Monday, December 26, 2016

December Grouse

There is a grouse hiding in there.
    In our neck of the woods most of the grouse hunting stops when the deer hunters enter the woods the second week of November, but early in December the riflemen leave the woods to the shotgunners again. The late season can provide of the loveliest hunting of the year or the snow can be so deep the dogs cannot work. Nothing is certain.
    The grouse will be in different cover than October, with most of the fruit gone and snow possibly covering ground covers. Buds and catkins will make up most of their diet, but the birds also eat a variety of green leafy plants if the snow isn’t too deep. Hunting the edges of thick softwood stands usually is productive.
Grouse picking at catkins
    Just like early in the season, often groups are found, frequently up in the boughs of softwood trees. On sunny days they will come down to feed, foraging for whatever they can find or to just soak up the sun on a south facing slope. But when the weather is wet or cold it is easier to retain body heat in the protection of the softwood trees.
    In December it is possible to drive twenty or thirty miles on logging roads and never see another vehicle. Of course you don’t want to have truck troubles when you are fifteen or more miles in the woods by yourself. Keep that in mind and be prepared for a vehicle that might not start.
    A few years back, hunting late in the day in a stand of softwoods long since harvested by the loggers, I stumbled into a covey of grouse that flushed from high in the trees. Most flew across the logging road into a cutting that the previous fall had been waist high weeds with scattered Christmas-tree-sized spruce and firs. By December the weeds had been flattened by rain, frost, and a little snow, so it felt like an open park.
    Almost immediately my dog pointed at the base of a fir. On my approach the bird flew out the back. A minute later the scene repeated, but I went to the left and the grouse to the right. The scenario repeated a couple more times. If there had been someone with me the shooting would have been fantastic, but the grouse were successfully using the trees as shields. Finally, my dog pointed a grouse that had made the fatal mistake of landing in a raspberry patch surrounded by flattened weeds. When the bird thundered up above the brambles into the wide open spaces it was one of the few easy shots one ever gets on grouse.
Chara during a late season adventure.
    But the whole time, in the back of my mind, I kept hoping my truck wouldn’t let me down. It was fourteen miles from there back to the pavement. That weekend I drove over forty-five miles on logging roads and saw only one vehicle, which happened to be a logger.
    When the weather gets bitter many who love ruffed grouse hang up their guns and call it a season to give the birds a break until the next year. Biologists say it doesn’t make a difference in the overall grouse population, but I still can’t harass the birds when conditions are tough. The struggle for calories to maintain body temperature is harsh and one unnecessary flush could be the tipping point in the delicate balance. I prefer to think that a grouse left alive will have a big brood in the spring.
    This year the grouse numbers were down. When the deer hunters left the woods I took the dogs for a few late season hunts, but I’m not sure I would have killed a grouse. The dogs loved wearing their bells again and hunted hard. I carried my shotgun, but never raised it to my shoulder. The few birds we found all flushed from high in softwood trees, with most leaving unseen, and I wished every one of them well.
    The shotgun went into the safe to wait out spring and clay targets.
    Let us hope the grouse survive and the spring weather is kind to the young broods.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Slow Season

    After a slow start the 2016 bird season improved slightly, if only because we finally received some much needed rain and the woods returned to something near normal.            
    The usually abundant streams that dried up in August again had water in them. And the late arriving cooler temperatures helped both the dogs and hunters stay comfortable.
    Finding grouse remained difficult, but woodcock were easier. We never found a bumper flight, but the numbers were average. Luck has a lot to do with hitting a memorable flights of woodcock. There was that day in the National Forrest a few years ago where we flushed more woodcock in a hour than we do some seasons. I am sure it will happen again, but not this year as the shooting season has closed and there are ten inches of snow on the ground.
    Even well into November a few grouse could be found hanging around apple trees that still had fruit. Usually by then the fruit is gone and so have the grouse, but in spite of the drought there was a bumper crop of small apples. Hunting the clear cuts took lots of walking between birds. Deer hunting in late November with several inches of snow on the ground I have yet to see a grouse track of flush a bird.
   During fifteen years of keeping records, this was the slowest year yet. Let’s hope for better numbers next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Tough Year

