WHY WE HUNT, Member Drew Phipps

” . . . it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.”

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***

I was asked by a friend a few weeks ago if I enjoyed failure. This was shortly after I recounted the highlights of last year’s West Virginia grouse season. I laughed it off at the time, but it does make me wonder, after a season of several hundred miles of walking and no birds taken . . .  was it worth it? My answer now and I hope always is: absolutely. The reason I hunt grouse has nothing to do with birds in hand. I hunt grouse because I’m an adrenaline junkie. I have yet to find a sensation that can match the electric moment just before a flush. The moment when dog, man and bird are all awaiting the same release.

Along the way I have come to learn a great deal about the beauty of a young forest and the companionship of a dog. It was a stray setter rescued by myself that pulled me from the couch in my home in Western Virginia and back into the grouse woods. And things have not been normal around my house since that day.

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As much as it has been written and talked about, the feel of walking through a covert with a dog is indescribable. The smell of autumn leaves in your nose is one I hope everyone gets to experience, and I never have to forget. I am to grouse hunting what Walter Matthau was to baseball (Bad News Bears), and my three setters can be unruly at times, but we have made a lot of unusual memories.

I was introduced to grouse hunting as a teenager. My cousin owned the finest German shorthaired pointer I have had the privilege of hunting behind, and I knew from the moment the first bird left the ground that I was in trouble. I had found a sport with so many variables that it would take a lifetime to concur.

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Shooting the first grouse in front of my dog Penny was the culmination of two years of hard work by both parties, and I consider it to be one of my greatest achievements – not to mention what a rush it was. Lack of habitat, and therefore birds, has hindered the development of both dog and man.

We have, however learned a few things, such as puppies like yellowjacket nests, and the birds we hunt here in central Appalachia are most certainly not gentlemen, nor can a gentleman pursue them. On a more serious note, it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org.

 

 

 

 

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Morgan Wolfe

IMG_0884 (1280x853)” . . . and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me.” RGS Member Morgan Wolfe

***

I remember the first grouse flush I ever saw.  It was in a New Hampshire cover we call “Spilled Milk”.  The dairy farmer who owned the land passed away a long time ago, but before he did he left an old milk can down by the river.  It’s on its side as if it spilled the milk, and it’s near a tremendous amount of Japanese knotweed.  We find woodcock are in there, but further up where the feeder stream joins the river are some old apple trees.  We always work the cover counter-clockwise beginning with the knotweed and woodcock and closing out with the apples and grouse.

One late season we scratched a few woodcock in the knotweed.  But up by the apples, my setter Rowdy got birdy and stopped.  A grouse blasted from the base of the tree and my passion for that bird was lit.

But it wasn’t always that way.  As a native North Carolinian my outdoor passions began with horseback riding.  Freshwater and saltwater fishing followed, and ultimately I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns.  While I love to shoot pistols, I was most curious about bird hunting.  I think it’s partly because I saw how excited my step dad got for fall.  If you know him, Tom Keer, then you know he’s obsessed with bird hunting.  My friends call Tom “the guy in the woods with the whistle and all the dogs wearing cow bells”.

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To me, he is my mentor, my hunting and fishing buddy, and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me. Upland bird hunting is a hard sport and it takes hard work, patience and perseverance. But the moment all your hard work pays off, the reward becomes so much greater than the struggle.

I hunt grouse because I can do it all year long.  Maybe not the actual hunting part, that’s only for a few months, but the other aspects, too.  Training our four English setters is my favorite activity, and working through their commands, whistle training them, staunching them up with check cords and the like.  I take care of our gear which includes waxing chaps and boots, stitching vests, and cleaning guns. I love to shoot clays whether it’s at our local gravel pit using Tom’s Parker VH 20 side-by-side or my mom’s Beretta 28 gauge over/under.

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Grouse hunting is learning experience, and every time I hunt I learn something new.  Sometimes I see Tom match a particular dog to a cover based on the way the dog hunts, while other times we study topo maps to find new coverts.  The hard work pays off when the dogs lock up on point and either a grouse rumbles out or for a woodcock whistles.  It’s cool to see bore holes along dirt roads and chalk in the woods and to find grouse in Hawthornes, briar tangles, near Goldenrod and other areas.

