by Nate Kennedy, RGS & AWS Northeast Regional Engagement Coordinator
You lie awake, hearing the bells ring through your head like summer chimes on the mind’s front porch. The sound is your prize, sweet music made by the ensemble of bird dogs you had the pleasure of chasing through the cover. The northern climate made a fine stage, and the thick woods and old, reverting farmland provided an audience of aspen, spruce, birch, beech and hemlock. You’re here in search of grouse, but killing one won’t matter. It’s an experience. A first for you and the dog. An adventure!
And so it went, for Allie, Barbara, Cindy, Janice, Kristen and Sam – six hunters who took a trip to the northern border, a literal stone’s throw from Canada, in the heart of New York’s grouse country.
DeCoverly Kennels, On The Wing Grouse Camp and RGS & AWS teamed up for a women’s hunt in the name of great people, hardworking dogs and healthy forest habitat. The goal? To get out and enjoy the experience of grouse and woodcock hunting, celebrate shared ideals and see successful habitat conservation in action.
Though most participants were first-time grouse hunters, each of the six women had previous experience hunting other species, and everyone had their own bird dogs!
There were well-seasoned shotguns, frost-covered pickup trucks, blaze orange, hot coffee and a fine-looking crew of grouse-ready gundogs. A gang of setters, shorthairs, pointers, griffs and wirehairs would sniff out their game. Carl, the camp chef, and guides Gary, Mike and Nick were at the ready. And Bruce, the landowner and habitat extraordinaire at On The Wing Grouse Camp, made sure everyone knew their coverts. This crew put together an exciting weekend of hunting, cuisine and great conversation. We told old stories, and we made new memories. Spot on for hunting camp!
During dinner on the first night, discussions ensued over woodcock appetizers, and the RGS & AWS mission set the tone for the weekend ahead. Uniting conservationists, healthy forest habitats, stewardship, opportunity and experience. Wild birds and wild places!
Sam Adams, Office Manager for DeCoverly, said, “Since starting to hunt for grouse and woodcock, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk with people who’ve been hunting them for many years, and it’s mind-blowing to hear how many birds they would see or flush on a day out hunting in the past, as opposed to what they see nowadays. I have a degree in wildlife management, so hunting these birds and talking to hunters puts things into perspective and ties everything together for me. We definitely need to continue to protect the habitat. I want my daughter to have the same, if not more, opportunities to encounter these wild birds.”
On their first morning in the field, each hunter got to see exactly that. Conservation at work! The On The Wing Grouse Camp property has been carefully managed for grouse and woodcock through decades of forestry work and Natural Resource Conservation Service programs. It’s a living, working model of healthy forest management – a theme park for bird dogs.
As Cindy, Sam, and Gary made their way through the cover that first morning, dogs Charleigh and Giggles did their best to hold up their end of the bargain. Two dogs at a time, they moved with purpose through the young aspen, alongside edges of alder and apple, over rock walls, and throughout creek bottoms and spruce thickets. The dogs found what they were after. Dogs pointed grouse and woodcock, and hunters flushed birds with great excitement.
Wild birds are the name of the game. That’s why we do what we do, right? Hunting is hunting, and the vast majority of it is filled with joy, intensity and wonder. But wild birds, like ruffed grouse, have the ability to reign supreme when it comes to the overall experience. Nick Puhak, a trainer at DeCoverly, said, “I was really happy to see the hunters working their dogs … and being proud that their dogs handled and pointed wild birds.”
By lunchtime on the first day, no birds had made their way into anyone’s vest or game bag. Disappointing for the hunters? Absolutely not! The group gathered at camp, rested their dogs and shared stories from the field of their first introduction to grouse and woodcock hunting. Chef Carl broke out a feast – mushroom bisque and cheese quiche, that may just have ruined PB&Js and granola bars for the entire crew. A meal fit for such an occasion as one’s first grouse hunt! But the team wasted no time. The group had lunch, refreshed their water bottles and headed back into the cover.
The rest of that day, and the remainder of the weekend, were similar to that first morning – great fun with great people and hands-on education for everyone and every dog involved. Even the most seasoned hunters have something to learn when it comes to any hunting pursuit. This wasn’t a hunt for limits; it was an experience unlike any this crew had shared previously. “My biggest takeaway … is that hunting for these birds definitely takes dedication and is hard work … It’s tough to find them, which makes an encounter with them that much more special!” said Sam.
The crew hunted hard, and the weekend was a highlight of the hunting season for many. The people and the place made it easy to enjoy, and the birds and dogs made it memorable. Sam later said she loved everything about the hunt. “Watching dogs work is my favorite part. It’s why I got into hunting birds in the first place. So, to see points on wild birds was amazing. Also, being able to socialize with everyone and learn from the guides was great! Everyone was extremely nice and accommodating. Special thanks to Bruce Bennett for sharing his property with us!” she said.
Sharing a hunt with other people is an adventure comprising so much more than just the time spent afield. It’s the planning and preparations, goals and ideals, unity, friendship, meals, photographs and the stories we take home with us. It’s hunting and shooting traditions, both new and old, healthy forests, fine bird dogs and conservation. The 2021 DeCoverly Kennels, On The Wing Grouse Camp, and RGS & AWS Women’s Hunt was about all of these things and more. It was an experience!