Monday, December 7, 2015

Something to Think About….

I’ve been down that sad road with blown CCLs in my spayed German Wirehair. Dogs play a big part in the life of bird hunters and become part of our families. It is time to reconsider neutering, even though some of the veterinarians are dragging their feet….


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rain

    Little is good about hunting grouse in the driving rain. Even dressed in the best foul weather gear, the thick cover, which grouse love, gets heavy with water to make walking difficult. Soon, struggling hunters soak through from perspiration, no matter what the maker of the rain gear promises. And it is possible to sweat profusely while your hands freeze, if the temperature is close to freezing.
    Seeking shelter, the grouse sit tight among the boughs of softwood trees. The rain flushes away scent, making the dog’s work nearly impossible. In the country we hunt, the puddles form quickly making the ground a soft sponge. Grouse hiding in the branches of spruce and fir trees are mighty hard to find.

   The best thing about hunting grouse in the rain is a bowl of chowder or chili at the diner down the road. Or maybe it’s the dram of amber liquid back in the camp at the end of the day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Secret Place

In the shadows of the softwoods a small stream twists though the valley. On the east side of the narrow basin a four year old clearcut promises young buds, plenty of cover, and abundant seeds and fruit for grouse and song birds.  To the west a slightly older cutting provides shelter for nesting birds, with a forest so dense that marauding goshawks would have a difficult time weaving through the pole-sized young stems.
The song of the water is constant.
During a hot day, in a bird season a few years ago, that little ravine provided an abundance of partridge. The weather had been unusually warm for days and elsewhere the grouse hid in places the dogs could not find. Blown down firs and spruce slowed the hunt and clothes heavy with perspiration stuck to the skin to make walking a chore. The oldest German wirehair shared that special spot that day. Thundering wings wiped away the heat, lightened the sticky clothes, and provided a path through the fallen crisscrossed logs.
That cold tumbling brook is narrow enough to leap across in several places, yet deep enough to hide colorful brook trout that live amongst the shadows of spruce and fir roots. During hot summer weather the shade provides relief and the water cools the air. Tiny trout flies worked through the watery shadows can catch tiny wild brookies, but the canyons and caverns between the roots will break off the fine leaders required to fool them.
It’s a hidden place, visited by few. Sometimes, on a hot day summer day, I’ll let the dogs splash about to their heart’s content in the shadows of those softwoods. And if it is hot enough, one larger pool, with a bottom of fine gravel, is inviting enough to tempt me too.
But it’s October and it has been warm, so it’s time to visit that secret place again where the grouse like to stay cool.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Old Girl

Chara sleeps at my feet, the old dog’s body twitching in a dream. The Lord knows she has plenty to dream. Her life has been a full one.
We learned to hunt grouse together, each of us in our own way. I supplied quail and pigeons and made certain to spend plenty of time in the field, but it was hours in the grouse woods that made her a great grouse dog. There is no way I could have taught her to track and point, then relocate as the grouse tried to sneak off.
She learned where the birds were, then searched the cover they preferred and the places they hid. Weather never fazed her, except when it turned hot, but I never liked hot weather either. Often I’d call it quits on a cold rainy day long before she wanted to go home.
Those snotty setter snobs might cringe watching the way Chara followed foot scent, but I learned a long time ago to be patient. Just as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to always get their man, she always found her bird. Bumped birds were rare because somehow she sensed the bird’s temperament and skittish birds she would sometimes point from sixty or even a hundred feet away.
A friend and I were following Chara through some softwoods in a valley that shall remain anonymous. Climbing up on an almost shoulder-high boulder, she pointed upward. The conversation went something like, “Do you suppose there is a bird up there?” with both my friend and I craning our necks to see up into the limbs of a fir tree. We kicked the tree’s trunk, yelled and hollered, and sure enough a grouse flew away, unscathed of course. Chara went right back to hunting with a very smug look on her face.
Chara learned to love duck hunting.
She’s retrieved geese and more than a few ducks. Her love of water seems unfazed by temperature. Often she’s broken ice to lay in the water for no reason other than to get wet. Hunting the alder bottoms for grouse and woodcock during duck season I often loaded with steel shot, knowing Chara would readily retrieve any ducks I lucked into.
Her first real duck hunting excursion confused her. Why were we sitting and waiting with those carved wooden ducks out on the water? She fidgeted and fused, not at all happy. Shortly after first light a pair of mallards flew in like rockets and one fell to the gun. I looked down to say “Fetch”, but my girl was already in the water to retrieve that dead duck. After that one retrieve she sat still as a statue and waited patiently, her eyes ever searching the morning sky.
Dapper at five months.
My mind’s eye can still see her as a puppy pointing what turned out to be a pair of quail in a wildlife management area. It was her first hunt and at only five months of age. One of the quail fell to the gun and Chara instantly pounced on it. What a way to start. Steady to wing and shot would come later and then fade as she got older stubborn.

