Paying homage to the Minnesota sharp-tailed grouse
If you burn it, graze it, or hay it, they will come.
In my version of “Field of Dreams,” heaven isn’t located in an Iowa cornfield. Nope, heaven is just a few miles north and west of Hinckley. Off a dirt road with a few turns exists a tract of land surrounded by yellow wildlife management area signs with one big wood sign featuring the engraved names of the Minnesota Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever and a host of other partners. I’m referencing, of course, the 1,250-acre parcel known as Holy Cow Ranch that became public hunting land a few years back through the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund and a group of partners with a conservation vision.
On any given autumn day, a walk through the short grass with a savvy bird dog will produce the flush and chuckle of Minnesota’s fire bird. If you wander into the young aspens and alders bordering the prairie grasses, you’re liable to kick up a ruff or timberdoodle, too. When the stresses of the daily grind beat me down, it’s the place I retreat to inside my mind. That image so crisp – on one knee with a pair of German shorthairs nuzzled by my side, I drink in the crimson maples, yellow poplars, and golden grasses.
Consider for a moment, the words of author John Voelker:
“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
As I read Mr. Voelker’s famous text, I replace trout with grouse. As a member of the Minnesota Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society I’m confident you probably did the same. Sharptails and their environs are indeed worthy of poetry and passion.
My admiration for Minnesota’s sharp-tailed grouse is inextricably intertwined with my sense of place. I love sharptails for where they live and I love the northern rangelands of Minnesota because sharpies call them home. And as we all know far too well, these places are disappearing. It’s that link between a bird, the land, and ourselves that makes conservation our passion and our mission. Thank you for being a member of the Minnesota Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society.
Should I die tomorrow, there is an apple tree on the top of a hill north and west of Hinckley, Minn. That hill overlooks a small sharptail lek, a wetland, and a crimson ruffed grouse woods beyond. Heaven.
Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of “The Minnesota Sharptailer.”
Bob St.Pierre is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s vice president of marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre