There's something about Michigan's Upper Peninsula--the "UP," as it's known--and ruffed grouse. Poplars, pines, meadows and brooks--it's the very essence of traditional upland gunning and for hunting what many consider the king of upland game birds. Inject the accessibility offered by the 1.5 million acres of the Ottawa National Forest and the UP quickly becomes a partridge hunter's paradise.
If you're antisocial, then the UP is your place. If you're antisocial and a devotee of the ruffed grouse, you might want to pack up and head toward Lake Superior. Human populations throughout much of the UP are slight, an absence even more pronounced within the national forest proper. Grouse populations, however, as indicated by Michigan Department of Natural Resources' field surveys conducted last September, were reported as "up or slightly up" by more than half of the individual data-gatherers. No people and lots of ruffs--and let's not forget those million acres--make for fantastic opportunities found in few places throughout the increasingly populated U.S.
"Grouse populations are on an upswing right now, and we're looking for an increase this year," said Rob Aho, a 31-year veteran of and wildlife habitat biologist with the Michigan DNR stationed in Baraga. "It probably won't peak until 2009 or 2010, and then it will start to slide slightly. However, it's definitely been worthwhile to hunt grouse here the past couple years."
Public access to prime grouse territory comes via several routes in the western UP. According to Aho, bird hunters can walk established hunter trails. These are cooperative efforts between state and federal agencies, as well as conservation organizations such as the Ruffed Grouse Society (ruffedgrousesociety.org), whereby trails are seeded and maintained--often with ruffs specifically in mind.
The Ottawa NF, said Aho, provides maps of regenerating aspen stands--excellent jumping-off points for the grouse. "With these maps," said Aho, "you're on your own. You don't have signs pointing you to these stands, though; you have to study and look for them."
Then there is the Commercial Forest Reserve (CFR) Program by which private lands are opened to the public through agreements between the landowners and the Michigan DNR.
"This is a wonderful program," said Aho. "It provides literally hundreds of thousands of acres of public hunting and fishing opportunities."
- The biggest chunk of aspen on the Ottawa NR lies in Ontonagon County a bit north and west of Bruce Crossing. Roughly eight miles north of Bruce Crossing and to the west on Forest Road (FR) 730 at FR 733, there's an expansive area of forest that's been managed for aspen of all age classes and grouse.
- To the southwest of Bass Lake via Forest Road 210 lies a complete section (640 acres) enrolled in the Commercial Forest Reserve program. Two major creeks (Titmouse and Cherry) make for the lush setting that ruffs love.
- The extreme northwestern corner of Baraga County above the tiny 'burg of Pelkie is likewise enrolled in the CFR Program. Campers can overnight at Baraga State Park to the east or Twin Lakes State Park.
- Michigan DNR, Western UP District: (906) 228-656; www.michigan.gov/dnr