Last fall she hunted her fourteenth season. A week of gunning had been planned with multiple dogs, but when her turn came up it was just the two of us on a short hunt. Her hind legs are not strong anymore, but those easy hunts gave her the opportunity to point a couple of grouse.
Chara trailing a grouse.
Her last was a wanderer, which she trailed through a raspberry patch, across an alder flat, and up a slope through young maples. She locked up solid at the base of a knoll and I scurried ahead with leaves scrunching under my feet, only to have the bird thunder off as I crested the rise. I’ve replayed that hunt over and over in my head, and I think she has too.

Pointing a grouse in her 14th fall.
We are getting close to bird season again and physically she is exactly the same as last fall, so I’ll plan a few more of those short easy hunts in some of the best cover. I owe her a fifteenth season.





Chara at her finest.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How to Walk in the Woods

Ruffed grouse hunters are a peculiar lot and walk with an unusual gait.  This extraordinary stride carries them over irregular ground, past nasty thickets of twisted tangles, and transports them for hours on end across countless miles without hardly a stumble.
It takes years of practice, and possibly no one really masters it unless they start to develop the skill as a child.  The pace is rather rolling and loose, fluid, almost floating through the forest rather than pushing into it.  Grouse and woodcock cover is often thick and tangled, not to be traveled without due deliberation, so this skill is worth developing if at all possible.
Where's our truck?
As one walks their eyes should constantly scan ahead for the easiest course through the forest maze, but it must be done at an almost subconscious level or it would sidetrack the hunting experience.  Zigzagging around obstacles requires far less energy than wading through even the smallest thicket, and bending to walk like a crab under low limbs tires back muscles and thighs as well as creating a stance from which it is impossible to shoot. 
Of course, until it is truly subconscious, this struggle for surrounding-awareness is distracting, particularly if you are trying to keep track of your dog, the hunting partner that you started the day with, and where on the earth you actually are.  Keep practicing until you can do it at an intuitive level while doing other things, like trying to figure out why the batteries in your GPS didn’t last as long as you thought they should.
This brings up topography management, or, in layman’s terms, keeping track of where your feet are landing.  Again, it should all be with the same subliminal level of thought that you pick a path through the trees with.  Using your lower peripheral vision, watch for obstacles such as fallen limbs, mud holes, and interwoven weeds.  When you step in a hole and mud goes up to your knee, you will know there is still work to be done.
Stride control is another critical skill, particularly if one wants to avoid flopping down on your face regularly.  A foot should never be lifted off the ground until the other is firmly planted, and when it is lifted it should be brought well up so as not to catch on low branches, interwoven grasses, or twisted vines.  Each leg should be straightened for an instant as it carries the torso forward, which gives it a momentary chance to rest, albeit a short one, and as each foot rocks forward the hunter should ride it up onto the ball of the foot to stretch the step as far as possible.  A hurried pace will frequently land you horizontal and embarrassed, while a slower steady pace will carry a hunter upright for hours.
Where are we?
Falling is an art in itself.  Every grouse hunter trips or steps in a hole occasionally, and, unless it is a frequent occurrence, it should not be cause for concern.  Landing is the part to fret about.  At all cost, one’s gun should be held upward and off the ground.  Never use the gun’s stock to break the fall, which could have disastrous results directly proportional to the beauty and value of the walnut in the stock.  If the muzzle comes anywhere near the ground be sure to check for blockage, as ruptured barrels destroy a gun’s value, as well as fingers, and possibly eyes. 
An experienced faller drops loosely to the ground and sort of rolls to one side on landing, while all the time holding his shotgun upward.  Cussing is allowed.  Fortunately our dogs never report our clumsiness or even seem to notice it.  Remember, a broken arm will mend, but a broken stock never will.
Stamina comes easily for twenty year old athletes, but older hunters require a routine of regular walking to prepare for the fall season.  We are fortunate to live where there are areas of ample waist-high brush that one can push through to strengthen legs.  If a hunter is unable to locate similar terrain near his home there are alternatives.  A favorite is to fill two burlap bags each with about twenty pounds of sand and then tie a six foot length of rope to each.  Next, tie the free end of each rope around an ankle.  Walk around the backyard while dragging the bags of sand and soon the leg muscles will be firmed up and ready for the fall, and as a bonus the cardio vascular system will also be brought up to speed. 
If neighbors cannot see you exercising, carry your heaviest target gun with you to gain upper body strength, but if you live in a suburban area and are visible to strangers it is best to carry small dumbbells in your hands to avoid a visit by the local SWAT team.
To test your newly developed woods walking skills take your dog to favorite cover and let him loose.  Put on a broad brimmed hat and start to follow, just as you would on a typical bird hunt.  At the start of this trek though look at your watch, and then keep count of how many times your hat is knocked off as you follow the dog.  When you’ve had all that you can stand, and are hopefully are back at your vehicle, look at your watch again to see how many minutes you’ve been in the woods.  Then divide that number into how often you had to pick up your hat.  For every fall you took where a knee actually hit the ground subtract fifteen, and if you flopped out flat subtract twenty, unless you refrained from cursing, then only subtract nineteen.  If you stepped in a mud hole that went over your boot-top, subtract twenty-seven, but if you never lost track of your dog during the entire walk add thirty two.  If at any time a stick poked you in an eye so that the eye actually watered, take away another forty-one, but if you wore shooting glassed and they were only knocked off ad five.  The resulting number is your wood walking quotient. 
Any number below twenty-three means there is still work to be done.      
Finally easy walking.
      

