Sunday, November 23, 2014


Our pup Juno.
     It was going to be the last hunt of our two week trip and, with four pairs of pleading eyes, none of the girls could be left in the truck. Bell collars were slipped over four necks and down the hill we started.
     Anyone who claims to be able to keep track of four dogs in the northern ruffed grouse country is delusional. Sometimes one would be in sight, sometimes two, maybe once in a while three, but seldom four. The last time I’d heard bells ringing like that it was the dancing Hare Krishna people in Harvard Square.
     The young shorthair, Juno, bumped a woodcock.
     Georgia, the older shorthair pointed another woodcock, but then busted it as her younger half-sister came charging up.
     The two wirehairs worked closer to the edge of the logging road, looking very businesslike.
     Juno crossed into alders on the road’s far side. A startled grouse rocketed back across the logging road.
Colby on point
     Through fence post sized poplars we worked. Down near the bottom, where an edge created by a snowmobile trail cut off our course, the younger wirehair, Colby, locked up on point. Soon Chara, my time tested wire hunting her fourteenth season, joined her, backing from fifteen feet away.
     That woodcock ended up in the bag.
     A second grouse zipped across the road.
Georgia on a woodcock
The turmoil continued, bells ringing everywhere, but it was a dry stretch with no birds. Following a grassy logging road down a slope, I spotted three people coming our direction.
     In ten years of hunting the north woods, I have never bumped into anyone actually out hunting in the woods. Never ever.
     One of the three was tightly holding the collar of his German shorthair pointer, obviously wondering “What the hell is all that racket?”
     Feeling a bit of a fool, I called the dogs in. I mean, who the heck hunts ruffed grouse with four bird dogs at once? We sounded like a bunch of dancing gypsies.
    Then I recognized the man holding the shorthair’s collar. He said, “Jerry, you need to get a sled for all these dogs.”
     It was Tom, a great guy and a guide from Tall Timber Lodge. He introduced the two sports with him and we chatted for a while. The dogs all got to know each other. I still felt a bit silly for the commotion we’d been making out there in that grouse covert. After several minutes, I wished them well and we went on our way.
     Through some great cover we found nothing, but then my girls all came barreling out to the logging road to race ahead of me, except Chara, whose racing days now happen in slow motion now. About fifteen feet in front of me, she slowed, turned her head to the left, and locked up like a statue. The other three dogs had flown right by that spot. It was a variation of the tortoise and hare story.
Chara, pointing a woodcock.
     Entering the weeds, a woodcock popped up and disappeared immediately into a cluster of softwoods. My shot was in vain.
     We continued on, which brought on more of the same…clanging bells, fleeing birds, and dashing dogs, with an occasional point, which once or twice contained multiple dogs frozen simultaneously. Several times I just stopped to laugh. It was a hunt that will be remembered for a long time.
     Pandemonium can be fun.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Remembering October, 2014

     Every bird season is good, just some are better than others. This past October was no different.
     Grouse numbers were down, way down, to the lowest flush/hour rate since I’ve been keeping records. Woodcock numbers were up some, but averaged together the total was still well below the norm.
     Probably many of the year’s young died from pneumonia, caused by the previous cold wet May. The hens, determined to perpetuate the species, nested a second time. Many of the grouse that we shot were very small, obviously not full grown.
     Good friends who’ve been regulars came up from the Vineyard, while some others who’ve been regulars couldn’t make it and were missed. Peter Corbin, the sporting artist (, made a return trip and brought Jim Kline for two days of gunning. The best hour of those two days was the last, where the dogs did some excellent work and we moved seven grouse.
Georgia, pointing a woodcock
     Georgia, our borrowed sweetheart shorthair, had another spectacular season. She was the first to point and pointed as many grouse as any of the other dogs. For a dog that lives among non-hunters and comes up to hunt with us each fall, she’s a rock star with impeccable manners. It’s all in her breeding, because nobody has ever done any real bird work with her.
     Colby, the youngest of our wirehairs, was as reliable as ever, hunting diligently within a comfortable range. Her canine cruciate ligament problems of the past are a distant memory.
     Chara, my older wirehair, hunted an hour or so most days, and even took a day or two off, it being her fourteenth season. She solidly pointed three grouse, and I took some great pictures of her, but never managed to kill a grouse over her. I lost count of how many woodcock she pointed.
Chara, hard on a grouse
     Our youngster, Juno, pointed grouse several times. How long she would be steady was always an iffy thing, but she did great for only a little over a year old. For reasons that I’ll probably never understand, she seemed to point grouse more readily than woodcock, and I would have expected the opposite. She bumped dozens of woodcock.
     The first day all four dogs were put out at once to burn off steam, after the long five hour drive north. Clanging bells and dashing dogs created pandemonium, and it was impossible to keep track of everyone. Then Georgia went missing, but the new e-collar with the pager function found her. She was only fifty feet away, on the far side of a spruce, solidly pointing a grouse.
Peter Corbin 
     And the last morning, when most of the day would be spent closing up Camp Grouse, to be followed the next day by a day-long drive home, all four of the dogs were put down on the ground again. Of course the girls had a ball. We found thirteen woodcock, and managed to point over half of them, sometimes with multiple dogs pointing one bird. Chara made one spectacular point, right beside the logging road, after all the other dogs had raced by. Mayhem reigned though and only one woodcock came home in the bag.
     Every year there’s some bad weather during our two week trip, usually a couple of days of rain, and most years there’s enough snow to turn the ground white at some point, but it never stays. This year we only saw a few flakes, but almost every day either rain or mist soaked everything, and the cloud cover never wanted to go away. Only on the last day did blue sky poke through the clouds.
     Yet there were friends, dogs, birds in the bag, loads of laughs, and dozens of memories, with new country explored and fresh stories to tell. What more could one want? It was a very good year.

Adam Moran, making our lunches.

Barrel bands on a long-gone farmer's rock pile.

Juno bringing me a woodcock.
Juno, soaking up the sun.

Georgia and Juno, next to the heater.
Colby, nailing a woodcock
Heading toward next year....