I’m a sophomore in college, so it’s a little difficult to get out in the woods.  Last year I only snuck in two days and it poured rain for both.  We went anyway, because that’s all the time I had.  When school gets busy and I don’t have time to hunt much, it impacts my mood and my personal well being.  It’s probably because I don’t get to spend as much time with some of my favorite people and dogs doing what I love to do most of all. So I look forward to making the most of this upcoming bird season and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll shoot my first Carolina grouse this fall.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

 

 

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Jim Gray

I might have arrived late to the grouse hunting scene, but I am determined to do everything I can to “pay it forward” and leave it in better shape than I found it.

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Why do I hunt? I really didn’t have any choice, and I have been eternally grateful. My dad was a quail hunter. He started taking me when I was four or five years old. When I got too tired, he carried me on his shoulders. We hunted the sand hill scrub and pine/palmetto woods of Florida. I got my first shotgun, a JC Higgins .410 single shot for Christmas when I was 10. About that time, quail hunting lands began getting scarce as the hills and pine woods of Central Florida were bulldozed for orange groves. So, we shifted to dove and duck hunting.

All this time, I kept an eagle eye on the mail box for Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. Most of the upland bird hunting articles were about pheasants and ruffed grouse. I had no idea what it would be like to hunt those mystical birds, but I knew I wanted to.

After college, work, marriage, children, all took up so much time that hunting kind of got replaced by fishing. Plus, places to hunt in Florida had become more and more scarce.RGSCamp2016 (11 of 72) (1280x853)

After retirement, we lived in several locations in Florida and finally came to the conclusion that Florida had outgrown us. In 2009, my wife convinced me that we should move to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a try, but had no idea what was I going to do?

Here, I was in foreign territory, half-heartedly fishing for strange fish like trout and smallmouth bass. We began to see posters at local restaurants and shops about an upcoming Ruffed Grouse Society banquet. My wife kept urging me to buy a ticket and go. I kept saying, I don’t hunt anymore, and she kept replying “but you always enjoyed it”. So, we bought two tickets and had a blast at the banquet on an evening when it snowed like crazy. The day following the banquet I called one of the organizers and asked him if I could tag along on a grouse hunt. That led to being invited on several hunts, making some fabulous friends, buying an American Brittany pup, learning to hunt our North Carolina national forest mountains and the pup and I learning to hunt grouse – he had a head start, it was in his DNA already. We bagged our first bird when he was eight months old and he retrieved it to my feet. I was hooked.

Unexpectedly, falling in love with grouse hunting has also gotten me involved in participating in a Stakeholders Forum as the Ruffed Grouse Society representative to help rewrite the management plan for the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests. This is the classic process of educating some of the Forest Service personnel and many of the “protectionist” Stakeholders about the importance of forest restoration and early successional habitat. We are making some headway, but there is a long road ahead of us. The good news is that the Forest Service is now including “wildlife” and “wildlife habitat” in their list of things that need to be restored. I might have arrived late to the grouse hunting scene, but I am determined to do everything I can to “pay it forward” and leave it in better shape than I found it.

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So, why do I hunt? Let me list many of the reasons: love of the outdoors, working closely with the dog as a team, the challenge of making a difficult wing shot, planning the hunt, working around the weather, hiking the mountains, finding new coverts, trying new game recipes, camaraderie with fellow hunters, scenery and after a hunt on a cold, snowy day relaxing by the wood stove with the dog sleeping at my feet and a wee bit of good scotch to warm up the old bones while I relive the hunt and post in my journal. For me – this is as good as it gets!

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

**Photos by Project Upland and Matt Soberg during the 2016 RGS Grouse Camp Tour

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THE LITTLE THINGS – EDITOR NOTE

The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting reveals truly what’s at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.

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On a Friday evening this past February, I rounded into the entryway of my home and spied my blaze hunting vest hanging on the wall in the same place I had  it after every hunt since September. I stood there for a moment while numerous memories from October and November flooded through my mind and honestly felt sad knowing the season was over. That unfortunate and inevitable time had come to put it away until next year.

I grabbed the vest off the hanger and walked toward the kitchen garbage with my two bird dogs close behind. They, of course, anticipate the sight of hunting gear and shotguns in high hopes of what they dreamed. I saw this and regrettably said, “I’m sorry boys . . . not till next year.” I reached into the back pouch to clean debris and pulled out a handful of spent yellow shotgun shells, broken twigs and dried leaves. As I did, multiple feathers floated through the air as if in slow motion. After enjoying the show, I knelt down and picked up one red-phased tail feather that had helicoptered to the feet of my dogs as they patiently watched. That particular feather sent my mind directly to an October afternoon where the heft of a male grouse in-hand following a grand hunt deep in my favorite northwoods covert was a memory I will never forget.

