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All Things Outdoors: Learning the habitat

Instructor Alex Anderson explains to the group the different species of trees in the area and how it could impact grouse habitat.
Katie Thoresen
Instructor Alex Anderson explains to the group the different species of trees in the area and how it could impact grouse habitat.

A group of people makes their way through the brush at the Woodboro Wildlife Management Area in Oneida County.

The instructors in the Learn to Hunt class point out some of the vegetation they look for when grouse hunting.

Ruffed grouse like young forests that have been cut in roughly the last 5 to 20 years.

They look for places where they can hide in the thick brush and some diversity in the plant life.

“If it’s just a straight monoculture and there’s very little understory, there’s hardly ever birds in that kind of habitat. They like some diversity as well,” said instructor Alex Anderson.

Grouse also tend to gravitate towards edges. That could be the edge of an old logging road or where a younger forest meets an older one.

“For me a lot of time, I’m going to hunt those edges. I’ll kind of weave in and out of the older cut and the newer cut kind of trying to get a feel for it. Like where am I actually moving the birds, where do they really want to be? Sometimes it’s a motivation issue like I really don’t want to walk through that thick stuff right now,” said Wisconsin DNR Warden Tim Otto.

Otto believes one of the best ways to learn where the grouse will be is by looking at what they’ve been eating.

“First time I shoot a bird, like if I’m taking a week off to go hunting, as soon as I can acquire a bird, I want to acquire a bird. I’m going to open up the crop to see what it’s eating, cause then I know what I want to focus on,” he said. “Listen to what the birds are telling you, find out what they’re telling you. Their crops will tell you what they’re interested in and what they are eating.”

You don’t even necessarily need to know what the plant is when you’re looking at in their crop. You just need to be able to recognize it when you see it later.

“The key is looking at it, snap a picture of it if you want to. I’ll throw this stuff in my pocket sometimes and then when I’m walking along it’s like, ‘Oh look at that. There’s some more of that right there. That’s what they’re eating,’” said Otto.

Anderson says a lot of it comes down to instinct as you spend more time in the woods.

“It’s tempting when you first start [hunting] to look for clear cuts, but you’ll go into some. It takes some experience, I don’t know how to explain it really well, but some of them look great and you get in and you realize before you even walk very far it’s not going to be productive,” said Anderson.

Anderson went to school for forestry which gave him a lot of his base knowledge about the woods.

But he and other instructors say recognizing a good place to hunt comes with experience.

“The stuff about just looking at a spot feeling like it’s grousey or not that’s just all from experience. Starting out I never would have walked anything that looks like that, but then I’ve had dogs pull me into that stuff enough to I should probably give that a try,” said Anderson. “It takes miles. You’ve got to put miles on your boots to move birds.”

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