|My old girl Chara|
The other dogs stayed back at the house, where they could recover from a long day afield. The last hour of the afternoon I had saved for just Chara, my old German wirehair in her thirteenth bird season. It was just going to be the two of us. We parked down near the metal gate where the road has the dog-leg in it. As I opened the truck door a grouse thundered away unseen, and I took that as a good omen.
Chara slipped her head into the belled collar as I offered it, and then I dug my gun out of the back. With her leading the way we walked down past the tilting gate.
Ahead of us the grassed in logging road sloped into an empty valley. The hills on the far side had been logged hard, and their tops appeared ragged, like a decrepit picket fence. The next paved road in that direction is over twenty miles away in the neighboring state. It’s big country, but we planned to hunt only the cream of it.
A few apple trees on the left bore an abundance of fruit, so we poked around, hoping to find a late day grouse, but found nothing. In her old age, Chara walked rather than ran, her nose sifting the air and sorting scents that I would never imagine. It was easy to keep up with her senior pace, a pleasant treat after three days of hunting behind big running youngsters.
The forest turned to poplar, maple, and birch, all the diameter of a grapefruit and as tall as a four story building. A few years earlier it was dynamite woodcock and grouse country, but those days were gone. Chara searched hard, but we found nothing.
Where an intersecting logging road cut us off, we crossed the grassy road into alders to start back up the hill. Beyond chin-high raspberries, Chara’s bell went silent.
|Chara pointing the woodcock.|
Carefully I waded through the thorns, and then ducked or stepped over alders until I found her statue-like and facing my direction. Approaching and wondering…. Where?
The woodcock leapt skyward, then spiraled behind a young fir. I swung and fired over the top of the tree as I expected the bird to appear, but evidently she was a local and knew her way out the backdoor.
We tried to find that woodcock again, but never did. After walking past a recently cut area, we strolled into a long abandoned field. Almost immediately Chara pointed toward a squat apple tree growing among low bush blueberries. As I approached a grouse rocketed out of the back, flying close to the ground and not offering a shot.
|Chara on point among wild apples.|
As if pulled by a string attached to her nose, Chara followed that grouse’s scent to where it disappeared into a thicket of alder and wild apples. While Chara worked her way through the tangle I followed on the outside, hoping to get a shot. But the bird bolted low across the field and then rose up into the tree line far beyond.
We continued to hunt up the hill, bouncing between apple trees, alder patches, and clusters of firs. Nearing the crest, Chara locked up rigid under a particularly large apple tree that grew against three or four old fir trees. Before I got there the partridge exploded out of the back and followed his cousin into the trees beyond the field.
By that time we were almost back to the truck and the sun had slipped behind the hill. That late day chill had settled in so it was time to call it a day. I said, “Chara, come, let’s go back to the truck.”
That’s when I realized that during the entire hunt I had never said a word to my favorite girl, only whistled softly through my teeth to turn her when needed. And I never had to walk faster than a leisurely pace.
It was the most civilized ruffed grouse hunt that I have ever had, and I didn’t even have to clean birds afterward.