A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac
The Other Kind of Hunting
Publication Year: 2010
"There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed-grouse hunting."—Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac
Like that earlier grouse hunter Aldo Leopold, Mark Parman takes to the woods when the aspens are smoky gold. Here, in an evocative almanac that chronicles the early season of the grouse hunt through its end in the snows of January, Parman follows his dog through the changing trees and foliage, thrills to the sudden flush of beating wings, and holds a bird in hand, thankful for the meal it will provide. Distilling twenty seasons of grouse hunting into these essays, he writes of old dogs and gun lust, cover and clear cutting, climate change, companions male and female, wildlife art, and stumps. A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac delves into the mind of a hunter, exploring the Northwoods with an eye for more than just game.
Bronze Medalist, Foreword Magazine’s Sports Book of the Year
Winner, Sports and Recreation, Midwest Book Awards
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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When I wrote the bulk of these essays, our dogs Gunnar, a Weimaraner, and Ox, an English setter, were alive. Older dogs, we knew they wouldn’t live forever, but never did I imagine they would be gone before these essays were finished. September of 2009 will be the...
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"There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffedgrouse hunting,” wrote Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac. Leopold understood grouse hunting’s allure and its extraordinary qualities, particularly in the month of October, claiming that...
Some August Day
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Some August day, usually late in the month, the jet stream buckles and bends south, and cold Canadian air pours down into Wisconsin, displacing the thick air that has stagnated over the area for much of the summer. Some years this cold might not arrive until September, but every year it comes. I think...
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In the northern half of Wisconsin, the ruffed grouse season begins the third Saturday in September, often in weather more like July than early autumn. On one particularly warm opener, a friend showed up to hunt with me wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and knee-high rubber boots. I should have taken a...
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In spring, after the snow melts and before green up, male ruffed grouse stake out their territory and begin to drum in earnest on logs some birds have claimed and used for years. Grouse drum year-round, but it increases in intensity in spring as males seek to attract mates, the drumming reverberating through...
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Years ago a friend from Manitowish Waters invited me up to Vilas County to duck hunt on opening weekend. He claimed he was out in the woods one day in early September and happened across a lake loaded with ducks near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. ...
In Praise of Old Dogs
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Just ten minutes into the hunt, our first of the year, my Weimaraner started to lurch from side to side. Stumbling ahead a few more yards, Gunnar collapsed on his side, legs jerking, eyes wide and staring off into the netherworld for all we knew. We could do nothing but pet him and tell him everything was...
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One of my sharpest woodcock memories is of an unfortunate bird hanging from a power line, its bill trapped in the braided high wire. It looked as though it had been executed or strung high up there by a sadist. It was early April, and the bird had certainly been migrating north along the road, probably at...
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Perhaps it was a matter of false expectations, of building sand castles in the air, of counting chickens before the eggs had even dropped into the nest. In October of 1996, we bought an English setter pup from a friend and hunter who had been breeding and hunting setters in north-central Wisconsin for...
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It’s talked about in bars, on sporting clays courses, in operating rooms, even in churches. Magazines publish articles about it, university professors research and write about it, and biologists present their findings at conferences. Every September our local paper runs the same annual article about it, and still we know so...
How to Hunt Grouse
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... In a sense grouse hunting is a simple undertaking, as simple as the previous paragraph. All the state requires is a license, and an older hunter like myself isn’t even required to take a hunter safety course, although older hunters could surely learn a thing or two from doing so. For a few dollars each fall, I am licensed by the...
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The bird exploded up from beneath a screen of balsam firs less than ten yards from the logging road. A jolt rushed through my body like an electrical current, my brain instantly and subconsciously recognizing a ruffed grouse. My body reacted much slower, however. The grouse banged up through mixed...
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My Weimy liked to hang out in the garage with me while I cleaned birds because he got most of the grouse hearts and livers, which he wolfed down in a single bite. For some reason, he had no interest in woodcock hearts, which are often larger than grouse hearts even though the bird is about a third the size. ...
Hunting with Diana, Grousing Around with Susan
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We had a point, and it was Susan’s turn to flush. She walked in, shotgun at the ready, the butt just below her armpit. When she got a few feet past Ox, a woodcock twittered up batlike in front of the dog. Clearing the dense popples, it flattened out and flew west directly into the sun. Still, she held fire. ...
