Monday, December 24, 2012

The Country Road

     You know those places, spots that are so familiar that you hardly notice them. I had driven by that logging road a hundred times.  It goes down to somebody’s camp, maybe a mile or so down, and then dead ends against a stand of softwoods. Somewhere beyond, in the thick dark stuff, a good sized trout stream tumbles to the north. The country is pretty wild there and you’re about ten miles from the nearest asphalt.
     In a Google Earth image I had noticed that a large clearcut bordered the uphill side of the road and that softwoods remained throughout it in scattered clusters. The place had all the makings for good grouse country and easy walking to boot, if I stayed along the road. I’d been looking for some easy terrain to hunt for when a few of my older friends visited.
     So I drove down to that road to investigate, and before I’d driven a hundred yards a grouse jumped off an old bulldozed-up hump and flew across the road into the clearcut on the high side. In the first flat spot that looked hard and dry, I pulled the truck over and parked.
     All three dogs had seen the bird, so it was pointless to suggest one or two stay behind. Besides, I love the pandemonium of hunting over multiple dogs. So I let them all out and then gathered my gun and gear while the dogs searched the road’s edges with their tails all a blur.
     Less than a hundred yards from the truck, the young German shorthair, Georgia, bumped two birds that had been sitting on a mound next to the low side. They sailed down through tall hardwoods with the pup in hot pursuit, disappearing toward a distant softwood edge. We could hunt that line on the way back later and maybe find them. I waited for the young dog to return.
     Further down the road, Chara, the older German wirehair, started to get very birdy up on the banking of the road’s high side. Colby, the three-year-old wirehair disappeared up into the woods behind her. A mixture of hardwoods with young softwoods created great cover for birds, but if any flew in there just seeing them would be almost impossible.
I pushed in, trying to follow Chara who had her nose to the ground, obviously tracking foot scent. She looked convinced that the bird had walked ahead of us along the banking as we came down the road. Shooting at anything looked to be tough though.
Chara pointed, relocated, pointed again, then trotted ahead into a dense stand of wrist-sized fir trees. I detoured around. Her bell fell silent, so I hurried. Colby’s bell rang further ahead. George still worked the low side of the road.
With a whir the bird came back at me.
Reflexes caused me to duck as it passed low overhead and I shot as it went away, missing as it ducked to the right to sail out over the road and vanish on the low side.
Back out on the road, where a man could walk in a proper fashion without ducking or stepping over or around something with every third step, we continued on. Both of the wirehairs were tightly wound by then and hunted hard.
Chara pointed from the road and Colby honored about thirty feet further away. Georgia stopped behind Colby. Boy do I love that. The three of them indicated that the bird hid somewhere among little firs on the high side of the road. Before I even stepped off the road the bird flushed out of sight. Georgia took off after it as if she’d been shot in the backside with a missile.
     I continued on down the road.
     Nobody was at the camp, but we made a wide detour around it and into the cutting behind it. Someone had tagged a path with ribbons, probably a deer hunter marking the way to a stand. Following a softwood edge, we circled uphill and around, heading back into the direction we had come. Twice grouse flushed wild ahead of the dogs, both times out of sight, but the thunder of their wings let us know they were there.
     The sound of birds really put Georgia into overdrive and she rocketed through the woods, way too excited and almost in a frenzy. I knew the chances of her stopping to point were small, but you have to give credit for enthusiasm. On a year when the grouse numbers were low it might have been extremely annoying, but with the abundant birds of the past fall I knew we would find more. Patiently, I let her blow off steam, hoping that she learned something with every bird she bumped.
     In a stand of softwoods the size of fence posts Georgia rocketed through and bumped three or more grouse, while the wirehairs methodically searched the cutting beyond.
Colby pointed a grouse and I hurried ahead, but it flushed wild before I could get close enough for a shot. Ignoring Georgia, I hunted behind the wirehairs, finding one more bird.
By the time we reached the logging road again, my legs were protesting and all three dogs looked tired. Well, maybe not the young rocket-dog Georgia, who still wanted to hunt. The exact number of birds moved in that cutting remains something of a blur, but I was smiling.

     Down through the hardwoods on the low side of the road the softwood edge beckoned, but my legs said no, so we trekked back up to my truck, calling it a day. We would definitely be back though.

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