The gang had left and I was out prospecting for grouse. Every year I do a lot of that, usually after my friends have left. There is no use dragging them all around the wilds to places that may or may not hold birds. Sometimes the going gets mighty rough. Grouse cover goes from prime to thin-pickens in about ten years, so it always pays to be on the lookout for new country.
I had spotted this cleat cut on Google Earth and it was back up in a section of country that’s been full of grouse the last few years. The cut covered probably two hundred acres, but hid behind a stand of softwood trees so it wasn’t readably visible from the logging road. The location is back in about fourteen miles from the nearest asphalt in some mighty rugged terrain.
A skid trail turned snowmobile road led the dogs and I up into the cutting. It seemed to run on forever up the slope, finally stopping up high at mature hardwoods. The view back across the valley was worth the trek.
The cutting probably was two years old with relatively easy walking. When the loggers cut it, they took away all of the tree tops, leaving the ground fairly clean. Wet spots were covered with grass and moose tracks. Sprouts shot up from the stumps, but most weren’t shoulder height. Wild raspberries were everywhere.
We hunted along the top of the cutting and then down the west side. It didn’t look too encouraging, with no softwoods to offer shelter for the birds, but ahead and about halfway down the slope I could see softwood trees left behind by the logging operation.
As we approached them I noticed a small knoll covered with softwoods. I love knolls, because grouse love knolls. What better place to sit and collect morning sunshine and survey the surroundings. No matter which way danger approached, the grouse had a downhill escape route that leaves them out of sight on the far side of the mound.
About then I wished my friends hadn’t all left for those flat lands to the south. Approaching the hump the dogs got birdy and their bells were ringing, and then I could hear the birds accelerating off the far side. There were at least four. If only someone could have been standing on the far side, it would have been like one of those European driven hunts.
On the other side of the little hill the cutting opened up, with scattered softwood clumps left behind by the loggers. Stopping for a moment, I tried to guess where I would go if I were a grouse, and picked an open alley that led downhill into a softwood swamp.
Going into the spruce and fir thicket, Chara, my oldest German wirehair, locked up on point, almost completely hidden by bushy little fir trees not quite waist high. A bird busted out wild and I shot, missing, and as I opened the gun to reload, a second bird followed the first.
I encouraged the dogs on and Colby, my youngest wirehair, pointed one sitting up in a leaning yellow birch about twelve feet off the ground. It flew as I approached and I missed again. Those birds coming out of trees are always devilishly hard to hit.
The woods got thicker, with blown down fir trees and clusters of young ones. The going got real tough. All three dogs were birdy, dashing about, pushing under the stuff I was climbing over, each trying to be the first to find the birds.
I couldn’t locate Georgia, the young German shorthair, but then spotted her frozen about eight feet in front of Colby, who was honoring. Both of them were almost buried in the green fir boughs. Before I could get within twenty yards of the dogs the grouse rumbled upward and a reflex made me fire. It was a prayer shot, but then I thought a bird’s wing fluttered, possibly the dead bird caught up in a fir branch. Then a dog’s tail wagged and I guessed that was what I’d seen.
And then Colby came pushing through the brush with the bird in her mouth. What a great sight.
We hunted down the hill, moving three more grouse, but killing none. Coming out of the swamp into the more open clearcut, Chara pointed and a woodcock flew up, twisting among the branches of two fir trees, and quickly escaped.
We’ll go back there again next year, me and my friends. I wish all my prospecting trips turned out that successful.