Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Grouse

Regular readers of this blog (that would be everyone including Pete but excluding Vicar) know that I've been busy lately, whooping it up with the nose-in-the-air Ithaca ballet crowd and hanging around backstage drinking champagne with three tenors from Ireland.

Well today I got back out in the woods for a chase after that noblest of game birds, his Majesty the Grouse.

Temp was a brisk 40 deg. F, there was a substantial wind from the northwest at 15-20 mph, and I was as usual dressed in my Carhartt vest and tattered old air force sweater. Katie sported her ten year old ATS Sonic Pro beeper collar, fueled by a new Duracell 9 volt battery for maximum audibility.

Away we went at 3 pm. It was the first time in the woods for me since October--as a mighty killer of Quaker state moby bucks puts it, I've been "busier-than-a-one-armed-wallpaper-hanger." And Katie hasn't been in the woods since October either. So you know it was an afternoon grouse hunt destined to be run at a faster clip than Mr. Mike runs his local 5K road race.

Katie made wind of bird almost right away. Straight uphill through thick thick dogwood, she followed a bird up a swale with me following slightly behind and off to the side of her. Near the top of the hill she went on point in the middle of the thick stuff, and as I move in the bird flushed, straight up and away. BANG! and the bird kept flying. BANG! with the second barrel, and the bird coasted into the woods about fifty yards distant. As I started toward where I'd marked the bird down, I noticed a bunch of feathers falling from the sky from my first shot. There were a lot of them, and I was hopeful as I got to the top of the hill and entered the hardwoods.

Nothing. No scent, no dead bird, no treed bird, nothing. I kept Katie in the area for three or four minutes until she got impatient and started hunting again away from me back downhill. I resolved to make my way back at the end of the afternoon to see if I could find the bird. Clearly I'd hit it, but it was nowhere to be found.

We kept going. We covered a lot of ground, the wind was fairly strong and very swirly, so it was quite a foot race to keep up with this setter who hasn't really stretched her legs since October. If you catch my drift.

We crossed a wood road at the bottom of the hill and continued into the low pines beyond. After one particularly strong but unproductive point, Katie reversed direction and headed back nearly due west along the contour. Straight into the wind. I raced to keep up with her, and suddenly she locked up! She was in some dogwood, nose pointed down the slope southward, and as I walked in on the point, up went a beautiful red phase grouse, straight into the air, woodcock-style.

BANG! and the bird folded instantly.

I just have to say . . . now THAT was a good feeling.

Katie was on the fluttering bird in an instant, and it was dead by the time I reached her. A beautiful mature male, huge bird--one of the biggest I've seen. Not quite a turkey, but bigger than a Tidball farm jake.

Just had to get that in.

On we went. It was getting close to 4:20 or thereabouts, so we headed back uphill to the woodroad, where we crossed and followed a trail in toward where the first bird had been. As we neared the spot where I'd marked it down, Katie got birdy back in the original swale where I'd shot at the first one. As I couldn't call her back to where I was, I hustled downhill to where she was now working a new bird in some real thick stuff. She'd point, I'd move in, she'd relocate, I'd reposition--the game continued for five or more minutes. Finally the bird turned the corner around both of us and was headed west back uphill when I cut it off on the uphill slope, and that was when it flushed away northward across the dogwoody field into a new patch of woods.

We followed up on it but didn't find it again. By now it was getting late, and Katie managed to point one more grouse on the way out that I was able to walk in on but didn't see when it flushed.

We made it back to the truck just as it was getting dark at 5 pm. All in all it was a great hunt, even though a hot and sweaty one. I had bagged my first Hector bird of the year, and clearly I'd hit the other one even though we couldn't find it. I have a feeling we'll be back up there tomorrow afternoon looking for that one again.

It felt a bit like Santa brought me an early Christmas gift. A Christmas Eve grouse.


Anonymous said...

I'll be up there soon to help find that grouse! It's myyyy grouse I tell ya.


Anonymous said...

Bigger than a Tidball farm Jake, huh? I am crestfallen.

Nice write up. Now hand that bird over to Pete.