When this all started it seemed simple enough. Get dog, train dog, hunt grouse. That was it right? Well things are rarely that simple. Granted I think the dog probably did not need as much as I myself needed, but regardless, I am 8 months in, the owner of a fine English Setter, bird launchers, johnny house, quail, quail accessories, e collar, dog supplies, and seriously considering selling one of my children for a fine double shotgun because the free donated one is “just a little too heavy and a couple of inches long”. What the heck happened? But I digress.
October 26th seemed like it would never come. Then as I was considering this past weekend’s projects and obligations list I realized….Saturday is the 27th of October…I HAVE TO GROUSE HUNT!!! Saturday morning came with an uncontrolled excitement…THIS WAS REALLY IT. Not pen raised birds and evaluation of our training progress…Honest to goodness WILD BIRDS. Make or break time. All of the forum friends I have come to know have been trying to cool my excitement with comments like “you might not take a shot this season…that’s ok just let him hunt and flush. that’s how he’ll learn. If he has any smarts about him he might point one after a few dozen contacts…Wouldn’t get my hopes up though, I go thru about 50 dogs to 1 that I’ll hunt on grouse.” – John Doe Michigan UP grouse expert. Then of course there’s the old “there’s no wild birds anymore. Not unless you want to drive 15 hours to Michigan/Minnesota/Wisconson.” I don’t care. My enthusiasm can’t be stopped. He’ll point. I know he will. I WILL see grouse. I know I will.
Saturday morning I got up, dressed, picked up my gear carefully laid out the night before and stepped out the door towards my waiting truck (carefully backed into it’s spot so as to make a quick getaway). Wait a minute…Rain. Yep drizzle and nasty sheets of rain. A quick check of a grouse hunters forum reported great numbers despite a wet start to their season, so I figured I was in good company. Time to hunt. I loaded up the bird dog and took off. 35 minutes later with grey daylight appearing, we were easing up the gravel forest road to the spot I had picked. I’d put up birds here before and liked my chances. It was a tract that had 100 acres clear cut in 10 or 15 acre blocks about 10 years back by the Ruffed Grouse Society. It was all nice habitat with evergreens, laurel thickets, and hardwoods all mixed into the ravines and creek beds. All of the coverts took no more than 30 minutes to cover and any flushes that escaped were likely to hole up in the next patch of woods waiting to be scoured. I opted to drive to the furthest of the three spots I planned to cover, walk to the bottom and work my way back. 30 yards from my pull-out parking spot, I stopped with a big fat grouse standing in the middle of the road. “you gotta be kidding me” I said to the oblivious setter in the passenger seat. I backed up towards the nearest pull off while developing my plan to work up to the laurel I saw that grouse disappear into. I jumped out and put my chaps and vest on, unloaded the dog and we were off. Gus worked beautifully. In the wrist thick saplings he worked about 20-30 yards out and then wheeled around and crossed my path to the other side only to do the same thing. He kept checking in and did just what I would have hoped for. After about 20 minutes, we got what I was hoping for. Gus stopped with his tail at 12:00 and his head high. A POINT. I moved in carefully ready for the flush. He was over a deadfall with a little dry pocket carved out under a limb. I kicked and shook to no avail. I did however find some droppings that proved we weren’t far behind a bird. I heard wings beating over a small ravine. Gus, still birdy started down. I called him back not knowing what was down there for him to fall over. We had done it…A good point on a wild bird. It didn’t even matter that I hadn’t seen the bird let alone fired a shot. Take that Michigan UP guy!
We worked the rest of the cover with great dog work and one more point that went down almost the same way. On our way out to the road to walk back to our next likely spot I stopped at the edge of the road as was my custom and unloaded my gun. I called Gus to a heel. He really didn’t want to come apparently interested in something in the ditch but reluctantly did. As he stood at my side, I tucked the last shell from my gun into a loop in my vest. Almost on cue, a grouse erupted from the ditch where Gus had been looking. I’ve never personally witnessed a flush like this though I’ve been told they sometimes occur. The bird flew straight away from me slowly and banked right. Who would have thought…an easy shot! IF my gun had been loaded. I swear I heard him whistle a tune that sounded similar to “summer time and the living is easy” as he sleepily glided into the woods. We looked for him again, but never made contact. Next time I guess…but it didn’t matter. I have a grouse dog now. His part was done. The negative kills are on me not him.