Book Review – Tranquillity Revisited

Tranquillity Revisited, by Colonel Harold P. Sheldon

~ Review by Jason S. Dowd

Collecting and reading outdoor literature is a hobby many of us pursue as a means to stay sane between autumns. Some of us take this a step further and seek out authors from the earlier part of the 20th Century, the “Golden Era” of grouse gunning. Not being excluded from the latter bunch, myself, it was only a matter of time until I stumbled across a man that turned out to be one of my favorite authors of the genre, Colonel Harold P. Sheldon.

image1Colonel Harold Pearl Sheldon (1888 to 1951), a native son of Vermont, is known quite well by some, but for those new to collecting classic hunting literature, his body of work may be overshadowed by some of the bigger names of the era. Growing up in rural New England around the turn of the 19th Century undoubtedly helped foster Sheldon’s love of the outdoors, and after serving with the United States Army during World War I, he went on to make a career of his passion by becoming the Vermont Commissioner of Game in 1921 before being named the Chief United States Game Warden in 1926. He later pulled duty as editor of such publications as The Sportsman, Country Life and Outdoors Magazine, as well as publishing his essays in the form of Tranquillity (1936), Tranquillity Revisited (1945), and Tranquillity Regained (1945).

I first came across Sheldon’s writings in an anthology of upland stories compiled by George Bird Evans entitled The Upland Gunner’s Book.  Being a habitual peruser, I am often guilty of scanning through publications such as this and picking out only the titles that really pique my interest, and Sheldon’s essay on a late flight of woodcock entitled Ghost Birds captured my attention right away.

Once engaged in the story, Sheldon’s writings transported me deep into the Vermont hillsides. Before I knew what hit me, I was fighting my way through the alders, senses straining for the sights and sounds of a woodcock flushing in an almost eerie darkness. The muzzle flash from a set of London-made, 12-bore barrels lit up the gloom, and its sharp report shattered the silence. I knew despite the darkness I was in good company.

Sheldon’s ability to allow a cast of characters turn into tried and true friends is what really makes his writings shine. This paired with a backdrop that is painted so vividly that upon completion the story feels more like a first-hand experience than something that was put into print nearly a century ago. The ambiance created within these pages is a true treasure, and in my opinion, something that sets a good author in this genre apart from his peers. Tranquillity is a place that every sportsman or woman interested in classic literature should visit at least once.

Upon your arrival in the quaint village, you will find your time to be quite occupied. You will find yourself in your old crony The Judge’s library sharing a snort of brandy as you clean a well-worn double and discussing the next morning’s plans to chase grouse in the hills on the edge of town. You will feel warmth of the spring sun on a local riverbank as you pander over a selection of dry flies with your good friend The Doctor. You will experience the pain that comes with remembering a woodcock hunt with an old friend that never made it back for another gunning season, and you will most certainly make sure you stay within the good graces of The Dark Haired Lady.

The Good Colonel’s writings have made quite the impression on me, and I hope they move you in the same manner. The next time you are feeling like October could never be further away, keep in mind The Captain always has an extra box of number 8s, and the woodcock flights are always in. Tranquillity is just a few pages away.

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Anyone Can Be A Grouse Hunter

No cookie-cutter template exists to define a grouse hunter. You don’t have to shoot a double-barrel side-by-side, run an English setter, and wear brand new gear to be a grouse hunter. If you do . . .  great! But grouse hunters come in all shapes, sizes, practices and traditions – the more grouse hunters we have that appreciate the grouse woods experience and understand the need for conservation, the more effective we can be as a voice for healthy forests, grouse, woodcock and hunting.

IMG_20151003_100127 (2) (1024x1024)Some of the best birds dogs with which I’ve had the pleasure to hunt (when I say “best” I’m not talking about my own by the way!) have been specifically bred for grouse hunting, their bloodlines traced back many years to the classic champions of bird dogs past. These dogs have the genes and are often paired with serious grouse hunters who either effectively train them or have the luxury of spending significant time hunting wild birds. But maybe the the best I’ve seen was owned by my uncle, a dairy farmer who never spent a dime on a dog. “Hoss” was a Labrador retriever with a mysterious lineage who hunted grouse, woodcock and pheasants, and of all my hunting memories that make me appreciate sporting traditions, I’ve enjoyed hunting with Hoss probably more than any. Any dog can hunt the grouse woods.

