Monday, August 29, 2011

Shangri La

It was three seasons ago, before our pup Colby joined our clan, that we discovered Shangri La.  The first part of the day Don Pouliot and I hunted woodcock cover that we’d been poking through together for over thirty-five years, and it was full of memories and one woodcock.  Then we hunted a spot just down the river and found loads of flight birds.  It seemed every few steps Chara pointed another woodcock, but I was on a royal missing streak.  The way things were going, it didn’t look like I’d ever reach my limit, which meant I could hunt forever and I tried to tell myself that was a good thing.  By the time we left there we already had a full day’s fun and a couple of woodcock.
Don suggested trying to find a place he’d hunted before, deep in the national forest.  The drive there wasn’t long and we tucked the truck into the parking place that he remembered.  The hike in was down an old skid road that skirted the edge of a cutting and a ledge, and then went through some very rugged country along more mature timber to our east.  I remember thinking it looked like an easy place to get turned around in, and I was glad to have Don as company.  He’s easily the best woodsman I know.
Where the land flattened out we turned to the right and toward the river.  The trees weren’t large, maybe as big around as my thigh, mostly hardwoods with small scattered stands of fir and spruce.  In places the ground was wet and we had to make detours, but the going was more or less flat. 
Chara started to find woodcock in clusters, sometimes walking only a few steps between points.  Often she would point and then, on the flush and shot, another would take off or sometimes even two.  I had never seen so many woodcock.
My missing streak continued, but when Chara pointed a partridge next to a small clearing, I killed it easily.  Well, at least Don saw the bird fall. The way my luck had been going, I felt I had missed, but Chara found the bird belly-up in the leaves.
We hunted along the river, loosing count of birds pointed and shots fired.  Unlikely as it seemed, we met other hunters working up the river towards us, so we altered our course away from the water and inland.  Later that day, while driving out of the forest, we spotted their parked car and could tell that they had waded the river downstream to hunt back up toward us.
My shooting problem was firing too fast while the birds were still way too close.  I knew that and I tried to slow things down…focus on the bird, take a deep breath, and then raise the gun to shoot.  Nothing seemed to work.  I finally shot a woodcock, but hit the bird when it was so near that the shot charge carried away the bird’s head.
We worked back around toward the cutting and into a stand of softwoods, where a pair of partridge flushed almost under my feet and behind an old fallen tree trunk.  They roared off low over the ground and with a lucky crossing shot to my right I added another to my game bag.
When we found the old logging road we traipsed uphill and back to my truck.  My legs were beyond weary and actually hurt, but day had certainly been worth it.  Chara pointed more birds in the previous couple of hours than she did sometimes in a whole week.  I will never forget it. 
That day we had worked our way far enough from our camp that the drive back would take almost an hour, and on the way I mentioned that we needed to stop to pick up a few things at the grocery store.  Don asked if we were going to shop at the big store on the right side of the highway, or the smaller store on the left.  I remember telling him that I didn’t think my legs could do the bigger store.

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