Taking a break on a hot day.
    This year has been warmer than normal and extremely dry, and where are the grouse?  
    So far the bird season has been frustrating. Early on a few grouse were found around apple trees, perhaps for the moisture in the fruit, but many of the usual coverts are empty or nearly so. Our daily average has been the lowest in years.
    A great number of the little streams that usually wind down the hillsides dried up. In the past woodcock could often be found in the moist ground along them. Alder flats that are usually wet and muddy became easy walking. In spite of the lack of rain the apple trees had a bumper crop of fruit, and blueberries, raspberries, highbush cranberries did the same. Did the abundant fruit cause the birds to scatter?
    The spring weather wasn’t unusually wet or cold, so I expected good brood numbers. Wet cold weather right after hatching can wipe out much of a year’s young grouse. The entire year has been unusually dry, and since the spring particularly so.
The usual wet lowlands were just low.
    But the weather has turned now and the migrating woodcock have showed up. The grouse are still sketchy and hard to find, yet we keep trying. Almost all of the leaves have dropped and it is a great time to be in the woods. When a bird goes up at least we can see it.
   We’ll keep trying and perhaps figure out these grouse yet.

Monday, October 24, 2016


A point during training.
     Nothing matches the magic of having a new pup in the house. Old dogs create comfort, new dogs bring wonder. The pup’s excitement and curiosity generate the same in us. Every trip afield becomes an adventure.
     There is laughter sprinkled with frustration, but most of the latter is usually brought on by our own unreasonable expectations. The difference between flustered and amused is attitude.
A woodcock point.
     Hopefully, the pup is trying its hardest to do what we want…but it’s just so hard to stand still when that bird is four feet from the nose!  I constantly remind myself that a bumped bird is a learning experience, and hopefully the young dog is smart enough to put it all together
     An older experienced dog is a great teacher and the pup will learn much. Of course, it is important to teach the younger dog to honor the older dog’s point, then hunt them together as much as you can.
     So this is our autumn to teach a pup, but Maggie seems to be teaching herself. On her own she knows to stay close in thick cover yet ranges further where the country is open, always quartering nicely to search every corner. Somehow she learned we are all part of the team, for she checks back often to know where I am. If only my shooting were better the process would cement in her mind quicker.
     When she comes upon the older dog pointing the brakes are applied. When she finds bird scent on her own Maggie’s hind end wiggles in overdrive until the bird is pinpointed. Now we are working on patience to just hold that point longer.
I walk ahead of Maggie pointing a woodcock.
     I am certain most of our success comes from good breeding, for that the credit goes to Ripsnorter Kennel in Ohio. Maggie’s manners were taught early and she loves to please.  
     Life is looking pretty good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Old Guy Next Door

    The old man next door always has a bunch of dogs, sometimes three, sometimes more. I’m not sure if they all are his or if he’s just taking care of them for somebody. Somebody once told me he trained dogs for people, but I don’t know nothing about that.
    When I stop over there he’s always laughing. Don’t know what that is about. One time I even pointed out the flat tire on the back of his truck and he said, “Well if that don’t beat all,” then chuckled a bit. If it were me I would have been pissed. He just went about fixing the darn thing while his dogs got in the way.
    Behind his house he grows a big garden, more than two people can eat. His missus is the one that takes care of that. Most of the day he works in his shop, making things for people that pay him enough so he can take most of Octobers off to hunt birds. His missus is a pretty woman and I like to stop over there to chat with here whenever I can. 
    A few weeks ago the old man invited me over to shoot skeet with him. It wasn’t anything formal, like down at the club, but shooting skeet right behind his house. His dogs go crazy with the shooting, thinking that dead birds must be falling I guess. He laughs and keeps them out of the way when we launch the targets, but then they go dashing off into the weeds looking for dead things. I missed more than I broke, but he didn’t miss any.
    Twice his dogs brought back intact clay pigeons that we’d obviously cleanly missed. It was sort of embarrassing in a way, but the old man just laughed and took the targets from the dogs, then flung them out to shoot at again. Recycling he called it.
    Deer hunting is my favorite kind of hunting, but the old guy mostly hunts birds. Oh, he does hunt deer and other stuff, but every day in bird season I see he is out. Last year he invited me to go with him and it was fun to watch his dogs. It’s like they live to hunt birds, but then maybe the old man does too. You should have seen the smile on his face.
    Three times the dogs pointed, like quivering statues, and I got to walk in and flush the grouse, but I never hit a one. A woodcock flying straight away dropped when I shot, but that was an easy one. The grouse were impossible.
    This year he says we’re going to go again. I can’t wait.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


