Every year I do it, make the big circle from our grouse house, traveling back through time and country into memories. The trip is always made alone with just the dogs to accompany me, often the day after hunting buddies have left for the year. It somehow seems right then.
About an hour south is the alder patch by the river. It used to be behind an old dump, but the dump has long since been capped, and where there used to be a field to cross it is now a stand of softwood trees so thick that to walk under it is like stepping into night.
There may not be any woodcock out on that peninsula in the river, and if there are it’s usually only one or two, but the majestic silver maples still stand with limbs joyously reaching up to the heavens. Longer ago than seems possible, my first bird dog hunted there and I can still see him beneath those trees, poking through ferns and under the alders. His first water retrieve came from that river. We made quite a team.
Not twenty minutes away by truck, I’ll walk in an old tote road to a three acre field with a small weathered camp in it. Almost four decades ago, when I worked as a logger in that country, I met a spry wisp of a woman who lived in that camp without electricity for four months of every year. At seventy-three years of age, she seemed to be in perpetual motion and went hiking in the White Mountains two or three times a week. Her daughter and son-in-law now use the place, but are always gone by the time bird season comes around.
I have their permission to hunt the old apple trees in the pasture. Except for that field, much of that country has changed since I first hunted it, both by loggers and a major ice storm, but usually we’ll find grouse or maybe even a woodcock if the weather is warm.
From there we’ll drive up along the river, which is the route I used to commute to the logging camp, and that brings in another set of memories. If the weather is nice I’ll probably eat my lunch somewhere along the way, letting the dogs sleep under the truck or swim. Another twenty or so minutes north we’ll park beside what used to be the biggest alder patch I’d even seen. Poplars are poking above the alders now, and someday the alders will give way to the taller trees.
There are always woodcock there, both resident and transient, until the snow drives them south. On a bad day we’ll find six, on a good day many times that. Around the edges will be grouse, sometimes one or two, sometimes a half dozen. We can hunt an hour or an afternoon there.
On the way home I’ll stop at the local sporting goods store, not because I need anything, but because I like poking around among guns, fly rods, wool clothing, and a cliental that I can relate to.
Back at our camp, I’ll clean the birds, then the gun, feed my girls, and then pour a little golden liquid into a tumbler. With my boots off and feet up, I’ll re-live the day, as I will again the next year.