Early Birds

Park Falls

Start the fall with one of these classic early-season upland hunts.

Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock
**A town of barely 3,OOO people, Park Falls claims a big distinction: It bills itself as the Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World. They're not just talking the talk, either; hunters walk the walk across 1.2 million acres of prime grouse real estate, all of it open to the public. Even last year, as Wisconsin's grouse cycle hit bottom, guide Terry Ides recorded an average of 26.3 flushes a day in coverts within a 40-mile radius of Park Falls. A bad year in Price County is better than a good year almost anywhere else.

The Place Although the 800,000-acre Chequamegon National Forest comprises the bulk of open land around Park Falls, locals in the know deem the best hunting to be found on the area's 90,000 acres of county land, or on the 135,000 acres of nearby state forest. While logging on national forests has become a highly volatile, politicized off-and-on-again practice, Wisconsin's county and state forest managers have a free hand to create small, wildlife-friendly regenerative clear-cuts, much to the benefit of grouse and woodcock populations. In addition to public lands, hunters can also try the Plum Creek Paper Co.'s 150,000 acres of actively logged woods.

The Hunt When the season opens on September 13, visitors will find leaves on the trees and grouse bunched in early-season flocks. Early October is the prime time to visit, as visibility improves and grouse disperse into their fall range. Grouse and woodcock inhabit young forest. Although their preferred habitats differ, they overlap in much of the area. "I have a rule of thumb," says Ides. "If I can put my hands around a tree and the fingers touch, it's woodcock cover. If they don't touch, it's grouse cover. Even 25-year-old stands of aspen and alder are okay, so long as they've got good growths of thorn apple or chokecherries around them for the grouse to eat."

Come ready to walk. Ides' clients regularly tramp 10 to 12 miles a day. Fortunately, the ground is flat and has few briers to slow you down. On the other hand, it all looks alike. It's easy to get turned around if you're not paying attention. "You can't just mark your truck on your GPS and find your way back. This is swamp country, and you can't always walk out in a straight line," says Ides. He suggests that first-timers stick to the edges of logging roads and clear-cuts, where they'll find more birds anyway.

Bring plenty of ammunition. Last year Ides' hunters averaged 1.3 birds with a typical expenditure of 44 shells in the thick cover. Run into woodcock and you can pop even more caps. On a good day, you may find 20 or 30 timberdoodles in a morning's hunt.

Although Park Falls actively promotes its hunting, Ides says there's so much open land available that he and his guides rarely encounter other hunters in the field.

Resources Ides Guides, 715-762-3315. Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, 715-762-2703; www.parkfalls.com. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 608-266-2621; www.dnr.state.wi.us.