Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grouse Camp

The title grouse camp evokes certain images…old shotguns leaned against a wall, wet and worn boots lined up inside a door, orange hats hung from deer antlers on the wall, pickup trucks parked outside, and, most importantly, bird dogs curled up in contented slumber.
The camp might be anyplace in grouse country, but preferably where trout can be found in a nearby stream come spring.  That would mean woodcock could be handy too.  A remote or rustic location may be preferred, like someplace that a hunter could walk right out the door with a shotgun across his arm and an excited dog bounding ahead, but in truth, most of us drive between cover, so a grouse camp could be even in a rural town in northern Maine or upstate New York.

Inside, magazines like Field and Stream, or Gray’s Journal would litter the coffee and end tables.  A deer head or large brook trout might hang on the wall, but definitely the fanned tail of a ruffed grouse is mounted on a wall plaque somewhere.  Canvas jackets and wool shirts could be draped over the backs of chairs, and possibly LaCrosse boots are upside down over a boot-dryer.  On the bookshelves worn copies of New England Grouse Shooting, Drummer in the Woods, Big Woods, and other classics wait for rainy days.  A stray feather or two drifts around the floor.
Hopefully a fireplace or cast-iron stove heats the room.  A fair pile of wood should be stacked in a corner or outside the back door; it is very reassuring.  The senior dog will be curled up on a braided rug just beyond the hearth, its white muzzle twitching as it dreams about birds pointed long ago.
The only ‘must-have’ for the kitchen, beside a coffee pot, is a cast iron frying pan, preferably more than one, but a large one will do by itself.  The sweetest morning aroma is that of bacon frying, the sizzling the only alarm clock needed.  Mix in the smell of strong coffee and it’s heavenly. 
Bacon can bring out the cholesterol-be-damned attitude in almost anyone, so hearty breakfasts of pancakes and eggs are always served in grouse camps.  The birds aren’t out and about early, they are way too civilized for that, so the first meal of the day needn’t be a hurried affair.  Partridge are hunted by your feet, so the hunters need their coffee and fuel. 
Late in the day, when the shadows are long and aching legs have carried the weary hunters back inside, tired hands will prepare a simple dinner while stories are told of birds pointed and shots missed.  An open bottle of single malt scotch or fine bourbon sits on the kitchen counter, next to heavy tumblers so weary hunters can pour what they need.  Gun cleaning tools accumulate on the table, along with maps, broken dog biscuits, and stray shotgun shells
When the meal is done, heavy-eyed hunters will doze in their chairs and all will soon slip off to bed. 

The dogs never move, not until morning.

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