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All Things Outdoors: Grouse Hunt

Grouse Hunting 2.jpg
Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR
Tim Otto watches his dog, Aldo, in the woods for signs he has picked up grouse scent.

On a cool, early October morning, Tim Otto pulls his truck into a small grassy parking area off a gravel road.

We’re on county owned land that’s a favorite of Otto’s for grouse hunting.

“See those balsams. Those are the kind of balsams that I really like, when I’m looking for cover. If you look on the ground where those little buggers are going to be hanging out,” said Otto. “There’s branches all the way to the ground so they can hid out underneath there, especially when the snow falls. That’s going to intercept a lot of that snow and they’ll be hiding out right underneath it.”

Before we head out down an old forest road, Otto gears up, both himself and his dog Aldo.

“I use an E-collar, some people are averse to them, but I use it more as a wireless communication tool. Really what it is, especially at a low setting, it’s not much more than a pinch. We’re out here hunting, if I want him a little closer, I’m just pinching him a little bit, like ‘You got to come back in’ without me yelling,” said Otto.

Grouse Hunting 1.jpg
Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR
Otto gets Aldo ready before the hunt.

His other dog, Frannie, stays back with the truck, but don’t worry she’ll get her turn later.

Aldo races and sniffs around the truck while Otto finishes getting ready, the dog clearly more enthusiastic than the humans to start this hunt.

“He doesn’t get out of bed this early except to go hunting,” said Otto.

Once we’re good to go we set off down the old road.

I’m simply an observer on this trip. This is my first-time hunting and seeing how the sport works with a dog.

Otto sends Aldo into the woods. The 7-year-old has the drill down and enthusiastically sniffs out grouse.

As Aldo searches for signs for grouse, Otto is watching Aldo for signs he found one.

“What I describe it as is like if you see him, you know he’s trotting along, consistent pattern. You see him make a movement, like a cut like a running back, where all the sudden they make an abrupt change of direction. There’s a reason for that, right? Probably cause he smelled something. He’s trotting along and he catches the scent of a grouse and now he’s going to try and track it,” said Otto.

Grouse Hunting 4.jpg
Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR
Aldo sniffs out some grouse.

Just as Otto describes it, it happens several times throughout the morning.

Aldo quickly changes direction, he picks up speed, his tail wags faster.

Then Aldo rushes under some balsam firs and flushes a grouse.

“I was going to turn around about here, but I don’t think you turn around after you flush the grouse. It seems counterintuitive,” said Otto.

It flies away from us and with no clear shot, Otto holds his fire.

“It probably takes me 7 or 8 grouse flushes to kill a grouse. That includes missing a gimme shot. It seems like I miss one shot that I should have hit,” said Otto.

And that’s how the morning the morning goes, Otto and I walk along the old road in the woods while Aldo does what he does best.

Grouse Hunting 3.jpg
Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR
Otto holds up a grouse feather in section of land he likes to refer to as "grouse alley".

At one point, Otto decides the leisurely part of the hunt is over and we head off road into the brush.

Again, a few more grouse are flushed, but no shots taken.

“This is where the hunting partner says at least the dog is having fun,” Otto jokes.

We head back to his truck with no grouse to show for our time in woods, but neither of us would call it an unsuccessful hunt.

“There’s more to hunting than just shooting stuff,” said Otto. “How do you measure a hunt. What’s a good hunt? That’s different for everybody. Is a successful hunt coming out here and shooting our bag limit of five grouse? I’ve never done that. If that were my measure, then all my hunts would be unsuccessful.”

For me, I got my first real experience of what it’s like to hunt.

And Otto got to share one of his favorite pastimes and spend some quality time in the woods with his dogs.

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