Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Living at the Edge

     The forecast for today was unsettled weather; a major storm, hurricane Sandy, was coming ashore miles to our south. So we took off early with three dogs, trying to get some bird hunting in before the weather went to hell.
     We put all three dogs on the ground at once, thinking that maybe they wouldn’t get a chance to run later. The logging road that we walked hadn’t been used in a while and a gate blocked access.  On the right side mixed softwood and maple, about thirty years old, grew, while on the lower left side predominately softwood grew with mixed age hardwoods.
     Abruptly the woods on the right changed to mixed age hardwoods with scattered softwood trees. We pushed in and worked the dogs parallel with the road. Where the softwood grew thicker along the side of the road, we headed away and around through the woods, following the edge of the hardwoods.

     Chara, the older German wirehair pointer, pointed first, and it took a few minutes to locate her and the silenced bell. A grouse burst upward out of a fir tree, taking off only a couple of feet above Chara’s head.  I shot, but to no avail, only blowing a small fir tree in two about eight feet over the ground.
     Pushing through the spruce and farther up the slope, another grouse thundered out of the top of a tall leggy spruce. A moment later, a second one followed, but on my shot feathers flew and the bird dropped like a stone. The dogs found it and the younger wirehair, Colby, brought it to hand.
     Up the hill Chara’s bell again went silent. We hurried ahead, through soggy ground and blown down softwood trees, to find her, but as I approached a bird exploded upward and went between Don Pouliot and I. After it was safely behind us, I fired and missed, then Don shot, then I again, but the bird never slowed.
     That’s when I learned that Don shot at a second grouse and knocked it down…in all the commotion I never knew that a second bird had flown.
     With two birds in the bag and after only a short hunt, we were feeling pretty giddy. We hunted back toward the road and then followed the edge of the softwoods on the far side of a side road. Almost immediately Georgia’s bell fell silent and we started to search for her. Don found her first and walked in, flushing a grouse across the road that offered no shot. Georgia never moved, and as Don walked past a second grouse flew up into a tree, and then flew again to meet a load of number seven and a half shot from my gun.  
     Three birds in the bag on an early morning hunt is a great way to start the day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Great Grouse!

     The season started with a bang, lots of them. A good grouse population the year before combined with a mild dry spring created a year of abundant grouse. Yesterday, figuring conservatively, three of us hunting moved thirty-eight grouse during five hours of hunting. That easily is the best day of my life. Thirty bird days are almost unheard of.
     The day before we moved over twenty woodcock, so this may well be the season we talk about for the rest of our lives.
Colby with a grouse
     Last night, three tired hunters celebrated with over woodcock and grouse for dinner, while four tired dogs slept silently.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


     Yesterday pheasant season opened in our home state.  The local Fish and Game, oh, excuse me, now it’s the more politically correct Fish and Wildlife Department, released pheasants three days before. The birds are dumb and most poor fliers, but it’s an excuse to walk the woods with a gun and let the dogs have some fun.
     We hunted one of the prettiest places on the island, with old pastures breaking up the oak woods, and ancient stonewalls zigzagging across the fields. Every year the birds are released in almost exactly the same spot and seldom do they wander far in the few days before the season opens, so to make an event of the day I lead the dogs in a circuitous route to the release location.
     But early on, in the first field after the trail comes out of the trees, the older German wirehair, Chara, gets birdy. I coaxed the younger wire in the same direction, but she showed little interest. In the muted early morning light the somber fall colors appeared shades of rust.
     And then the dogs point! I wandered in and the pheasant took off like a helicopter, laboring for altitude. At the crack of the shot it fell and the dogs were on it. Colby, the younger dog, pranced to me with it in her mouth. Chara already searched for another.
     Colby bumped a second pheasant up on a knoll that flew quite well, soaring over a cluster of young trees and into a second field filled with knee-high sumac. Marking where it landed, we trekked over there but never found it.
     Timeworn cart paths, edged with lichen-covered stonewalls, took us past old stone foundations and through a short section of woods to second set of pastures. We hunted up the fields and then looped around another old tote road that crossed a tiny stream and to head back toward where we came.
     Both dogs got birdy next to a thicket of briars, but Chara abandoned the scent and went on. Colby didn't give up though, and cautiously poked into the briars. A few feet in she locked up like a statue. Peering into the tangle, I could see the pheasant hunkered down only a few feet beyond her nose.
     Now that presented a quandary. The wall of bull briars was higher than my head and almost impossible to see into, let alone walk into. I circled to the left, but things didn’t get better. Around to the right, things improved a might, so I pushed in. I had to give high marks to the McAllister waxed-cotton coat for protecting my upper body. Chara, by that time, circled back and snaked into the briars too, honoring Colby’s point only a foot or two behind her.
     Thorns clawed at my face, dislodged my glasses, and attacked my legs, and why I didn’t wear my brush pants I will never know. If I had tripped, I never would have hit the ground, the tangle would have held me aloft.
     When I looked again, the two dogs had relocated, and the pheasant sat only about eighteen inches from two sets of jaws, its eyes were wide open as I’m sure it knew it was in a pickle by then. At that point I knew the dogs would catch the bird if it tried to fly, because flight in the tangle would have been impossible.
     So I shouted, “Fetch”, which eliminated the middle man, meaning me with the gun. Chara  snapped up the bird and gave it a shake, then dropped it. Colby carried it back to me. I think Chara didn’t want to walk any further in those briars than she had too. She’s a smart girl.
     That gave us our two bird limit, so I untangled my body from the prickly vines and headed home. Later I would find that my legs looked like I’d lost a fight with a bobcat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Opening Grouse Camp