    The forests of New England are littered with stonewalls. Different regions have different walls, in the southern areas the stones might be rounder and bigger while in the northern regions the rocks might be smaller and more angular. In some areas the walls are wider or neater, while elsewhere they are hardly walls at all but more long piles of rocks. Sometimes I wonder if the walls were made as a convenient place to pile stones out of the way or as barriers to segregate the newly created opened pastures. Maybe both. A hundred or so miles to the south of Camp Grouse the walls divide up the forest with unbelievable regularity every few hundred feet, many left behind by sheep farmers centuries ago. Up here, way to the north, they walls are more scattered and hard to find, often buried in forest where once pastures were cleared.
    Here the walls are often with miles apart and finding one is significant. Well over a century ago the loggers moved through this country, stealing the timber before moving ever westward. Farmers followed, after hearing stories of green intervals and free land, but the summers proved too too short and the brutal winters extremely long. Giving up after a few years the new farmers left for greener pastures to the west and let the forest reclaim what was hers.
    When we find stone walls out in the middle of nowhere I have to wonder who the farmers were, how long they fought the land and climate, and where they went after throwing in the towel. Mentally I measure the distances to the towns and ponder the lonely lives they must have led. Visiting with neighbors must have been such a treat. Usually the walls are few and if a foundation is found it is tiny, making me think they did not stay too long.
     Openings in the forest often have apple trees around the edges, left behind by those lone gone settlers and often the trees are full of fruit. Grouse love those trees, but so do deer, bears, and other bird hunters. I always poke around, hoping a cellar hole can be found, or maybe even an old door or other remnant. Most often there are only the stone walls almost buried by moss and leaves. The forest tries to hide the tales of the early settlers.
    Hunting those abandoned old homesteads often brings on spooky thoughts of spirits left behind, enough so to interrupt one’s shooting. Any grouse or woodcock flushed is usually pretty safe as they fly straight away. I laugh about the  missed shots but they are real. 
    The old cellar hole…was that where the main house was? Sometimes it seems incredibly small by today’s standards. Was that big old white pine tree there back when the house was built? Or did they plant that pine…imagining that someday it would shade the house. Could an herb garden been planted next to the house? What about vegetables? Which side had the  front door?
    Sometimes a “dump” can be found nearby. Finding those was easier four decades ago than it is now, but still treasures hide among the leaves. 
    The smell of rotted leaves drifts up as I kneel down. A rusted barrel band, maybe a rotting stave, a chunk of unidentifiable cast iron, an ancient bottle….
     The dog’s bell brings me back to the present. She is down the hill where the alders meet the hardwoods, close to where the brook flows into the larger stream that rushes to the north.

    Then sudden silence reminds me of why I am here. Picking up my gun I traipse towards the quiet. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016


