Grousing soon became my religion, one that challenged me to view the world through a lens of ethics, stewardship and conservation, community and wild untrammeled beauty that is the sport.
On the morning of Sunday March 6, 2016 my roommate and I found ourselves driving towards Winslow Maine. A drab, brown coat of mud, salt and sand paints the roadside snowbanks of the old farm roads. Spring is so close we can taste it, each night I walk the blueberry fields along the ocean at my home in Cutler eagerly looking to see if my woodcock have returned. I’m in the final full semester of my college career, and the world as far as I can see it is my oyster. Friends, colleagues and family had all begun to ask, “What are your plans after school?” I would answer them all with the same patented response I’d been giving since I was seven years old, “I don’t know what my life plan is, but I’m getting a bird dog.”
Like a number of other grouse fanatics, I did not grow up with a hunting family. My great grandfather had raised setters and spent a great deal of his life in upstate Michigan hunting birds, and while I had pictures of his dogs and my grandmother’s stories, it was a loose framework for a legacy. Lucky for me, I am a “Mainer”, which means two things: overgrown apple orchards and a rich sporting heritage were never too far off. I remember many nights in my childhood pouring over L.L. Bean catalogs. Upon reaching the upland sections, I would see a photo of a man who exemplified everything I wanted in life. He would be walking down an autumnal dirt road, an old side-by-side draped over his shoulder, a brace of grouse in his hand and an English setter walking patiently at his heel. Even from an early age I recognized that grouse hunters were a special breed, and that I would settle for nothing less.
From there on, I got my hands on every piece of literature, art or whatever assorted upland paraphernalia that I could. On Christmas or my birthday, if I were lucky enough to receive a gift certificate to L.L. Bean (my favorite store on earth), I would immediately go and spend it on dog training supplies. My parents would shake their heads and ask why I wasn’t spending it on something I could actually use. I would always tell them the same thing, I want to get all the things I need now so when my pup arrives I’ll be all ready.
In my pre-puppy years, I devoted myself to the sport. Throughout college, I spent every spare moment I could investing and embedding myself deeper into the world of ruffed grouse and woodcock. I had long since been a Ruffed Grouse Society member, but now I was actually becoming a grouse hunter. I’ve formed some of my deepest and most meaningful friendships in the last several years over shared love of grouse, dogs and double guns. After I discovered a copy of Drummer in the Woods on a bookshelf in the Merrill Library, my lust for a dog and a life of grousing became insatiable. If I had felt any doubt as to what kind of person I would be in my life, Mr. Spiller quickly remedied this. Grousing soon became my religion, one that challenged me to view the world through a lens of ethics, stewardship and conservation, community and wild untrammeled beauty that is the sport.
With these thoughts ringing in my head, I knocked twice on the door of the farmhouse I’d driven three hours to reach. A smiling woman in her 70s answered the door. She ushered us in and offered seats before shuffling off to the breezeway. Moments later, a black and white English setter with a patch on his left eye came bounding into the room. We immediately made eye contact and held each other’s gaze for a long perfect moment, I was sunk. A sensation rushed over me of complete fulfillment and self actualization . . . I was finally a grouse hunter, and now I had a birddog to prove it.
Landon Knittweis is a 23-year-old Ruffed Grouse Society member from Cutler, Maine. He currently works as a conservation steward for the Downeast Rivers Land Trust as part of the Downeast Salmon Federation.