     The day is getting close. I’ve sharpened my bird knife so many times that I’m worrying about how much metal I’ve taken away. Last night I counted dog bells, put one on a new collar, and cleaned my gun again. The night before, I printed out the list of things to bring that lives inside my computer, checked it against the one that lives in my smart phone, and cleaned my gun. The day before that I worked the dogs out in the fields behind the house, downloaded another map into the GPS, and cleaned the gun. Pretty soon there won’t be any bluing left on those barrels.
     The dogs know what is coming. They don’t let me get far from their sight and right now two are sleeping under my desk. About every hour I check to see if something or other is on the list, so it won’t get forgotten. Most often it is there already, sometimes in two or more places. I resist the urge to start packing.
     I’ll leave early from work, a week from Friday, and get to Grouse Camp late, probably after ten, maybe closer to eleven. The heat will be on, thanks to a neighbor. In the dark I’ll haul everything in while the dogs dance about. They will know we are there for a while and what it’s all about, and I can just imagine their exuberance. Probably I’ll poor a scotch and talk to my girls (all my dogs are girls) after things are in, and hopefully unwind enough to sleep.
     Morning will come soon enough and the dogs won’t let me sleep late. While the coffee is on I’ll make the grocery list and then suck down the caffeine. Then it will be off to the grocery store to provision the place before the gang arrives. Maybe I’ll find time for a quick hunt above the house after the groceries are put away, or maybe not. It won’t matter; there will be plenty of time.
     And then the two friends will arrive, most likely around noontime, with a young Brittany spaniel in tow. Probably it will be lunch and then out into the woods. I already know where we’ll head, to an old favorite. We might hunt all four dogs, just to let them blow off steam, or maybe not if mine have hunted hard earlier. We’ll find some grouse and maybe a woodcock or two. If we’re lucky we’ll bring a few home with us.
     There’s a favorite alder patch nearby that will be a great place to take that young Brittany, and maybe we’ll make it later that day, or if not the next. There will be a few missed shots and, hopefully, a couple of birds in the bag. I can count on many laughs, lots of excitement, and very happy dogs.
     Grouse Camp will have started another year.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Pup Named Skeet

     Skeet, the five month old Brittany spaniel, was back late yesterday for his second visit. Of course his owner Tim was in tow. I planted a couple of pigeons in launchers in a neighboring big field and then we let Skeet go. He was off and hunting in a flash.
     It didn't take him long to find the first one, which he barreled right in on. We picked him and to place him back a few feet, then steadied him. On the bird’s release he took off like a bullet and we praised him as he dashed about the field, looking up and following the pigeon.
     After he settled down for a bit we led him toward the second pigeon and when he got a nose full of scent he pointed, then moved in a step and pointed again. We backed him up a bit and steadied him, then launched the bird. Skeet took off chasing the bird and wearing the biggest grin I've ever seen on a dog. Enthusiasm is building!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A New Pup