That being said, it is not even necessary to have a dog at all to successfully hunt grouse. Many of life’s responsibilities dictate whether dog ownership is viable, and if it doesn’t work for you, don’t let that hinder your ability to get to the grouse woods. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources determined that more grouse hunters hunt without dogs than with dogs in a 2010 statewide survey (53 percent without dogs versus 47 percent with dogs). No excuse exists to not hunt grouse.

GUNS AND AMMO TOP 2 (1024x251)Any shotgun can be a grouse gun – often times, the gun action, gauge and shot size are of personal preference – whether it be a side-by-side, over-under, single shot, semi-auto or pump, use what you have available and hit the trail. The same thing goes for gear and apparel. Sure, new-fangled products come out specifically designed for grouse hunting every year, but they are not necessary to be a grouse hunter. Some of my hardcore grouse hunting buddies look like they were dropped off a bus straight from 1975 with their floppy-eared hats, plaid-ripped shirts and tattered chaps, but despite that, they probably enjoy the grouse woods more than I do.

There are many serious hunters that prefer to only hunt grouse, but grouse hunters aren’t IMG_20151124_075927 (2) (866x1024)an exclusive club. For many, a game bird is a game bird, and a bird hunter is a bird hunter. Sure, there are significant differences in habitat, terrain and strategies between hunting various species, but I encourage those who are bird hunters to diversify. If you reside in the primary ruffed grouse range but hunt primarily pheasants, find some grouse habitat and hit the trail. If you reside outside the range, I’m telling you right now, book a grouse and woodcockhunting trip and travel next fall. As I always say, once you get bit by the grouse hunting bug, you are infected. It is an addiction that will bring you back for more.

The bottom line is that the Ruffed Grouse Society is a melting pot of grouse and woodcock hunters and forest habitat conservationists that care about preserving our sporting traditions for future generations. As long as you are ethical, honor the birds and appreciate the overall grouse hunt experience, it doesn’t matter what you look like and how you do it. The more inviting we are to new and all types of grouse and woodcock hunters, the better chance we have to build a bigger voice carrying our mission of preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for the future.

~ First published 2016 Fall Ruffed Grouse Society magazine – From Point to Flush Editor Note by Matt Soberg.




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Why We Hunt, with Member A.J. DeRosa

We are living in a golden age of the grouse woods. I no longer see the ruffed grouse of the past, but a culture of today – young and old, dedicated and committed to their calling and never so focused on saving the species.

RGS (1 of 45) (1024x579)I grew up in a long line of casual “partridge” hunters that never really considered the use of a dog. Grouse hunting was something you did when you scouted for whitetails. Swap the slug barrel off the old Remington 870 pump for a bird barrel, and those New Hampshire “chickens” were prime dinner. The older I became, the less ruffed grouse existed on the southern border of New Hampshire, and as my years went on as a suburban bowhunter, the ruffed grouse became a distant memory.

It would not be until I started achieving some of my personal goals in white-tailed deer hunting that I would reconsider connecting with this childhood memory. As the frustrations of suburban hunting became more apparent year after year, I decided to seek out a different escape. Now deer hunting the north country of New England tends to be a lot of hard work with little reward. The inability to commit in my daily life to really scout and understand a local deer populace, made the idea unappealing to me.

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Ruffed grouse were different, though; I could escape my city life and for a couple days be truly hardcore at what I was doing. A few good grouse covers, a cabin to stay in, and I was living the adventurous dreams of my youth. I found myself escaping to these grouse covers more often, becoming more interested at how to get better at hunting them. I realized how amazing of a pursuit the upland birds of New England were. They were unique, challenging, and it was never short of an adventure finding them.

Throughout all of this though, I could never shake that question of declining species from my mind. I found myself asking questions like why are the grouse gone from my home town? It spiraled from there. A pursuit of knowledge that lead me deeper into the grouse woods and eventually to my camera. Although I was active in the bowhunting community, I decided it was time to make a ruffed grouse hunting film, to capture what I thought was a past gone by and share it with the suburban hunters I have connected with over the years.

