Monday, December 17, 2018

Mid-December


     A warmish weekend and settling snow tempt us into the woods. A snowmobile packed trail makes it possible. Off the trail the snow is up to the dogs’ shoulders. Determined, they struggle, but then lose their resolve.
Snowmobiles packed a trail.
    The trail dips into a hollow filled with catkin loaded alders. A stream meanders, leaving patches of bare ground at the turns. Thick spruces and fir trees shoulder the alders, with a few wild apple trees crowded in. Everything about the place looks like grouse country. The dogs taste the air and test the snow. It’s tough going.
     Does grouse scent waft in the air? Are the birds in the trees and watching us? Probably. The dogs venture into the woods and then return to the packed trail.
Catkins
     Up the road further, where it divides hardwoods on the low side to the right and mixed growth to the left, a grouse rockets across to safety in a thicket of young softwood trees. The dogs and I fight our way up to the tangle of fir trees. Colby, the older dog with arthritis issues, stops in chest deep snow and waits. I hesitate a step or two beyond, then the thunder of wings.
     Maggie, our youngster, flies through the snow into the firs. Her tail is a blur as she sorts out the scents and hunts hard. The snow is not so deep under the thick boughs and she is a joy to see.
     Eventually she comes back to me, admitting the bird has gone. We turn back toward the truck.
     Back in the hollow, Maggie plows through the snow beneath the alders. Grouse tracks meander and droppings color the snow. A squirrel has shucked a mountain of spruce cone scales. Deer tracks snake through the woods. No grouse are on the ground.
     The snow has tired us all. It is time to head home.








Sunday, December 9, 2018

Dreams


     I wrote the following in January of 2016, on a particularly wintery day. Old dogs dream, and old hunters do too. Another bird season together was not meant to be, but more than once we dreamt of it.

Winter

     Eyes, gray as the winter sky, look up questioning. A rubbed ear brings her chin to rest against my knee. Eventually, she settles to lay on the rug by my desk. Curled up in slumber, soon her legs twitch in a dream.
     What a long life she has had, hunting fifteen seasons, and most of those in some of the finest ruffed grouse country found anywhere. Her dreams must be shaped by memories of 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, forever searching for ruffed 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?


My old girl Chara in her prime.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Bank Beaver


     The bird hunting certainly was not the best. For almost two hours of walking my dogs and I had only found a couple of grouse that stayed up high in the softwood trees and two woodcock.  Finally, we were back on our side of the stream and only a couple of hundred yards from our home. It was time to direct the dogs back up the hill toward the house, but the younger wirehair, Maggie, stopped to stand like a statue beside the stream.
     Now the stream isn’t too wide, maybe fifteen to twenty feet, and only three feet deep in the deepest holes. Where my youngster stood, the bank rose about two feet above the water right next to one of the stream’s deeper holes.
     I walked up to see what held her interest, but beneath her nose only a small depression marked in the ground. For a minute we stood discussing the find, or non-find. Well…I discussed and she just stood like a statue.
     Next to us the stream made a hard turn to the left. About eight feet away, in the middle of this bend, stood an island. Two springs before, the run-off had chewed land away around it. The water slipped quietly around that corner less than two feet below us.
     Suddenly the water boiled into a million bubbles and swelled up, creating a mound that bulged toward the little island. My dog jumped back and I swung my shotgun in its direction.
     Then all was quiet.
Looking upstream at the home of  the bank beaver.
     I remember talking to Maggie and wondering what we had witnessed. The bubbles fizzled and the water became clear. The stream returned to quiet. Did it really happen?
      Then a beaver popped to the surface, swam about, only to disappear heading downstream.
     The next day I asked an old-time local about it and he said, “Oh, that was a bank beaver. For a long time it was thought they were a separate breed, but it has been learned they are the same as any beaver, except they live in a stream that is too large for them to dam up. They tunnel into the bank to make a lodge.”
     Who ever heard of such a thing?


