Ontario Grouse Bonanza

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

November 2012

Mercy, can it really be this good? That was my exact thought while hunting Ruffed Grouse in Northwest Ontario the first week of October. The King of Game Birds, Bonasa Umbellus, is the most widely distributed native game bird in North America. Due to habitat loss, upland hunters have found numbers of this great bird diminishing over the last few decades. Many of us search for that hidden treasure of Ruffed Grouse numbers known only by our fathers and grandfathers. For the past several years, I’ve been one of those searchers.

Your author, wife (Susan) and shorthairs discovered the honey hole of modern Ruffed Grouse hunting at Border Country Outfitters in Emo, Ontario. Back in June, Steve Toriseva of Border Country Outfitters invited us to come hunt his property to film an episode of Bird Dogs Afield (author’s TV show). We’ve enjoyed Ruffed Grouse hunting in Ontario many times and always look forward to returning. Border Country Outfitters is in an area we’ve never visited and we were anxious to make the trip. Emo is just east of the Manitoba/Ontario border and only a couple of miles north of the Minnesota border.

Wife, dogs and I arrived at Border Country Outfitters on Sunday, September 30th. We were warmly greeted at the main lodge by Thelma, Steve’s mother-in-law. Shortly after arriving, Steve’s father-in-law, Cecil arrived followed shortly thereafter by Steve and his children. Steve’s in-laws and his brother-in-law, Roben, and wife Amanda, are all equal partners in the business.

Prior to our award winning dinner, Steve took us for a quick tour of a cover. One quickly recognizes the reason for high grouse numbers…habitat through land management. Border Country Outfitters managers their property for trophy deer hunting. They have miles and miles of maintained road wide paths running through both their own property and leased farm land…which equals thousands of acres. Most of those pathways have been planted with clover. If you know grouse, you know that clover is their ice-cream. During our short tour the first evening, we had numerous flushes off just one short path. I knew we were in for something good.

On Monday, October 1st, after a hearty breakfast, we arrived at our first cover at approximately 9:00 am. We hunted until about 10:30, took a break to water the dogs and then hunted from 11:00 am to noon. Due to it being a warm day, we then took a break until 5:00 pm and hunted until 7:00 pm. That’s a total of about four hours of actually hunting. We had 31 flushes during that four hour period. That’s a 7.75 per hour flush rate. Not too bad! Let’s take a look at the next day.

On Tuesday, Steve asked me how many flushes per day would be considered good. I told him we reached “good”, and beyond good, on Monday. I told Steve, however, that back in the 1950s and 1960s, I’ve read that a 50-flush day was considered good. Steve accepted that challenge and off we went with a four-wheeler. On Tuesday, we hunted a total of five and ½ hours. To save time, we moved from cover to cover with the four- wheeler which held Steve, wife, two dogs and me. We had 49 Ruffed Grouse flushes and six sharptail flushes. That’s a flush rate of exactly ten birds per hour. If you’re experiencing those bird numbers on a consistent basis, I would like to hear about it.

I mentioned that on Tuesday, we had six sharptail flushes. Our team has hunted sharptails in Montana and found them to be a very worthy upland game bird. They hold for the point and fly hard. Offering both ruffies and sharptails is a real bonus for Border Country Outfitters and their guests.

Speaking of bonuses, we were visiting Border Country Outfitters at the peak of their fall foliage. Walking through their covers was often like walking into a picture postcard.