“Hunt ’em Where They Are”

by Charlie Worrath
Professional Guide

You probably have heard the old baseball adage “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Well, the best way to describe white-tailed deer hunting in the Sand Lake area is by saying, “Hunt ‘em where they are.” And where they are is the Sand Lake territory.

If you want numbers, they are here.  Due to mild winters, logging, and proper management the deer herd is at its highest levels. If you want trophies, many, many have come from here and the gene pool is like the “Energizer Bunny” it keeps on tickin’, producing “wall-hangers” year after year.  Look in the trophy books. You will find this area is ranked near the top for both Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young entries.

If you want variety, we definitely have that. Archery starts in the middle of September and runs until December 30.  Add to that a 16-day firearms season in November and then another 16-day muzzleloader season at the end of November and into December and you will see that we have something for every type of deer hunter. There are also a number of ways to license your hunt. For more information hit the MN DNR website, there is a ton of information available.If you want diversity, we have any type of terrain you like to hunt. You can perch in a portable on the wood-line next to a field or hunker on the edge of a cedar swamp and wait for “old mossy.”  Or if the wild woods are your pleasure there are thousands of acres of birch, aspen, oak, maple, and even the rich green conifers. Also keep in mind, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of public land just sitting there waiting to be hunted.

Whether it’s a nice buck sneaking through a kaleidoscope of October color or gliding softly through November snowflakes, the end result is always the same…heart-pounding action and dreams that became great memories.

And remember, when you stay at Lakewood Lodge, you have your very own deer shack. You can hunt or pre-hunt in September or October and chase some grouse as they rocket into the sifting reds and yellows and rich browns of fall’s falling leaves. And guess what? There is no maintenance or taxes or insurances, as you would have if you owned a deer shack.  All you have to do is enjoy the greatest show on earth…fall in northern Minnesota.

So, come on in to deer hunting paradise. Set up your very own deer shack. Maybe even catch a fall walleye or two or shoot a grouse for dinner. Just keep in mind that snap of a twig might just might turn into a white tine that might attached to the buck of a lifetime. And even if it isn’t, there is nothing finer that a venison steak sizzling over a bed of hot coals.

If you are worried about hunting new country…don’t…we are here to help you hunt. The one thing you won’t need any help in finding is the beauty of a northern Minnesota fall.  From September’s first hints of fall to October’s burst of color to the steel gray skies of November to December’s comforting white blanket, there is more artistry here than in all the museums in the world. All you have to do is see the northern lights to know what I am talking about.

Hunt the Sand Lake area and headquarter at Lakewood Lodge. If you do, you will definitely find out that this is where dreams become memories.

Hunting the Ruffed Grouse

by Jeff “Cubby” Skelly

Northern Minnesota is home to what I consider the king of upland birds, the Ruffed Grouse. Minnesota ranks among the top three states in total harvest- regularly alternating with Michigan and Wisconsin for the number one spot. I have been guiding grouse and Woodcock hunters every fall for the past twenty years and can remember many days afield where we have had 40 to 50 grouse flushes in a day! The king is here and Lakewood Lodge is located in the heart of it all. Given the edgy nature of the bird and the dense habitat they are typically found in, your senses have to be on full alert to have a chance at harvesting one of these explosive balls of feathers. Hunting Ruffed Grouse on a beautiful fall day is truly a memorable experience and in my opinion, there is nothing else like it! Northern Minnesota has thousands of forestry roads open to public hunting, giving the Grouse hunter ample room to pursue him.

Ruffed Grouse can be found in Oak, Maple and other woods, but in Minnesota they prefer aspen[also called popple]. The highest densities of birds will be found in areas that have been previously logged off or clear-cut. Young aspen, 10 to 15 years old, with silver dollar sized trunks are particularly important for protecting Ruffed Grouse from aviators such as Owls and Goshawks. Birds will hang out there spring, summer and fall eating succulent forbs and insects protected from raptors.