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It stuck with many of suburban hunters, and as it turned out, we all recalled hunting grouse in our youth and their departure from our landscape. We debated why it happened: was it predator, a disease, or possibly spraying of pesticides? Really none of us understood, never mind considered the complexity of their habitat.

This all lead me to the Ruffed Grouse Society. As I clicked my camera on and began to capture other people’s grouse woods adventures, they only became more mystical, more deserving of the title the king of the birds. I saw every person connect on deeply personal levels, each one differently, yet all with this base line of the grouse woods. This is what made Project Upland special, a complex culture that existed under my nose yet many of us never knew existed.

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I began to understand positive aspects of the future of the ruffed grouse as I spent many of long hours with biologists and seasoned woodsmen. It became apparent to me that this was an important fight and above all of that it is a fight we can win right now with positive shifts in logging and forestry practices and commitments to good science.

Project Upland has continued to grow as a result of all these things, and although many may be shocked to hear me say it, “We are living in a golden age of the grouse woods.” We are a culture no short of the hardcore, the interesting, the adventurous or the knowledgeable. I no longer see the ruffed grouse of the past, but a culture of today – young and old, dedicated and committed to their calling and never so focused on saving species.RGS (4 of 114) (1024x683)

Now in my mid-thirties, I find myself breaking the big buck hunters golden rule of allowing a dog in my home to cover my clothes in scent, but now I’m excited to take my adventures to the next level.  Above all, I have never been so inspired and so eager to capture grouse woods culture, and completely humbled to be welcomed into such an amazing community.


projectuplandA.J. DeRosa is founder/creative director of Dangerous Cow Publishing. He is considered a pioneer in the modern era of hunting; from his critically acclaimed book The Urban Deer Complex to his viral bird hunting film series Project Upland. He continues to push the boundaries in both cinematic adventure films, and groundbreaking hunting tactics. With strong focus on bringing niche market regions and unique cultures to the mass market to preserve our sporting heritage.

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Why We Hunt, with Member Tom Keer

Our hats look like oil pans, our favorite vests have more patches and thread than original cloth, and while we may be late to supper, we are never late for opening day. Anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest, and we are among the obsessed. Go hard or go home.

Cover shot (1024x683)I don’t think we grouse and woodcock hunters are very smart.  At least I know I’m not. For what kind of hunter volunteers to get shredded by cover only to get a glimmer of a snap shot at cagey birds that dart behind aspen swales and pine boughs? And what kind of hunter shrugs off a bark dusting so easily that it’s considered normal? We do it again and again so much so that we are reminded of Albert Einstein’s ‘Definition of Insanity’: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Even though I know your answer, it’s not right for me to answer for you. But for me? By Einstein’s definition, I am insane.

Or am I? A long time ago, I shot the bark off of so many trees my friends thought I had a select-cut contract from the Forest Service. By the end of the season, I was so hacked off that I was ready to wrap my gunning iron around an oak. Instead, I followed my misses with a tweak here, a tweak there and after a while everything clicked. Rather than run down Einstein’s rabbit hole, I prefer a different adage: repetition makes the master. Our hats look like oil pans, our favorite vests have more patches and thread than original cloth, and while we may be late to supper, we are never late for opening day. Anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest, and we are among the obsessed. Go hard or go home.

Old Things 3 (1024x683)We like the tradition of old things. We trace dog lineage like anthropologists search for the Lost City of Atlantis. We prefer torn and tattered, muddied and bloodied. Ours are the beat-up trucks with rusty frames and scratch marks in the hood. Give us a book with a spine, and we’re in hog-heaven divine. Ford, Spiller, Harnden Foster and the like are ideal. We drool over old, classic shotguns of any make or model. We respect our elders and shepherd children, even if they are not our own. We respect each other and our environment. Clear and select cuts don’t bother us. Big woods ticks do.

