Sunday, November 24, 2019

Where'd October go?

It's always a bonus for a grouse hunter when you find a new good looking cover to explore, and if it's close to home it's even better. This fall I'd taken to driving down to the gun club on Sunday afternoons mostly to sit around with the folks in the clubhouse and talk about hunting, guns, dogs, fishing and most anything else that anyone brought up. There's always plenty of coffee and some kind of baked goods to munch on. Some of the guys show up without their gun, just for the company of like-minded friends. There'll be a few lady shooters, too, and some non-shooting gals with their spouses that bring the best of the eats. Now and then the outdoor grill is fired up and you don't wanna' be late for that. Sometime during the afternoon you go out and see what you can do about breaking some clay pigeons.

It was bird season, October, so I asked a few of the guys about some young aspen cutting just across the road from the club's entrance. It looked choice for woodcock to me. JW said he'd been in there a year or two before and found nothing but tough walking, though, he allowed, he didn't have a dog. The next week I brought Gabby along to hunt that cover before the club opened. In twenty minutes a limit of woodcock had fallen to my gun, and Gabs pointed several more before I could steer her back to the truck. A nice little honey hole. This across the road from where, once a week, a couple dozen wing-shooting enthusiasts gather. Not that I'd care to see that little cover shot out, but I sort of wondered why it hadn't been.

The gun club is 30 miles or so south of my home in a direction I seldom go except for the skeet shooting, but years ago I worked in a gravel pit operation near there and recalled exploring a narrow forest road that wound through the woods and connected two county gravel roads. I don't remember it being anything special then, but it seemed like a good idea to check it out again. Turns out we found a prime grouse covert.

Old logging roads are magnets for ATVs, though I was surprised at how little this trail into beautiful grouse cover was used – just enough traffic to knock the grass down but not enough to rut up the wet spots. Plus, there were no signs of birds being cleaned at the trailhead by thoughtless gunners leaving the remains scattered about, which I've seen too often. Gabby was spinning circles while I tried to calm her down to slip her bell collar on, and before I could get my gun out she'd darted into the cover and was on point fifty feet from the truck. A nice woodcock find that promised a good start. 

I've enjoyed many dogs over the years and I'm always impressed to see their enthusiasm and eagerness during the quest for game but, and perhaps it's age catching up with me, more than ever I appreciate the pure joy and delight a bird dog takes in it's mission. Sometimes I wonder if I hunt birds just to make a dog happy.

I like bird cover like this. Mostly flat on that soft autumn smelling soil under leaves we kick up. Absent are the ankle breaking rocky holes found in so many of the covers I hunt to the north. Other than the close growing aspen trunks the only real hazards are scattered rotting slash piles that are easily avoided. There's a sprinkling of birch and maple trees just 'cause they're pretty and a few runs of dark green balsam spread around to add some color and provide rainy day cover for the grouse. Leg grabbing hazel, dogwood, and buck brush add habitat. A focused gunner with a fast dog could cover most of this in an hour – as it was, Gabby and I took a little longer. A weekend morning later in October without a hint of any other hunters around. Perfect. We found a half dozen ruffs and 4 or 5 woodcock during that first visit. I didn't get shots at all of them but that's grouse hunting. You can bet this place is on my list!

There's that old saying, beware the man with only one gun. I'd probably be deadlier if I followed that advice and stuck to one gun, myself. I'm fortunate to have, in my opinion, two nice grouse guns. One is a 100-plus year old American made double gun. It came to me in a rare (for me) gun trade. I don't know it's history but somewhere along the lines I like to believe it was owned by a grouse hunter. It's tighter chokes were bored to throw the wider patterns we use in the grouse woods and I hope whoever used this gun before me was following a bird dog. When I carry it, it is indeed, my favorite.

I bought the other gun new, though that was quite a few years ago, now. A well known foreign made over/under with screw-in choke tubes. It's light and fast despite the 29 ½ inch barrels. I couldn't leave it alone so I stripped the finish and hand-rubbed many coats of oil into the stock and added a pad for length. When in my hands it is, of course, my favorite.

 Both guns shoot just slightly high of center like a bird gun should. If I handle them the way they should be handled there will be grouse on the grill. Ruffed grouse, bird dogs, and shotguns are why we wish October could last forever.