Written by: Gary Tunkavige
It was October of 2002 and I was hunting in Western Maine with Thicket my then nine year old Ryman-type English setter. We were working our way down an old logging road which paralleled a small river. Thicket was working through the cover about 40 yards to my right when his bell abruptly stopped. While I was heading in to find him I faintly heard wing beats. I found Thicket at the base of a large pine tree and he was looking up. When I got to him, a grouse flushed overhead from a branch of that tree going nearly straight up. I actually had to arch my back to take the shot. The shot from the right barrel of my 20 gauge hit the bird, but it continued to struggle to gain altitude. The left barrel did the job, stopping the bird and it began to tumble down, bouncing from limb to limb. I said to myself “Keep going, keep going keep…”. The bird lodged in the crook of a branch a good 25 feet above me.
I was not about to let a grouse go to waste. The available options began to run through my head. Throwing sticks was not working. Too many obstructing branches in the way. I considered trying to shoot the bird off the branch. No, that would have just resulted in a lead saturated bird which would have remained stuck anyway. I considered trying to climb the tree. But I imagined how puzzled the future deer hunter would be who came upon the scene of my skeleton on the ground next to the skeletons of an English setter and a grouse. I ruled out climbing the tree. Next idea – knock the bird off. I spotted a nearby dead sapling with a long straight trunk which might serve as a pole. The sapling easily broke free of the ground and I cleared the branches from the trunk. This just might work!
The pole proved to be a real struggle to heft but I managed to maneuver it toward the bird. A couple of feet too short. There was a nearby rotting tree stump which I climbed onto and tried again. Still too short. Then I got the idea to shove the pole at the bird. This was a bad idea. The pole missed the bird, came back down striking me in the chest and knocked me and the pole flat onto the ground. About now Thicket became bored with watching my antics and decided that he could better spend his time by looking for more birds. This added to my aggravation and I took the cotton leash out of my vest and secured Thicket to a tree. I decided to give the stump and pole method one more try. As I was maneuvering the pole while standing on the rotting stump, it collapsed putting me and the pole flat on the ground again.
I needed a new idea. Improve the pole! If I could lash an extension to the pole, I could reach the bird. But what to lash with? Thicket’s leash! I removed Thicket’s leash and convinced him that if he ever wanted to see his tenth birthday, he had better stay put. He got the message. So I lashed a branch to the tip of the pole. With waning strength I yet again maneuvered it up to the bird and with a deft tap knocked the bird off the branch. One of the nicest sounds I ever heard was the thump when the bird hit the ground.
Soaked with sweat, scratched and covered with pine needles I smoothed the bird’s feathers, carefully placed it in the game bag of my vest and limped away along with Thicket.
I now own a camp in the area and still hunt that logging road. Thicket is long gone now but when I approach the scene of that incident with my current setter I stop to tell her about what happened here because of what a grouse is worth.