A special pup.
June 3, 2001 - August 12, 2016

     Sometimes we are really lucky and in 2001 I certainly was. Stumbling around looking for a German wirehaired pointer, I came upon a breeder in New York who introduced me to Weidenhugel Chardonnay, a predominately white German wirehaired pointer pup. It was love at first sight.
          By then more than a dozen years had passed since a bird dog had been part of my life. Chara was smart, learned quickly, loved to hunt, and became more than a dog, much like a best friend. When I worked in my shop she hung around, always ready for a two or five minute lesson. Heal, stay, whoa all came easily to her. Pigeons and quail became part of my life, for without birds you will never have a bird dog.
          The first hunt, at five months of age, was in a state run wildlife management
Learning together.
area. She pointed a pair of quail and brought back the one that fell to the shot. I never felt prouder. And throughout her entire life, her hunting enthusiasm never waned.
          I could go to the post office in our busy town and ask her to sit outside by the door and know she would be there when I came back out. Walking unleashed, she would heal through the sidewalks as people passing patted her head. I beamed.
          Exiting the post office one day a car’s tires screeched. A scared young golden retriever dashed across the street not twenty feet away, narrowly dodging the skidding vehicle. Good Samaritans tried to catch the dog, but it was too scared to trust anyone and dashed hither and yon, eyes big as golf balls. I walked to my truck and let out Chara. She trotted over to the frightened dog and the two sniffed noses. Slipping my finger into the collar of the golden retriever, then I walked the dog back to its owner. Never did I feel prouder of Chara.
As a young dog.
       On our first trip to grouse country she never actually pointed any of the skittish grouse, but she performed perfectly on woodcock. It was the beginning of a partnership that lasted her life time. We hunted old coverts that I had hunted as a younger man with an overly eager Brittany spaniel. Chara’s performance made that Brittany look like a fool. Together we stomped all over the north woods.
          Our first duck hunt together confused poor Chara. Why weren’t we walking and looking for birds? After all, we had a gun with us? Forcing her to sit, we sat in the weeds behind a few decays that I had carved years earlier. If it wasn’t for my hand on her neck and finger inside her collar, she would have dashed off looking for upland birds. Not long after legal shooting time a pair of mallards fell out of the sky and I stood to shoot, causing one to tumble into the water.
          About to give the retrieve command, she was already in the water and halfway out to the duck. Duck hunting was a piece of cake after that. One cold January she even retrieved a golden eye.= that fell a hundred yards from our duck boat.
          I learned to trust her nose and never doubt when she worked bird scent. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty in the classic sense, but with the nose to the ground she always found the bird. Grouse have always walked and now woodcock seem to also, but with Chara it didn’t matter, she would always find them. Point, think, wait, re-point, think, move, re-locate…it would continue, and I could always tell when the bird was pinned.
            The memories go on…the day where we must have found a hundred woodcock,
Hard on a point.
or the woodcock that fell into the river, or the crippled Canada goose that paddled out over a hundred yards from shore. Or the grouse pointed on opening day one year while her fourteen month old sibling honored, only to have the each retrieve one wing of the bird while the breast stayed where it fallen. Or the time she pointed straight up at the bird in a softwood tree? Or the day we hunted all day from the house and moved so many birds, but none really offered a shot. When I broke open my gun back at the house I had forgotten to load it. We laughed, at least I think she did too. Those things will stay with me.
          So many times, when her bell went silent and I knew she was on a point yet I couldn’t find her, I would call her name. It’s a mystery how she figured it out, or even how she did it, but Chara would move just enough that her bell would ding once, letting me know where she was without frightening the bird.
          So many other dogs passed through Camp Grouse, but Chara was always the Grande Dame. In the alder thickets or grouse coverts, she never seemed to notice the other dog’s presence. Dogs hunting with her learned a lot, of that I am sure, and I wish our young pup had had a season or two with her.
          But that wasn’t to be and last week Chara left us. It was her time, with fifteen hunting seasons behind her. It was more than I could ask and a life that most dogs would dream of, never tethered and in the woods almost every day.
In her last years she loved the cool stream.
         The last few bird seasons were easy hunts, but some that I will remember forever. Hunting over an older dog is very civilized, with a slower pace and avoiding the nastier thickets. She stayed determined and hunted hard until the end. We hunted the cream coverts the last couple of years, flat with few thorny thickets.
         Now she is buried beside the apple tree behind the house and I hope the grouse come out to visit her. I am sure they can share stories and have a few laughs. Come spring time she certainly will be able to hear them drumming.
          Chara, I will never forget you.
As I will always remember her.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What is Good Enough?

