Sunday, December 14, 2014

December Frosting

Colby, wondering why I can't keep up.
The six inches of snow began to look more like eight. It hadn’t slowed the dogs, but with every step down the abandoned logging road I reminded myself how much more work it would be on the way back up. The forest looked like a fairy land, with snow stuck to the trees and still coming down. A half mile down the hill lay the covert that always has birds.
Where the thick softwoods opened up, near a trickle of a stream, a grouse exploded off to the left, unseen. Juno’s bell rang nearby, and obviously the young shorthair had bumped the bird. Yet the thunder of wings was still music to this hunter’s ears. Colby hunted doggedly off to the right.
A frosted alder swamp.
The first weekend in December can bring anything to the north woods, from bare ground to abundant snow. I had driven north under the premise of checking on the contractor doing work at Camp Grouse, but of course brought a shotgun and my girls.
Where the road dipped into a hollow and crossed a stream the dogs’ bells jingled off of either side. I stopped to listen. My two girls couldn’t have been happier, dashing back to check on me and then diving off into the woods again, and neither could I.
A short way further on a grouse exploded from a thicket only ten feet away, leaving but a glimpse.
Snow silenced bell.
The snow continued to fall, drowning most sounds and muffling the dog’s bells. Down the road a piece, Colby stopped beneath a fir tree and looked up. Approaching, a grouse sailed away down a steep slope into the safety of a dense softwood swamp.
Where the road met an alder thicket the dogs both got birdy, but none were found. Colby kept glancing up into the fir trees, but the pup still hadn’t figured out that grouse sometimes sit among the branches.
Red twig dogwood among the alders.
In the alder patch a moose had been feeding on red twig dogwood and, looking at the tracks in the snow, it had been there only minutes before our arrival. The creature’s scent must have lingered, because both dogs looked about apprehensively.
By then my legs felt like lead and the falling snow had turned to sleet. The dogs hadn’t slowed, but the deep snow had to have been work for them too. We turned around and started back.
It is nice to know those birds will be there in the spring to breed.

Colby hunting the edges.


With tired legs, almost out of the woods.


Tired girls in front of the heater, back at Camp Grouse


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pandemonium

Our pup Juno.
     It was going to be the last hunt of our two week trip and, with four pairs of pleading eyes, none of the girls could be left in the truck. Bell collars were slipped over four necks and down the hill we started.
     Anyone who claims to be able to keep track of four dogs in the northern ruffed grouse country is delusional. Sometimes one would be in sight, sometimes two, maybe once in a while three, but seldom four. The last time I’d heard bells ringing like that it was the dancing Hare Krishna people in Harvard Square.
     The young shorthair, Juno, bumped a woodcock.
     Georgia, the older shorthair pointed another woodcock, but then busted it as her younger half-sister came charging up.
     The two wirehairs worked closer to the edge of the logging road, looking very businesslike.
     Juno crossed into alders on the road’s far side. A startled grouse rocketed back across the logging road.
Colby on point
     Through fence post sized poplars we worked. Down near the bottom, where an edge created by a snowmobile trail cut off our course, the younger wirehair, Colby, locked up on point. Soon Chara, my time tested wire hunting her fourteenth season, joined her, backing from fifteen feet away.
     That woodcock ended up in the bag.
     A second grouse zipped across the road.
Georgia on a woodcock
The turmoil continued, bells ringing everywhere, but it was a dry stretch with no birds. Following a grassy logging road down a slope, I spotted three people coming our direction.
     In ten years of hunting the north woods, I have never bumped into anyone actually out hunting in the woods. Never ever.
     One of the three was tightly holding the collar of his German shorthair pointer, obviously wondering “What the hell is all that racket?”
     Feeling a bit of a fool, I called the dogs in. I mean, who the heck hunts ruffed grouse with four bird dogs at once? We sounded like a bunch of dancing gypsies.
    Then I recognized the man holding the shorthair’s collar. He said, “Jerry, you need to get a sled for all these dogs.”
     It was Tom, a great guy and a guide from Tall Timber Lodge. He introduced the two sports with him and we chatted for a while. The dogs all got to know each other. I still felt a bit silly for the commotion we’d been making out there in that grouse covert. After several minutes, I wished them well and we went on our way.
     Through some great cover we found nothing, but then my girls all came barreling out to the logging road to race ahead of me, except Chara, whose racing days now happen in slow motion now. About fifteen feet in front of me, she slowed, turned her head to the left, and locked up like a statue. The other three dogs had flown right by that spot. It was a variation of the tortoise and hare story.
Chara, pointing a woodcock.
     Entering the weeds, a woodcock popped up and disappeared immediately into a cluster of softwoods. My shot was in vain.
     We continued on, which brought on more of the same…clanging bells, fleeing birds, and dashing dogs, with an occasional point, which once or twice contained multiple dogs frozen simultaneously. Several times I just stopped to laugh. It was a hunt that will be remembered for a long time.
     Pandemonium can be fun.