Grouse Hunting

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Grouse Hunting

Postby PaddlerJimmy » Thu Oct 29, 2009 8:21 am

Nothing to grouse about: Hunting provides welcome diversion to north woods city official.
By: Todd Burras, Outdoors Editor
Published: Saturday, October 17, 2009 5:42 PM CDT


ELY, Minn. — The 14-foot aluminum boat cut through a steady headwind, bumping over a constant onslaught of waves as it raced for a tiny spit of sand on an island at the end of Fall Lake.

Roger Skraba, the boat’s owner, squinted into the growing squall, one hand clutching the throttle of the rig’s outboard motor, his other hand steadying Tess, a Boykin spaniel hunkered next to him. Ears pinned back and a long, curly sprig of orange-tinged hair on the crown of its otherwise chocolate brown head fluttering in the wind, the bright-eyed dog appeared to have a smile on its face.

And why not?

The day prior, the diminutive dog had helped Skraba shoot a five-bird bag limit of ruffed grouse from the same series of portage trails the two would soon be stalking again.

Despite the expectation that the ominous dark clouds scudding across the grey sky soon would open and deliver their contents, Skraba and Tess displayed buoyant spirits that mirrored the bright golds and reds of tamaracks, birch and moose maples, which lit up an otherwise dark and brooding conifer forest now surrounding them.

“I’ve been hunting this area since I was a boy,” Skraba said as he started off down a narrow trail, gun in hand. “It can be awfully good some days.”

• • •

If grouse are what you’re after in northeastern Minnesota, you needn’t take a boat ride across a lake to a remote island to find them. The state’s most popular game bird, ruffed grouse can be found just about anywhere there’s suitable habitat and abundant food sources. With those criteria, much of the 10,000-plus-square-mile Arrowhead Region of the state qualifies as prime grouse hunting territory.

Similar to cotton tails, ruffed grouse populations fluctuate on 10-year cycles in which they steadily grow, peak and then crash, only to start the cycle over again. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ spring drumming surveys, grouse numbers are on an uptick this year.

“But if they think we’re at the peak of the cycle now, I’d be concerned,” Skraba said. “I’ve seen years when there’s a lot more birds. But there appear to be a pretty good number of them around this year.”

Anecdotally, at least, the day would substantiate Skraba’s observation.

• • •
October is Roger Skraba’s month to catch up, regroup and get away to hunt when he can.

Hewing out a living in Minnesota’s north woods can still be almost as difficult today as it was in the mid-1800s when the first Europeans began to settle in the region. They survived by harvesting lumber and mining iron ore from the ancient layers of Precambrian bedrock deposited by the last glaciers.

As such, Skraba, 47, of Ely, holds down multiple jobs. In late spring, summer and early fall, he guides anglers on week-long canoe trips into the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, something he’s been doing since he was 14. His clients come from around the country for the chance to land a trophy walleye, lake trout or northern pike or to just escape the stresses of their career pursuits for a short time.

In the winter, he rents snowmobiles to a different group of clientele that finds enjoyment in racing down wooded trails and across open lakes in frigid temperatures.

Then there’s Skrab’s other job — serving as mayor of Ely, a community of some 3,600 year-round residents. For working anywhere from 20 to 60 hours a week, Skraba collects a monthly paycheck of a little more than $400. Needless to say, the job isn’t about the money.

“I didn’t like the direction the last mayor was taking the city,” he said.

Wages aside, it’s no easy job trying to lend direction to a community that has a reputation of being a battle ground for vocal residents who readily voice their opinions on, among many things, how the region’s natural resources should be managed.

For example, when the federal BWCA Wilderness Act that banned motors on nearly all lakes was passed in 1978, numerous resort owners and outfitters lost their businesses. The late Ely resident Sigurd Olson, a one-time outfitter, teacher and environmentalist who was influential in pushing through the legislation, was hanged in effigy in his home town. Bitterness over the decision remains in some corners of the community to this day.

“It takes two to three generations for those sorts of wounds to heal, and we’ve had our share of them,” Skraba said.

More recently, management of the state’s burgeoning wolf population has frequently pitted environmentalists against land owners and hunters, who see wolves as competition for the region’s white-tailed deer and at least partially responsible for its declining moose population. Currently, Minnesota wolves are federally protected from being hunted.

“They’ll say whitetails are responsible for the parasite that’s affecting moose. I don’t doubt that at all, but that’s only part of the story,” Skraba said. “Ask the guys who are out in the woods about the wolves. It used to be rare to see one; now they’re everywhere. They have to be hurting the moose and deer populations, but don’t try to tell that to some politician sitting in an office in Minneapolis or Washington who says you can’t touch the wolves.”

• • •

A pile of wolf scat sat in the middle of the narrow portage trail.

“That wasn’t here yesterday,” Skraba said.

Neither were the moose tracks that appeared on the trail a few minutes later near a flooded beaver dam.

“I saw a couple otters swimming here yesterday,” he said with a smile.

Some three miles down the portage trail, despite walking in a persistent gentle rain and being interrupted on a few occasions by city staff calling his Blackberry, Roger Skraba was enjoying himself.

For the moment, political battles could wait, the leaves of northern Minnesota were turning brilliant colors, and with Tess barking again, there were sure to be more ruffed grouse up ahead.
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Re: Grouse Hunting

Postby salaama » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:41 am

What are the main items you should bring for hunting White-tail deer? I have never been hunting before and will be going in less than a year. I would like to know what I should bring. I figured a rifle, probably a 30-06, but what about a pistol and/or a knife, ect. Help plz!
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