Little things like this February feather make you want to spend the off-season lost in A Sand County Almanac next to a winter fire.

***

A long high-pitched whine from the cardboard box sitting in the passenger seat of my truck kept my mind focused on the literal and figurative road ahead of me. Inside, a new bird dog pup seemed to calm when I held my hand still on his white back. Being a young hunter and just out of college, this was the first bird dog I would own and train by myself.

About halfway home, thoughts of dog food choice, crate training tips, bird training and all the other dog-owner responsibilities were overwhelmingly starting to sink in. The perceived daunting task made me nervous for a moment, but the warm fur under my hand as the puppy slept calmed me too and reminded me about the future for this few pounds of pure potential.

Grouse hunters can spot possible covers just by driving by them, and on our way home, I teased the pup by saying, “Right there, young pup . . . that might be where you find your first bird.” As we arrived, I reached in the box, scooped the pup with one hand and carefully set in the front-yard grass. His new surroundings did not bother that bold little spitfire in the least, and he bound around the yard in constant search of something . . . “Surely a grouse,” I thought to myself. As I admired his confidence that afternoon, my mind wandered to glimpses of future sunny October days together afield hopefully filled with heroic points and proud retrieves.

Little things like a puppy’s first steps afield open up a world of upland possibilities that drive us as hunters to the grouse and woodcock woods every fall.

***

Not long after leaving the truck, my bird dog was dodging aspen and alder like on a slalom skiing course with what seemed to be extra energy that day. Lucky to be in the midst of the October woodcock flights, it was not long before the bell went silent not far away. I gave my lone hunting partner some steady commands as we found the pointing dog, and we both slowly and safely approached. I tried to position him for a productive view while I flushed the bird – almost as if meant to be, the bird flushed under foot. From one knee, I saw the most picturesque sight of dog, bird, hunter and shot.

In one fell swoop, my hunting partner reached down and raised a freshly harvested woodcock above his head.  As he turned to me, the smile on his worn face said the whole story – this being his first upland bird, he immediately asked, “When can we do this again?”

He grew up hunting, mostly for deer, and while he knew his way around a shotgun, he was new to the grouse and woodcock world. As I approached, he patted the dog on the head for a job well done and shook my hand tight. I too smiled, proud of his first bird and pleased by his statement about wanting to go again. I had been eager and excited to introduce him to my yearly fall obsession, and I find once one gets a taste of grouse and woodcock hunting, they too become addicted.

Little things like a shaking a budding grouse and woodcock hunter’s hand after harvesting their first bird is a special moment we all need to enjoy more often.

***

The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting, some as simple as twirling a tail feather in your fingers, watching a puppy’s first day afield and shaking the hand of a smiling new hunter, reveals truly what’s at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.

***

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.
*This column was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine. Photo by Project Upland
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PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH TECHNOLOGY

tech 2ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH TECHNOLOGY

Maybe it is just that I have gotten a little older, but during the last grouse season it seemed birds flushed and accelerated away from me a lot faster than ever before. Of course, if you talk to my hunting partners, they would probably say it slightly different – they would tell you that I am missing them by a wider margin now than ever before. But, after very thorough questioning, I’ve been assured by our great team of RGS and AWS biologists that the birds we are hunting today are not any faster than their ancestors.

In other parts of our lives, however, things are truly accelerating . . . and in some cases, very rapidly. One of those areas is communications and the flow of information. We are all keenly aware of how technology has altered our access to information – how we get it, how much we get, and how we use it. Today there are 200 million smartphone users in the United States and more than half the world’s population has ready access to the internet. Those numbers will only continue growing in the years ahead.

Knowledge is power.  In Thomas L. Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late, he uses the term “Age of Accelerations” to describe how the expanding availability of information engages us, empowers us and accelerates our lives and the world in which we live. But he also warns that easily obtained information can be used to achieve good purposes or bad ones. All knowledge is information, but not all information accurately reflects knowledge . . . as we have recently seen in the news.

We deal with challenges like that at RGS and AWS, too. When we performed our strategic planning work last year, we identified “overcoming resistance to sound scientific management practices” as one of the major obstacles preventing us from achieving our mission to preserve our sporting traditions through the creation of healthy woodland habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife.