    Years ago when I had more energy my dogs had better be perfect, or pretty close. Steady to wing and shot, retrieve to hand, with perfect manners around the house were expected. My oldest wire was a struggle with the honoring of another dog’s point, but the steady to wing and shot came without too much trouble. Life looked golden.
Maggie on the run.
    But achieving something and maintaining something are two different things. I hunt alone much of the time and enforcing the steady to wing and shot turned out to be difficult when she had a different mind. I would get frustrated and the dog would dig in her heels. During one December hunt in her fifth or sixth year I threw in the towel and stopped reprimanding her when she broke on the flush. Bird hunting has been more fun since then.
    But I understand and admire owners who demand dog perfection and can maintain it. We all set our own standards, whether bird hunting, trout fishing, or maintaining our home or vehicle. Life demands much and time is finite, so each to their own priorities.  
    A dog’s intelligence is the most important thing and that probably has more to do with the breeding than anything else, but we can do a lot to stimulate a puppy’s brain. I love a dog who figures things out on her own and learns relocate on a moving grouse. My oldest always knew more about where the bird was than I ever would, at least until it flushed. So I let her move, head down sniffing foot scent if necessary…stopping, starting, and pointing whenever the bird stopped.. She almost never bumped a bird, her patience and determination certainly surpassing mine. If I waited long enough we would certainly find and pin the bird for a flush.
    Manners around the house are a must, after all, dogs in our home live pretty darn well. Honoring another dog’s point is also a must, because visitors often bring their dogs along and nothing frays friendships quicker than one dog stealing another’s point.
Georgia working her magic.
    One thing I have learned over the years is that breeding has more to do with how a dog turns out than any training along the way. Georgia, a German shorthaired pointer from Hedgehog Hill Kennels in Vermont, taught me that. With no bird hunting training at all, only the basic manners that every dogs should be taught, she was a gem to hunt over. For four seasons I had the pleasure of “borrowing” her for bird season and she truly was a rock star, repeatedly pointing and retrieving ruffed grouse and woodcock.
    Right now we have a seven month old German wirehair in the house from Ripsnorter Kennel, named Ripsnorter Magallow Magic Snapshot. She seems smart and constantly watches the older dogs to quietly learn. Her lineage goes directly back to my oldest wirehair, who has been a brilliant hunter. Young Maggie hunts hard when we are in the woods, points song birds and butterflies in the yard, and watches with fascination the birds flying overhead. The manners required for civil living are pretty well ingrained and soon we’ll be looking for woodcock to train on.
Chara with her great, great, great, great, niece last March.
    So far she is more than good enough. I am very hopeful.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Gunning for Trout

    Grouse season is months away. The new pup’s attention span is measured in minutes that can be counted one’s fingers, so training seasons take up little time. Heavy foliage takes much of the fun out of scouting for new grouse cover. What to do?
    The stream calls as it winds through the valley below Camp Grouse. Sometimes it’s a whisper, others it’s a roar, but most often the sound is a constant chortle that never ends. Alders line much of its banks, in other places tall softwoods blot out the sky. Where it winds through old pastures there are glimpses of farm country turning back to forest. Yes, it is grouse country.
    The water tugs at ankles protected by Lacrosse boots. Pesky deerflies dart in around the edges of a tired hat. Mosquitoes whine while downstream a kingfisher rattles a raspy tune. The stream sings softly as it riffles to the west.
    A trout dimples the surface for a third time.
    Dobson flies bounce across the surface. A large stonefly struggles to break free of the water’s grasp, finally swimming amazingly well to the bank where it climbs a blade of grass to freedom. Pale green caddis struggle to stay aloft then kiss the water to lay their eggs.
    The trout makes a splash.
    He is inches ahead of a washed in log whose stubbed branches provide shelter. Alders lean low directly over it from the left bank. Closer, head-high alders reach of from the right. The bony stream bottom is impossible to walk quietly on, so waiting and plotting are in order.
    The kingfisher flies downstream, protesting all the way.
    A cast cocked to the right weaves between the reaching branches, straightens out, and gently sets the caddis imitation three feet upstream from the log. It drifts back atop the inky current.
    The surface dimples and reflexes snap the rod aft. The trout dives free of the hook. It’s same rush as walking in on a pointing dog when wary old grouse flushes wild. Usually that is no fault of the dog or the gunner, but this might have been a slow set. But it’s just nice to know the quarry was there.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tween Seasons

