The shotgunning gods must have been looking down on opening day of the bird season Wednesday as I actually knocked down a partridge. There are usually few birds for the table early in the season because of woods thick with fully leafed out trees, but I was lucky enough to run into a young ruffed grouse. It was easy to determine it was a young-of-the-year bird as soon as it flushed, seeing that instead of rocketing in a zig-zag pattern through thick cover it cruised out over the old logging road and small clearing in front of me.
A quick snap of the 16-gauge pump and the first bird of the year was in the bag, all before 9:30 a.m. opening day. It was a good thing, too, seeing I didn't get another shot at a bird the rest of the day.
That first bird of the year is similar to creeling the first brook trout of the season - now it's time to relax and enjoy the hunt. And is there ever a lot of hunting ahead of us, and not just for partridge, either.
Opening day of the small game season Wednesday included bagging the ruffed grouse shown next to an Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight 16-gauge pump shotgun, which was used to knock down the bird. (Journal photo by Dave Schneider)
The small game season kicks off 6 months of hunting for a variety of game. There was actually a special 10-day early goose season that started Sept. 1, but most hunters look at the start of the small game season as the launch to hunting each year.
Besides ruffed grouse, Wednesday marked the start of hunting for cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares and fox and black squirrels with a small game license.
Grouse season runs through Nov. 14 and then Dec. 1 through Jan. 1. Rabbits, snowshoes and squirrels can be hunted through March 31. The bag limit for all these species is five a day, although the rabbit and hare limit is a combined total of five.
Most cottontail hunting is done downstate while "rabbit" hunting in the U.P. basically means going for snowshoes, or varying hares as they are called because they change colors from brown to white in winter. This color change makes for interesting hunting if snow doesn't fall until well into winter, which occurred a few years ago and made it rather easy to spot the white targets against a brown background.
Woodcock, another exciting game bird, become legal targets Sept. 25. The season runs through Nov. 8 with a three-bird per day limit. Woodcock is a migratory bird that small game hunters can hunt without buying state and federal waterfowl stamps, although a free Harvest Information Program endorsement is required.
Upland bird hunters this year have another challenging bird to once again pursue in the far eastern Upper Peninsula. This bird is the sharp-tailed grouse, which has experienced enough of a population rise to sustain a limited hunting season. The season runs from Oct. 10 through 31 and there is a two-bird per day, six-bird per season bag limit. Hunters should check the 2010 small game hunting digest to see the exact hunting boundaries.
For hunters who favor waterfowl hunting, the regular goose season opened Thursday and runs through Sept. 30, then the duck season gets under way Oct. 2 and runs through Nov. 30. There are a variety of rules governing goose and duck bag limits, so hunters better know the rules and what they are shooting at when they head for their favorite waterfowl spots.
As you can see, hunters in the U.P. have the opportunity to hit the woods everyday and bring home a variety of wild table fare from now until the end of March, and we haven't even touched on deer or bear hunting.
Bear hunting, which is regulated under a permit application process, has been open for nearly a week and the first round of general deer hunting starts Oct. 1 with archery hunters taking to the woods.
These don't include special youth and disabled hunters hunts, either, which kickoff this weekend with the Youth Waterfowl Weekend.
Of course the real challenge for many of us is finding enough time to get out and pursue the type of hunting we enjoy
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.