The first grouse I ever swung on was a right-to-left crosser at “The Wild 80”, a hunting club my wife’s late father belonged to. It was one of those clear, crisp October days we all dream about where the grouse woods abound with a palpable anticipation while being flush with color. Oh, I did swing on that grouse all right – about five feet behind him! To paraphrase what Herb Parsons, the accomplished exhibition shooter, said about shooting clays, “Ruffed grouse aren’t hard to hit, they’re just easy to miss!”
The reasons I hunt grouse are many. Prior to that fella schooling me, I had hunted squirrels, rabbits, deer and bear. From the moment that grouse left me trembling as I shook my head, I was hooked – helplessly, hopelessly smitten. The seed was planted, rapidly sprouted and grew to consume me. Now if a dog isn’t part of the mix, I really don’t care to hunt.
My precious journals go back to 1973. They show 4,160 grouse flushes and 2,976 woodcock flushes over some pretty fair dogs. My heart pounds just as loudly approaching a point now as it did on the first by Britt that first year. The extensive accounts of each hunt since then allow me to relive those memories – as they will for my son and his son and . . .
Here are some of the reasons I grouse hunt:
– Dogs. To bring a puppy laden with promise into your life, train that pup to be a bird dog and then foster an unshakable bond that defines teamwork – and love. There’s nothing quite like watching a dog you trained learn to handle wily grouse. Points reign supreme. To see your dog quiver with excitement while nailing a grouse is only exceeded by your own exhilaration and is the stuff of dreams.
– To witness Ruff point his last grouse that I fortunately connected on. Then, stumble bringing that bird, struggle to get up with wings beating him in the face and proudly deliver it to hand. He didn’t want to release it – I think he knew. He was buried with the wings from that bird.
– Watching Feathers display an unmatched resolve after having a leg amputated for cancer at 11 years of age. Being in awe of her 1,000th point – on only three legs – with tears streaming down my face. She taught us lessons about grit, devotion and determination we’ll never forget.
– To be there when your son (or daughter) harvest their first grouse. Save that hull and other memorable ones that follow in a GBE inspired “BOX OF SHELLS”. Memories.
– Woodcock. I would be remiss without including woodcock. Grouse and woodcock go together like . . . well . . . grouse and woodcock! God, I love the Little Russet Fellow. As GBE inscribed in my copy of A DOG, A GUN, and TIME ENOUGH, “We speak of woodcock with a softer voice.”
– As a long TIME Michigan Hunter Safety Instructor being able to introduce scores of young people to grouse hunting and the all important elements of gun safety.
– Grouse Camps. Preferably on a lake where you saunter to the shore with a steaming cup of coffee to warm your hands on a frosty morning with mist rising from the placid water as the sun enhances the fleeting colors that line the shore. The robin’s egg blue sky soothes your soul. You long for a way to blend and capture the enticing aroma of the coffee with the distinct scents of the fall grouse woods. Your senses are nearly overloaded. You savor it knowing as Octobers before it, it won’t last – it will vanish on the ephemeral, gossamer wings of TIME.
– Campfires. Finding a suitable clearing for night viewing in the most remote, secret locations in the Upper Peninsula. Carefully removing sod to form a circle, placing it to the side and outlining its circumference with rocks. Later replacing the sod and hiding the rocks for another hunt so your fire pit won’t be trashed.
– Sitting close to a fire on a chilly night after a day of hunting with your dog curled up beside you. Before she settles in, she places her lovely head on your knee for a pat, then looks longingly up with eyes that say, “Thanks, pa”. She twitches in a sound sleep as she dreams of the birds she encountered. A deep inner peace envelops you as you run your fingers through her corn silk soft ears. You are grateful – even proud – of the way you worked together. The misses no longer seem as important.
– Enjoying the fire with someone special on a night so clear the stars seem close enough to touch. The smoke from pungent oak curls and furls upward in tight columns before disappearing in the darkness. The glowing coals consume your thoughts as you listen to every sound and every silence of the night.
– How good a fluffy pillow feels as you drift off to sleep from a good tired while your only thoughts are where you’ll hunt the next day.
– Having “Johnny” tell me he got his first grouse, then seeing him lower his head after I asked, “Your grouse was flying, wasn’t it?” Three weeks later watching him burst into class one morning with a huge smile and him excitedly proclaiming, “Mr. McGinty, Mr. McGinty, I got another grouse yesterday and this one was flying!” “Attaboy, Johnny!” Followed by a big hug!
– To have a library of the upland classics by authors like Evans, Spiller, Hill, Foster, Ford, Smith, Norris, Valdene, Bump and Sheldon that serve to sustain one during the off season.
– An odyssey that afforded our family the opportunity to share a splendid evening with George and Kay Evans. I’m also so grateful to have spent an afternoon woodcock banding with Andy Ammann. All icons I greatly looked up to and admired.
Yup, there’s a lot to like about grouse hunting. While it’s not surprising, I was taken to the grouse woods, I could have never imagined I would be so taken by the grouse woods. The journey has been meaningful and enriched my life beyond measure. I sincerely hope your’s will be as well. Please go make some memories this fall, Birddoggers . . .
To join the Ruffed Grouse Society or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org