    The snow went, but never quite all the way. On the north sides of the hills and hidden in the shadows of the softwood stands it lingered for what seemed like eternity. Bare fields waited for the robins and on walks in the woods the dogs searched for woodcock. Early in the mornings and late in the day grouse drummed in the woods above the house.
     In a drainage ditch next to a logging road, which leads into an enormous wilderness valley, a woodcock fluttered up in front of the pup’s nose. It was the first of the year and the first of the young dog’s life!
    Spring would come after all. On the way home a hundred robins rested in a pasture that hadn’t yet greened. For the next couple weeks the girls would hunt hard.
    One day a sudden snow blanketed the garden, then left as fast as it came. Down by the brook, in the murky shade of spruce and firs, frozen puddles refused to leave and refrigerated air. Across the stream a grouse drummed a challenge to the one on the hill. The water was cold and high and trout fishing would wait. At night the coyotes howled.
    On a sunny afternoon walk, well up on a hill in a deserted field, a stand of maples no bigger than my wrist beckoned. Coaxing the dogs over, the seven year old wirehair locked up on point where the grass met the young trees. Rushing ahead with her camera, my daughter hoped to spot the woodcock in front of the dog, but the bird spiraled up from beneath her feet, leaving its nest behind. Three eggs waited for her return. The dogs would spend less time in the woods for the next few months.
    Now it’s early May. The grouse still drum. Streams are still too cold and a quarter of the way through the month snow mixes with a cold downpour. It’s time to train the pup and get the garden ready for warmer days.
   And wait.

More on Canine Health…

    The controversial subject of spaying/neutering and the harmful side effects has been more in the news lately. Here’s another good read.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring is Here

Maggie running back after flushing the woodcock.
    A cool wind blew from the east under a blotchy gray sky. Small mountains to the east showed the scars of logging and patches of white lingered near the tops of the highest. The two older wirehairs dashed ahead, familiar with the old logging road, having walked it dozens of times over the years, both hunting and just to be outdoors.                 
    Maggie, our twelve week old pup, stayed closer, walking in the drainage ditch and fascinated by the flowing water as only a puppy can be.
    Up from under her nose tweetered a woodcock, the first one seen this year!
A new beaver pond flooded the road.
    Maggie dashed back to sit by our feet and watch the bird fly away.
    After hoots of laughter and praise for the pup, we carried on. Further down the hill a grouse flushed wild, twisting like a calendar painting through the barren poplar and birch. Life felt pretty good.
    Further on, up in a cutting, Chara, the older wirehair soon to turn fifteen, pointed with Colby backing, but no bird was found, yet was still a delight to see.
    Later, almost back to the truck, Chara shuffled around inside a thicket of alders. Pause, snort and sniff, pause, point, shuffle and sniffle…no style, but with determination, and up went a woodcock. That made two!!!

Lounging at Camp Grouse while listening to the grouse drumming.
    On the way back to Camp Grouse, the sun poked through the clouds and the subject of a beer came up. Later, sitting on the deck, we clicked the necks of two bottles together in a toast to spring, and almost immediately the season’s first drumming from a grouse drifted down the hill.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Waiting For The Woodcock

    Snow lingers in the woods. Pockets of white hide in the shadows of trees and rock-like ice fills the hollows. Beneath blankets of white, north facing slopes still sleep where the air remains icebox cold.
    But the slopes facing the sun are welcoming her warmth. Swollen streams rush down the hills, creating a rumble that seems to be everywhere. Songbirds chirp and flit about, shyly hiding in the softwoods, busy with courting and spring tasks.
    The bare fields have been invaded by cackling geese, cackling about whatever geese cackle about. Soon after dawn, high in the sky, a pair honked their way up the valley, causing even the dogs to stop and listen. Blue skies and warm breezes make promises we hope are true.
    A walk down along the stream finds the ground cement hard in the shadows of the softwoods. Even amongst the sunlit alders it is the same. Undaunted, the dogs make the effort, searching the ground thoroughly. No woodcock or grouse in a covert that often has both.
    Circling back, up the bank where the sun warms the earth, the bare ground is soft. Eager noses search for the scent of returning woodcock. Optimism grows with the heat of the sun, but too soon the cabin comes into view.
    We’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Waiting for the Drum Roll

