Saturday, January 19, 2019

Blowdowns


    The number of ruffed grouse was way up this past fall and the bird hunting the best in years. What’s different?
     There are many reasons, probably much of it had to do with a warm dry spring. The young broods prospered.  Many of the grouse found this past fall were in clusters, with sometimes a half dozen or more bursting into the air one right after the other. Talk about an adrenaline rush.
Colby pointing a bird.
     One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned, which has to have made a difference, is the number of blowdowns. A year ago this past October a storm passed through our area and knocked down thousands of trees scattered all over the countryside. Some broke off, but more where uprooted. Fir trees made up the majority of them and there is no better cover for a grouse than a dead fir tree lying on its side.
     So many times this past fall our dogs pointed grouse hiding in the shelter of a blown down fir tree. On one of the last hunts of the season a friend’s setter locked up on a horizontal fir and as the owner approached a bird flushed out the back. Almost immediately another shot right back at him and over his head.
     The grouse might not have been always been under the trees, but they were often nearby. One day, hunting up high next to a clear cut, a fat old fir tree that had blown down caught my eye. On the way over to investigate it, my youngest wirehair locked up on point in waist-high weeds. Three grouse exploded into the wide open space with two zipping right past my head and offering no shot.
     
Colby bringing it home.
When a dog points a bird hidden under a large blowdown you can almost guarantee it will flush out the backside and offer no shot. There is an old saying that a lone hunter will find more birds, but two hunters will kill more than twice as many birds. Send your buddy around the far side.
     Did the abundance of knocked down fir trees make a difference in the number of birds this past fall? I think so.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Mid-December


     A warmish weekend and settling snow tempt us into the woods. A snowmobile packed trail makes it possible. Off the trail the snow is up to the dogs’ shoulders. Determined, they struggle, but then lose their resolve.
Snowmobiles packed a trail.
    The trail dips into a hollow filled with catkin loaded alders. A stream meanders, leaving patches of bare ground at the turns. Thick spruces and fir trees shoulder the alders, with a few wild apple trees crowded in. Everything about the place looks like grouse country. The dogs taste the air and test the snow. It’s tough going.
     Does grouse scent waft in the air? Are the birds in the trees and watching us? Probably. The dogs venture into the woods and then return to the packed trail.
Catkins
     Up the road further, where it divides hardwoods on the low side to the right and mixed growth to the left, a grouse rockets across to safety in a thicket of young softwood trees. The dogs and I fight our way up to the tangle of fir trees. Colby, the older dog with arthritis issues, stops in chest deep snow and waits. I hesitate a step or two beyond, then the thunder of wings.
     Maggie, our youngster, flies through the snow into the firs. Her tail is a blur as she sorts out the scents and hunts hard. The snow is not so deep under the thick boughs and she is a joy to see.
     Eventually she comes back to me, admitting the bird has gone. We turn back toward the truck.
     Back in the hollow, Maggie plows through the snow beneath the alders. Grouse tracks meander and droppings color the snow. A squirrel has shucked a mountain of spruce cone scales. Deer tracks snake through the woods. No grouse are on the ground.
     The snow has tired us all. It is time to head home.