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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

That one good Michigan hunting story

That one good Michigan hunting story

By Ryan Soulard, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A bird dog leaps from the poplar trees on the pursuit of grouse and American woodcock.

It’s hard for me to pick just one story to write about that centers on hunting in Michigan, because there have been so many outstanding experiences to choose from.

I know I can speak for a lot of Michiganders when I say we are lucky to live in this state, and to have a plethora of natural resources available to us, essentially at our fingertips.

When it comes to hunting, the Michigan opportunities available to experience and write about are endless: first hunts with a friend, watching your children harvest their first animal, discovering new and exciting places, maybe spending that last deer camp with a loved one who has since passed on, or maybe just a quiet note of self-thought and reflection.

Whatever it may be, we are lucky to have approximately 4.6 million acres of state land at our disposal, ready and waiting for us to discover our next adventure afield.

I couldn’t choose just one hunting story to write about, so here’s two.

A timberdoodle tale

It was late in October 2014, when I set out on my annual hunt with good friend Dave Wildrom of Grand Haven. I met Dave a few years prior via a local waterfowl organization where we both volunteered.

I was fortunate enough to get an invite from Dave on one of his coveted American woodcock hunts, after he discovered that I had never been out upland hunting for the magnificent “timberdoodle” (woodcock).

That fall we were running very short on time to get out hunting together, with the season closing within a week or so, the weather turning very cold and woodcock migrating south by the minute.

Dave had been out a few times on his normal southern Michigan hunts and they just weren’t producing, so he declared that we would be heading “up north.”

Anyone from lower Michigan knows that could mean as short as a 30-minute drive north of wherever you live. I have come to realize now, after hearing the term thrown around since I was a little kid, that really “up north” could mean anywhere you travel in our great state to unwind, recreate, reset your gears and become one with the outdoors for a few days.

Each new day offers another opportunity to explore the beauty of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Soulard)

In our case, we left on a very cold, rainy, and windy morning and embarked about two hours northward for some “new to me” lands. It was Dave, me, and Holly, the drahthaar. If there was a Navy Seal version of a bird dog, Holly would be the equivalent—determined, sharp and full of energy.

Dave is built for the upland woods—slender, long-legged, fast, darting in and out of alders, willows and “popples” (poplars), chasing Holly as she is in hot pursuit of grouse and woodcock.

Me, I am more like an old bear, either having to plow through those narrow saplings or lumber over the logs and hoping my feet don’t get too tied up in the shin-tangle as I am dragging my tired feet along keeping up with those two.

It is a rare occasion when I am not extremely excited to be outdoors.

However, on this day, as the raindrops got larger, the temperature got closer to freezing and the wind picked up, I was already daydreaming of how that old recliner back home was going to feel and what we were going to have for lunch.

As we pulled into the parking spot, Dave was mentioning to me that this was one of his favorite spots to trap beavers, and that he was excited to show me the flooded timber, knowing our mutual affection for duck hunting.

We crept up to the top of a very tall hill to peer over the edge, at what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful flooding areas my eyes have ever seen.

There was only one problem.

No ducks.

I thought to myself, “Great, it’s even too wet of a day for the ducks to be out here!”

Hunter Dave Wildrom of Grand Haven and his dog Holly after a successful hunt for American woodcock.

About that time, the wind picked up and the rain followed suit, and we sought shelter in the car. As we sat there, I was picking Dave’s brain about everything outdoor-related I could think of.

I asked Dave how he sets his traps, where he found diving ducks to hunt over the years, how he learned to carve decoys and what got him into upland hunting. I was learning all this great stuff from someone much wiser and more experienced in the outdoors than myself, soaking up every ounce of it.

You can’t buy this kind of knowledge or read it in a book, you must seek it out from those who have trounced through those woods before you and see it through their eyes.

Time flew by and before we knew it, the rain had subsided, and it was time to upland hunt. Dave, Holly and I headed off into the dense stand of popple, hoping all the bird scent hadn’t washed away.

For those who haven’t upland game bird hunted, often people will use a beeper collar to locate their dog and know when it’s on point. Slow, spaced-out beeps indicate the dog is moving; faster paced beats indicate that the dog has stopped long enough to most likely indicate a point.

Holly had shot through the woods like she was riding a rocket and Dave and I were in chase. We weren’t there very long when we could hear the rapid-paced beep.

Dave yelled, “Get on up there Ryan, she is on point!”

I hurried along at my pace with Dave on my heels, bobbing and weaving, heartbeat racing, not knowing if it was a grouse or woodcock, and trying to keep my composure for hopefully what was going to be a shot opportunity.

I finally caught up to the dog and saw her on a beautiful point. I was so fixated on the dog and looking ahead of her, that I didn’t see what she was pointing at, but I sure was about to.

The realization soon came over Dave and me.We yelled at the top of our lungs in unison, “BEAR!”

Holly was on a rock-solid point on a bear that was lying on a hillside. She was about 5 yards from the bear, and 30 yards from Dave and me.

The mighty old bruin stood up. The bear was so close, Dave and I both commented on the old cuts and scars it had on its face and muzzle, indicating old fights with other bears.

The bear soon sauntered off, taking its time, and Dave called Holly off. We both looked at each other in astonishment at what we just witnessed. Our best guess was that the bear was lying down, starting to hibernate and we interrupted its nap.

We worked our way out of that area and back to the vehicle, figuring it was probably best that we cede that knoll to the bear and find somewhere else to go.

Come back next week to read the second hunting story!

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Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union


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