   Rain falls and snow melts. It is early and perhaps winter is not over, but shrinking snow and song birds chasing each other in lust says it is. The last snowfall had the heft of spring snow, not the downy consistency of a winter storm. Enough bare ground exists for the woodcock to have returned, but the ground is still frozen hard and the likelihood of their proboscis poking into the soil to find the necessary protein is unlikely.
     The dogs sleep. Waiting is easy when you sleep. Soon the woodcock will return and during the early weeks, before their nesting season, the dogs will search them out to point a few, which is great early spring fun.
    Melting snow causes hurrying flooded streams. Trout fishing will come as the water slows and returns to the confines of its banks. Flies can be tied in the meantime. Down by the stream below the house a grouse flushed a few days ago, leaving behind tracks in the snow. Fly fishing passes the time between bird seasons and gives an excuse to search for grouse and woodcock cover.
    The rain continues. Neither dog has moved for hours, even when a log shifted and clunked in the woodstove. It is easy to envy them.
    When the rain stops and going outside is again a possibility, maybe a grouse can be heard drumming.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


    Eyes the color of winter sky look up questioningly. A rubbed ear brings her chin to rest against my knee. Eventually, she settles to lay on the rug by the desk, curled up in slumber. Soon, her legs twitch in a dream.
Chara in her fifteenth winter.
    What a long life she has had, hunting fifteen seasons, and most of those in some of the finest ruffed grouse country found anywhere. The dreams must be shaped by memories from those fifteen autumns. What stories she could tell.
    Daily walks in the woods keep our weary legs in shape, but the winter, with its deepening snow, makes the going impossible for dogs. Plowed logging roads are the only place for them to run. There she can still sniff the air along the sides, searching for grouse. Her loping trot rocks her along, but the occasional slippery spot causes the hind legs to fumble. Up and on again, her spirit is unfazed.

   In a little over two months the woodcock will return. Let’s hope we both see our way through Mother Nature’s next cycle. Do we dare dream of one more fall together?

Chara with Colby backing.

Friday, January 1, 2016

December Ends….

    The ankle-deep snow muffles the sound, our feet fall silently. Up the hill the dog’s muted bells ring. Everything looks different, blanketed by six inches of white, and the usual way is lost among the softwoods. Steeper terrain over dozens of deadfalls finally leads to the old tote road cut into to hill.
     To the left leads to favorite country where memories have accumulated over the last decade. Who would have dreamed that Chara, my older wirehair, would still
be hunting the last day of her fifteenth bird season? Colby, younger and with longer legs, is unfazed by the snow. Chara works harder, in a rocking horse motion, but appears to be having the time of her life. How many years have I wondered on the last hunt of the season if it might be the last hunt of her life? What a life she has had.

     The trail leads past softwoods and a small cutting to a gurgling brook, which is a likely place to turn around and head back, but the softwoods beyond beckon. Beneath them the snow is less deep and covered with rabbit tracks. Colby hunts further toward the edges while Chara scours the sides of the old way. A deer walked that way earlier and dozens of tiny tracks create a puzzle. Beside the lane a moose has scarred up dozens of maples, probably the same moose that Colby startled in the driveway a couple of months ago. Further up, where the old road forks, the top of a giant wild apple tree had been broken up by a bear. Not a partridge track had been found.
    Chara seems fine, but I worry about her. After I clear the snow from her bell, we head back. Downhill is always easier. The dogs hunt just as hard as they did on the way up.
    A different path leads back the final stretch to Camp Grouse. Still not a grouse track to be found. The dogs don’t seem to mind, they love the sound of the bells and the rituals of the hunt as much as the kill I think.
    I do too.