Tuesday, September 25, 2012

and there were always birds…

Anticipation grows faster than the last days of summer disappear, and maple leaves turn red overnight while that first frost wreaks havoc on our last hanging tomatoes, but by now there’s no surprise – it happens every year, and all we can think about is grouse hunting.

I can’t say the start of the season has been anything fantastic or epic – other than the weather, which has been for the most part ideal. The trouble with great weather is I can’t use it as an excuse for poor hunting on my part. And though I’ve only been out a few times in cover that is close but heavily used, at least I can say I’ve brought home enough game to share a good meal with Dad.

I usually start the season on the forest road near here. That’s because the first days grouse hunting are never the best days, and I like to save what I think of my better covers, which are farther away, for a bit later in the season when some of the leaves have fallen. But I like that forest road. I can hunt the morning, run home for lunch, and return for the afternoon. There was a time when I could park near the trailhead and walk down the middle of that road and have the dogs work ahead. It was nothing more than a two-track then and the rare vehicle that came by had four-wheel drive and was moving slowly. That forest road has been rebuilt and now days its common for tiny little cars to come tearing by at near highway speeds. Of course along with the good road came the inevitable crowds. There’s a good amount of public land to hunt along the road so it’s a magnet for bird and deer hunters alike. Add a couple of decent duck lakes and ponds so there’s some more traffic and it gets kind of crazy out there. Although it’s still a gravel road and can get real dusty, it’s an absolutely beautiful drive this time of year and this morning I watched three happy folks climb out of their mini van to photograph the fall colors.

Everyone is out there to enjoy some kind of outdoor experience so we're all pretty cordial about the whole thing and usually wave at a passing vehicle and pull over to let faster vehicles go by. And so far there’s still a kind of etiquette (however grudgingly) about staying away from a cover that’s already occupied. It’s common sense, really; when you park your truck at the head of one of the many offshoot trails you should be able to feel a sense of propriety. Now and then I’ve came across other hunters in the same area because trails come from different directions but it’s not necessarily a bad thing to share a little conversation with like-minded people. Like I said, we’re all out there for some kind of enjoyment, and hunting may be an alibi for a walk in the autumn woods.

Despite the increased pressure, I can almost always find some birds to shoot at. That’s only because my dogs get out where most don’t to find birds. Yet this season, so far, has been pretty slow in terms of flush rates, but I haven’t yet hunted anywhere but off that forest road and I know there are no secret places there. So when the hunting turns into hiking I can’t help but recall all the grouse and woodcock I’ve taken from the coverts along that one forest road. There was a time when my shooting could stand up with anyone and my setters seemed to find birds where there were none. Maybe it’s the outdoorsman’s memory that seems to paint the past a little brighter than perhaps it really was, but I’d give a lot to hunt over Cully, Molly, or Mayday once again.

23 Sept. '12