Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Back of the Mountain

Big country.
It is way back in the woods, almost twenty miles from the nearest pavement. About twelve miles in, all of it on logging roads, a gate blocks a side road. That gate has been left open on occasion and if you pass through it the road starts to climb.
Every serious grouse hunter is always looking for new cover, and most of us are looking for that out of the way spot that others might have overlooked. Arial images of that country showed a winding gravel road that climbed up over the shoulder of the mountain, then dropped down into a tight little valley to cross a stream, and then abruptly climbed back up another ridge. Up on the high ground, cuttings abut softwood stands, making for decent looking grouse cover, at least in the pictures shot from space. Only boots on the ground could confirm it.
My first attempt to drive in there stopped after crossing a height of land and then dropping down into the little valley, which is almost a gulley really. The wood bridge over the stream didn’t look too rugged, and, far in the woods alone, I chickened out.
Prospecting for grouse.
This past fall I drove in there with a friend. That rickety bridge had been replaced, so we traveled on. The road climbed up out of the valley, eventually leveling out next to a softwood edged cutting. Alders lined the road’s edges and young poplars sprouted everywhere. Enough grass grew in the road gravel to let us know that very few people traveled there. We found a place to pull off, let out the dogs, and dug out our guns.
The day was bitterly cold, but we found a few grouse. The shooting was tough, as it often is in cuttings. It looked like excellent woodcock country, but we found none. I’d bet a week’s wages that they nest in there though. When the sun poked out between the clouds and the gusts of wind dropped in a lull, the day actually felt nice, but most of the time I wished for one more layer of clothing.
After chasing a couple of grouse in circles and my friend killing one, we drove up the road further, crossed over another ridge, and then dropped down into another valley that seemed to stretch out forever. The road eventually deteriorated into two slippery clay-filled ruts that followed a stream on our left. When the road became just awful, we turned around. 

Don with a grouse.
About halfway back up the backside of that mountain we stopped at a four way intersection to eat lunch. A logging road to the north more or less followed a contour line along the edge of a cutting, so after eating we hunted it.
Saplings the size of my wrist filled the cutting above the road, but most were no taller than I. Moose had browsed the area heavily, stunting the young trees and holding back the regeneration. It was pretty country though, with a series of ridges to east that ran off into the neighboring state. We found no grouse, even though the hillside held promise. The rocky rough ground and left-behind slash made for touch walking, for both us and the dogs. Rugged men must have logged that country.
Exploring new country.
Back at the truck we swapped the two older wirehairs for the younger shorthair, Georgia. The road to the south passed through mature hardwoods with a stream grumbling in a valley to the left. Around a bend an old cutting held young maple, poplar, and softwoods. We hunted up through the cutting, moving one bird. Dropping back down and intersecting the road again, Georgia went on point. The grouse leapt off a precipitous drop-off, much like a paratrooper leaves an airplane, and disappeared down toward softwoods surrounding a stream below. My buddy’s pellets shredded the bark on a half dozen saplings, but not a feather drifted in the air. Georgia went down the nearly vertical embankment, like only an athletic dog can, to search the ravine but found nothing
We hunted more of that cutting and moved one more bird. It is good looking
country and I bet it seldom visited. It’s worth another look someday when that gate is open again. If it’s open at the end of the next summer, it will be a great place to train our pup on woodcock.
Now I have this phobia about getting stuck back in the woods somewhere. In my younger days, when I worked logging, three foresters parked their truck in the woods about thirty-five miles from the pavement, did their day’s work, and then came back to a truck that would not start because the headlights had been left on. I often think of that out in the middle of nowhere.

My truck started fine and our trip out of that wild piece of country was uneventful, which is just the way I like it.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Even Grouseless Days….

    The drive in is about nine miles over a small mountain and, after crossing a timber bridge, it is then either left further into the wilderness, or to the right and another nine or ten miles back out to a different paved road.  We went left.
About another six miles up the road I parked in the same spot as a month and a half earlier.  The woods looked more open, with the weeds squashed down by snow that had come and gone.  With the stark naked trees not holding a leaf, the mountains across the valley looked much closer.
    Alders, half again a man’s height, covered an old logging yard there.  Behind them the land climbed gradually with lofty hardwoods and dark old spruce trees.  Across the road young fir trees huddled together like cliques in a school  yard, each separated by open expanses of bent or flattened weeds and grass.  Scattered maples and poplar sprouts remained upright, obviously unfazed by the earlier snow.
    Chara, my German wirehair pointer, pranced a few steps from the truck and locked up on point, her nose aimed directly into the alders.  Hurrying shells into my gun, a partridge burst upward and disappeared into the boughs of spruce trees.
    We hunted behind the alders, more or less parallel with the road, and then crossed to the lower side, drifting between the clusters of fir trees.  About the sixth clump Chara’s hind end went into over-drive and then she froze, pointing into a tangle of green needles and gray trunks.   In the dark shadows a boulder poked out of the earth, nothing more. Walking around the left side of the trees, the partridge thundered out of the right, a sound unseen.
    The scenario was played out again, and then again.  Two hunters might have shot some birds.
    Chara slowed and then pointed into a cluster of limby firs. Bright green moss muffled my footsteps.  A partridge that looked the size of a turkey launched under my nose.  Reflexes brought the gun to the shoulder and a finger slapped the trigger, just as the bird ducked around a yellow birch trunk. I’m sure the tree survived. 
I swear Chara struggled to contain a laugh.
    A bird flushed wild from a thicket of raspberries, and another was pointed on the way back to the truck, but both escaped unscathed.
Unloading the gun and putting it into the truck, I congratulated myself on the valiant conservation effort and the breeding stock that I had left behind.  Chara looked quite proud of herself, as she should with about a half dozen successful points. 
    Another spot further up the road deserved the same treatment.  There, the thick new growth of a fifteen year old clearcut covered the hillside.  Chara plunged in and I followed as best I could along wet and lumpy skid trails.  We didn’t find any birds and, if we had, shooting would have been impossible in that thicket.  Eventually our course brought us back out to the logging road about a half mile from the truck. 
    We dropped to the lower side and worked back between the road and a roaring mountain stream.  Nearing the truck Chara’s hind end went into overdrive and, with her nose scouring the ground, she obviously followed a traveling grouse.  The trail went through thick grass, under clusters of young fir, beneath a blown down dead fir tree, directly over the top of an automobile-sized boulder, across a log, back into a cluster of waist-high fir trees, and then into raspberries that contained claws like a bobcat. Chara looked determined and her optimism flared.
    About fifty feet ahead of us, at the edge of the logging road, old Mr. Partridge decided he had enough of those two cahoots following him and took off over the road, to never be seen.
   It was a fitting time to end another memory filled day.