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Shoot Fast, and Miss


     It’s the opening day of bird season, you have waited for months for this day. A chill still lingers in the air, yet the maples and birches blaze in their autumn their colors. As the sun climbs higher and starts to warm the air, traces of white frost still highlight the shadows. Buck, your Ryman setter, is working the cover hard. Life doesn’t get much better.
In the  early season the  leaves are still on the  trees
     Buck locks up like a statue.
     You hurry ahead of him and the bird explodes off the ground. In a blink it is gone. You fired a snap shot that you don’t even remember. Was it aimed? Who knows? Did you hit anything? Doubtful. Buck searches, but finds no bird.
     Early season is a tough time to hunt ruffed grouse. The foliage is still thick on the trees and when a bird flushes it is gone in a blink. We all do it…start the gun mount and point and shoot in a fraction of a second.
The fall colors add to the beauty of the  season.
     How many birds do we kill? Not too may. The abundance of leaves on opening day provide an easy excuse.
     Learn to shoot slower. If you have time for your eyes to lock onto the bird as the gun comes up to your shoulder, you will kill a larger number of them. It only takes a fraction of a second, but it makes a huge difference in the number of birds you will kill.
     No bird can outrace a charge of shot, remember that.
     Those hurried shots early in the season will tend to linger on, even as the leaves drop and the forest starts to open up. It became a muscle memory reflex. One way to force yourself to slow down is to mentally say something like “woodcock” or “ruffed grouse” or “bird up” when  the  bird flushes, then mount the gun. 
       A friend having a shooting slump with woodcock killed only one bird after missing with almost an entire box of shells. The one he hit was cleanly decapitated and fell six yards from his feet. That’s when he realized he was shooting way too quickly and even with open choked barrels the load hadn’t spread.
     He started hitting woodcock when he said, “there goes one”, before mounting his gun.

The reward of patient shooting.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Late Fall


     It has been a great bird season for you, with two limits of ruffed grouse and plenty of excellent dog work. The real world called you home the end of the second week of October, but now you are back in the woods and the leaves are long gone. Things couldn’t be better.
     You hunt this same piece of cover that you did a little over two weeks ago when you found a dozen grouse. Today, with an inch of new snow on the ground and the weeds bent over, the forest seems to be shades of gray. Where are the grouse? What happened? Where did they all go?
     The ruffed grouse have moved. It happens every year. The edges of that clearcut, up high on the hill, where you found so many birds early in October now feel empty. For three hours you have walked and not found a single ruffed grouse…not even a track in the newly fallen snow. Your dog, Banjo, is working her butt off and is as enthusiastic as when you left your truck, but you don’t feel that way.
     You encounter a stream and follow it downhill to where it slips through a culvert beneath a logging road. Still, not a single bird. Crossing the road, you continue down the hill to where the hardwood stand peters out to mix with softwood trees. Banjo’s tail is a blur until she locks up on point.
     As you approach, a grouse steps off a small knoll and disappears down the hill deep into a darkness of the softwood trees, almost like a sky diver stepping out of an airplane. The precipitous drop-off discourages any attempt to follow, but seeing a single grouse has lifted your spirits. You turn to the left to follow the edge where the softwoods and hardwoods mingle, heading back towards your truck.
     Green ferns still poke up through the new snow.  In places a ground cover with roundish palm-sized green leaves shows through the white. A bird flushes from a little over head-high from a fir tree, startling both you and Banjo.
     And it brings a smile to your face.
     In a tight little valley someone has cut a couple of acres of hardwoods trees that abut a stand of hemlock. Alders cluster in a wet area. Poplar and maple sprouts are everywhere. Raspberry vines tug at your pants.
     Banjo goes on point, but before you can walk in front of her a grouse rockets up from the ground and another blasts out of a tree. With a prayer you swing on the one coming out of the tree and see it fold, not even aware that you pulled the trigger.
     Later, back at the truck, you will clean that bird and find its crop filled with buds, catkins from alders, and a few flecks of green foliage.
     The grouse had moved. With the cold weather coming they sought out the shelter of the softwood trees. The seeds and berries that they ate earlier in the fall, up higher on the hill, are gone. Catkins and buds will be their winter diet. When green ground-covers are available they will eat those too.
     It happens every year. As the colder weather settles in, ruffed grouse seek the shelter of the softwood trees. Look along the edge of a softwood swamp. The alders and birches supply plenty to eat with safety nearby. Pockets of dense softwoods around recent cuttings can be good too.
     The birds are there, you just have to work for them. Isn’t that what grouse hunting is all about.



