Written by: Matt Larison
Plain City, OH
It was Monday, October 30th, 2017, and I was fortunate enough to be in Northern Michigan with two of my best friends. It was the start of what would become an annual grouse and woodcock hunt. Prior days spent hunting had been awesome working my son’s 4 year old grouse dog Colt and my friend’s grouse dog Tessi. Tessi is Colt’s momma. The two Grousetangle Brittany’s had that special gift for handling grouse. My good friend and Grouse hunting mentor Jim Hamer says that most gun dogs will hunt grouse, but only 1 out of 50 will turn out to be a bona fide grouse dog. Tessi was a bona fide grouse dog.
The day before Colt and Tessi had teamed up to put on a clinic. They were sharing points, honoring points, working independently, as well as together. Colt pinned his first double on grouse and Tessi pinned a grouse and woodcock that were sitting together. We were following dogs through the coverts getting good looks at grouse, bagging a few and shooting limits of woodcock. The trip really couldn’t have been any better.
The next morning we were excited to go back to a cover that we had hunted weeks prior with success. Colt was off and searching for feathered rockets. We were about 900 yards into the woods when his beeper started singing that sweet sound of “point mode”- Beep, Beep, Beep, I called “point”. And we headed towards the welcome sound. My friend Bill and I walked into the point, him to the left and me to the right but no bird flushed. After more looking, I released Colt back to hunting and he started tracking to where the sneaky bird had run out from under his nose. We resumed moving forward into the thicket when I heard the loud crack of my friends 12 gauge. Excited, I asked, “Did you get him?” With a shaky voice Bill replied, “No, a limb just hit my trigger”. The woods always seems quieter to me after a shot is fired but this was a different unwelcomed silence. “Is everyone OK?” I asked. Both hunters answered that were fine. “You better check Colt” Bill said with uncertainty in his voice.
I called Colt in to check him out but he was pretty busy still searching for a downed bird. Finally, he came to me. As I knelt down to look him over but saw no blood or any other sign of injury. But as he stood there looking up at me his face and eyes seemed to glaze over and he fell over onto his side. My heart sank and a lump swelled in my throat in disbelief. Frantically we searched him for a wound and found a yellow wet spot on his rear quarter. We quickly unloaded our guns and Bill ran to get the truck while I scooped Colt up and carried him as fast as I could to the road. He met me with the truck and we rushed to the nearest animal hospital about 30 minutes away.
Tense doesn’t describe the moments on that drive, it was terrible. Terrible for Colt who laid panting in my arms. Terrible for me and most of all terrible for Bill who kept apologizing. He was immediately saddled with guilt and reality that he had just shot our dog. Colt is my oldest son’s very first bird dog. He had actually sold his dirt bike when he was 14 to be able to buy him. There was still no obvious wound but clearly something was seriously wrong. When we got into cell service range we called ahead to the animal hospital so they’d be ready to rush him in as soon as we arrived. They met us in the parking lot and quickly got him into their care.
The Vet and staff were fantastic! They cared for him and quickly identified his wounds that we couldn’t see. One pellet was under the skin but had not made it into the rib cage under his chest. The 2nd pellet somehow pierced the fluid sack that surrounds the kidney but miraculously had not hit the kidney itself. The pressure from the fluid had actually pushed the projectile back out before we even made it to the clinic. The Vet said that based on the two wounds she found we were really lucky and that it was likely a deflection and not a direct hit. Colt spent the night in the hospital and we picked him up the next morning.
As hunting accidents go this could have been a lot worse. After a steady dose of antibiotics and a couple follow up visits with our local vet he made a full recovery. Colt was released for normal activity. I was anxious to get him back in the field. Thankfully, he never showed any side effects from the incident. He climbed “back in the saddle” like nothing had ever happened. To this day he remains A healthy, wonderful pet, a fantastic gun dog and an incredible grouse dog.
As for Bill and I, we’re still best friends. We have one of those friendships that leaves no room for questions or doubts. This was a very unfortunate and traumatic accident to say the least. Neither one of us would ever knowingly endanger the other or our dogs in any way. In hind sight this was totally preventable and we both learned a lot from going through it. That’s what actually inspired me to relive this by telling the story. (A story that we would both like to forget) But what is a worthwhile life experience if we don’t come out of it better. I refuse to let a learning moment go to waste. Maybe, just maybe, another young grouse hunter will read this, and learn from our mistakes.
Here’s the Take-Away: At the time of this trip I was in my 3rd or 4th year of grouse hunting. For Bill this was his first trip. We were fairly experienced prairie upland bird hunters but we were both inexperienced in the grouse woods. There were a few key safety items that we overlooked as we marched along in those coverts. First of all, on the prairie, there are no tree limbs to switch your gun from safety to fire, let alone to make their way inside your trigger guard. We’re now in a constant state of checking that safety and it happens on every trip. I push through a young aspen growth and I find my gun has been switched to fire. I immediately catch it and correct it. Also, the only safe muzzle direction is up. No one wants to have an accidental discharge but if it does happen you’ll be thankful that you had your barrel pointed to the sky. Lastly, there are lots of different opinions about what type of shot gun guys prefer to shoot. From a safety stand point (especially in the grouse woods), a double gun is the safest. The safety on an autoloader functions side to side so as you push through brush and thick tangled covers that safety can get switched easily. Most double guns (like the Ruger Red Label) the safety switch is located on top and has to slide from back to front into the fire position. This way as you make your way through those same covers the limbs are continuing to push your safety switch into the “safe” position.
In the end, Colt is well, our friendship endured, and we are safer than we have ever been in the woods, in the blind or on the prairie. Let no experience pass you by that doesn’t foster improvement whether it is your own, or someone else’s…
Tight lines and game filled days my friends. Stay Safe.