” . . . 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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