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Magic of Doubles



     There is something magical about double barrel shotguns, whether the barrels are stacked one over the other or they are arranged side by side.  More people seem to like them stacked up these days, and with a single trigger. Maybe it makes more sense.  I don’t think it was always that way though, because if you start looking at old guns for sale there sure are quite a few ancient side-by-sides and the over-n-unders are all newer.
Pair of Parkers
     Gun in England means a shotgun.  A rifle is called a rifle, not a gun.  Somehow, on this side of the Atlantic, we started calling everything that shoots a gun.  The English developed the shotgun to its highest form, at least in the configurations of double barrels.  Americans, with their love for firepower, developed popular pump and semi-automatic shotguns that could fire more than two shells. Most serious bird hunters have more than one type of shotgun and many have multiples of many types. 
     During the last half of the eighteen hundreds and into the early years of the twentieth century, gun makers all tried to outdo one another by improving the gun’s design. Hundreds of new patents relating to firearms were filed during that period. Everyone wanted to make the guns lighter and easier to open. Ejectors were a huge problem to solve. Several attempts at single triggers failed. Chokes appear to have been an American invention, but gunsmiths on both sides of the Atlantic experimented with them.
     The earlier guns were all sidelocks, a natural progression as the early flintlock and caplock muzzle loading guns transitioned into the first break open guns.  The hammers just stayed in the same place they always had been. About 1875, two gunsmiths named Anson and Deeley, working for a gun making company called Westley Richards, developed a simple and strong hammerless action called the boxlock.  If you want to get an argument started among fans of double barrel shotguns, ask which action is better…sidelock or box lock. And then Westley Richards came out with the droplock just to add more fuel to the argument.  
     A friend’s uncle up in Maine was my early bird hunting mentor.  His favorite upland bird gun was an old Ithaca side-by-side, a twelve gauge.  I don’t remember how it was choked, but the barrels were closer to brown than blue and the checkering was worn smooth.  He also used that gun for a deer hunting brush gun too, with buckshot in the tighter barrel and a slug in the open one.
     I saved money and wandered the gun shops, looking at double barrel shotguns and dreaming.  There weren’t many used over-n-unders in those days, and any to be found cost way too much.  The only new side-by-sides  in the shops I visited were imported Ithaca guns made by SKB.  I loved the looks, but at a price of over three hundred dollars they were way out of my reach.  Besides, I wanted a gun with double triggers, which my friend’s uncle told us was the best because you could pick your choke instantly.  I eventually bought an old Ithaca for fifty dollars.
     I never shot that gun well and eventually sold it to my brother, who still has it to this day.  Shortly afterwards, during a stop at a gun shop, I happened upon a Parker VH for three hundred dollars, a lot of money to a young guy in the mid-nineteen-seventies, but I had a full time job by then and I was hot for a Parker.  And with that gun the birds started dropping out of the sky.
A late season grouse.
     Sometime after that I read about “cast” in shotgun stocks, and sure enough that Parker’s stock was cast for a lefty, which I am.  What luck!  When I visited my brother I checked that old Ithaca and sure enough it was cast for a right handed person.  No wonder I couldn’t hit anything with it! 
     Cast is a slight bend to the side in the stock, about at its narrowest point, which is called the wrist, and it makes pointing the gun more natural and easier.  Cast for a right handed person is called cast off, and for a lefty it’s called cast on.  American guns are not usually cast one way or the other, but my first two guns were, one for me and the other for someone right handed.  Whenever I pick up a shotgun in a gun shop now I always check for cast.  The easiest way to do that is to make sure it’s unloaded, turn the gun upside down and rest the heel of the stock on something soft, like your toe, and then look down the barrels from the muzzle end.  Any cast in the stock is usually pretty easy to see.
     You probably have owned a pump shotgun or two, and maybe still do. I own two pumps, one is set up as a deer gun with a scope, and the other is my lousy weather duck gun.  Somewhere I have an old Remington 1100, which I used to be deadly with back when we could throw lead shot t waterfowl. When you look at it you know it has seen a lot of nasty weather and way too much salt water.  But none of those guns gets handled too much anymore.
     The upland woods calls to me these days and it’s always hunting over dogs. I think the quick handling and fast pointing of the doubles suits that type of hunting better.  That old Parker still sits in the safe, but it weighs over eight pounds, which is a bit much for carrying all day. For a while an over-n-under Browning Citori in 20 gauge was my go-to gun, but eventually I went to a 20 gauge side-by-side with two triggers, the Model RBL made by the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company. I like that it can handle steel shot where it is required without a worry.  Somehow the side-by-sides just seem to nestle in the crook of my arm better when I’m walking and I never see the barrels when I shoot, so I don’t believe over-n-under or side-by-side makes much difference as far as killing game. 
      Besides, I love the old traditional things, and it is hard to beat a side-by-side for that. 