Sound scientific management practices used to create young forest habitat are regularly assailed by sowers of “fake news”, “alternative facts”, disinformation and misinformation that create obstacles to achieving our mission. The perpetrators carry names like the Indiana Forest Alliance, Vermont Wildlife Coalition, Southern Environmental Law Center, Heartwood, Mountain True, Wildlife Alliance of Maine, Forest Watch, not to mention Humane Society of United States, Sierra Club and so many others.

The RGS and AWS approach to communications and information flow contains both tech 3offensive and defensive components to counteract the corrosive effects of these deliberate campaigns to obscure the truth and confuse those less knowledgeable. The primary tools we use to thwart these assaults are Ruffed Grouse Society magazine and our website, www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

Those two outlets coupled with the RGS National News emails and Ruff Country News emails supply factual information centered on the three core pillars of our mission: Healthy Forests, Abundant Wildlife and Sporting Traditions. Through them we defend the truth about the sound scientific principles we advocate.

Since 2011 the magazine has won 10 APEX Awards for Publication Excellence, an annual competition for corporate and nonprofit publishers, editors, writers and designers who create print, web, electronic and social media. APEX awards include categories for editorial content and for graphical design and layout. While it is certainly gratifying to publish an award-winning magazine, we believe a high quality, attractive, content-rich magazine is more likely to be thoroughly read by our members and more apt to be shared with others.

tech 1The RGS website has become an increasingly important communications tool both for RGS and AWS members and for the general public. Since 2013, our website has seen a 95 percent increase in pageviews and a 67 percent increase in unique users. We’ve seen similar increases in new visitor sessions, returning visitor sessions and organic traffic. Our web traffic has increased not only because of the updated look and feel of the website and the expanded range of information posted, web traffic has increased because of the exciting new merchandise available on RGS Mart. If you have not visited our website lately, you should check it out and reacquaint yourself with all new available products.

We use social media channels and host social media events like the Grouse Camp Tour and Project Upland videos to go on the offensive by engaging a broader spectrum of the general public to spread the word about the importance of young forest habitat in keeping our nation’s forests healthy and forest wildlife populations abundant and diverse.

You will find RGS and AWS on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. We host blogs on a variety of topics. The all-digital new member drive that launched last October is the most successful membership drive we have ever conducted. All these techniques combine to expand our numbers, broaden our demographic profile and empower our members and friends with facts and knowledge.

GCT-page-logo-2016Technology has accelerated the world in which we live and RGS and AWS are keeping pace by making sure our members and friends are armed with accurate facts and information to fight against those who would deter us from our mission to preserve our sporting traditions through the creation of healthy woodland habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Don Mallicoat

I don’t remember the first bird I shot. But I do remember when I knew I was a bird hunter. As a burr-headed boy of about 12, I was walking with Uncle Jim along a field edge in Alabama hunting rabbits behind a couple of beagles. The sudden eruption of a covey of quail not only startled my nerves, but drew something up from deep within that said, “This is who you are.” I have now been a bird hunter for 50 years.

Want to know how serious that makes me? Growing up in Alabama, a state with a three-month deer season with one-deer-a-day, I never went deer hunting. Never killed one, never had the desire. But give me a cut-corn field in September for dove, or a soybean or cornfield edge for quail, and I was in heaven. Unfortunately, my early quail hunting opportunities were limited until I got out on my own and the Army sent me to some pretty good places for quail hunting: Forts Campbell, Bragg and Benning come to mind. And of course, bird hunting means bird dogs, and they’ve been there with me through the decades. It is true: I wouldn’t do it without the dogs.

And then I was introduced to the King of Gamebirds, the lordly ruffed grouse. After leaving the Army, we moved to the mountains of western North Carolina. I went to a local sporting goods store and asked where I could go quail hunting. The guy behind the counter said, “None around here. If you’re a bird hunter you’ll have to hunt grouse.” And so it began. I don’t remember the “where” and “when” of my first grouse flush. But I do remember the look on my setter Belle’s face when it broke cover. That look of wonderment as if to say, “Hey, these birds don’t play fair. What’s this about not holding for my point?”

So here I find myself with grey in my beard and in the winter of my years, my thoughts turn to why I hunt birds. What is so captivating about that brown blur to draw me back to the forests and fields every year? For me, it is the unmeasureable. Bird hunting releases me from a life full of metrics to simply experience the moment. My everyday life is full of numbers:  sales goals, profit/loss statements, survey results and counting the number of Twitter and Facebook followers. Yes, I know some folks keep a gunning log recording flushes and birds in the bag. More power to them.  I’m sure for them that’s part of the hunting experience.

