some sort of pants or chaps, and a game vest with ample storage and enough hunter orange to satisfy legal requirements. I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend eye protection as well. Breathable fabrics have come a long way, so look for newer brush-proof shirts that give you some protection from burrs, thorns, and bugs.
When it comes to a bird hunting shotgun, it’s a personal choice. A 12 gauge is perfect for beginners, but for weight and sport reasons many people opt for 20 gauge, .410 or even 28 gauge shotguns. Get plenty of shells when you find them because there is nothing sadder than an epic day of shooting in which you are left without them.
pushing the birds
I’m not going to tell a person how to run their dog in the field, but for those of you without a dog, there are some tips you can follow.
If there are multiple hunters, spread out and have declared shooting ranges. For safety reasons, never turn more than 30 degrees on either side of you.
Walk slowly and deliberately through stands of aspen. Some will be thick, some will not. Things with broom handle diameter are ideal. If you get into really old stuff, you’re more likely to find woodcocks than grouse.
You must do your best to keep an eye on your partners. This is of course easier after the first hard frost which will knock down the ferns and strip some leaves off the trees.
Grouse season, by the way, runs from September 15 to January 1, with a short break for rifle deer season. The daily bag limit is 5 birds. Woodcock season runs from September 15 through October 29 with a daily bag limit of 3 birds. Your shotgun should be plugged in to limit its capacity to three shells if hunting woodcock.
Squirrels are everywhere, it seems, until they’re not. We are blessed with an abundance of old oak trees in our area, so if you hunt squirrels, you live and die by harvesting acorns. This year again seems spotty, at least where I am.
But sometimes we forget that squirrels eat a variety of trees, such as beech nuts and maple seeds, as well as some pine seeds.
Unlike grouse hunting, where the computer and drive-through surveys can help you, hunting for squirrels requires you to get your boots dirty and find the food. Find the food and you will find the squirrels.
We have four species of squirrels in our area, two of which are suitable for quarry hunting. While red squirrels can be shot at any time like pests, the northern flying squirrel is small, sheltered, and nocturnal. If you’re hunting squirrels for the pot, you’re looking for gray squirrels (which are also black) or fox squirrels. Both favor mature hardwood forests.
If you can’t find older oaks, you really aren’t trying very hard. Get a map book and start driving east on Custer; Chances are the US land you find has some oak trees.
If you go out early in the morning and the acorns are falling, you can sneak from tree trunk to tree trunk looking for squirrels and do a quick cap of 5. You have to get up pretty early in the morning for this to work though. Later in the day, it becomes harder to find them.
Most people hunt with a .22 rifle or small-bore shotgun, although you can shoot them with a .22 pistol as well. Safety is important to remember when shooting a .22 because your bullet will travel a long distance. If you’re going to catch squirrels and shoot them, stick with a shotgun, especially if you’re in an area with lodges and cabins. Rifles and pistols are best used to shoot squirrels that venture down from your trees.
A .410/.22 side-by-side shotgun/rifle is a fantastic firearm for squirrel hunting, giving you the best of both worlds. You get a bit more effective range with a rifle, but you can lay down a bunch of BBs with the shotgun barrel if you need to.
Squirrel season traditionally ended at the end of January, but now runs through March 31, just like rabbit season.