Like Trees, Walking
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In Saint Mark’s gospel, the people lead a blind man from Bethsaida to Christ to be healed. Christ lays his hands on him a first time and then asks him what he sees. The man says, “I see men like trees, walking.” When Christ puts his hands on him a second time, his sight is fully restored. Even though a comma stands...
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I was heading west on the snowmobile trail toward our cabin; she was riding a mountain bike east toward me. We met where the snowmobile trail intersected the middle of the ski trail the woman was riding. Somewhere in the cover behind me, the dog was still hopeful about finding a bird. ...
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One October evening Paul called, asking about a grouse dish he had once eaten at our home. “You get a bird?” I asked, knowing Paul doesn’t hunt. He told me a bird had flown into his picture window, breaking its neck, an untimely death that happens all too often with some species of birds. ...
On Wildlife Art
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It was a two-hour appointment with the dentist, who is a good friend and also an avid grouse hunter. His office is filled with wildlife prints, many of which depict grouse. This day, I was getting a broken molar repaired, along with a new crown. At times I wish I were like my dogs and could just...
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My English setter hopped out of the woods and onto the trail in front of me. His nose halfway to the ground, the dog turned and retreated back into the popple. I tensed my fingers around the fore end and trigger guard of my shotgun. Seconds passed, no bird flushed, and the dog...
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On July 9, 1979, a truck struck and killed a wolf on a logging road in western Lincoln County, leading to a DNR investigation. The agency discovered that a wolf pack was living in this area, called New Wood by locals after the river that drains the area. This was a big deal because wolves were supposedly...
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Good quality boots are vital for the grouse hunter. Roughly calculated, I walk about two miles for every grouse bagged. Expending more calories hunting the bird than I gain eating it, I realize a net caloric loss, which would be catastrophic for a wolf or an owl. Unlike the wolf or the owl, we do not survive by...
The Mythical Bird
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We were trudging back toward my truck after a long, slow day of hunting on state-owned land in Langlade County. Grouse were at the bottom of their cycle that year, and we had not seen a bird all morning after four hours of hunting and miles of walking. In a good year when grouse are at the...
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We had walked the mile or so from our cabin to Martel’s Pothole, a glacial depression dug out during the last ice age. In southern Wisconsin these landforms are called kettles; in northern Wisconsin they’re called frost pockets. Martel’s had been logged a few years earlier, and all of the new...
Shooting and Eating Locally
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As the smoke curled out of the grill’s vent holes, I got up, beer in hand, and walked across the patio and into the sweet-smelling odor—ruffed grouse basted in butter, thyme, and crushed garlic. I stood there and let the fragrance seep into my flannel shirt. A quietly beautiful October evening, it was still...
Acres of Goods
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Strolling up and down the aisles, I was amazed at the number, variety, and complexity of the goods on sale. The floor space of this national hunting and fishing retailer spanned several acres, the square footage larger than a few of the grouse and woodcock coverts we hunt. Tree stands towered over aisle...
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Some years back I wrote a piece about New Wood, an area of Lincoln County that’s one of my favorite places to hunt. The piece was published in an upland hunting magazine, and the next issue carried a letter to the editor from an Illinois bird hunter who wanted to cancel his subscription because my article...
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Standing at an exhibition case at a sporting goods store, I admired the doubleguns inside the glass case— Beretta, Perazzi, Parker, AyA, and Merkel. The dark swirls in the walnut stocks, the hand-tooled designs of quail and grouse and pointing dogs engraved on the receivers, the fine lines and...
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Up until that point, everything worked with well-oiled precision. The dog had corralled the bird, pinning it under a solitary balsam fir, a nice Christmas tree actually, in the midst of a few widely spaced mature aspens. He had flashed three points working the bird, then coiled into a solid point and...
The Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World
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Driving through Park Falls, Wisconsin, on Highway 13, a motorist can’t help but notice the big round sign proclaiming the town of about two thousand the Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World. It’s right off the highway next to the police headquarters and Chamber of Commerce building, big as a...