I don’t, simply because it is an experience I don’t want to put a number on. How do you measure the look your 12-year-old son gives you when he shoots his first quail? Tell me how I can put a number on the anticipation when the sound of a dog bell goes silent in a Wisconsin aspen thicket? Where is the spreadsheet column to record the smiling eyes of my setter when he passes in front of me on an Appalachian mountain ridge on a crisp Autumn morning? Somebody please tell me how to transfer to numbers the laughter that follows your hunting buddy muffing a straightaway on a grouse down a logging road . . . with both barrels. At the end of the day, whether there are birds to clean or not, and the flush counter on my whistle lanyard is reset, the memories will always be there. That is why I hunt.

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Cooper Rossner

These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt.

Pilot and I with Max, the patriarchI got into this racket sort of backwards. What I mean by that is . . . I was not brought up gun in hand, nor raised in your stereotypical hunting household with time-honored generational sporting traditions. My bloodline has always had a hand in the outdoors, but was primarily concerned with fishing, and when my father had his fourth son (me), he chose to work overtime instead of go hunting. It was well-worth it though, and I am certainly not complaining. My family moved from the congested and dyspeptic, stripmalled and subdivisioned Camden County to Cape May, New Jersey about halfway through my life. This is where I fell in love with all that nature has to offer, but mostly the birds. Cape May has been described in countless ways as an aviary paradise drawing thousands upon thousands of migrating birds from shorebirds to ducks and geese, to hawks, eagles and songbirds all consequently attracting birders, artists, hunters, etc. and ultimately giving me and my shotgun a run for our money.

To answer why I hunt, though in one word, I’d say the connections. I moved down here and almost immediately connected with the birds, mostly the woodcock, and waterfowl logging countless hours of conservation work with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and a whole slew of various agencies. In the midst of it all, I discovered wooden duck decoys and the forgotten culture that is the “traditional sporting world”. This is what I mean when I say I got into this business backwards. I fell in love with decoys, literature, paintings, stories and old guns before I even thought about hunting myself. Now, decoy-making is my primary source of income, I hang around gun shops, art shows and workshops every chance I get, and I’m chasing birds nearly every day of the season.

Some of my decoys, ducks, yellowlegs and woodcockThe fella that got me started carving decoys is also the one who got me started with DU and got me obsessed with hunting upland game birds. He eventually got tired of me hanging around, I guess, and passed me over to an older gentleman who would become my mentor in decoy carving. I consider him one of my best friends now, and we like to chase birds together every chance we get. I have made friends with some of the finest people this world has to offer due to the out of doors. The breeder of my dog and his wife, of Shore Shot Kennels, have become good friends and we enjoy getting out for a woodcock hunts each season. Friends from the waterfowling and decoy-making world have taken the step over to chase woodcock with me, some haven’t turned back. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I don’t really know if my life would be quite as exciting without all of this. As I got into hunting, my dad got back into it seeing as he has some time for himself now. In my dad, I happened to find another best friend with whom I have the pleasure of creating and sharing countless memories made afield.

Shore Shot’s Big River “Pilot”Not to undermine any other connections I had made prior to canine companionship, but I think the most formative relationship I have had in this business has been that which I found in my blossoming, solid-liver shorthair, Pilot. He’s taught me more about the world and myself than I think any of the over-priced textbooks I’m plagued with at college ever could. Bird dogs find birds for us and give us something to brag about at the watering hole, but when we look closer we see that they teach us patience, understanding, determination, motivation to go even when it’s a bitter five degrees and looking like snow, and most of all they teach us how to be and how to have a true friend. There’s a reason that the focal point of upland art, literature, film, storytelling, etc. is and ought to be that of the dog in any given scenario. Humans are abundant and crude, bird dogs, however, well they are something special. These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt. I wouldn’t have my life any other way, and this is the direction I intend on heading for the foreseeable future. The dogs, the art, the history, the birds and the people that I am connected to are what have helped make me the person I am, for better or for worse . . . I’m rolling with it!

More about Cooper and his decoys and stories can be found on Instagram and Twitter: @capemaydecoys

To join RGS or for more information go to www.ruffed.org

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Ron McGinty

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The first grouse I ever swung on was a right-to-left crosser at “The Wild 80”, a hunting club my wife’s late father belonged to. It was one of those clear, crisp October days we all dream about where the grouse woods abound with a palpable anticipation while being flush with color. Oh, I did swing on that grouse all right – about five feet behind him! To paraphrase what Herb Parsons, the accomplished exhibition shooter, said about shooting clays, “Ruffed grouse aren’t hard to hit, they’re just easy to miss!”

