Saturday, April 27, 2019


Snow is  still  on the banks.
     Snow still makes blotches the hills and the streams rumble. Water is everywhere. The roads are muddy. Everywhere is muddy. Outside it is barely over forty degrees. This is April in the North Country.
Catkins on alders.
     During the day the grouse drum, a sound more felt than heard. Today rain spit from the sky as water rushed downhill. Grass is still brown, but the poplars and elms are in bloom. A fire in the woodstove makes our house a cozy home.
     The night is still. There is no madness, like on the evening news. Rushing water is the only sound. Twilight lasts long as the sky changes from shades of gray to blues and eventually a star speckled sheet of black.
     Spring is awakening, a slow process up here at Camp Grouse. 

We love the long quiet evenings.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Walking With a Rifle

The snow underfoot crunches. Stealth is out of the question. Even plodding downhill is difficult with the heavy snow almost up to the knees. Deer tracks, several days old, cross to the west following the same path that a coyote did earlier.
     Under the softwood trees the land flattens out. The brook babbles, but the sound is distant. Wet spots have melted the snow, exposing soggy ground that makes walking difficult, but soon the ground rises and is firmer and the stream can be seen.
     Huge fresh deer tracks head to the west. Following them parallels the steep hill on the right. Obviously, the deer didn’t want to go up it, nor cross the cold rushing water of the stream.
     The snow is too noisy. Following an old footpath is quieter and leads away from the deer tracks, but should intercept them again a couple hundred yards ahead, that’s if the deer holds his course.
     Where the woods opens up enough to see  the hundred yards from the stream to the steep hill, a seat is found against a fat old fir tree. It is time to wait.
     Time slows. The rattle of the stream never stops. A squirrel chatters in a nearby tree. Who is he scolding? Nothing can be seen moving anywhere in the woods. A tiny bird creates a nasal buzzing in the boughs overhead.
     Did a twig snap? The water’s song never changes and swallows up most sounds. A blue jay sounds an alarm and passes between treetops.
     Other than pursuing game, deer hunting and bird hunting share little in common. Bird hunters, even hunting alone, usually have the comradery of their dog. Some of the best days afield are spent with friends, joking and telling stories while you hunt. Pheasant hunters talk about not slamming car doors before the hunt, but stealth plays only a minor role in bird hunting. To most bird hunters who hunt with a dog, the sport is all about the dog. Really, it is the dog that does the actual hunting.
      For a deer hunter it is entirely different. The hunter becomes an apex predator in the woods. As he immerses himself into the forest, his senses sharpen until he hears and sees things most humans would miss. He becomes part of the forest. And even when hunting with others nearby, he spends much of his time alone.
     That snapping twig had to be caused by something. And who or what is the blue jay protesting? Time passes differently for the predator. Silence lingers. A red squirrel darts up a spruce tree. For an eternity nothing changes.
     Finally, darkness seeps into the woods and it is time to head home. Walking back the big deer’s tracks are found turning up the hill. He crossed over the hill where it isn’t too tall. There is always tomorrow.
     Both types of hunting are enjoyable, but the hardest thing about deer hunting is looking at the expression on my bird dog’s face as I am about to leave the house with a gun in my hand.
     That is why I deer hunt so little.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Maggie’s Day

     The day was planned in woodcock country, hoping to find steady birds for our younger dog to work on. Most of the time Maggie held point reliably, but on grouse she was far from flawless. There’s no better bird than woodcock to work a young dog on.
     We had no sooner entered the alders and Maggie locked up on point. A woodcock came up as I walked past her and she retrieved it after the shot. The day began the way I hoped it would.
     Weaving through the alders, we hunted hard and covered a lot of territory, but we found no more woodcock. Where could they be? A beaver had been busy and created a large pond. And then we found a second new pond made by another beaver. Moose had crossed through and deer had a trail parallel with the stream. Finally we turned inland to work our way back.
     Maggie locked up on point far ahead. I could see her, but getting there through the alders and blow down fir trees was a struggle. Finally stepping past her, I expected a woodcock…grouse never hold that long.
     Old mister grouse exploded skyward. I fumbled in the tangle of cover, never getting to fire a shot. Maggie had held that bird for an unbelievable length of time. I was ecstatic.
     After several minutes of praise we hunted on, walking a meandering course more or less following where the alders met the forest. Atop a bump on a knoll Maggie locked up again with Colby backing.
     Not sure what to expect, I hurried past her with my gun up. A grouse flushed twenty feet from her nose. It was an easy straight away shot, but the bird ducked behind a fat red maple as I pulled the trigger. The tree will live to tell about it, and so did the bird.
     Again I praised her. We had found three birds, two of which were ruffed grouse, all in an hour or so, and she performed like a wise old bird dog. Even without a ruffed grouse in the bag, I went home a very happy hunter.