             This piece of wisdom first appeared in RGS magazine. Please support that wonderful organization.  http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/



 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Quickie

    We’d had a full day and our tired legs enjoyed the ride back to Camp Grouse. Never quite sure how much guests can endure, I halfheartedly suggested one last a quick hunt in small covert that we would pass on the way home.
    Jim was game, but Peter’s ankles protested so he offered to wait for us. Old football injuries still plagued him.
    We parked at the beginning of a logging road near a stream, let out Colby, my younger German wirehair, and readied our guns. After walking across a logging bridge, we slipped into the alders.
Jim Kline in the alders.
Colby on a woodcock.
    Almost immediately Colby became birdy and then locked up solid beside the brook. But we couldn’t find a bird. We coaxed her on, only to have her stop a short distance away on the far side of fat old fir tree. Through the tangle of trees a woodcock spun upward only to fall to Jim’s gun.
    Only a few feet away Colby pointed again and that time a woodcock climbed spiraled like skyward like a rock only to tumble from my gun and fall within a few feet of Jim.
During the next few minutes we moved five woodcock, of which three came home with us. That covert is perfect, between a clear cut and alders along a stream, with scattered gnarly fir trees poking up over the cover.

A woodcock under Jesse's nose.
    Jim looked mighty happy as we climbed back up to the road, having rounded out his limit of woodcock. Peter smiled when he saw us, I’m sure happy for Jim and anxious to get home. With tired feet and hungry bellies we traveled on.

Tired girls at the end of the day.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Back of the Mountain

Big country.
It is way back in the woods, almost twenty miles from the nearest pavement. About twelve miles in, all of it on logging roads, a gate blocks a side road. That gate has been left open on occasion and if you pass through it the road starts to climb.
Every serious grouse hunter is always looking for new cover, and most of us are looking for that out of the way spot that others might have overlooked. Arial images of that country showed a winding gravel road that climbed up over the shoulder of the mountain, then dropped down into a tight little valley to cross a stream, and then abruptly climbed back up another ridge. Up on the high ground, cuttings abut softwood stands, making for decent looking grouse cover, at least in the pictures shot from space. Only boots on the ground could confirm it.
My first attempt to drive in there stopped after crossing a height of land and then dropping down into the little valley, which is almost a gulley really. The wood bridge over the stream didn’t look too rugged, and, far in the woods alone, I chickened out.
Prospecting for grouse.
This past fall I drove in there with a friend. That rickety bridge had been replaced, so we traveled on. The road climbed up out of the valley, eventually leveling out next to a softwood edged cutting. Alders lined the road’s edges and young poplars sprouted everywhere. Enough grass grew in the road gravel to let us know that very few people traveled there. We found a place to pull off, let out the dogs, and dug out our guns.
The day was bitterly cold, but we found a few grouse. The shooting was tough, as it often is in cuttings. It looked like excellent woodcock country, but we found none. I’d bet a week’s wages that they nest in there though. When the sun poked out between the clouds and the gusts of wind dropped in a lull, the day actually felt nice, but most of the time I wished for one more layer of clothing.
After chasing a couple of grouse in circles and my friend killing one, we drove up the road further, crossed over another ridge, and then dropped down into another valley that seemed to stretch out forever. The road eventually deteriorated into two slippery clay-filled ruts that followed a stream on our left. When the road became just awful, we turned around. 