The first grouse of 2018.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Hiking or Hunting


Can the dogs tell the difference?

Colby helping Val
pick blueberries.
We love our dogs and treat them like family members. That means they go almost everywhere with us and enjoy outdoor activities that can be shared with them. A great way to keep bird dogs in shape during the summer is to take them hiking. We are fortunate to live where upland birds are abundant and hiking trails abound. Can our dogs tell the difference between a day of hunting and a day of hiking? Of course they can.
Whenever we work the dogs on birds, whether hunting or training, they wear collars with bells attached. Hearing those bells brings on a level of excitement that exceeds anything else. The dogs love to go on a hike during the off season, but it isn’t the same as putting on those belled collars.
Val and our old girl Chara
on a summer time hike.
In April and May, when ruffed grouse and woodcock are nesting and have young broods, we hike less and pick our walks carefully so not disrupt the birds. April up here can be muddy and is a great time to work on the next year’s firewood supply. May is a great time to do a little trout fishing.
During normal summer hikes, the dogs run ahead and make swings back through the woods, just hunting for fun, but generally don’t go too far. The exercise keeps them and us in shape. There are frequented trails that they remember and longer trips to explore new country, sometimes miles in the woods. It's a great way to find new bird country and sometimes a beaver pond to fish.
Slip on those collars with bells and they kick into high gear, hunt hard, and point solidly on birds. The transition is like flipping a switch.



Maggie on another summertime hike.

    

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wet


     Like it often is late in October, the weather became wet, snow covers the ground in high places, and the sun has remained hidden for days. The only sensible thing to be doing outdoors is hunting, but even that brings into question one’s sanity at a certain point.
     The grouse don’t want to move far from the shelter of softwood trees, but they have to eat. The cold weather requires more calories for them to stay warm. Following the edges of clearcuts we have found a few birds. Too often the birds are a whir of wings with a flash of feathers and gone. The shots are tough, with the softwoods swallowing up the birds in a blink. After almost a month of hunters in the woods, the grouse have seen it all and become skittish.
Maggie is learning every day.
     The dogs still manage to point a few. Maggie, our youngster, is learning stealth, something that is hard to teach and best learned on her own with exposure to wild birds. She does her best after she runs enough to burn off some energy and slow down a bit.
     Today a friend’s setter, Russ, was a delight to watch today as he winded a bird and tiptoed along with his head high. Maggie eventually caught the wafting scent too, but we never found a bird. Was it in a tree laughing at us? Probably, and maybe far ahead across the cutting.
     Up behind a cutting, Russ pointed next to a blowdown. Dave, the dog’s owner, walked in and one bird rocketed low out the far side, offering no shot. Another shot back over his shoulder, but avoided two ounces of ounces of shot he tossed its way.
     Some days are tough, but if it were easy we would soon be bored.
   
