Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Opening Day

In the U.K. the first day of the red grouse hunting season is known as the Glorious Twelfth, and though many know and celebrate the fabled date, relatively few participate. Each year on August 12 the aristocratic class of England take their places around the moors accompanied by a matched pair of Best Grade English shotguns and a spotter/loader. The gamekeepers then beat the heather with their spaniels and labradors to flush the grouse from the cover and over the waiting gunners. The shooting can be fast and furious and when the gun is emptied it is passed to the loader who offers the other gun which is loaded and ready. A good loader is kind of like a one-man Indy pit crew -- I can picture the gunners sitting around and the end of the day sipping single malt and saying things like, "that old McDowell's a fine chap, he isn't much to look at but he can load my Purdey in 9/10ths of a second."

Each year I toast the Glorious 12th because I like the tradition and it's a reminder that our opening day isn't far off. I used to celebrate with a shot of The Famous Grouse scotch whiskey, but it's such vile tasting stuff that I finally switched to something I like.

Grouse opener here in Minnesota is quite a bit different than the British version. It's a sweaty exercise in pushing through a jungle of brush, fending off mosquitoes and bees, and trying to keep track of the dog. But sometimes you get lucky and the dog finds a bird that flushes into an opening just wide enough to offer a shot.

A lot of folks won't hunt during the opener because of the thick cover and warm temps, and I don't blame them. I didn't this year because I was at a field trial, but I was out a couple of days later and my dogs found some birds. I was able to take the first grouse of the season with my Dad's bird gun, which made it even better. Some days later came the woodcock opening day, another day to celebrate.

I've been out with my gun and dogs several times since. The fall colors are becoming brilliant but there is still very heavy cover. I return to the truck with a panting dog and sweat-soaked shirt every time, but still, I go out -- because the season is too brief not to.
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