Across the stream the cover looked perfect. Isn’t that always the way? Mixed hardwoods towered over clumps of alders and softwoods stood in clusters, all on flat and relatively dry ground. Up in our neck of the woods, if you are not going uphill you are most likely headed down. Horizontal country is rare. And everywhere your feet seem to get wet.
Ferns and grasses covered that oasis, with patches of wild hops, seedy weeds, or raspberries breaking up the forest floor. To an old bird hunter, it looked like the Garden of Eden.
For years I had looked at it, across a rather formidable stream. It was property open to the public to hunt, but road access was for the privileged few or on foot around locked gates. Or across that unfordable stream.
The past summer was as wet as any other up in this neck of the woods, but the last two or three weeks had been dry. Evidently the spring runoff had moved the stream's bottom around and changed the course of the stream a bit. Passing by the other day, I was surprised to notice a place to cross.
After parking, we started to our collect gear and ready the gun. Instantly, the two dogs locked up on point about fifteen feet from the back of the truck. Ahead of them a nearly vertical drop fell to the water a dozen or more feet below.
Stepping toward them with gun in hand, a grouse exploded across toward the far side. I never even attempted to bring the gun up. The youngest wirehair, Maggie, launched and landed mid-stream and I don’t think she even knew she got wet.
The climb down to the stream was a challenge, followed by a leap to a gravel bar, then steps from rock to rock to rock, then another leap to a steep slippery muddy bank, all the while holding onto a very dear shotgun.
The country looked even better up close.
|A scraggy old tree.|
No chainsaw had visited that plateau in decades. Three men together would not have been able to put their arms around one particularly fat yellow birch. Ancient alders lined the streambank and scraggy old cherry trees towered overhead. Fat white birches shed sheets of bark and an occasional red maple stood nearby. Further inland, scattered clumps of softwoods offered shelter and a zigzag of alders split the property.
followed the stream edge, ducking under or stepping over alders. At times we took the easier way, weaving inland to push through weeds or dried grasses. A finger of slack water finally cut off our course.
The rumble of the stream competed with the rattle of the leaves. Moose and deer tracks hid between the dried leaves in the soft moist ground. Dog bells jingled and it felt like civilization had to be far far away. Overhead, ravens rasped about something.
Hunting inland we followed another line of alders that wove back along an old crooked stream that had barely any water in it. In places wet ground called for careful foot placement to avoid disaster. Twice grouse launched off of the ground, startling us. One flushed low at my feet when I stepped last a cherry tree. It offered an easy going away shot, but the dog’s bells were ringing ahead of the grouse so I held the shot.
The dogs pointed a woodcock under big old alders, but then the youngster, Maggie, attempted to catch it. Another was bumped, which was nobody’s fault, we’ll blame the wind. We followed to where it disappeared into a cluster of red twig dogwood that stood beside a dark stand of softwood trees, but never found it again.
|Colby has been around long enough to know the tricks.|
Colby, the older wirehair, locked up on third one back at the alders. Maggie honored like a champ. That bird came home with us.
I had to wonder when that land had been logged. Everywhere up in that neck of the woods had been cut over at least once. Could they have just taken the spruce or pine? An area I had logged as a young pup had been harvested that way. The big old yellow birches we passed had to be two hundred years old.
In a clump of fir trees, Maggie poked around the base of one maple that stood among them, repeatedly coming back to its trunk. Her tail was just a blur. Finally, she looked up, which caused me to look up too, and sure enough a grouse sat hidden among the branches. I am sure the bird wished it were somewhere else, or that we were. Several pictures were taken and then the bird bolted, escaping unscathed without a shot fired
|Do you see him in there?|
The string of alders led us through more beautiful cover, but we found no other birds. Eventually we came back to the stream, far upstream from where we had started. We hunted further upstream a bit, but the country turned to mostly softwoods and didn’t look as promising. We turned back downstream to find where we had crossed earlier.
Crossing back was just as challenging, but we made it with dry feet. And climbing up the banking to the road was the most physically demanding part of the day.
Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the stream, you just have to get there.