Many years ago a fellow gave me a hot tip about a cover where there were lots of grouse and woodcock. He freely gave me directions and carried on about the high numbers of birds that I was starting to think he was leading me on a wild goose chase. There are those that would do such a thing, after all, and I can’t say I’d be completely above it myself.
But anyway, I took him at his word and opening day had me arriving at said cover 30 minutes before sunrise after a forty-mile drive in steady rainfall. I guess I wanted to beat anyone else to the place, but I worried needlessly – it wasn’t a fit day to be outdoors for anything, much less busting early season foliage behind a bird dog. But I was there with two male setters that were as eager as I to get the season started, and when the day turned from dark to gray enough to pick out a dim trail into the cover I put a bell on Birchwood Cully’s collar and followed him into the woods with my shotgun in hand.
In those days I shot a little short-barreled 20 gauge double that I wasn’t very good with, and my pockets were filled with shells. The fact that the little gun killed many birds in my hands is more a testament to the good dogs I followed and the many, many grouse and woodcock they found for me. Years later when I tried a gun that fit me better, that little 20 was seldom used.
The rain never let up the entire time we were hunting. If there’s ever been a test for rain gear it’s pushing through wet brush. But the guy steered me right and the place was nearly bursting with grouse, and when I wasn’t poking a shot towards a grouse I was likely swinging at a woodcock. It seemed like Cully was pointing every minute or so. My rain suit failed miserably and I couldn’t have been wetter had I fallen in a lake. But I finally gathered Cully up and trudged out to the truck with a limit of woodcock (the limit was five woodcock in those days) and one short on grouse. I’m sure I could have taken the last grouse but I wanted to give my other dog, Elvis, a chance, too.
The rain was getting to me and I wanted to be done, but Elvis deserved a chance so we went down the track a little ways and I turned him loose. He darted through a strip of old balsams and jammed into a point thirty yards off the trail. Elvis was nearly all white in color and he really stood out against the shining wet still green cover in the falling rain. I pushed my soggy self over to him and saw two grouse blast out from under a young sheltering balsam tree. Somehow my first shot connected and our day was done! Elvis made the retrieve and while I was trying to stuff it into my waterlogged canvas vest he took off to hunt some more. I’d had enough and tried to get him back but he was pointing again before I knew it. I couldn’t shoot anymore birds but I flushed the grouse for him and he took off with a chase. Before I could get him back to the truck he’d pointed six more grouse!
Soaking wet and happy, I stopped at a friend’s house on the way back to the highway. It was 10:30 in the morning and I had taken limits of grouse and woodcock fairly, over pointing dogs. Quite an opening day.
Yesterday I had the day to hunt. It was raining, though not as hard as the day I just described. I’m not as enthusiastic about hunting in the rain as I once was, but again, it wasn’t coming down that hard. I took turns with Ty and Jack in different covers and we hunted most of the day. Each setter pointed grouse regularly. That doesn’t mean I get shots at them all, or that I hit everything I try for, but it’s great to have some action. I was shooting light loads in a very old 12-gauge double that was built sometime around the end of WWII. I don’t know the history of the gun but it’s fun to think about all the grouse and pheasants and rabbits and ducks, and maybe even deer the old gun has taken. It’s kind of a beater, now -- some rain and tough cover can’t hurt it anymore, and it’s fun to carry and is still deadly.
Some of me was still dry when the hunt was over. My chaps turned most of the water from my legs for half the day, rain found it’s way inside my jacket in a few places, and my heavy old hat kept most of it out of my eyes and off my neck. We found many grouse but only one woodcock. I’m still thinking about a missed grouse that offered a pretty easy straightaway shot and would have ended the day sooner. And yes, I missed quite a few shots yesterday, but when it works there’s nothing like knocking a fast flying grouse from the air in tight cover. And I made some that were awesome. I’m grateful for every day I have, and especially days like yesterday.