Ruff remains my favorite quarry . . . wherever he is found, though, the constant is that he is usually a more than worthy adversary. There is a shrewdness to a seasoned drummer – he can beat you.
My name is Perry Masotti. I did not grow up in a hunting family. I was attracted to hunting by reading outdoors magazines as a kid. In particular, I wanted to get a dog to hunt grouse (I had never heard of woodcock) as I loved the partnership aspect of it. I cannot imagine hunting without a dog. I had shot ruffs over the years, but I began to hunt ruff in earnest when I got my first pointing dog in the 90s. Since retiring from my work as a psychotherapist in public mental health in 2012, I have been hunting extensively for wild upland birds and waterfowl across North America. However, Ruff remains my favorite quarry. There is a shrewdness to a seasoned drummer – he can beat you.
Living as I do in southeastern New York State, I must drive a minimum of two hours just to begin to get into ruffs. I have coverts, but they are all on public land and minimally to moderately productive. I have the illusion of secrecy which I can maintain until I see someone in the covert. Sometimes, I envy the guy who walks out his back door. I don’t know if it is a factor, but I have become a rambling grouse hunter. For the last few years I have taken partridge in five or six states each year. Although I feel most comfortable and am most productive entering a covert solo (well, I do bring my dogs), I like the lunchtime and dinner time camaraderie with my good friends. I have traveled many thousands of miles with two, in particular. One gets to know another guy traveling the way we do.
For the last several years I have been able to take ruffed grouse in several states each year, as well as in Ontario. I enjoy comparing the people, terrain, flora and the color and marking patterns of the ruffs I take. There certainly are trends based on where one hunts. Wherever he is found, though, the constant is that he is usually a more than worthy adversary.
Wild Things: In northern Maine, one might encounter many wild things, not the smallest of which is the moose. On a misty October morning in 2014, after a day of strong rain in the Allagash region of Maine, we met this gal and her calf in a large clearcut. I don’t know if they were trying to dry out or make it into the deeper woods but, in any event we intersected. It is always a thrill to see these giants, although I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Bullwinkle in rut. I might change my tune.
Allagash Region: We were greeted with this sight in the Allagash region of Maine as we were shoving off one morning. It was out our back door and just too pretty to pass up. The fellas all know that I might pull over at a moment’s notice to take a photo, but this was right behind our lodging.
King in Tow: I walked the logging roads, drunk on aspen yellow and evergreen, the smell of damp earth and the mist on my face. That copse of hemlocks looks good, bounded as it is by dogwood, a fat grapevine, crawling here and climbing there, and a lone besieged apple tree. Pup casts in and, in a blink, point beep sounds. I walk—no, slide down from the road in my haste and jump the ditch. Almost. Gun up, butt to the ground. I walk but 15 more yards and Ruff, disturbed from his afternoon laziness, rises as a high and going away trap shot and falls to the gun. My young canine partner bounds back, king in tow. What is there to do but savor and hang on such moments.
The Limit: On a day in northern Maine, Vinny and I hunted together, switching off dogs. We had taken a couple of birds each that morning. After lunch we scouted and hunted. The weather was changing rapidly with a front coming through. It was the kind of change that all hunters love, as the critters are on the move, gorging before laying up. We tried a new road, and as we rose in altitude and approached a bit of a crest of road on a knob leading to medium aged hardwoods, we spied a group of grouse – at least seven. I confess the dogs were not put down for these birds, as there was not time. We split up a little and worked towards them. In a couple of minutes we had flushed them in a couple of rises and Vinny had rounded out his limit, and I had added one. We did release the dogs to pick up the birds.
VC Oak and Moose: My buddy Rick had just passed his excellent Brittany, Oak, at the NAVHDA Invitational to earn the title Versatile Champion. We had hunted North Dakota for sharptails and wound up in Maine. Rick was working a boggy area where the ruff cover overlaps with that of the spruce grouse. He took this bird over VC Oak. Vinny had found two moose sheds, this being the larger, and we used it to photograph birds that day for the rest of the crew. That was a great trip with great guys. I love the lunchtime meetings and banter. We renamed a few roads that trip.
Back in Time: In 2015 I attended the RGS National Hunt and had to make time to be in Maine to meet Garret and Nellie Booth of Greys Outfitters to photograph their beautiful Elhew Pointers. I walked for several days with Garret, his dad (Dick) and Dick’s friend Freddie. I put my guy, Elk, on the ground at Garret’s kind insistence and a couple of times Dick made me shoot his side-by-side Fox. Just before this photo, Freddie and I had each taken a bird. It was sweet to be handed that gun and to take a ruff straightaway. Something about it transported me back in time.