 
Cuttings and softwood.



Saturday, October 27, 2018

From my log…



Maggie on point.
     October 27, Saturday.  Today was one of those days every bird dog owner waits for. I took the girls to woodcock country, hoping to get my youngster onto birds that wanted to hold for a point. Right off the bat Maggie locked up like a statue and when I walked in a woodcock flew up. I nailed it and she returned it, things couldn’t have been better.
     Of course I thought the whole morning would go like that, but we couldn’t find another woodcock anywhere.
     Hunting our way back, Maggie pointed again, I walked in, she relocated, and when I walked ahead of her a grouse flew. The shot was muffed, my fault totally, but I was very proud of her. Maybe five minutes later she points again, quite a long way ahead of me. I get to her and walk past. A grouse bursts skyward and ducks behind a large cherry tree that absorbs a load of number eight shot. Two perfect points! If only I could have killed those birds.
     Entering some softwoods, another grouse flew out of a fir tree directly over my head. There was no chance for a point on that bird.
    An excellent two hour morning, with Maggie was a rock star. There weren't a lot of birds, but three solid points and no bumped birds. She is learning everyday.


Maggie with a woodcock.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Shot Size


           If you want an endless discussion, maybe even an argument, bring up the subject of shot size at grouse camp. Should the conversation start to slow, ask what everyone recommends for choke constriction.
As a young hunter, I was impressed by horsepower, and that meant high brass loads with number six shot for grouse. My first shotgun, an old Ithaca side-by-side was choked modified and full. Luckily for the grouse, I seldom hit them, but if I did there wasn’t a lot left. One of the first ones I ever shot was also shot by my brother at the exact same instant. We picked up the pieces without either of us realizing the other had shot too. Cleaning what remained of the bird later, there was both my number six and his seven and a half shot in the shredded carcass.
Number six shot is overkill for grouse, even late in the season when their feathers have toughened up. Number eights are my choice through the first two months of the season, and maybe I’ll switch to seven and a halfs later when the birds toughen up in December.
There’s a lot more pellets in a load of number eights than seven and a halfs, about 17% more, and grouse are not difficult to kill. With more pellets a few are bound to find their way through those early season leaves. And if a woodcock is put up you want a lot of pellets in the air or the bird may escape through a hole in the pattern. Some early season hunters like number 9 shot for woodcock, which has about 40% more pellets than a same weight load of number eights.
It is always a good idea to pattern your shotgun to see what different loads do. The first few weeks of the season, when the leaves are still thick and the shots close, spreader loads like Double-Wide by Polywad and Spreader-Lite by RST may increase your bag. On opening day, I like a Double-Wide in the right barrel and a regular seven-eighths ounce load in the left of my twenty gauge, both in number eight shot.
All through the season I shoot open chokes, preferably cylinder in one barrel and improved cylinder or skeet in the other. Most grouse shooting is a close in game. At the tail end of the season, when the leaves are off and the birds are wily, I may put a modified choke tube in my second barrel. It may be time to switch to number seven and a half shot too, because they seem to sustain their energy a little further in the cold denser air.
So I’m willing to listen to your opinions, as we sit by the fire and sip a single malt. The dogs snooze at our feet and there will be more laughter than arguing. If the answers were absolute, it wouldn’t be as much fun.

The fireplace at Camp Grouse.


