Sunday, January 26, 2020

Looking for the MotherLode…

The end of October had arrived and the gang had left. It was prospecting time, which means searching for new grouse cover. It’s done every year, usually after all the friends have left. There’s no use dragging them around the wilds to places that may or may not hold birds. Sometimes the terrain gets mighty rough in our rugged neck of the woods and exploring what might be birdless cover isn’t always appreciated. Good grouse cover can go from prime to thin-pickens in about ten years, so it is always necessary to be prospecting for new coverts.
      The clear cut showed up on Google Earth and was back in a section of country that’s been full of grouse the last few years. The cut covered probably two hundred acres, but hid behind a stand of thick softwood trees, so it wasn’t readily visible from the logging road. All that, and fourteen miles from the nearest asphalt in some mighty rugged terrain made it seem promising and maybe even un-hunted.
      It would be one of the last hunts of the year, so I let all three dogs out for the hunt. Pandemonium can be fun. From where we parked a skid trail turned into snowmobile road, wide as a thruway, that seemed to run upward forever. It passed softwoods to the left while a stream gurgled in a gully filled with hardwoods to the right. When the softwoods gave way the cutting looked enormous. We trekked to the top and an old road continued into the shade of mature hardwoods.  The view back across the forested valley was stunning.
The nearest paved road is over those hills.
      The cutting probably was two years old with relatively easy walking between the poplar and maple sprouts. The loggers had taken away all of the tree tops, leaving the ground relatively clean. Wet spots were covered with grass and moose tracks. Sprouts crowned the hardwood stumps, but most weren’t shoulder height. Wild raspberries grew everywhere. It really wasn’t good grouse cover yet.
      The dogs and I hunted along the top of the cutting and then down the west side.  It didn’t look too encouraging, with no softwoods to offer shelter for the birds, but ahead and about halfway down the slope I could see softwoods left behind by the logging operation.
      Approaching, I noticed a small knoll covered with softwoods.
      Now I love knolls, because grouse love knolls. What better place to sit and collect morning sunshine and survey the surroundings. No matter which way danger approaches, the grouse has a downhill escape route that leaves them out of sight in the blink of an eye.
Chara on a bird.
    About then I wished my friends hadn’t all left for those flat lands to the south. Approaching the hump the dogs’ bells eagerly rang. And then I could hear the birds accelerating off the far side. There were at least four. If only someone could have been standing on the far side, it would have been like one of those European driven hunts.
      On the other side of that little hill the cutting opened up again with scattered softwood clumps further down the slope. Stopping for a moment, I tried to guess where I would go if I were a grouse and picked an open alley that led downhill into a softwood swamp.
      At the edge of the spruce and fir thicket my oldest German wirehair, Chara, locked up on point, almost completely hidden by young waist-high fir trees.
      A bird busted out wild.  Missed. Opening the gun to reload, a second bird rocketed after the first.
      Encouraging the dogs on, Colby, my youngest wirehair, pointed a grouse sitting about twelve feet off the ground in a yellow birch.  It flew on my approach, sailing away ahead of a swarm of shot…those birds coming out of trees are devilishly hard to hit.
      The woods got thicker, with blown down fir trees and nearly impenetrable clusters of young ones. Pushing through, it was impossible to see my feet. All three dogs became birdy, pressing under the tangles that I was forced to climb over.  Each dog wanted to find the birds first.
Colby coming out of the
thicket with the bird
Georgia pointed.
      I couldn’t locate Georgia, the young German shorthair, but then spotted her frozen about eight feet in front of Colby, who was honoring. The thick green fir boughs almost buried both of them. Before I could get within twenty yards of the dogs the grouse rumbled upward and a reflex made my gun fire. It was a prayer shot, but I saw a bird’s wing flutter…maybe. With the softwoods so thick a dead bird might get caught up in a branch and never hit the grouse. The dogs had disappeared.
      And then Colby came pushing through the brush with the bird in her mouth. What a great sight.
Georgia checking out the
grouse she pointed.
      We hunted down the hill, moving three more grouse, but killing none. Coming out of the swamp into the more open clearcut Chara pointed and a woodcock flew up on my approach. Twisting among the branches of two fir trees, it quickly escaped.
      We went back the next year and I brought my friends. I wish all my prospecting trips turned out that successful.

The gang, Georgia, Colby, and Chara, taking a break
beside a logging road.

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