Wednesday, January 28, 2015


    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.