We like art. Maybe we don’t visit the Met or frequent the Louvre. We can differentiate between Lynn Bogue Hunt, A. Lassell Ripley and Frank Benson.  Their work connects us with the past, and we welcome the newer artists.  Jay Dowd, Adam Wampole, Steven Broussard, Gordon Allen, Daniel Porter, and M. Richard Thompson.  Their work may be different, but so is the way we handle conservation. Check them out as you would a new covert. You’ll be surprised about how many birds are in there . . .Mixed bag (1024x683)We go to the woods with the long saddles and ridges at the top and the valleys and farmlands in between. Streams and seeps zig-zag their way through the land. In some parts of the country, we’re blessed to find grouse in some areas and woodcock in others. Valhalla is the place where the two birds overlap, for in there we get point after point after point. We have selective memories, but a day like that is committed for the rest of our life.

Then the comments come.  “I see you’re slumming it with woodcock.”  Out west just substitute sharptail or sage grouse and smile. It ain’t nothin’. Your buddy is just pokin’ fun ’cause you didn’t just shoot the King. It’s no different than a Marine telling a Sailor, “You give us a ride to fight.”  We’re on the same upland team, and comments like those are meant in jest. Just don’t poke the bear too hard, ’cause anyone crushing briars, humping ridges and busting brush isn’t gonna take too much slack-talk lying down.

Welcome new hunters (1024x683)

Ours is a fraternity shared by an unspoken understanding.  No one needs to say, “stay out of my coverts.” It’s part of our code. The problem comes when a thief pretends to be one of us. That’s usually why he isn’t invited back to camp. But we don’t let that bad apple spoil our bunch, for in time, we welcome newcomers, especially kids. It’s just who we are. We have Faith.

And now, grouse and woodcock hunting season is right around the corner. We’ve waited for it since last year. For some of us, it’s been a good off-season; for others of us, not so much. But here we are on the cusp of our favorite time of the year. It’s not far away. Above anything else, this is us. It is our time to shine.

Tom Keer is the founder/managing partner of the Keer Group, a company based in Massachusetts that focuses on branding, content marketing and public relations for the outdoor industry. Tom is an award-winning writer and publisher having been published by many outdoor titles including the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.

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Driftless Young Forest Symposium

Today, the Ruffed Grouse Society brought together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance future young forest habitat in the Driftless Region.

IMG_3144 (1024x507)Today (August 16, 2016) the Ruffed Grouse Society launched the Driftless Young Forest Symposium in La Crosse, Wisconsin to bring together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance young forest habitat in the Driftless Region. Symposium goals include providing a clear understanding of the area forest use trends and wildlife impacts, to recognize challenges of forest management in this region and to identify and embrace opportunities for potential landscape-scale benefits to young forest habitat in the future.

IMG_20160816_111121281 (2) (1024x576)Partners providing resources for the Driftless Young Forest Symposium include the Ruffed Grouse Society, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Credit NRCS - driftless agreaThe Driftless Region encompasses southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois and is noted for its deeply carved valleys and streams that were a result of this area escaping glaciation. Photo from NRCS.

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WI DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede



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RGS Wildlife Biologist for Wisconsin Scott Walter

The welcome address was presented by Kurt Thiede, deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who discussed the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership and the importance of agencies working together for the benefit of young forest initiatives. RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist for Wisconsin Scott Walter gave the opening remarks and moderated all presentations while Tricia Gorby-Knoot, research sociologist and economist for the Wisconsin DNR, discussed trends in the composition of the forests of the Driftless Region and urged professionals to take action in the region to make a difference.

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RGS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker

The keynote speaker was RGS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker who provided wildlife impacts of long-term forest trends in the Driftless Region. He stated that wildlife conservation need not be complicated by stating, “To sustain the full array of forest wildlife, we must sustain the full array of wildlife habitats.” He urged that public perception is the only reality when it comes to the view of forest management, and that a major challenge for the Driftless area is that the landscape is 90 percent privately owned. Because of that, he stated, “Wildlife is the window through which the public views our forests,” and stressed that it is necessary to help private landowners understand that if they want wildlife on their property, forest management is the key. Healthy forests = healthy wildlife populations.

