Well, It’s been too long, but as evidenced by the flurry of posts surrounding the #birdhunting type blogs that we all subscribe to, one might well imagine that the various season openers are at last upon us. I have not posted over the summer as there has not been a lot of interest to report. I worked less with the dog this summer for several reasons, the main one being lack of time. Most of our training was limited to intensive obedience sessions and less bird work. Steady to shot is in the future but I will focus on that more with planted birds through the winter months.
Last Saturday was the long awaited grouse opener. I had to check my calander several times in the weeks leading up to it to verify that it actually was on October 25th. I swore it was earlier last year, but each time I checked nothing had changed. I guess wishful thinking and the constant badgering of my hunting companion, the 2 1/2 yr old setter kept getting the better of me. He has been unmanageable the last 6 weeks. Every time he sees me put my shoes one, hears a door creak, or sees me put something in the back of the truck he assumes it must be bird hunting time and begins turning cartwheels in the yard or living room as the case may be. The switch in his brain seems to flip somewhere around the first week of September and only intensifies with every benchmark of fall…the first frost, the first falling leaf, the first 40 degree day etc. Suffice it to say last Saturday was a welcomed relief once it was finally upon us.
Plans were made to head out to some new territory and some familiar ground as well. The day looked to be perfect albeit a touch on the warm side from a weather standpoint. It was to be a quick morning hunt but no less anticipated. Gus’s normal playbook includes a rather bizarre ritual as he is overcome by excitement. Normally upon load up he begins shaking uncontrollably, while drooling and nearly convulsing. All of this usually necessitates the intervention of one or more of his two legged hunting partners to place him in his box in the truck where he can quietly reflect and regain his wits while en-route to the chosen covert. This time there was none of that. He made a beeline to the back of the truck and jumped directly into the box in one fluid movement. I could feel the entire truck rocking with the force of his tail wagging.
As we approached the site of our traditional “first cast” we were all excited. We took a quick pass through and were rewarded with a solid point in the first several minutes. I immediately noticed something in the dog leading up to this point. He was staying closer than usual to me and checking in twice as much as I had seen last year. He listened and obeyed every command the first time including calling him off of deer trails and hand signals toward likely cover. When he went on point we knew something special was about to happen. I moved in for the flush and positioned my partner in an open lane. There was still a lot of foliage so we knew we would have only fleeting shots if any. As I tried to flush the bird Gus relocated several times but seemed sure and never moved more than a few yards. Finally with no flush we decided to move on. Gus made one more circle to our rear (wind had been in our faces) and slammed on point again. Brian this time was closer and circled for a flush. He reported seeing something round and brown scurry down the hill and into a thick tangle. He couldn’t be sure what it was but judging from the dog’s look it had to be a bird. We looked high and low and left no stone unturned without another point. After deciding to move forward, we heard beating wings. Something flushed wild ahead of us and escaped unharmed. We took a run up the hill and around the flat spot on top towards another log road. Nothing doing.
This brought us to the point where we nearly always find a bird. It was determined that I would take the low side of the thicket. Whoever gets this side usually flushes at least one bird and usually gets only poor shots off. Whoever posts on the high side of the thicket usually gets a better look as the grouse in this thicket nearly always try to escape uphill. Today proved to be no exception. 40 yards in the dog stopped on a rock solid point. I could not produce a flush, but it was clear the birds hadn’t gone far. As he stood on point we heard a bird drumming nearby. I often wonder if anyone on earth can ever tell where that sound is coming from? I sure can’t. I released the dog from his point and within 25 yards he was locked up again. This time there was a thundering flush when I got within 15′ of the dog. I am pretty sure he must have stopped when he winded the bird and then at some point seen it walking around in front of him. He did well not to crowd like he does with planted birds sometimes. It is clear to me that he must be figuring the game out a little bit.
When the bird flushed he went nearly straight up. I got a pretty good shot of at him and really expected to hear him hit the ground but as I stood with smoking gun still mounted heard one, two, THREEEEE shots ring out. I hollered dumbfounded “did you just shoot three times…at a grouse????” “Yep and I got him too…did you shoot?” was the excited reply. It was decided that although Brian could see the down bird we would let the dog finish with a retrieve. I sounded the “dead bird” command he’d been waiting for and Gus moved in. As he approached the bird got up and took off. We were stunned. It appeared not to have gone far but we never flushed him again. We did have one wild flush in the lower bottom on our way through so my suspicion that there had been more than one on the ground in front of us was confirmed. Our hope is that the hit bird wasn’t hit too hard due to the thick foliage and maybe he survived to hunt another day.
As we circled back to the truck the dog hit another solid point. I moved in to flush. As I approached I heard beating wings and yelled “bird”. No shot followed. “Did you see him?” I asked. “Yeah but that was the smallest grouse I ever saw” Brian replied. I thought I had seen some woodcock splash in the thicket, but brushed it off as it was far too early for flight birds and I have only to date ever seen one native bird in this part of the state. I asked if it could have been a woodcock. Brian replied “I don’t know I’ve never flushed one.” We discussed the typical flush scenario and whistling sound they usually make when they get up. As we came to the edge of the road we bumped another…this time Brian was reasonably sure it was a woodcock. I still hadn’t seen the bird and the dog was not close enough to have winded him. I was still doubtful, but hoped that it may be just a young of the year grouse. When we got to the truck I put my gun in the box and moved to get some water for the dog. As I stepped into the grass beside the driver’s door a woodcock flushed in front of me in typical rocket up and arc fashion. “That my friend is a woodcock!” I exclaimed. As I turned to locate the dog, I saw what I had missed before. He was standing by the truck on a rock solid point!…It ain’t over til it’s over I guess! We will not hunt this particular covert again until woodcock are in season. I hold hope that we might knock down a couple this year!