October arrived dripping wet, with lush foliage still clinging to the trees, the fall colors not quite to peak, and a forecast of more of the same weather. Out of sense of duty more than desire, I grabbed by gun and, accompanied by the two eager German wirehairs, headed out into the woods to climb the hill above our north-country home.
The ground climbs steeply there, lung busting steep, up a slippery old skid trail clogged with weeds. I pushed through soaked raspberry vines and waist-high grass, my feet almost making waves among the puddles where the ground was near level. By the time we reach the old logging road that is cut into the hill, my heart was pounding. The dogs hunted with passion all the way up and seemed oblivious to the topography as well as the weather. Why can’t I be like them?
I always find it amazing how quickly Mother Nature reclaims the land in northern New England. More trees had fallen into that old tote road and foliage crowded in along the sides. If I were suddenly dropped there I might not even recognize the spot, even though I’ve been there dozens of times before. Moose had trampled a path in the past, but they seemed absent this year.
Chara, the older dog, hunted off to the right on the uphill side of the road. Colby, the two-year-old pup, is off to the left beneath tall spruce and fir on a shoulder of the rise. My mind started wandering, wondering just how far past its prime grouse-producing years the woods had become.
Snapping back to the moment I realized Colby was on point about fifty feet ahead of me. It wasn’t the rock solid point we all want to see, but she was definitely pointing, yet looking a little unsure of herself. In clothes heavy with water, I hurried into the spruce and fir thicket, my eyes searching the ground ahead of her.
About forty feet ahead of Colby a grouse head comes up from behind a log; the bird was at the edge of a precipice, where the earth falls abruptly away over a ledge. As I stepped past Colby the bird jumped off the edge like an Army Ranger stepping out of the back of a transport plane. The bird may have been gone, but the memory is with me forever.
Continuing to follow that old road upward we found a few more birds, all of which flushed wild, except one that Chara did manage to point high up on the hill. At an old logging yard, which looked like a marshy lake that day, we turned around and hunted homeward, only finding one grouse that flushed fifty yards ahead of us.
I never brought my gun to my shoulder that entire hunt, with thick soaking leaves cloaking everything, the puddles covering the ground between patches of slippery mud, and the rain seeming relentless. Yet I had a ball.