Monday, October 1, 2018

It’s Showtime



The clearcut
     The season opened on a Monday with light rain, so I spent the morning working indoors. The precipitation stopped early and by mid day things had dried out some. 
     After lunch I took Maggie and Colby up a local bumpy road to take a right next to an old log cabin. We hunted the clearcut on the low side of the road where we had found birds a week before, but found nothing. We did find a moose scrape with a huge track in it. Above the road Maggie pointed one woodcock in a tangle as thick as a steel wool. It escaped unscathed.
The fall colors.
      From there we drove over across the valley to hunt the top of another clearcut. It's an interesting one, at the edge of old farm country, so there are a few apple trees remaining. Maggie pointed a couple of grouse in a thicket that I could not get into before they flew. Colby was on the scent of another, when it burst from a tree over my right shoulder. I killed it with a long shot, using a Polywad Double-Wide load of number eights. 
     Maggie was the one to find the bird. She is very proud of herself.
The first bird of the season. Its crop was filled with apple.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Calendar


     Old man Autumn must have looked at the calendar Friday, because he roared in during the night, rattling the windows and dumping rain on the roof. At midnight, when one of the dogs had to go out, the temperature outside was sixty. But shortly afterwards the house shook and rain poured like pea-stone from a dump truck. By breakfast the temperature had dropped to forty-nine and the howling northwest wind started breaking up the clouds.
     Flannel shirts and added layers. Chores first and then off to the woods to run the dogs and find some grouse.



Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ten More Days


     Soon Bird season will open. For the upland hunter, it is the most anticipated day of the year. Here at Camp Grouse, even the dogs know it is coming.
     Maybe it is changes in the weather, or that we’ve been going out to run with their bells on. I guess that is a dead giveaway. Perhaps they see the hints of colors on the hillsides too, just like we do.
     Whenever two or more bird hunters get together the conversation always comes around to how many birds they have been seeing. Birds in the roads are mentioned and maybe a woodcock seen flying at dusk. Of course, everybody is delightfully vague about where they’ve been seeing birds. It is fun to see the enthusiasm of new hunters.
    The trap is out to throw clay targets, set up on the side deck. We’ve thrown a few to refresh muscle memory. The gun comes up like it always did. It would be fun to shoot at a skeet or sporting clays range if one were nearby, but we’ll settle for targets thrown out beyond the drop-off beyond the house. If a target is missed, the dogs disappear down into the tall weeds to bring it back, sort of sticking the lousy shot in my face.
     New boots are broken in. The bird hunting pants will get a new treatment of wax.  The vest will be dug out and hung by the back door. There isn’t much more to get ready, which is one of the beauties of upland hunting.
     Tomorrow we’ll be out scouting for birds and running the dogs. There’s a ridge we want to explore. We have to get in shape too.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Stream


      Moss under foot silenced my feet. The path slipped through shade beneath very green maple leaves then turned down into the darkness of softwood trees. Where the ground flattened, woven roots formed a bridge over a tiny trickle, then waist-high ferns shouldered the narrow trail between tall straight spruce and fir trees. 

     My dogs bounded ahead and I hoped they weren’t cooling themselves in my favorite fishing pool. The water would be low and those brook trout spook easily. Colby, the older German wirehair trotted back looking for me. Maggie, ever the hunter, was standing atop the bank by a bend of the stream, looking down into the water. Frogs? Maybe.
     The quiet babble said the stream was low long before I saw it. Stepping from the trees, I noticed that one channel was completely dry and what was once an island in the stream had become part of the far bank. Shoulder high grass grew where only pebbles lay before. After reminding the dogs that stealth was required, neither entered the water, much to my relief and surprise.
     Studying the water and hoping for some inspiration, I missed my pipe that I hadn’t smoked in almost thirty-five years. Which fly? No insects were on the water, but the water was mighty thin. I opted for a tiny caddis dry.  
     Where there used to be a deeply undercut bank a tree stretched across the stream. Gravity had taken its toll. The water still swirled against the far bank, where the water piled against the log. I floated a fly in. Nothing, and then several nothings. I contemplated changing to my trusty wooly bugger, but upstream a kingfisher burst from a dead spruce. The pool beneath that bird’s tree looked promising.
     With light footsteps, I crossed a stony shallow riffle to wade through the tall grass of what used to be the island. Both dogs snuck along with me and, when I stop next to the stream to fish, they sat to watch.
     Through the glassy surface it was easy to see the brown silted bottom of the pool. Trees over the left bank blackened the water with shade, but bright sunshine lit most of the pool. Dark cigar-shaped shadows on the bottom came from holding trout, possibly a dozen with one or two longer than the spread of my hand.
     Nervously, I worked out fly line. A fleck of water from the line hit the surface and the trout flinched. My next forward cast landed short and the trout twitched again, but did not move far.
Can you see the trout?
     After the fly drifted back I lifted it off the water and false cast over the weeds along the stream. When the distance felt right, I let the fly drift down ahead of the trout.
     Pandemonium! Some dashed left, others right. One snatched the fly off the surface.
After a short battle and a sniff by the dogs, that trout was returned to swim again. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, September 3, 2018