The Symposium continues through tomorrow (August 17, 2016) with state reports (Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin), small group discussions, open group discussions for future plans, and a presentation on a model for landscape-scale management of the Driftless Region by Brad Hutnik and Greg Edge, forest ecologists for the WI DNR.

For more information about habitat management in the Driftless Region, contact RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Scott Walter, ScottW@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org, or RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, MeadowK@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org.

For more information about the Ruffed Grouse Society, go to




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A Few Dog Products to Consider for this Season

Anyone who hunts with a dog (or dogs) comes across a few different situations, obstacles or hazards that can be eliminated with the proper knowledge and a couple dollars. Here’s a few products I’ve come across that can always be found in my dog and gear bags.

Musher’s Secret

mushers-secretAnyone that runs their dog in the snow have without a doubt had their dog stop and bite at ice balls between their toes or ice buildup on their feet. Musher’s Secret is a natural and pliable wax mixture that is applied directly to feet. It takes a few short minutes to treat a dog, and any leftover can be rubbed into your own hands which also helps your own “paddies” in the dry, frigid air. Another bonus is it doesn’t stain or mark carpet later on after the hunt. The wax essentially makes the foot snow-proof and ice-proof. (It even can help with keeping bells clean and ringing).


permethrin-10A fantastic tick repellent and killer (if they don’t jump ship fast enough) that is as economical as it is effective. The great thing is it works both on your clothes and your dog. This isn’t the first time it’s been referred to on this blog, read an earlier article here.

The Tick Key

tick-keyDurable aluminum designed for a keychain, lanyard, glovebox or gear bag. If you are unfortunate to find an attached tick, the Tick Key does a nice job removing without ripping the body from the head (still attached) or squeezing the body which can act like a syringe for pathogens the tick may be carrying.

Fortiflora (Canine)

fortifloraPurina offers a probiotic that is great to have in your gear travel bags. Beyond the typical health benefits that probiotics provide, these space-saving food additive packets can help stress and travel incidents of vomiting, diarrhea or excessive gas. I haven’t yet found a dog that hasn’t found it incredibly palatable and have even used it as an incentive for picky eaters – particularly dogs on the road that all but refuse to eat.

Y-TEX PYthon Cattle Ear Tags

ytex-pythone-ear-tagA little unconventional, the purple cattle ear tags contain permethrin that keeps pests at bay on dogs. Just zip tie one around a collar while other real go-getters cut off a portion and rivet them onto the collar. For $29.99 for 20 tags (can be cut in half to make 40), you’re saving yourself a considerable chunk of change not having to pay for the marketing overhead from the house pet pest control brands.

Saline Solution

salineI get the cheapest solution I can find as I’m not using it to “rejuvenate” contact lens moisture, I’m trying to flush botanical gunk, sometimes using as many as several ounces in one instance. Saline flushes are particularly useful on those “mean seeds” that can inflame inner eyelids and get dogs pawing at their aggravated eyes.


TerramycinFor more advanced eye care, this is a antibiotic intended for direct application to eyes. It’s pricey but eyesight in a sporting dog is priceless. This is great insurance to ensure corneal abrasions heal as fast as possible and near miraculous performance on corneal perforation (meaning it was penetrated). Some sporting dog owners use it after every trip afield.

What uncommon or even unconventional item can be found in your gear bag? Comment below!



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The Effect of Drought on Woodcock

By Andrew P. Weik – RGS & AWS Regional Wildlife Biologist – New York, New England

After a spring seemingly favorable to ground nesting birds such as grouse and woodcock, summer thus far, into late July, has been drier than usual in my region. In fact, the lack of rainfall across many areas of the Northeast has resulted in drought conditions (see map below). The colors on the map show yellow as “abnormally dry”, beige as “moderate drought” and orange as “severe drought”.


What effect does this have on woodcock? During normal soil moisture conditions, earthworms are more abundant in hardwood (e.g. alder) stands than under conifers (e.g. spruce and fir), and woodcock preferentially use hardwood stands presumably because of the greater prey availability in these stands; conifer stands are one of the least-preferred daytime forest covers.

