The second half of my week long grouse hunting adventure was just as great as the first. It was filled with lots of good food and many firsts for me including my first sharp-tailed grouse and my first Sand hill crane. It started out last Wednesday morning at 0330 when I left my brothers and headed to Warren, MN where some old family friends live and farm. I arrived around 0900 and met Scott Oberg in one of his fields. Scott gave me a quick refresher on which fields I could hunt and where he had been seeing some birds. I set off and walked a few areas around a large swamp that sits in the middle of his property but saw no birds of any sort.
I had seen a group of sand hill cranes in one of the fields and thought I would make my way over to them to see if I could get a shot a one. I had never hunted sand hills before and know almost nothing about them except that they are delicious. I was given a crane breast
by a friend of mine and really enjoyed it. I figured they were like other birds and if you could be someplace they wanted to be I might get a passing shot at one. I wasn't sure if you could stalk up on them or not so I gave that a try first. The group of cranes I had seen were sitting in a picked corn fields about a 100 yards from the small dirt road that ran by it. The back portion of the field was still standing corn and a drainage ditch ran behind that. I figured I could walk down that drainage ditch sneak through the corn and possibly get a shot a bird.
I was wrong about that, after walking about a mile down this ditch I came to the end of the corn and tried to sneak a peak at where the cranes were. They had moved down to the far end of the field back near where I started. So I walked back down the ditch and tried to come at them from that side. When I got down there they had moved again about half way down the field. I walked into the corn about 6 rows in from the open field and slowly walked down to about 200 yards away from the cranes. I got comfortable and waited to see if they would move again slowly getting closer and closer. The wind was blowing pretty strong and was covering up any noise I was making but even 6 rows into the cord that was at least 7 feet tall I must have done something because all at once they jumped and flew away never flying close enough to get a shot.
After a brief break for lunch I headed back out for grouse and found an area that looked promising. A large Wildlife Management Area surrounded by sunflowers with equal amounts grass and small willows and red brush. It didn't take long and Kona had flushed 3 grouse all at once. I am embarrassed to admit that I emptied the gun and didn't hit a single thing. Something my brother likes to call "shoot and release". Grouse don't take off like pheasants do, a pheasant will take off and fly up for a second and then fly away. These grouse seemed to just take off and with the wind that was blowing pretty hard they were gone. All of that is just an excuse for my bad shooting of course. Kona flushed 11 grouse and I shot probably 18 times before I finally connected and figured out how to lead them. The next two after that were spot on and before I knew it I had downed three birds. The sad part of that is that we only found two of them. Kona and I walked the area for about 45 minutes and couldn't find that lost bird. I am convinced that I didn't hit it very well and that it ran away because if it was dead Kona would have found it.
Kona with my first Sharp-tailed Grouse
The next day I was up early and out in the corn again hoping to get a passing shot at a crane. Like the day before I had the same result. While I was sitting there I did have a number of grouse fl within range and I would have taken a shot but I was afraid the 3 1/2 inch 12 gauge shell with BBB shot would be to destructive. The morning passed and I was tired of sitting around so I headed out to try grouse hunting again and went back to the spot I had success at the day before. Initially Kona and I didn't see anything but we came out of some willows into a field of alfalfa and I saw a grouse about 80 yards ahead. I knew that if Kona saw it she would run right at it and I wouldn't get a shot so I called for her to come back and when I called the entire field erupted and there must have been 30 grouse that all took off and flew away from me. It was quite an amazing site to see all those birds at once.
Scott wanted to give grouse hunting a try and we had arranged to meet in one of his fields and walk a bit of brush that looked like it might hold some grouse. Scott and I have walked piece of land several times in our life but always in pursuit of deer. We have always flushed grouse out of it and figured it would work. As we started out I said "I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few right in the grass on the edge" and no sooner did I say than a grouse jumped up and I missed. We walked through the brush and ended up flushing another grouse and both Scott and I missed that one as well. As we walked the edge of the brush Scott pointed to the sky and I saw that 4 Sand hill cranes were flying low right over us. As a general rule I always hunt with steel shot for instances just like this. I took a shot and down came the crane. It hit the ground with such a thud that it sound like someone getting tackle in football. I was shocked that the bird actually came down and shocked again at how big they are.
In all my life I have never had the time to just go hunt for a whole week. This week was a great time and I hope that I get to do it again. I got to hunt with my Brother, my mom and an old friend. I drove over a thousand miles walked about 70 miles shot 3 ruffed grouse, 3 sharp-tailed grouse one crane and finished everyday with a nice glass of whiskey. A special thank you to Scott Oberg and his lovely family for all there generosity, without Scott the second half of my trip would not have been possible.