The grouse hunter’s path is long and winding. We all learn and grow with our prowess of pursuing the most challenging game bird.
My path started as a youngster hunting with my Dad and brothers. Not sure if I even knew what a grouse looked like back then, other than the dead ones my Dad brought home somewhat worse for wear riding in his game pouch. In a brushy thicket on my earliest hunt I briefly lost sight of my siblings on either side. Creepily feeling very alone, just then a grouse rocketed over my head flushed by my Dad. I just stood there and looked, mouth open. Never even fired a shot. But I was hooked right then and there.
Some years later, on my first hunt away from family with my buddies, I bagged my first grouse on the wing. It seemed so easy. My buddy Pat shouted out “What a shot”. The next morning at school, one of my cousins stopped me in the hallway to congratulate my conquest. Word travels fast in a small town high school. I walked floating on air.
It was a few years after leaving home and entering the working world that I could rent a place that allowed dogs. That’s when Cody came into my life, the smartest dog I’ve ever known. My learning curve was steep, training that dog and trying to put her on grouse. I had no helpers or experience to guide me, just some books and a month of birddog kindergarden for Cody with a local trainer.
Along that path of mastering pursuit of ruffed grouse with a pointing dog, a firearms update was in order. A Weatherby Orion 20 guage with a bit of cast to the stock. My first hunt with it I bagged four grouse, you could say I was satisfied. A gun that seemed to hit by merely looking at the target.
Another Brittany called Maggie followed, and a grouse camp came next. Later a springer named Levi entered the picture. Which brings us to present day, and the afore mentioned twist in the grouse hunter’s path. Labor day weekend Levi broke his leg. It’s my first hunt in decades without a dog, and my best human hunting buddy lost his last winter. Going back to being a dogless foot hunter, not as much fun. Oh, I’m getting some bird action but nowhere near what I’m used to.
I’ve taken this opportunity to do more scouting along my familiar grouse haunts. It’s a pleasant surprise to find those old overgrown logging trails leading from my covers. This one included a portage over a beaver dam, and someone years ago took the effort to build a log bridge. Thanks, whoever you are.
This weekend it’s grouse camp, fifth annual with this group of guys. So I’ll get some dog work in over a buddy’s dog at least. Three days of heaven with nothing to do but grouse hunt. Good friends around the fire and bird dogs snoozing nearby. I can’t wait.
By Joel Schnell for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota
By Joel Schnell
Posted October 23, 2018.
Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
He can be reached at info[at]ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
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