Research by Greg Sepik and others, reported in the 1983 Transactions of the Northeast Section of the Wildlife Society, on woodcock at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine in the late 1970s showed that during summer drought, woodcock shifted habitat use from predominantly hardwood cover to predominantly coniferous cover. They also greatly reduced use of night roost habitats, apparently because it was energetically unfeasible to make the dawn and dusk flights to and from the night roost areas. The authors go on to say, “By the end of August all age classes and sexes of woodcock normally have begun to increase in weight (Owen and Krohn 1973). During the last two weeks in August 1978 (the drought year) all woodcock captured were from 5-41% (mean =19%) below the average weights reported by Owen and Krohn (1973) for that period. Licinsky (1972) reported that a 40% weight loss resulted in the death of two captive woodcock, thus some woodcock in 1978 may have starved.”

Birds typically molt (drop and regrow) their wing feathers annually. This is an energetically and nutritionally demanding process. During the 1978 drought year, Sepik and colleagues found that three times as many female woodcock delayed or skipped molting some of their flight feathers compared to normal, apparently due to a shortage of food in late summer.

An important thing to remember is the 1978 drought referenced in the above study continued through August; precipitation throughout the rest of this summer could greatly alter the severity and pattern of drought.

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Why We Hunt, with Member Britney Starr

A single moment. One split second, combined with millions of sights, sounds, smells and thoughts that make a lifetime of memories.

Brit and DadA running Ruff, finally pinned by a relentless shorthair. Anticipation. Holding your breath as the world switches to slow motion. The flush. The smell of gunpowder. Feathers and a leaf floating to the ground, backlit by the sun. Proud smiles.

Garage-sale purchased clown masks and the dad/uncles who are eagerly waiting for the perfect time to carry out the sneak attack they’ve been planning for months. Laughing until your sides hurt. Tailgate lunches and cold drinks.

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The sound of truck horn blasts, signaling the direction you should have walked. Getting “the business” about how you’re the only two blondes with a GPS who could get lost 500 yards from where you parked. Knowing you weren’t really lost, just  . . . “turned around.”


Swamp GrouseAdventure. When a shallow puddle suddenly morphs into the depths of a lake. The feeling of water filling your boots, as you sink up to your armpits into an abyss you didn’t realize existed. Swamp grouse.

Brit and Wesson with woodcockPuppies that turn into veterans. A tug on your heartstrings. The internal pull you feel as soon as the air starts to get crisp. Realizing every second of aspen branches flicking your frozen earlobes, homemade apple pies, spider webs stuck to your face, stunning views, burning calf muscles, blazing campfires, tired bird dogs and burnt powder are the moments that make up who you are – your past, and your future.

image001A southpaw from Michigan’s “Northwoods”, Britney Starr is a lifelong outdoorswoman and shooting enthusiast with a passion for upland bird hunting, German shorthaired pointers (namely her GSP “Wesson”) and over-and-under shotguns. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she holds a degree in journalism and is currently the Marketing Specialist at SportDOG Brand.



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Why We Hunt, with Member Landon Knittweis

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.


13884528_10210611929001150_985448395_nOn 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.

13900553_10210611927121103_1204499319_nFrom 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.

13884504_10210611930681192_1357061572_nWith 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.

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Why We Hunt, with Member Dave Veldman

To this day, some of my best memories in the upland woods come from hunting with those there for nothing more than the fun and camaraderie that came with a fall day in the grouse woods. 

As I am now peering on the dawn of my 20th season in the grouse woods, I have a great deal on which to look back and be thankful.  I didn’t grow up in a hunting family.  I did have the fortune of being raised with trips to the family farm which fostered my appreciation for the great outdoors.  Once I was old enough to take the hunters safety course, I took it upon myself to find friends and others to enable my time in the woods.  Heck, I didn’t see my first grouse till I was 15 years old, and even then, I wasn’t entirely sure at what I had shot.  I was out alone squirrel hunting, and when the bird flushed, I instinctively mounted my Mossberg 500 20-gauge pump and pulled the trigger.  The bird hadn’t flown too far, and somehow I connected.  I had seen pictures, but at the time, it was just one more animal to fill the day’s bag.  I had no real appreciation for the what, when and where finesse of chasing ol’ ruff.