An Expedition



What Makes an Expedition?

Merriam-Webster defines an expedition as a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose. That definition covers a lot of territory. It could mean traveling to the North Pole to see what is there. Or flying to the moon. Or it could mean a hike into the forest, searching for a wilderness trout stream to see if brook trout swim in its water or if woodcock live among the alders on its banks.
Looking for a remote stream sounds better than the cold of the arctic and much safer than flying to the moon.
There’s a locally well-known stream that has no easy access and long has been an interest of mine. The logging road that parallels part of it is gated and the headwaters are more than a dozen miles from that gate. Hours have been spent pouring over maps and aerial pictures trying to find a reasonable way in.
Finally the pieces fell together. An accessible logging road leads to a grown in logging road that shows up in aerial photos. It should only be a few miles down a long grade to find the stream. What would it be like? The expedition was planned…lunch, fly rods, camera….
The hike in was uneventful. Icy cold water flowed over a gravelly bottom, in spite of the hot August weather. Alders covered the entire wide bottom of the valley until the land started to rise into hardwoods on the hills. The remote place felt like we were the only people on Earth.
And I am not going to tell you more than that.





Monday, August 27, 2018

Late August


October still seems a long ways off. Hot muggy weather makes each day pass slowly. Maggie, our youngest wirehair, spends much of each day in a cool depression dug into the earth beneath the deck. Colby, our older wire, doesn’t seem to mind the heat at all and sleeps in the driveway.
The best parts of each day are the cool hours in the morning before the sun climbs high and as the heat fades when the late sun disappears over the distant hills.
After dinner each day, we walk the hundred yards from our home to the vegetable garden to see how things have progressed. The dogs love the routine and Maggie usually runs big sweeps around the field, as if on patrol, while Colby will stay back near the house, as if guarding it in our absence. It is a routine we all enjoy. Lately, apples dropped from a wild tree have been tossed for retrieving.
But tonight, as Maggie trotted along the edge of the field, she was jerked to a stop as if tethered to a snubbed leash. I hurried over and walked into the woods ahead of her point. A woodcock tweetered upward and away thirty feet beyond her nose.
Isn’t life grand?

Monday, August 20, 2018

August


Hot weather and humidity, it is not a favorite time of the year. Outside chores are grueling and the dogs spend their days in cool holes dug beneath the deck. Grasshoppers and crickets ratchet their hot weather songs, sometimes unbelievably loud. Haze turns distant hillsides a bluish gray. Thunderstorms that promise short periods of cooler temperatures slip by to the north or south and never fulfill their possibilities.
Trips to the lakes cool us off and the dogs enjoy retrieving from the cold water. Early mornings are the time to get things done. By noontime it is best to hide in the shade or slip back up to the lakes. Ice cream beckons. We try to remember our plight is nowhere near as bad as for those living further to the south.
But the spring was dry and the weather favorable for broods of grouse, so life is good. Without looking for grouse we find them along the roads and they explode next to hiking trails on early morning walks. Friends ask about the upcoming grouse season and I answer, “Optimistic.”
But I do that every year.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Time…


This is from my journal, seven years ago...