The reasons I hunt grouse are many. Prior to that fella schooling me, I had hunted squirrels, rabbits, deer and bear. From the moment that grouse left me trembling as I shook my head, I was hooked – helplessly, hopelessly smitten. The seed was planted, rapidly sprouted and grew to consume me. Now if a dog isn’t part of the mix, I really don’t care to hunt.

My precious journals go back to 1973. They show 4,160 grouse flushes and 2,976 woodcock flushes over some pretty fair dogs. My heart pounds just as loudly approaching a point now as it did on the first by Britt that first year. The extensive accounts of each hunt since then allow me to relive those memories – as they will for my son and his son and . . .

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Here are some of the reasons I grouse hunt:

– Dogs. To bring a puppy laden with promise into your life, train that pup to be a bird dog and then foster an unshakable bond that defines teamwork – and love. There’s nothing quite like watching a dog you trained learn to handle wily grouse. Points reign supreme. To see your dog quiver with excitement while nailing a grouse is only exceeded by your own exhilaration and is the stuff of dreams.

– To witness Ruff point his last grouse that I fortunately connected on. Then, stumble bringing that bird, struggle to get up with wings beating him in the face and proudly deliver it to hand. He didn’t want to release it – I think he knew. He was buried with the wings from that bird.

– Watching Feathers display an unmatched resolve after having a leg amputated for cancer at 11 years of age. Being in awe of her 1,000th point – on only three legs – with tears streaming down my face. She taught us lessons about grit, devotion and determination we’ll never forget.

– To be there when your son (or daughter) harvest their first grouse. Save that hull and other memorable ones that follow in a GBE inspired “BOX OF SHELLS”. Memories.

– Woodcock. I would be remiss without including woodcock. Grouse and woodcock go together like . . . well . . . grouse and woodcock! God, I love the Little Russet Fellow. As GBE inscribed in my copy of A DOG, A GUN, and TIME ENOUGH, “We speak of woodcock with a softer voice.”

– As a long TIME Michigan Hunter Safety Instructor being able to introduce scores of young people to grouse hunting and the all important elements of gun safety.

– Grouse Camps. Preferably on a lake where you saunter to the shore with a steaming cup of coffee to warm your hands on a frosty morning with mist rising from the placid water as the sun enhances the fleeting colors that line the shore. The robin’s egg blue sky soothes your soul. You long for a way to blend and capture the enticing aroma of the coffee with the distinct scents of the fall grouse woods. Your senses are nearly overloaded. You savor it knowing as Octobers before it, it won’t last – it will vanish on the ephemeral, gossamer wings of TIME.

– Campfires. Finding a suitable clearing for night viewing in the most remote, secret locations in the Upper Peninsula. Carefully removing sod to form a circle, placing it to the side and outlining its circumference with rocks. Later replacing the sod and hiding the rocks for another hunt so your fire pit won’t be trashed.

– Sitting close to a fire on a chilly night after a day of hunting with your dog curled up beside you. Before she settles in, she places her lovely head on your knee for a pat, then looks longingly up with eyes that say, “Thanks, pa”. She twitches in a sound sleep as she dreams of the birds she encountered. A deep inner peace envelops you as you run your fingers through her corn silk soft ears. You are grateful – even proud – of the way you worked together. The misses no longer seem as important.

– Enjoying the fire with someone special on a night so clear the stars seem close enough to touch. The smoke from pungent oak curls and furls upward in tight columns before disappearing in the darkness. The glowing coals consume your thoughts as you listen to every sound and every silence of the night.

– How good a fluffy pillow feels as you drift off to sleep from a good tired while your only thoughts are where you’ll hunt the next day.

– Having “Johnny” tell me he got his first grouse, then seeing him lower his head after I asked, “Your grouse was flying, wasn’t it?” Three weeks later watching him burst into class one morning with a huge smile and him excitedly proclaiming, “Mr. McGinty, Mr. McGinty, I got another grouse yesterday and this one was flying!” “Attaboy, Johnny!” Followed by a big hug!

– To have a library of the upland classics by authors like Evans, Spiller, Hill, Foster, Ford, Smith, Norris, Valdene, Bump and Sheldon that serve to sustain one during the off season.