Don with a grouse.
About halfway back up the backside of that mountain we stopped at a four way intersection to eat lunch. A logging road to the north more or less followed a contour line along the edge of a cutting, so after eating we hunted it.
Saplings the size of my wrist filled the cutting above the road, but most were no taller than I. Moose had browsed the area heavily, stunting the young trees and holding back the regeneration. It was pretty country though, with a series of ridges to east that ran off into the neighboring state. We found no grouse, even though the hillside held promise. The rocky rough ground and left-behind slash made for touch walking, for both us and the dogs. Rugged men must have logged that country.
Exploring new country.
Back at the truck we swapped the two older wirehairs for the younger shorthair, Georgia. The road to the south passed through mature hardwoods with a stream grumbling in a valley to the left. Around a bend an old cutting held young maple, poplar, and softwoods. We hunted up through the cutting, moving one bird. Dropping back down and intersecting the road again, Georgia went on point. The grouse leapt off a precipitous drop-off, much like a paratrooper leaves an airplane, and disappeared down toward softwoods surrounding a stream below. My buddy’s pellets shredded the bark on a half dozen saplings, but not a feather drifted in the air. Georgia went down the nearly vertical embankment, like only an athletic dog can, to search the ravine but found nothing
We hunted more of that cutting and moved one more bird. It is good looking
Georgia.
country and I bet it seldom visited. It’s worth another look someday when that gate is open again. If it’s open at the end of the next summer, it will be a great place to train our pup on woodcock.
Now I have this phobia about getting stuck back in the woods somewhere. In my younger days, when I worked logging, three foresters parked their truck in the woods about thirty-five miles from the pavement, did their day’s work, and then came back to a truck that would not start because the headlights had been left on. I often think of that out in the middle of nowhere.

My truck started fine and our trip out of that wild piece of country was uneventful, which is just the way I like it.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Even Grouseless Days….

    The drive in is about nine miles over a small mountain and, after crossing a timber bridge, it is then either left further into the wilderness, or to the right and another nine or ten miles back out to a different paved road.  We went left.
About another six miles up the road I parked in the same spot as a month and a half earlier.  The woods looked more open, with the weeds squashed down by snow that had come and gone.  With the stark naked trees not holding a leaf, the mountains across the valley looked much closer.
    Alders, half again a man’s height, covered an old logging yard there.  Behind them the land climbed gradually with lofty hardwoods and dark old spruce trees.  Across the road young fir trees huddled together like cliques in a school  yard, each separated by open expanses of bent or flattened weeds and grass.  Scattered maples and poplar sprouts remained upright, obviously unfazed by the earlier snow.
    Chara, my German wirehair pointer, pranced a few steps from the truck and locked up on point, her nose aimed directly into the alders.  Hurrying shells into my gun, a partridge burst upward and disappeared into the boughs of spruce trees.
    We hunted behind the alders, more or less parallel with the road, and then crossed to the lower side, drifting between the clusters of fir trees.  About the sixth clump Chara’s hind end went into over-drive and then she froze, pointing into a tangle of green needles and gray trunks.   In the dark shadows a boulder poked out of the earth, nothing more. Walking around the left side of the trees, the partridge thundered out of the right, a sound unseen.
    The scenario was played out again, and then again.  Two hunters might have shot some birds.
    Chara slowed and then pointed into a cluster of limby firs. Bright green moss muffled my footsteps.  A partridge that looked the size of a turkey launched under my nose.  Reflexes brought the gun to the shoulder and a finger slapped the trigger, just as the bird ducked around a yellow birch trunk. I’m sure the tree survived. 
I swear Chara struggled to contain a laugh.
    A bird flushed wild from a thicket of raspberries, and another was pointed on the way back to the truck, but both escaped unscathed.
Unloading the gun and putting it into the truck, I congratulated myself on the valiant conservation effort and the breeding stock that I had left behind.  Chara looked quite proud of herself, as she should with about a half dozen successful points. 
    Another spot further up the road deserved the same treatment.  There, the thick new growth of a fifteen year old clearcut covered the hillside.  Chara plunged in and I followed as best I could along wet and lumpy skid trails.  We didn’t find any birds and, if we had, shooting would have been impossible in that thicket.  Eventually our course brought us back out to the logging road about a half mile from the truck. 
    We dropped to the lower side and worked back between the road and a roaring mountain stream.  Nearing the truck Chara’s hind end went into overdrive and, with her nose scouring the ground, she obviously followed a traveling grouse.  The trail went through thick grass, under clusters of young fir, beneath a blown down dead fir tree, directly over the top of an automobile-sized boulder, across a log, back into a cluster of waist-high fir trees, and then into raspberries that contained claws like a bobcat. Chara looked determined and her optimism flared.
    About fifty feet ahead of us, at the edge of the logging road, old Mr. Partridge decided he had enough of those two cahoots following him and took off over the road, to never be seen.
   It was a fitting time to end another memory filled day.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Looking For Woodcock