All Rights Reserved Copyright David Veldman 2015

All Rights Reserved Copyright David Veldman 2015

After high school, I had a boss that kept trying to convince me to go deer hunting.  I really had no interest, but after some time, I gave in and agreed to go.  Several weeks before the firearm opener, we ditched work early on a Friday and made our way up to the federal plot that his dad had taken he and his brothers since the time he was six.  He had suggested that I bring my shotgun, because as we scouted the woods for deer sign, we would most likely bump a few “pats”.  Sounding better than deer hunting itself, I was excited at the prospect of seeing more of these birds.

Now, mind you, he was not a serious grouse hunter (or deer hunter, for that matter), rather it was just another game species that he had been seeking in these woods for nearly 30 years with his father.  He would tell stories of walking through the woods with his dad and brothers, and grouse flushing from everywhere you could imagine.  Lore had it that on several occasions, they would attempt a shot at a flushing bird, only to hit another out of a tree that had not yet taken to wing.  To this day I am still not sure if I believe that, but I did soon learn there were birds in this small slice of federal land, and more than I had seen before that time.

Over the next several years, we made our trips a little more frequent, and increased the cast of characters.  To this day, some of the best memories I have in the upland woods come from walking in a line with a crew of guys that were there for nothing more than the fun and camaraderie that came with a fall day in the grouse woods.  We didn’t use dogs, and to be honest, we didn’t even really know what types of cover to be hunting.  To most, we would probably have been considered bad grouse hunters.  And, in reality, if we bagged two or three birds, we considered it a success.  The numbers didn’t matter.

Corbin Grouse-1 (1024x683)For the next 14 or 15 years, this scene had become my norm.  I would take every opportunity I could to get a couple friends together and tromps through the woods in search of the king.  We never strayed far from the areas with which we were familiar and probably chased more than a few birds, a couple times a day.  Still, we produced flushes, and the occasional kill, and it kept up coming back for more.

In 2009, I got my first dog.  I hadn’t the slightest thought of using him for bird hunting, rather I had always wanted a chocolate lab, and when the chance arose to get one, I took it.  It wasn’t until a friend asked if I was going to train him for bird hunting that I even pondered how that might change the game.  Until that time, I didn’t even know anyone that hunted behind dogs.  I had seen people out in the woods chasing around a beeper, but it wasn’t on my radar to take the same course.

After some basic wing and retrieve training, I learned that my pup had a little bit of natural desire and ability and decided to take him along with me the following fall.  Not really knowing where to go from there, I was introduced to a few members of the Ruffed Grouse Society.  After attending a few of the “fun trial” events, my eyes were opened to an entirely new world of opportunity.  I had been missing out on so much, and never really knew it.

I was cautious the first time I put him out in front of me in those safe hallows that I had first stepped in many years prior.  When that first doodle exploded out from in front of him, the excitement level of the hunt jumped several notches.  Although he was too jacked up to make a retrieve, the look on his face spoke louder than words.  A few minutes later, he had the first grouse under his collar, and with a fairly impressive retrieve from the creek, I knew I had made the right decision to heed the advice of my friend.  To this day, my dog is in no way a perfect bird dog, but he has taken me down a path I could never have seen coming.

Over the past six years, I have made many new friends and have had the chance to chase birds with many different hunters, utilizing many different styles of hunting.  I owe most of these experiences to RGS.  But no matter the style, I have enjoyed each time out.  My range has expanded and my methods refined.

It has been years since I have pounded those grounds with that old group of friends.  For various reasons, many of them never see the silver side of an aspen leaf any more.  I miss it.  Those were great times, with great people, but the people I have met and places I have been since that time are what formulate my story, now.

First Fun RGS Trial (1023x682)Is the prospect of worn-out hunters rehashing the comedies of the day while fresh grouse cooks over an evening campfire, the reason I hunt?  In part, but it’s the faces, times and places that life has handed me in the past twenty years that will remain with me, long after the feathers stop flying.  I look forward to many more.

Dave Veldman is a photographer, writer, outdoorsman and occasional facilities manager from metro Detroit.  In 2012, he founded his hunting, dog and outdoors photography service Sport Dog Photography.

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