Written by: Darlene Ostrosky
I had a gut feeling I was being overly confident. It didn’t help this was my first time out since bird season opened 2 weeks ago. Picking a Friday hopefully meant the “blast at anything that moves” bunch wouldn’t be a problem either. As I parked my truck, I noticed I had the place to myself. The weather was perfect as well. Temperatures were in the low 50’s, a slight breeze was blowing and skies were cloudy. I wouldn’t be able to use the excuse of the sun being in my eyes if I missed however!
Ten minutes into the journey, a large female woodcock springs up from the ground four feet away from my right shoulder, snapping me out of my reverie. From past experiences hunting this location, I knew the chances were good in this cluster of birch and young maple trees that a bird would be found but I didn’t count on it being so soon. Off she twittered into a nearby oak and pine grove to safety.
The hunting mode section of my brain was now on full alert as I covered two fields of waist high grass and golden rod at a quicker than usual pace. At the end of the last field, I flush a hen pheasant that heads into an area of heavy brush and mountain laurel. Search continues but no luck to be had. For the second time today, I find myself wishing I had a bird dog along for a hunting buddy. Not only to alert me of birds in the vicinity but also to listen to my rants and reasons regarding my actions so far.
Thoughts of success were still pushing me onward thru all types of cover until I realized I had no idea where I was!! Being a cloudy day, I couldn’t use the sun’s position as a time indicator. The cell phone in my vest pocket was of little comfort – who would I call and tell that I didn’t have a clue where I was?!
Sitting down on a oak stump, I looked around at my surroundings and tried to calmly plan my next move. Six deer ticks were marching along on my left pant leg for moral support…how lovely! Starting off in the opposite direction eventually leads me into a feathery stalked marshland maze. Three wrong steps later puts me into knee deep water that quickly cools my over-heated feet. Continuing on in the determined direction, I finally reach higher ground.
Waiting just ahead was a place that appeared to be made up of the perfect mixture of ruffed grouse habitat. Mountain laurel and evergreens gave way to haphazardly spaced apple trees. Mid thigh height field grasses were edged with grapevines, ferns and tangles of various berry bushes that eventually led back into thick pine and hardwood cover on all sides.
Figuring I might as well check this area out while I was here, I planned to sweep along one side of the property, cut up thru the center and cover the edge of the opposite side last. Three quarters of the way around the first section, four ruffed grouse flush behind me as I pass a twisted apple tree covered by heavy brush with large thorns growing along the bottom. I see the grey and black fanned tail of the last bird disappear into nearby cover as I swiveled around-gun to cheek. No shot is available once again.
Not more than 20 steps later, two more ruffed grouse flush. One offers a left to right crossing shot which I take. A quick pull of the trigger and the first bird drops. Second bird swerves a hard left and disappears into the pines. Suddenly out of nowhere, a woodcock flushes straight ahead of me and I get it with my second barrel. It almost seems like it panicked at the sound of the first shot going off. Always a bitter sweet moment, I say a heartfelt thank you to the bird gods once again and neatly tuck the woodcock into my vest pouch next to the grouse already there.
Passing through an older, well established pine forest, I sight align the rows of trees to continue my way out of “Where Ever Land”. The sound of tires crunching on gravel fills my ears shortly. I step out onto a dirt road and wave down a middle aged lady to ask where I was. She is a realtor from a nearby town and offers me a ride back to my starting point. I gladly accept her offer!!
Climbing into my truck, I realize I was gone over four and a half hours and had just about fifteen minutes of daylight left. I know also I could never find that hunting spot again even if I tried. However, if asked about feeling blessed in an odd way for the experience, I would say yes in a wing beat!!!