     A friend stopped by with his young Brittany pup yesterday. The dog is five months old and full of energy, as all pups should be. Skeet is the dog’s name. He comes when called, is well mannered, curious, and appears fearless, all the right makings for a great bird dog.
     We took the pup out to the fields behind the house and I planted a couple of pigeons in launchers, hiding them among the weeds.
     Skeet was having a ball, exploring everything and running about, clueless to the meaning of a bird dog’s life. Finally he found one of the launchers, and while I steadied the dog, my friend launched the bird. Now that really got the dog’s attention. He bounded about following the flying bird. I think I could hear him saying, “Wow that was neat, wow that was neat, wow that was neat.”
     When Skeet finally settled down we guided him over toward the second launcher. After he found it the dog’s owner steadied the dog while I launched the bird. Little Skeet dashed about the field again following the second bird. What fun!
     Skeet was off and about again, enthusiastically exploring as only a puppy can, when one of the pigeons flew back overhead. He spotted it and immediately took off chasing it again. There’s nothing wrong with that dog’s eyesight!
     Skeet is going to be a champ.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A New Season Starts

    It has been raining almost since we arrived here on Friday. On the way up we drove in rain most of the way and the rain caught up soon after our arrival. Since then it has rained almost constantly, a light soaking rain, sometimes more of a mist, but relentless. It is Monday as I write this, the first day of the bird season.
    After watching the rain for three hours, I started late, leaving the house about nine, driving to the dump first and then up a bumpy road into old farm country on a hill, to walk down the snowmobile trail that has been a favorite. At first I felt cold and wished I’d worn gloves and cursed the weather royally.
    Just beyond the dip in the tail, where the old mountain ash stands off to the left, Chara pointed into a softwood thicket on the right side, Colby honored like a champ. The trees were about the diameter of my wrist and barely far enough apart to pass between. I scurried up there just in time to see old Mister Grouse fleeing down the hill on foot. My attempt to head him off proved useless and the dogs never found the bird again.
    Further down the road the two dogs pointed a grouse on the left side of the road, again in a softwood thicket. At least that chunk of forest I could enter standing erect, and the bird did offer a glimpse of a shot, but my first barrel went over and my second one shattered the branches beneath where he had been. If another hunter had been in the tote road that bird might have been dead, for that was his chosen escape route.
    Down the road near the big field, where there are alders on the sides, the dogs became birdy.  Chara locked up on a point, but I couldn’t produce a bird. Finally I coaxed them on, only to have the bird flush behind me. I threw some lead after it, mostly to entertain the dogs.
    We hunted off toward a stand of limby spruce where I’d found birds in lousy weather before, but when we got there they had been cut and only an opening in the forest existed where it used to be a stand of fat field grown spruce. It must have been an annoying chore to limb those threes! The branches were so low to the ground a man would have had to do some limbing just to get near the trunk to cut them down.
    I led the dogs to the northeast corner of the field to hunt an area that had been a favorite, but the last time I’d hunted it I thought it was going past its prime. Loggers had been in there within the past year and punched some holes in the forest, which is the best thing for the grouse and I was glad to see it. We found two in there, one of which my girls pointed, but the bird flushed through a thicket that offered no shot. About then I was sweating profusely and wishing I’d worn less clothes, and, in spite of the rain, I had my shirt unbuttoned to my navel.
    We hunted back down the slope into a softwood cutting. It looked like great grouse cover there and almost immediately Chara went into overdrive tracing scent. The area had been cut long enough ago that the young trees are tight together in clusters about ten feet tall, with maple and birch poking up in between. I would push through one softwood thicket as Chara went under another and around and around we went, until finally she stopped on  point. It took more than a minute to find her and then I had to plan an approach. I circled the fir thicket she hid in, but nothing came out. I waded in and a woodcock went straight up through the branches and out of sight. Stuck inside that tight cluster of trees there was never any point in even trying to mount the gun.
    By that time we were running late, why I ever promised to be back for lunch I do not know, so I herded the dogs back to the trail. Just beyond that dip again, Chara got birdy as all hell on the right hand side, but off to the left I heard a partridge take off for the a different zip code. Apparently the bird was taking no chances.
    We were three minutes late getting back for lunch.