– An odyssey that afforded our family the opportunity to share a splendid evening with George and Kay Evans. I’m also so grateful to have spent an afternoon woodcock banding with Andy Ammann. All icons I greatly looked up to and admired.

Yup, there’s a lot to like about grouse hunting. While it’s not surprising, I was taken to the grouse woods, I could have never imagined I would be so taken by the grouse woods. The journey has been meaningful and enriched my life beyond measure. I sincerely hope your’s will be as well.  Please go make some memories this fall, Birddoggers . . .

To join the Ruffed Grouse Society or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

Posted in Dogs, Habitat, Hunting, Uncategorized, Why We Hunt | Comments Off on WHY WE HUNT, Member Ron McGinty

SUCCESS: Inaugural Maryland Dog of the Year & Chukar Challenge

By Dave Hansroth, RGS & AWS Regional Director

good photo

End of a successful run at the Inaugural Maryland Dog of the Year & Chukar Challenge

For several years, Maryland RGS chapters floated the idea of a Maryland Dog of the Year Challenge.  Both active chapters in Maryland (Potomac Valley and Backbone Mountain) previously held individual chukar challenges, and logistics were complicated to make the new idea happen.  However, it really started to take shape when Brad and Mark Minnick offered their Twin Ridge Game Farm for an entire weekend for just the cost of the birds.  They also agreed to help market the event and to provide some of the help needed to run an event of this magnitude.  It was hard to turn down a deal like that!

So on the first weekend in April, handlers and a variety of dogs descended on Twin Ridge.  Weather was great and the first day went without a hitch with 40 runs being completed.  Sunday was beautiful with just a bit of warm weather making dogs and handlers uncomfortable in the afternoon. Fortunately Twin Ridge provided plenty of water on the course and in the staging area.  Forty Four runs were completed on Sunday for a weekend total of 84 runs. Competition was fierce, but smiles and grins went along with good-natured kidding.

The Maryland Chapters contributed a lot of labor to help make this a successful event!  Several members of the Backbone Mountain Chapter traveled from Western Maryland and spent the weekend helping . . . and help they did as that chapter ended up planting all the birds for all runs on both days.  Potomac Valley was not sleeping either, as they took care of all the registrations and money, plus several turned out to help with onsite registration, scoring and various other duties.  This event would not have happened if not for volunteers from those chapters.

Mentor Tim Palmer with his young handler and shooter - Sam Curley

Mentor Tim Palmer with his young handler and shooter – Sam Curley

Handlers and dogs competed in several categories:   Adult Pointing Dog; Adult Flushing Dog; Youth Handler; and Puppy Division (see photos below).  Youth Handlers were 16 and younger and puppies were two years and younger.

The birds flew well, the dogs handled well and the handlers shot well – most of the time anyway! When the smoke cleared on Sunday afternoon, it was time to crown the winners. In many categories, just a tenth of a point or so separated the winners from second and even third places.

This event netted $3,000 for the Maryland Drummer Habitat Fund.  Special thanks to Purina for their considerable support and to Brad and Mark Minnick for donating their Twin Ridge Game Farm – a perfect place for this event.  We are already looking forward to next year.

Adult Pointer Group: From Right to Left: MD Dog of the Year Winner Ryan Gerczak, with English Setter - Bandit 2nd Place - Brad Minnick, with English Pointer – Doc 3rd place – Mark Minnick with English Pointer Rio – handled and owned by Brad Minnick

Adult Pointer Group:
From Right to Left: MD Dog of the Year Winner Ryan Gerczak, with English Setter – Bandit
2nd Place – Brad Minnick, with English Pointer – Doc
3rd place – Mark Minnick with English Pointer Rio – handled and owned by Brad Minnick

Adult Flushing Group: Pictured from Left to Right:1st place - Donnie Sine, with Lab - Lucy 2nd place - Not Pictured - Bruce Durham, with Eng. Cocker - Ichi 3rd place - Mark Robinson, with Springer – Daisy

Adult Flushing Group:
Pictured from Left to Right: 1st place – Donnie Sine, with Lab – Lucy
2nd place – Not Pictured – Bruce Durham, with Eng. Cocker – Ichi
3rd place – Mark Robinson, with Springer – Daisy

Team Group: Pictured from left to Right:3rd place: Robbie Minnick & Mark Minnick 1st place: Mark Minnick and Tyler Wallace 2nd Place: Joe Gerczak & Ryan Gerczak

