The Upland Almanac: “An Autumn Migration – from South to North”

On paper, the proposition sounds simple: Offer lodge-based hunting packages structured similarly to those in the Southeast U.S. for quail. Actually, that is the only simple part of the deal. Everything else raises the ante to produce a jackpot of an experience that seems to be unique for upland hunters looking for an adventure.

“We offer a celebration of the pursuit of the king of game birds to everyone from novice to experienced wing shooter. And we do it in an upscale lodge at a refined, northern grouse camp, with fabulous gourmet meals,” says Tracey Lieske of Wild Wing Lodge North (WWLN) located in the far western region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

He calls it, “Hunting for the king of game birds while being treated like a king or queen,” the game bird “king” being the ruffed grouse. The flights of migrating woodcock also coincide with the season at WWLN, which lasts only the month of October.

That’s not to say that the grouse and woodcock seasons only last during October in Michigan, but rather that this is the only time Lieske has available to offer the packages, for he needs to be back for the quail season starting in November. Back at WWL – Wild Wing Lodge.

While well-known for the bobwhite quail hunting it offers in in Sturgis, Kentucky, WWL – and Lieske – decided to expand the reach of their southern hospitality north to Watersmeet, Michigan. This new venture served as a type of homecoming for Lieske, a Michigan native. He says that historically many commercial grouse camps have offered either tent, RV or cabin accommodations that, while rustic in makeup, have lacked the refinement that hunters have grown accustomed to at quail lodges and plantations. This all changed when WWL opened the doors to its northern retreat in the fall of 2015.
And let’s not mislead ourselves. The accommodations, cuisine and care that WWLN extends its guests are second to none in quality; so, too, the hunt. With the hunt, though, just don’t interpret top-notch to mean cushy. To begin with, the locale is one of the most out-of-the-way areas in Michigan, nearly as far west as St. Louis, Missouri.

From Detroit, it’s a quicker and shorter drive to Washington, D.C., than it is to Watersmeet. Michigan residents living in the southwest part of the state will find online mapping services suggest they reach Watersmeet via Illinois and Wisconsin rather than drive to the tip of the Lower Peninsula, crossing the Straits of Mackinac on the “Big Mac” bridge and traversing the U.P. on U.S. 2. Cellular phone service is spotty at best. Same thing with Wi-Fi, although at the lodge itself Lieske hopes to make improvements for the 2016 edition of his camp. The lodge sits on Clearwater Lake, part of the famed Cisco Chain of Lakes and a couple of miles from the chain that comprises Michigan’s Sylvania Wilderness. To indicate the overriding mindset of the local population: The sports teams at Watersmeet High School are called the Nimrods after the biblical character called, “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” According to Lieske, Michigan has the greatest amount of public land of any state east of the Mississippi, and the hunting at WWLN takes place in the Ottawa National Forest or at the GEMS (Grouse Enhancement Management Sites) run by the state. In other words, there are no manicured hunting fields as one would expect at a quail hunting lodge in the South. Also, because the hunts take place on public land, sometimes someone else gets there first, and changes have to be made on the fly. That sometimes entails drives upwards of an hour to get to other hunting spots. Then there is the snag caused by the U.P. itself. With the lodes of iron sprinkled generously about the peninsula, sometimes compasses won’t deliver accurate readings. All the more important to have a GPS with a fresh battery or a human guide with a sound working knowledge of the local landscape. Also note that wolves can become a problem for hunters. For a look at what you might encounter, check out the mounted specimens at the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center at the junction of U.S.2/U.S. 45 in Watersmeet.

To all of that, add the challenge of grouse hunting itself. Read the entire article by Jacob Wede here.