Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Overdue on Wisconsin Grouse
Quite a trip. I won't let down those of you who depend on my statistical acumen and accu-velocity in journal hurling. 25.5 hrs hunted (hooray), 108 flushes, 30 shots (Tantillo count; 21 different birds shot at), body count = 8 grouse, 3 woodcock.
Many of the days (save for the Kleinman incident of which enough has been written) have blurred into a kaleidescope of cover, flushes, dog work good and indifferent. As it should be. Some moments stand out, especially the morning in which I bid adieau to an old friend and celebrated the new. I wanted to scatter McPhee's ashes down at "the loops" and wanted to do it right. Neither melodramatic, nor shortarming it--each of these can happen in the presence of witnesses. I wanted the freedom to be as casual ("well, g'bye old pal") or as melodramatic as I wanted.
But I also wanted to hunt.
So Conley and I took a long walk down the old West Running Rd, to 3 Mile. We took the right spur off 3 mile. Just to limber the legs, you understand. About 4.5 mile walk from the cabin. One way. 15 minutes into the hunt, on New White City, I jumped a bird that arrowed off to my right. Nice and relaxed, high gun mount, elbow up. Fired, and off the bird flew. Nothing unusual there. But wait, what is this? It is my dog returning to me through the puckerbrush with a live bird in his mouth. Good boy: a first for him. After 3 mile rd, on the spur, Conley got birdy in a deadfall and up jumped a grouse. Again, relax, relaxed. High mount, elbow up, bang, dead bird. Conley made the retrieve. Nothing fancy.
One of the things I love about Conley--especially compared to McPhee--is that I do not have to command him much. It is really a pretty calm affair most of the time: a hand wave here and there, or a hunt 'em up. Lots of quiet and not much talk.
So we hunted back out the W Running Rd, covering groujnd already covered. Another flush or two. What I am trying to convey here is that it was a very orderly hunt: 5 fl, 3 shots, 2 birds in about 2+ hours.
And then I scattered McPhee's ashes. I did so near the entrance to the loops rather than way back in where I killed my first grouse over him back in 1994. The loops are closing up, being reclaimed inexorably by the balsams, and I wanted to be able to find the spot in my doddering years. I carved his name in a birch, stuck a spent shell on a branch nub, smoked a pipe, had a nip of something amber colored, and thought a bit about the old boy and the old days when I was young, just learning to be a hunter, a dog trainer, a husband, a man.
I asked McPhee for a little mojo for the last hour.
And it came in true McPhee fashion. Stats help here. Recall: Pre-McPhee Ash-Spreading: 5 fl, 3 sh, 2 birds. My totals when I exited the loops 1 hour later: 19 fl, 10 sh, 2 birds. Quite simply, all hell broke loose. As soon as I opened the bag with his ashes, a mighty gust of wind--I kid you not--sent them flying helter skelter: in my face, up Conley's nose (he sneezed). The wind did not diminish, and the birds became incredibly spooky: wild flush after wild flush. Doubles, even triples: some close, some far, some from trees. An my calm zen like demeanor revealed itself as a facade and promptly crumbled.
This is fair. I did not have many zen-like moments with McPhee and my sense now is that he is out there as the wind howls, and winter comes, and all the forest creatures and their pursuers wonder...what's next?