Nine Mile Stump
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There’s a place in a section of the Marathon County forest where a graveyard of blackened stumps rises volcanically out of the soil: ancient, massive, charred, and rotting. These stumps in the Nine Mile section are all that’s left of the virgin white pine that just 150 years ago towered above northern...
Knowing Our Limits
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We don’t like to speak and think of limits, of prescribing and curtailing our behavior. Americans like things bigger, better, and faster. We don’t like to be told how fast to drive. We don’t want to cut back on the size of our homes, the calories we eat, or the hours of TV we watch. ...
Getting Lost, Staying Lost
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... To be fair to Charlie, we had hiked into some claustrophobiainducing popple. We could see a scant twenty or thirty yards ahead, and the spruce we were orienting toward was only visible because it towered above the surrounding trees. Grouse and woodcock hunting requires navigating in dense cover, sometimes when the leaves still cling to the trees. Oftentimes the cover lies in lowland, bordering...
Confessions of a Grouse Hunter
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This is difficult for me to admit, but just about every autumn around the middle of November I grow weary of grouse hunting, struggling through the aspen stands and alder thickets of northern Wisconsin. Maybe it’s claustrophobia from the close woods. I try not to admit it, even to myself, but I...
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Every once in a while, I happen across surprising numbers of grouse massed together in just a few brief acres. A couple of years ago on a cold November Saturday, my dog went on point in a small grassy depression carved out of the thousands of acres of surrounding popple and balsam fir. The clearing...
A Fall of Woodcock
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As I walked a logging road toward a creek bordering the county forest, the dog quartered in young aspen on my left. After a bit he crossed the road and moved to my right, angling through the skinny trees, his nose to the ground. Behind us a few hundred yards, a car whooshed past on the gravel road. ...
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A point is like a present—we never know what we are going to get until we unwrap it or, in the case of upland hunting, flush it. In the Wisconsin woods, I can be fairly certain a grouse or woodcock will emerge from my dogs’ points. Sometimes I can tell, by the cover or the way the dog holds...
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Mid-November—according to the Wisconsin DNR General Deer Hunting Regulations, “It is illegal to possess any firearm in the field from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on November 21, 2008, unless the firearm is unloaded and encased within a carrying case.” In other words, it’s a crime to carry a gun of...
Narratives in the Snow
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It took a moment for the image to register, but after a half dozen or so kicks and glides down the ski trail it did—WOLF. The large paw prints ran down the ski trail, each print larger than those of my eighty-five-pound dog, the rear tracks stepping into the front tracks in a long loping gait. Every so often the tracks...
The Beauty of Clear-Cuts
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"That sure looks like a grouse,” I said. “Aren’t those tail feathers hanging down?” Bob’s golden retriever had just picked up an unidentifiable frozen hunk of bone and feathers. It was mid-January, and several of us were out snowshoeing with our dogs. “Nah, that’s an organ. Bjorn’s always finding gut piles,” Bob said, thinking it was from a deer. ...
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An Athabaskan story says that Ruffed Grouse taught the people how to weave snowshoes during a winter of big snow when the people were starving and couldn’t travel around to hunt in the deep, soft snow. Ruffed Grouse didn’t starve in the winter like people because he could get around and eat his favorite foods. ...
The Last Day of the Season
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The snow lay two feet deep and we hadn’t hunted in over a month. We were rusty, not having hunted much since the gun deer season in mid-November, but we had an itch to get out on this the last day of the season. I strapped on snowshoes, called Ox, and left the cabin, slogging through the powder down to a couple of likely spots. ...
Gunnar’s Last Hunt
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About ten minutes down the trail, tears started to pool in my eyes, building even as I tried to fight them back. I stopped, leaned my shotgun against a white pine, and tried to brush them away. I was raised in a stoic, Calvinistic family, where crying was the moral equivalent of not cleaning my plate or making my bed. ...
Counting in Dogs
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I don’t place much faith in omens, but as we drove north to pick up our puppy and bring him home a grouse flushed across the road like a feathery rocket in front of our car. A brown-phased bird, it flew low across the highway, out of popples on the west side of the road and into balsam fir on the east side, their...
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Page Count: 227
Publication Year: 2010