Monday, October 30, 2017

The Puppy

Maggie in her new home.
     Ripsnorter Magalloway Magic Snapshot came home with us the end of February, 2016. In our neck of the woods, February brings nights with temperatures well below zero, and even days that barely creep up to zero. Maggie slept in a kennel beside our bed to wake us when nature called, and, when it did, I would slip on the heavy flannel lined pants and chamois shirt.
Hurrying back to the house.
     In the winter darkness she would scurry off to search for the right spot beneath the low limbs of a softwood tree. That was her choice every single time. To keep track of Maggie I slipped a collar on her with a blinking red light. What looked like a tiny fire truck zigzagged about the yard.
With her great aunt Chara
     Every day she explored and learned. Her great aunt Chara kept her in line. Colby, seven years older at the time, became her playmate. Her willingness to please made her easy to train. Snow, mud, pools of water, all were great fun. The woods became a giant playground. Unfortunately, Chara passed away that summer, but Maggie had already learned much from the old wise one.
Pointing a planted quail.
     That August Maggie pointed pen raised quail like a champ, even retrieving ones shot. Her first hunt tests she received near perfect scores and that first fall we searched out woodcock.
Pointing a woodcock.
     I won’t say Maggie pointed every woodcock she found, birds were bumped and sometimes patience during a point ran short, but she did better than a passable job. Frequently she honored Colby’s points. Sometimes she pointed on her own. Her enthusiasm felt infectious.

A lunch time break.
     Now in her second fall, Maggie points woodcock regularly and even an occasional skittish ruffed grouse. Her range is perfect, she frequently checks back to see where I am. There has never been a dog more anxious to have a hunting bell hung around her neck than Maggie.
Ripsnorter Magalloway Magic Snapshot

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Across The Stream

     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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

New Country


        It was a few years back, I had been thinking about it since the previous year, when I drove by the gate and noticed a partridge in the road about a hundred yards away.  We were miles from anywhere on logging roads that day, so I pulled over, let out the dogs, and grabbed my gun to see if the dogs might point that bird.  
        It had taken some doing to just find it, the little guy walked farther than I thought it might.  Chara, my older wirehair, pointed staunchly, I walked in, and then the bird burst into a thicket of softwood trees never to be seen again.
      That road went on around a long bend to the left, apparently following the edge of softwoods growing in a boggy area.  On the other side of the road was a cutting, probably ten years old, maybe younger, gently sloping uphill.  It was late in the day, the last day of our week-long hunting trip, so we didn’t go far, but I knew there was country to explore.
      Often during the next summer I studied the area on Google Earth, looking for softwoods, streams, and fitting the topography into the cuttings.  Frequently I would measure distances to get everything in prospective, trying to plan hunts that would explore the most productive looking country.  Finally, fall arrived.
      I parked in an abandoned logging yard not far up that road and let the two wirehairs and the young shorthair out.  Three dogs?  I love pandemonium.  Light rain fell and the temperature wasn’t much over freezing.  Wherever the ground appeared flat, water puddled from the almost steady rain of the previous week.  But it was the first day of my annual hunting week and life couldn’t have been better.
      We worked the edges of the softwoods and mixed cover, working the high side of the logging road and heading up further into the forest.  No birds.  A couple of miles or so from the truck, and starting to get quite wet, I convinced my girls to hunt the low side of the road back toward the truck.
Well down the slope and far from the road, Chara, the older wirehair, started to get birdy among a mixed stand of mature fir and red maples.  A woodcock bolted up the hill.
          We followed, hoping to find that woodcock again, and soon Chara’s tail started to blur as she sorted out the scents.  Colby, the younger wire, picked up the scent too, while Georgia, the young shorthair, dashed about further down the hill, unaware what the other two dogs were up to. 

Chara at her best. 
          Chara froze.  It didn’t look like partridge country, not on a rainy day anyway, with tall maples and yellow birch trees, so I thought she must be marking the woodcock we had flushed before.  I did my best to hurry over the squishy ground.  Colby noticed Chara and stopped in her tracks.  You got to love that dog.
          A partridge rocketed into the air and flew diagonally up the hill, gaining altitude all the way, launching far ahead of the dog and well out of range.
          By that time water had found its way into various inner parts of my clothing and my legs ached from trying to find footing on the lumpy water-logged ground.  We hunted back up toward the road, with its easier walking, and headed toward the truck. 
          It certainly was rugged country and we would be back.  

More New Country

So close yet so far...
     Across the river looked to be mighty birdy country, but the water was too deep to wade, so to get there meant many miles on logging roads. Mature alders, with pockets of poplar and clusters of softwoods, beckoned. Dozens of times I had seen it, but traipsing all over the country on the other side of the river, I had never figured out where to find it.
     Studying topographical maps and aerial photos, I finally unraveled it.
Beavers were everywhere.
     It took a hike through softwoods to get there, probably a mile. In places the sphagnum moss was so thick you could actually hear yourself think. Most of the spruce and fir trees were large, so the walking was easy, but in places thickets of smaller trees or cedars and water under foot made the going slower. When we could, we followed game trails. I wish deer were taller.
     Along the river ancient cherries stood over the alders. Dead elms desperately tried to hang onto their limbs and scattered fat fallen fir trees required detours. Fingers of water forced reconnoitering and alternate courses. But it was bird country.
     The dogs tore through the cover. Maggie, the youngster, shot about like a ping pong ball, almost immediately bumping a grouse. It looked like a cannon-fired turkey crossing an opening over tall grass. Colby, the experienced older girl, work methodically. Bells were ringing. Birds were pointed, birds were bumped, and, at the end of the day, the birds were luckier than we were.
Do you see him there?
     There’s more country to explore along that section of the river. We’ll be back.