Team Group:
Pictured from left to Right: 3rd place: Robbie Minnick & Mark Minnick
1st place: Mark Minnick and Tyler Wallace
2nd Place: Joe Gerczak & Ryan Gerczak

Youth Group: Pictured left to right:3rd place - Nathan Weller 1st place - Jordan Minnick 2nd place – (not pictured) – Sam Curley - Tim Palmer in his place

Youth Group:
Pictured left to right: 3rd place – Nathan Weller
1st place – Jordan Minnick
2nd place – (not pictured) – Sam Curley – Tim Palmer in his place

Puppy Group: 1st place - Alan Rudy, English Pointer - Dakota 2nd place - Not pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter - Ricky 3rd place - Not Pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter - Ricky

Puppy Group: 1st place – Alan Rudy, English Pointer – Dakota
2nd place – Not pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter – Ricky
3rd place – Not Pictured: James Hogerdobler, Llewellin Setter – Ricky

Posted in Dogs, Hunting, Uncategorized | Comments Off on SUCCESS: Inaugural Maryland Dog of the Year & Chukar Challenge

WHY WE HUNT, Member Payton Gunby

I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours.

18643699_10210917671870523_1686915684_nThe story of grouse hunting for me starts somewhere in the Deep South . . . in a part of Georgia, oddly enough, where there are no grouse. I’m still a third generation bird hunter – Every winter from December to the middle of January, we hunt the bird every grouse hunter knows: woodcock.

At a young age I was always with the bird dogs in the kennels until I was old enough to go and watch, then shoot. Prior to grouse hunting, I had hunted quail, chukar, pheasant and woodcock. Most of my hunting was with my dad, so grouse was the only bird he had hunted that I hadn’t. He made his first trip to grouse country a couple years before I did. The bird dogs are my world, and when I found another game bird to hunt, I wanted to burst with excitement.

We first ventured to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northwest Wisconsin. The 20-hour trek, multiple fuel stops and dog walks soon became well worth it with the beauty of the trees changing colors so much sooner than our still snake-ridden October in Georgia. We made it to our cabin as the sun was setting, so we settled in and took care of the dogs.

The next morning in our “middle of nowhere grouse camp”, my excitement to hunt this new terrain and bird they called the “King” made my full stomach the most distant thought in my mind. I was chomping at the bit to watch my dogs hunt this beautiful land, so we headed to our first stop.

payton gunby pic 1 (1280x850)There we parked, got the dogs suited up, put on our vests, prepared our guns and shells and then started. We sent the dog off and 100 yards away he goes on point. There were four of us, so we got into a line and boom, the biggest woodcock I’ve seen flushes in front of the other hunters! It was that moment I knew I was in prime wild bird country.

Fifty yards later another point was stuck, two woodcock up, two down. All three of the other hunters had a bird within 10 minutes and about 200 yards from the truck to boot! In shock of how quickly things were going, we carried on and wouldn’t you know, 100 yards away my most faithful setter goes on point again. As I approached, I was nervous because our GPS was malfunctioning, and we couldn’t find the dog! Coincidentally, I was in the right spot as we searched and I bagged a huge woodcock.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start, at this point I was ready to see a grouse. Finally, we get to an area that looked like true grouse habitat, and we flushed two out of the trees. I saw what looked to me like a brown fighter jet weaving through the spruce trees.

We stayed for a week and I was getting to see some more grouse action and my dad and his friends were harvesting birds. I had made a couple attempts shooting at grouse but I couldn’t connect. I was learning so much about the bird and its habitat, plus I was getting to harvest woodcock. I was discouraged as our final day in the northwoods dawned, and my dream of harvesting a grouse hadn’t been fulfilled. I felt so blessed to had fallen in love with the land and to experience something new with my dogs, but it put a lot of pressure on me to make my last morning count.

18685585_10210917600508739_1018526449_nThirty minutes into our final hunt, it finally happened. All the hours driving, campfire stories and time I’ve spent caring for my dogs was instantaneously worth it. I’ll always have that grouse burned into my brain . . . the angle it flew . . . the dog I hunted over . . . and my excitement as I yelled to tell my dad. Our last hunt that evening lasted a few hours and we were on our way back to the truck for the final time, but within 200 yards, I bagged another grouse! I was so proud.

There is truly no other bird similar to a grouse when hunting with dogs. I fell in love with the land, the bird, the people, everything about grouse hunting. My yearly trips are my most cherished hunt. I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours. ~ Payton Gunby, RGS Member from Georgia

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org

 

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