Backing Out: I was alone, hunting on the Upper Peninsula, and was to meet my buddies, Dave and Matt, in northern Wisconsin. I was admiring the loveliness of Yooper autumn at every turn. I followed the GPS instructions. It started to rain pretty good after this photo. I went eight miles down a road which became ever more narrow, and I had to gun the truck through two very deep puddles (more like ponds than puddles!). But a quarter mile later, my route ended at a gate to a remote hunting camp. There was no place to turn around. I had to back out half a mile, at least, through those same puddles without getting stuck. Somehow I made it. But there was a lesson. Maps. Trust maps. I think.
Luck With Me: I returned to the UP with Dave and Matt. We leapfrogged logging roads and tried new cover. Elk was 16 months old and I was pleased that he nailed the bird, giving me a shot. But my barrels never caught up with that ruff. Elk relocated and pointed the bird in an evergreen blowdown about 100 yards forward of the original flush. As I got within 35 or so yards, it jetted back high towards me and off to my right. Somehow, I dropped it high over my right shoulder. While waiting for my companions, I picked up a woodcock just off the side of the access road to the clearcut. Sometimes luck is with me.
Hail Mary: This bird took off through the white pines. A “Hail Mary” shot brought him to bag. With Elk’s help, of course. I took this and several other photos while I waited for the fellas to finish their circuit. As I took photos and studied the surroundings, I heard the fellas shooting a couple hundred yards away as they moved in an arc around the trucks. They killed a number of woodcock that morning, as I recall, and a grouse or two.
Wristy Popple: I like this photo of Elk with a woodcock we picked up just 20 or so yards behind where he sits. He carried his retrieved bird as we walked to where he is sitting in the photo. Behind him is a mix of a gone-by fern understory among a nice stand of wristy popple. I find lots of woodcock in that type of cover.
Sweet Rig: One of my best friends and hunting buddies, David Kuritzky, and his chokebore-nosed GSP, Riley. Riley is rangy, stylish and independent and is always well off his birds. Behind us you see David’s wingshooting truck. As we travel, folks go out of their way to stop and look at it, as it truly is a dream machine, with boxes for eight dogs and lots of storage. You can see a map of the United States, and as we travel and meet fellow hunters, David has them affix the sticker for the state in which the bird was taken. It is a fun ritual among the wingshooters we know or meet. I enjoy being part of it. The most common words used by envious gawkers is “sweet rig.” And so it is.
Color Phases: I hunted northern Minnesota with Dave and Matt in September 2012. They had split to hunt their way back east and I was getting ready to head alone to North Dakota for sharptails. Aspen and I picked up a last few birds near Beltrami. He tolerated my composing this photo. It is high on my list of feel goods! That they’re ruffs is enough but I do love the different phases reflected here.
Ontario Crown Roads: My buddy Larry and I had gone to Ontario to meet and hunt with Brendan Menchions, with whom we stayed. We would drive the washboard Crown roads daily, twenty to thirty miles to get back into the bush. I really enjoyed the cultural exchange. I learned about pepperettes and cook-ups. I was so impressed that Brendan and his wife, Chelsea, love the outdoors so much that they will drive that same 20 or 30 miles just to make a field breakfast or dinner in the bush. While we were there, it was quite warm. The ruff numbers were light, although woodcock and sprucies were available. Hunting solo, I had cast my Aspen into the forest from a small adjacent opening. I went to swing around and hadn’t gone 50 yards when his point beep sounded. I came around and spied him on a soft point looking up. I figured I should be ready and followed his gaze. As soon as I looked up a ruff bolted from about 30 or 40 feet over head. Somehow I managed to get the gun in front and to drop that bird. That one was well-earned.
Grouse Team: Justin Phillips and his dad, Ronald – what a grouse team. This was a rare smile from Justin, although Ron smiles a lot. Ron has nearly a half century of woodcraft and hunting under his belt. Justin adds a scientific bent to the mix. And can that young man climb. I was grabbing roots to climb steep inclines and Justin was just walking up like nothing. Although, I am pretty sure his knees came almost to his chin as he climbed. Both Ron and Justin are crack wingshooters. As you can see, we had a red letter day. Justin and I took a limit and Matt and Ron each took a bird. (Full disclosure: Matt almost always surpasses me in bag – a lucky day for me). Behind Justin and Ronald is David Kuritzky’s “Sweet Rig.” As you can see, the states are filling out.