It has been said that Ruffed Grouse are a bird of the edge and I am here to tell you that it is absolutely true! When ever I am hunting Ruffed Grouse I try to steer my dogs along some kind of edge. Whether it is along a logging road, the edge of a swamp or where a 5 year old cut meets a more mature clear cut; this is where you will find your greatest numbers of birds.

Ruffed Grouse hunting can be an easy way to introduce young people to hunting and because Minnesota’s grouse population is rebounding from their ten year cycle, Ruffed Grouse numbers will again be at there peak for the next few years. Although there are many ways to pursue and hunt grouse, I prefer to hunt them behind a well trained pointing dog. My two English Setters love the sport of grouse hunting as much as I do and there is nothing better than to walk up on a dog with his eyes bulging out of his head telling me that the king is right here and get ready for the explosion of wings, for me there’s nothing like it. So when you are able to tear yourself away from the excellent accommodations and hospitality you will find at Lakewood Lodge you wont have to go far to find the king of upland birds, The Ruffed Grouse.

Duck Hunting in the Sand Lake Area

by Jason Boser

Itasca County’s Sand Lake is in the heart of great duck hunting country. In addition to Sand Lake, Rice Lake is to the north; to the west we have Squaw Lake and to the east we have Portage Lake and Bird’s Eye Lake. All are loaded with wild rice. In addition, to the south we have two duck factories: Bowstring Lake and the Bowstring River, with their incredible rice beds and underwater duck buffets of wild celery and fresh water shrimp.

From early season teal, wood ducks and mallards to the hardy late divers who ride the north wind with the snowflakes, this is the place ducks and duck hunters want to be.

Put all this together and the result is some mighty excellent duck hunting opportunities. The key, of course is the wild rice, which is the main food for ducks in this area.

When hunting ducks there are two important elements to remember: find where they rest and where they eat. If you set up there, they will come. The key to good duck hunting is finding the ducks and wild rice always seems to be part of the solution.

Once you have found the ducks, there are a couple different ways to hunt them. Going back to the first element, finding out where the ducks are resting, is a good place to start.

One method is simply a matter of driving around and finding where the ducks are during the day. This is what goose and duck guides do as their clients are hunting or after they are done. Be sure to bring a good set of binoculars, sometimes the ducks will be hard to spot.

When you do find a bunch of ducks (make sure they are not someone’s decoys), it is as simple as going out in the morning before sunrise and throwing out a dozen decoys.

The ducks in this situation are accustomed to being there because of food or shelter or both and they will come back as long as no one has disturbed them. Once disturbed, however, they probably won’t be back the next day. Then it’s time to scout again.

Keep in mind, as in baseball pitching, location is the key. If you are where they want to be, you usually do not need to call these ducks or even have a big spread of decoys. As I said, they will come back to where they have been hanging out.

Anther way we hunt is to get right in the rice. Find a clump of taller reeds and an opening in the rice. Again we don’t use a lot of decoys, maybe a dozen or so. Throw them out randomly in and on the edge of the opening so the passing ducks can see them.

We do try to call more in this situation. The reason for this is to get the ducks looking. Once they have looked, the next big challenge is concealment. You do not want the ducks to see you at all. If you have anything standing out the ducks will flare before you can get them in range. If they do flare consistently, reevaluate your situation. It might be something as simple as a shiny thermos.

When hunting the rice you will usually need a canoe. A trick we use to steady the canoe when we are in the rice or reeds is to bring a couple 8-10 ft poles. Stick them in the muck as far as you can and tie bungee straps around the poles. This steadies the canoe right up. There is nothing worse than a fall bath while duck hunting.

It doesn’t matter however you choose to hunt ducks. Like I said, the Sand Lake area in northwest Itasca County is great duck country and you definitely will have lots of opportunities there. From rice beds, rivers, beaver flowages, big lakes to little lakes, the Sand Lake area has it all.

Enjoy this fall’s duck hunting sunrises and sunsets. And, remember, if you can, take someone along who has never duck hunted, especially a child.  Ducks over decoys is a thrill everyone should experience.