The sun was making its way across a high top in the Nantahala Mountains, and the first rays of light hit the frozen windshield of my truck. The thoughts of previous hunts high in the Carolina hills fought for a piece of time in my memories. The memories make grouse hunting so unique . . . no two are ever the same. Every dog has its own slot, every bird too, and the covers, well they reside down the deepest passage in the rooms of the brain, only visible to me and those in which I choose to share them.
I started grouse hunting the first semester of my freshman year at Western Carolina University, and all my friends would tell you I would have been better off on drugs. On more than one occasion I would leave my dorm room around the same time my friends would be coming in from a night out on the town. I would walk nearly a mile to freshman parking, drive to a friend’s house where I stored my side-by-side scattergun and meet up with one of my mentors somewhere in the national forest for a hunt. That first grouse flush over a setter’s point, miles back in the land of the noon-day sun hooked me for life.
It wasn’t long before a dog consumed my thoughts, a setter of course, and a road trip to New York State from my Carolina home to pick up my male Llewellin, “Jeb”, only added fuel to the grouse hunting fire that burned in my mind. This past season was our first together, and I would not trade the memories for anything. It amazes me that most days in my busy life I cannot remember what I had for lunch, but I can travel in my mind to Jeb’s first grouse point, the way the wind was blowing, where I was standing, the staunch concentration on his face, how long he held and the direction that old mountain bird flushed out from under the grape vine from where it was feeding and effortlessly disappeared into the mountains that hide its legacy.
At the end of the day all grouse hunters hunt for different reasons. Some repetition is found in explanations of why we hunt when asked. Some say it’s for the dogs, some for the exercise, but for me, it is the creation of memories. I know as the years pass and my season’s change that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to visit my covers even if I can no longer traverse these Southern Highlands where I’m rooted. I’ll be able to travel in my mind to that first point with Jeb or our first bird. I will never be storyless when in company because I have the memories locked in for good. Joy, solace, exhaustion, love, accomplishment and many other emotions can be summoned at any time because of these memories.
My Name is Noah Smith, and I am a proud member of the Ruffed Grouse Society. I cherish the memories I have made and look forward to making many more. We all hunt for different reasons, and I encourage you to take someone new and help them find theirs.
Noah Smith is an RGS member from North Carolina who will be a new intern handling communications and social media for the RGS through the summer. Welcome Noah!
For more information about how the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society enhance habitat and hunting, go to: www.ruffedgrousesociety.org