Written by: Bruce Barlow. Gladwin, MI
Image provided by: Tim Flanigan
Grouse hunting is my passion. I live and breathe for being out in the covers pitting my wits against the wile Ruffed Grouse. In grouse hunting there are milestones of success such as the first grouse taken over a pointing dog, first limit of grouse, first bird hunting with a grand kid, the list goes on and on. But there is one milestone that not many grouse hunters have achieved or even had the chance to obtain.
The milestone I am talking about is a double. A double, a REAL double, is when the hunter encounters a situation where 2 grouse flush simultaneously from the ground and the hunter is able to down both birds. In order for it to be an “official” double not only do both birds need to be knocked down but they have to be brought to hand. What I mean by this is that both birds must be in the hunter’s possession. Let’s say that a hunter has two grouse take off in front of him at the same time, he shoots at each one in its turn and was able to knock them both out of the air, and he cannot claim a true double until both birds are located and retrieved.
Well, the story I am about to tell is of one of those rare and precious occasions when I, yes your very own story telling grouse addict, had an opportunity to join that club of illustrious bird hunters who can brag that they were able to score the pinnacle of grouse hunting milestones, a double on ruffed grouse.
It was an early November day. Not early early November but somewhere between the end of woodcock season and the firearm deer season opener. The weather was cool, but not too cool…maybe in the mid 40 degree range. The sky was overcast with a feel of rain in the air. There was a mild south westerly breeze blowing. A pleasant day to say the least. Most leaves were off the trees except for some of the oaks that still retained a few crumpled and dried out remnants of summer’s glory.
I took the day off work. Or I should say I took the day to do some bird hunting and work would take care of itself. For me to sit in an office on a day like this one would be pure torture…so I grabbed my dogs and headed for the covers. Did I say dogs? Well, let me introduce you to my partners in crime. First there is Clare. She is a Chocolate Lab who just turned 7 years old. She was a “grouse dog” right out of the box! She retrieved her first grouse at nine months old! I could go on and on about her exploits but this story only includes her and is not about her. I did say “dogs” didn’t I? The second dog of my brace is Bean. Bean is a black female Lab that turned 6 years old in mid-October. She is in training to be a good grouse dog!
So I got the dogs and we headed out to one of my favorite places to hunt. It is a young aspen stand of about 7-10 years old. This stand is somewhat rectanglish in shape and only about 25 acres or so in size. It’s a cover that can be hunted thoroughly in a very short time…30-40 minutes max but usually holds a few birds. I pulled the car into our usual parking spot. The dogs are excited, especially the black “dog in training”.
Both dogs bolt out of the car door as soon as it is opened. I open the trunk and retrieve my hunting vest and gun. In a few short minutes everything is situated and we head into the cover. As this stand is of a rectangular shape I like to go north along the far western edge and then come back south along the eastern edge. The stand is narrow enough that the dogs, being flushing dogs, can cover just about all of it. As we headed into the cover I couldn’t help but feel the excitement of the hunt…the dog’s attitude was contagious!
With the cool breeze coming from behind me I thought we might have better luck on the way back south due to the wind direction. Just as I was thinking this, the brown dog flushed a bird not ten feet in front of me! Up went the brown bird! Up went the gun! NOPE! It was a woodcock! That season had closed a few days before. Wow! That was close! Gotta keep on my toes.
The dogs were able to find and flush two more woodcock before we made the end of the cover and moved east to start back south toward the car. Watching the dogs I could see that there body language had changed a bit. They seemed to be more focused on their casting back and forth through the cover. Could it be that they know we are after grouse and not woodcock? I mean, they both looked at me funny when I didn’t shoot at that first woodcock. Did they sense that we were after bigger game? Can they pick something like that up in such a short period of time? I really don’t know about that but the fact is those dogs are now more “birdy” than they’ve been this whole hunt.
The birdy-ness is a clue to me to be extra alert, ready for that split second flush and thunder of an exploding ruffed grouse. And then it happened! I heard both of grouse go before I saw them appear above the low brush they had taken cover in. The dogs had executed a pincher maneuver that trapped the grouse under some low brush until the birds just couldn’t stay there any longer…they had to fly!
Both birds came off the ground at the very same instant! They cleared the low brush and moved into the open going from my right to left…one bird slightly above and behind the other. My mind went blank, reflexes took over, I brought the gun to my shoulder, safety clicked off, the swing of the barrels caught up with the first bird and started to pass….BANG!…a miss! Oh No!! I fumbled for the back trigger and at the same time trying to stay with that bird…BANG! Crap!….another miss! Oh Boy!
What a cool experience!! I had a chance at a double!! I couldn’t believe it! How neat was that?! I was disappointed that my shots didn’t hit their target and at the same time elated that I just had one of the rarest of opportunities in ruffed grouse hunting. I had had the chance to reach that elusive of all grouse hunting milestones…a double!!