Our hats look like oil pans, our favorite vests have more patches and thread than original cloth, and while we may be late to supper, we are never late for opening day. Anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest, and we are among the obsessed. Go hard or go home.
I don’t think we grouse and woodcock hunters are very smart. At least I know I’m not. For what kind of hunter volunteers to get shredded by cover only to get a glimmer of a snap shot at cagey birds that dart behind aspen swales and pine boughs? And what kind of hunter shrugs off a bark dusting so easily that it’s considered normal? We do it again and again so much so that we are reminded of Albert Einstein’s ‘Definition of Insanity’: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Even though I know your answer, it’s not right for me to answer for you. But for me? By Einstein’s definition, I am insane.
Or am I? A long time ago, I shot the bark off of so many trees my friends thought I had a select-cut contract from the Forest Service. By the end of the season, I was so hacked off that I was ready to wrap my gunning iron around an oak. Instead, I followed my misses with a tweak here, a tweak there and after a while everything clicked. Rather than run down Einstein’s rabbit hole, I prefer a different adage: repetition makes the master. Our hats look like oil pans, our favorite vests have more patches and thread than original cloth, and while we may be late to supper, we are never late for opening day. Anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest, and we are among the obsessed. Go hard or go home.
We like the tradition of old things. We trace dog lineage like anthropologists search for the Lost City of Atlantis. We prefer torn and tattered, muddied and bloodied. Ours are the beat-up trucks with rusty frames and scratch marks in the hood. Give us a book with a spine, and we’re in hog-heaven divine. Ford, Spiller, Harnden Foster and the like are ideal. We drool over old, classic shotguns of any make or model. We respect our elders and shepherd children, even if they are not our own. We respect each other and our environment. Clear and select cuts don’t bother us. Big woods ticks do.
We like art. Maybe we don’t visit the Met or frequent the Louvre. We can differentiate between Lynn Bogue Hunt, A. Lassell Ripley and Frank Benson. Their work connects us with the past, and we welcome the newer artists. Jay Dowd, Adam Wampole, Steven Broussard, Gordon Allen, Daniel Porter, and M. Richard Thompson. Their work may be different, but so is the way we handle conservation. Check them out as you would a new covert. You’ll be surprised about how many birds are in there . . .We go to the woods with the long saddles and ridges at the top and the valleys and farmlands in between. Streams and seeps zig-zag their way through the land. In some parts of the country, we’re blessed to find grouse in some areas and woodcock in others. Valhalla is the place where the two birds overlap, for in there we get point after point after point. We have selective memories, but a day like that is committed for the rest of our life.
Then the comments come. “I see you’re slumming it with woodcock.” Out west just substitute sharptail or sage grouse and smile. It ain’t nothin’. Your buddy is just pokin’ fun ’cause you didn’t just shoot the King. It’s no different than a Marine telling a Sailor, “You give us a ride to fight.” We’re on the same upland team, and comments like those are meant in jest. Just don’t poke the bear too hard, ’cause anyone crushing briars, humping ridges and busting brush isn’t gonna take too much slack-talk lying down.
Ours is a fraternity shared by an unspoken understanding. No one needs to say, “stay out of my coverts.” It’s part of our code. The problem comes when a thief pretends to be one of us. That’s usually why he isn’t invited back to camp. But we don’t let that bad apple spoil our bunch, for in time, we welcome newcomers, especially kids. It’s just who we are. We have Faith.
And now, grouse and woodcock hunting season is right around the corner. We’ve waited for it since last year. For some of us, it’s been a good off-season; for others of us, not so much. But here we are on the cusp of our favorite time of the year. It’s not far away. Above anything else, this is us. It is our time to shine.
Tom Keer is the founder/managing partner of the Keer Group, a company based in Massachusetts that focuses on branding, content marketing and public relations for the outdoor industry. Tom is an award-winning writer and publisher having been published by many outdoor titles including the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.