    Where the sun hits the ground greasy mud squishes under my feet. The dogs don’t even notice it, but bound into the woods. Under the trees mounds of snow blanket the ground, so the trail makes for much easier walking.
    We’re hunting. The dogs know it, plowing through the brush, ever searching, even though there are no guns. Friends have found woodcock in that same area during the last few days, so we are searching.
    The young shorthair, Juno, is covering the most ground and I wonder if she’ll point or bump the birds. The younger wirehair is more methodical, tending to business, tail wagging and happy to be out. A week ago deep snow made covering this same country impossible. Chara, searching for birds in her fourteenth spring, doesn’t wander far from the old roads, but stops often and sniffs the air. It wouldn’t surprise me if she found a woodcock first.
    The howling north wind has a bite, so the collar is turned up and earflaps are pulled down. Bright blue sky stretches across the sky, but the sun lacks warmth. Where matted grass covers the ground, the earth feels like cement from the lingering frost. The air smells clean, almost metallic, free of pollen and the soon to come scents of green things.
    A series of left turns brings us in a circle. The dogs hunt with determination. Wherever the woodcock are, it isn’t in those old brushy fields or along the edges of the woods. In the shade of ancient white pines an old tote road takes us back to the truck.
    The dogs will dream of woodcock tonight, and so will I.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Waiting on Woodcock

    The blanket of snow has withered to dirty mounds and rain is creating huge puddles. Our dogs pace anxiously, hoping someone takes a walk them among the fields out back, but they finally have resigned themselves to laying in my office beneath my desk and chair. On a walk earlier, the first patches of bare ground remained frozen and felt like concrete.

    Maybe tomorrow, possibly the day after, or a least sometime soon, the woodcock will show up again. They will do their mating dances over the fields out behind the house and then hide among the weeds along the edges. On the morning walks the dogs will find their scent and point them.

    Spring will have arrived.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Camp Grouse

    Camp Grouse is a dream perched on a knoll. Around this knoll the land rises, creating a nearly empty valley, where a stream constantly serenades and a breeze funnels regularly between the hills. Clouds of warblers swarm the trees in June and dragon flies patrol the yard on August evenings. Grouse drum in the woods come March and the forest becomes a riot of color come September. During the winter months there is a pristine silence, as the snowy world sleeps before repeating the cycles.
Dreams of spring.

    About the time the snow disappears and the streams swell, dreams turn to trout fishing. The mighty river, a mile or so away, holds larger trout, but the small stream down the hill from Camp Grouse is full of native brook trout. Every spring the brook is different, with the snow’s runoff carving a new course and recently fallen trees always crisscrossing the stream. The new logjams and undercut stream banks will create deep dark holes where the brook trout will hide. Hopefully, a few will be coaxed out to fry in bacon fat for breakfast.
Dreams at the vice.
    Upstairs at Camp Grouse, inside the big pine desk, is everything imaginable to tie trout flies. Books on patterns and trout sit atop that desk, and the hours slide away there, tying and dreaming. It really is as much fun as fishing.
    Hiking books and maps, stored in the bookcase by the stairs, help plan our short expeditions. When the weather is nice during the summer months, our daily hikes keep both the dogs and us in shape, and so far we haven’t run out of new places to explore.
    In stormy weather, or even with the morning coffee while waiting for the sun to climb higher, there is usually a jigsaw puzzle in the works on a card table beside the sliding glass doors. Bookshelves are filled with hunting and fishing lore, along with favorite novels and books on New England history. Upstairs a guitar waits to be picked. A rainy day certainly isn’t a hardship.
Friends helping.
    As September winds down clay targets are launched from the deck to be turned to dust as they sail out over the alders at the bottom of the knoll. Come the first of October the dogs will lead us into the vibrant fall foliage, their bells ringing and enthusiasm never wavering.
    And when the leaves drop and the bird hunting is at its best, friends shuffle through Camp Grouse, and all of us hunt until our legs hurt. There are so many coverts that we never get to them all. Memories are made and stories are told while tired dogs sleep in front of the heater.
Dogs warming.
    And all too soon winter blankets the land again as the world readies itself for spring again.




