Paul and I called the dogs in and stopped for a break on a hill in one of the prettiest grouse covers you’d hope to see. It was almost a perfect autumn day, the kind you read about in old stories written by the likes of William Foster, Burt Spiller, or Gene Hill. You know the kind, with the sun glowing on crimson maples, gold aspens, and emerald balsams. The kind where a biddable brace of setters cast obligingly ahead, the cheerful bells sounding their whereabouts in the thick cover, falling silent only when one, or the other, or both stop short at the scent of their quarry. How they’d break open their fowling piece to inhale the burnt powder before accepting the tender retrieve and smooth feathers before slipping the dead bird into the game bag. I say “almost perfect” because in those old tales they always seemed to find a fresh-water spring to refresh themselves and canines. We knew our day would warm to the mid-70s so we lugged water jugs in our vests. And those old timers never mentioned picking a dozen deer ticks off themselves and their dogs, like we found every time we stopped to look. Still, that’s the kind of day we were having.
Jack and Scarlett hunted well together and seemed to be finding that quarry around every bend in the trail and at each edge and thicket they came to. We’d elected to run the setters as a brace because we knew the cover was extensive and we’d likely spend the better part of the day in it, which we did. We started in the morning and hours later emerged worn and tired and smiling at a fine day of grouse and woodcock hunting. I myself had used up a pocket full of shells and had one left as we neared the truck when Jack cast right and pointed yet again. I found him solid with a grouse perched on a blowdown three feet off the ground. Bold with over-confidence I stepped to flush and missed cleanly behind as the grouse winged nearly straight away! Paul chuckled at my exclamation of having missed my final shot on what should have been an easy kill. Ok, it was his turn, but we’d each had chances to poke fun at the other’s poor shooting.
A coupla hapless bum shots blasting holes in the sky? Maybe, but back at the truck we each had conspicuous bulges in our game bags – enough for the promise of some fine eating ahead. Easy shots are rare, of course. It’s just that some are easier than others. Even the woodcock are adopting some grouse tactics and hot-footing it under a balsam to flush low and fast from the other side. Waiting for open shots will only bring frustration so you shoot when you get the chance. It’s great to see the bird fall, and sometimes surprising, but often enough your dog finds the bird you didn’t know was hit. After a fun day of the best kind of sport it can’t get much better.
The mornings are frosty, the Hunter’s Moon is bright, and those finest few colorful weeks are upon us. It’s time for hunting, all right, and the next day I hunted some new cover with Jack and Molly. When it works it makes for some interesting sport – hunting a flushing dog with a pointing dog. Somewhere, or somehow along the way Molly the spaniel learned to honor a pointing dog. I used to heel her into to the point and then “hup” her while I did the flushing. She caught on quickly and now she reliably sits when she spots one of the setters on point. It’s neat. And when we’re hunting a trail and Jack is casting ahead, she doesn’t neglect anything along the course and often produces birds we would’ve passed. We dog folks often say we wouldn’t hunt without a dog, and as much as I enjoy carrying and using a good shotgun it couldn’t be the same without a dog. I’d probably stay home and rake leaves or caulk windows or something. Nah!
We’re getting our first snow of the year today. It’s wet and cold. We found grouse, yes, taking cover under the balsams where it’s nearing impossible to get a shot. Another gunner could have helped, but who wants to hunt in this weather? It didn’t take long before I was soaked and chilled to the bone. We didn’t hunt long, just enough to get Jack’s brush-beaten tail bloody, again. The dogs seemed happy to get back into the truck and so was I – shivered most of the way home. Hung wet clothes in the basement, lit the woodstove and boiled coffee while I oiled my gun. Yep.
Sunday 20 October 2013