DNR's top dog goes for grouse

GRAND RAPIDS -- The grouse flushed with a whirr and curled through a stand of head-high Norway pines. Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr touched off one barrel of his 20-gauge Franchi.

Group hunting
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr (left), Deputy DNR Commissioner Dave Schad and DNR grouse research biologist Mike Larson walk a trail in the Golden Anniversary State Forest south of Grand Rapids. Landwehr's yellow Lab, Winnie, hunts ahead of them. (Sam Cook /

GRAND RAPIDS -- The grouse flushed with a whirr and curled through a stand of head-high Norway pines. Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr touched off one barrel of his 20-gauge Franchi.

"Did you get him?" one of his colleagues asked.

The scent of gunpowder drifted through the damp October air.

"No," Landwehr replied sheepishly.

But Winnie, Landwehr's yellow Lab, and Sammy, a wire-haired pointing Griffon owned by Craig Perreault of Grand Rapids, begged to differ. They were snuffling furiously in the grass beneath the pines. Sammy scooped up the gray-phase bird and returned it promptly to Perreault.


"I did get it," Landwehr said as Sammy trotted past him.

Landwehr and several colleagues in DNR wildlife and forestry had driven north to Grand Rapids on Wednesday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the 100th anniversary of the Minnesota Division of Forestry. After a morning gathering at the Forest History Center, Landwehr and several of his staff from St. Paul and Grand Rapids were afield to see if all the forestry practices they had touted on this occasion would lead to some grouse flushes.

They were hunting a well-managed piece of state and Itasca County land called the Golden Anniversary State Forest, a popular hunting area south of Grand Rapids.

Yes, it was a bit ironic that this first bird, seen along a logging road in a wide clearing with the fledgling Norway pines, was not in the young aspen forest where grouse are supposed to live. But Landwehr was happy to take it.

His assistant commissioner, Dave Schad, thought it was too easy.

"A commissioner bird," Schad teased later, as if it had been planted there for easy pickings.

A little farther down the trail, when Ed Boggess, director of the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division, saw Perreault checking his dog's location on a hand-held GPS tracking system, Boggess offered up a question.

"You don't have GPSes on the grouse themselves, do you?" Boggess quipped.


"That's where we fall short," Perreault replied.

Going separate ways

So the six hunters split into two groups to walk trails and work through young aspen for three hours in the hilly state forest. Light rain fell off and on. Landwehr and Schad accompanied Mike Larson, the DNR grouse research biologist based in Grand Rapids. Boggess, along with DNR forestry chief Dave Epperly and DNR wildlife section director Dennis Simon, went the other way with Perrault and Ted Dick, the DNR's grouse coordinator based in Grand Rapids.

Know this about Landwehr. He's a hunter. He and Schad and Larson plowed through the young growth, snapping branches, hurdling deadfalls, pawing away the occasional wet balsam bough. Winnie, Landwehr's 4-year-old Lab, is obviously well-trained. She hunted close and responded to Landwehr's soft whistles and calls.

Landwehr, in contrast to his predecessors in the DNR's top spot, is known for getting out to DNR offices in the field regularly. He will often stop in at an area fisheries or wildlife or forestry office just to say hello and visit with his frontline troops. Field staffers say they appreciate those contacts with their boss.

"It's clear to everyone how much different he is from previous commissioners," Larson said. "Accessibility is part of it, and the idea that communication is valued -- in both directions."

Landwehr will come up for an official visit, then linger to talk.

"He came up to the region and hung around afterward," Larson said. "I felt very comfortable introducing myself and talking. He's good for morale."


That's exactly the demeanor Landwehr exhibited in the woods. He's congenial. Down to Earth. Genuine. There is no pretense in the man. He's funny, firing off witty and often self-deprecating quips. And he can take his share of the chiding with a grin.

He learned, early in the hunt, that Perreault's dog was a wire-haired pointing Griffon.

"That's an invasive species," the commissioner joked.

Wary birds

Our group must have flushed a half-dozen grouse, but even in the leafless popples, several got out too far away to see. Larson and Landwehr and Schad had a couple of shots that netted no birds.

Late in the day, we caught up with the other crew. Unlike us, their hunting pants were dry. They looked fresh and clean. They had never left the trails and had had lots of shooting.

Perreault gave the accounting on Boggess, Simon and Epperly's shooting: "All three guys shot one bird in the air," he said. "Sammy pointed all three. She must have had a dozen points."

At least that many grouse had flushed, he said.


"What happened when we heard that flurry of three shots?" someone in our group asked.

"Nothing good," Perreault said, drawing a hearty laugh from his hunters.

Our crew split off again, and when we had the choice to follow a trail or push another good-looking stand of aspen, the hunters deferred to Landwehr.

"Push it," he said.

The hunt had proven what the day's earlier gathering had emphasized, namely that if you manage timber resources wisely, it's good for grouse and deer and other wild things.

We made the walk out on a wide trail. A steady rain fell. The hunters walked three abreast, chatting easily, their double-barrels broken open. Ahead of them, Winnie larked along, stopping long enough to drink from a puddle dappled with maple leaves.

What To Read Next
Get Local