A place to dream. 











Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Daydreaming

    My mind keeps wandering to next bird season and the places that I want to hunt. There’s one spot, where the logging road has gone to hell, that I‘m betting few people will walk in to. Along the washed out road it’s pretty good bird country, and then a loop can be made up an old tote road through open hardwoods to long abandoned fields.
     A hunt through those fields and then to the east will lead into a cutting that, if hunted through, will lead back to the truck. It will make one of those all day hunts where you tuck a sandwich in your pocket, a bottle of water in the game pouch, and a snack for the dog. There’s always little trickles for the dog to drink out of up in that country.
     Right now, outside the window the snow is swirling and the forecast is bleak. Those chilly mornings of last fall, when the cold bit into our fingers, are nothing compared to what’s going on now. Up in grouse country the nights have been dropping far below zero, and even the days are far too cold for the gloves I like to shoot in. Hopefully the grouse have insulating snow to burrow into and enough food to supply the calories they need.
     From that same washed-out logging road it’s possible to hunt downhill around a big cutting, then follow a stream back up the valley. It would make another one of those all day hunts and cover a big chunk of wild wilderness.
    Some of my daydreams get stuck in the coverts that produced so well. This past fall the bird numbers had plummeted, but a couple of places shined. One that is out in the middle of nowhere keeps drawing me back. From the pavement it’s well over a half hour drive, maybe more than that next year the way the road has been deteriorating.

   It is thick cover on a steep slope, with a huge clearcut further up. I can hear the bells, even see the dogs. My pulse picks up when my mind's eye spots the dog on point. The smells, they are there too. And then the bird flushes….  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

That Last Grouse

The other dogs stayed in the truck, much to their dismay. Chara, celebrating her fourteenth bird season, traipsed eagerly into the woods ahead of me.
It was her day, and her hunt. We’d been up in that country for almost two weeks and Chara had hunted several days, but usually only for an hour or less each time. Often I had one of the younger dogs with her to cover bigger country while she hunted closer to the road.
New country for us.
With her in the lead I certainly didn’t have to walk fast. It was a new piece for me, not big at all, and I’d driven by it for years, never giving it any mind. Young hardwoods mixed with scattered softwoods and small grassy openings mixed in. We followed an old grown-in logging road up a slope. The maples made it look very New Englandy.
Chara sorted out the scents, taking her time. The road wound up to the right until it reached a low ridge. Her hind end is weak, which is always a worry, and looked wobbly, so I turned us back down the hill through open hardwoods and towards the truck.
She looked determined, sniffing and snorting, not missing a thing, hunting to the left then working back to the right.
Chara started to get birdy, almost plowing the fallen leaves with her nose. As so many hundreds of times before, with her tail just a blur, she sifted through the scent, zeroing in on the bird. That grouse didn’t have a chance.
Down a slope she went, sometimes backtracking, but then always moving ahead. Her breath came in gulps and grunts, with head swinging side to side. The setter people might cringe at the way her nose inhaled foot scent from between the dropped leaves, but I was mighty proud of her.
Crawling under a fallen spruce, she froze.
As I walked around the backside, she became animated again, backtracking three or four feet, then marching ahead again. That grouse was doomed.
She zigged, then zagged, went back, then made a half circle before trotting on. Into a thicket of dogwood she trailed.
Chara pointing her last grouse of the past season.
Chara became a statue.
On the far side was a tiny knoll where a few hardwoods stood. I marched around the red-twigged brush and looked back, Chara hadn’t moved, but there were no grouse beneath those maples. It must have walked over the little hump’s crest.
And that never works out well for me.
I took pictures of Chara on point, then started around the side of the mound, hoping to ambush the grouse, but the thunder of wings told me he was gone.
Coaxing Chara on, we headed back toward the truck to rest those weary legs.
*
Chara is still with me, right now sleeping in my office with her legs twitching in a dream. Maybe she’s dreaming of that last grouse.
And, with luck, she might hunt a bit again next fall, but I’m afraid the odds are long. Yet with fourteen seasons behind her, she has had a glorious life.