My oldest German wirehair, Chara, was ten this summer.  When I stroke her whiskers back I notice cloudiness in her eyes that wasn’t there before.  Her spirit is still strong, maybe stronger than mine, but she is quite content to curl up on a rug and wait for something to happen.  Yet on walks she still hunts for mice and points song birds for her own entertainment, and physically she is still strong.    With the excitement of a pup, she runs for the back door at the sound of the bell on her hunting collar.  Chara’s colors are white and liver, so the new white hairs aren’t as noticeable as if she were darker, but I do see white flecks where solid liver used to be.  Age catches us all.
Pointing as a pup.
          Inside her head are ten seasons of experience, starting with her first season when she pointed quail at five months of age.  I don’t remember if she retrieved them, but I killed several quail over her points that first fall.  The following season we hunted woodcock and ruffed grouse, and I can remember every detail of her first wild bird, a woodcock shot in Randolph, New Hampshire, at the end of a very long day afield.
So many days in a duck blind.
          I remember her first duck hunt and how she retrieved a mallard as if she’d done it a hundred times before.  And the first pheasant she pointed, in a field of low cut grass, where I was so convinced that she was false pointing that I never even raised my gun when the big squawking cock finally flew.
          Last season was her best ever, pointing grouse after grouse, almost never bumping a bird.  Certain days stick in my mind and I hope they always will.  Pointing side by side with our younger dog, she never looked better.  With tremendous luck I killed the first partridge of the season, on opening day, while the two dogs pointed shoulder to shoulder.  The retrieve was a bit contentious and they each somehow ended up with a wing, but remembering it makes me smile. 
          So I have to wonder how much longer Chara will hunt.  This season looks like a sure thing, which is good because the bird numbers are up.  Our two year old German wirehaired pointer, Colby, learns much hunting with Chara and hopefully will continue to absorb the older dog’s wisdom.  At times Chara appears impatient with the younger dog, but more often seems oblivious to the youngster’s presence.  Colby honors easily, almost never interrupting one of Chara’s points, obviously respecting the older dog’s rank.  TA few times last season Colby pointed partridge on her own, along with dozens of woodcock, none of which I’m not sure would have happened without Chara’s example.
          Now Chara dreams on the rug by my feet.  I see her feet twitch and hear muffled barks or chirps, and sometimes even a low growl.  I wonder if she recalls the same events I do, and, if so, what her favorite memories are. 
          Chara will remain top dog until the day she is done, and I plan to make certain she knows it.  We have a long history together.

Chara lived on to hunt fifteen seasons, what a time we had.    
         

Forever in the grouse woods.


 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Hunting Seasons


The length of ruffed grouse hunting seasons vary from state to state. Some bird hunting seasons run well into the winter, while other states stop much sooner, some even in the fall. A good way to get an argument started in grouse camp is to ask whether late season grouse hunting affects the bird’s population.
Samantha Davis, a University of Maine graduate student, did research with the MDIFW to see how the state’s management of ruffed grouse impacted the population. The results can be seen at the link below. The news is encouraging.





Do you see him in there?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Grouse Numbers


The number of ruffed grouse in any area has always fluctuated. Many places there seems to be a definite ten year cycle, with numbers gradually building before dropping off again. This seems most pronounced in the Lake States area. In the northeast the cycle seems less noticeable. Weather, abundance or lack of food sources, and number of predators all play a part. Now West Nile virus is also a concern.
For the first time ever the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board has proposed shortening the grouse season because of unusually low bird numbers. The details are in this link http://pointingdogjournal.com/proposed-shortening-wisconsin-ruffed-grouse-season/

The proposal will certainly stir a lot of public comment. Wisconsin has always been a leader in ruffed grouse hunting.