Friday, October 18, 2013

Never Cared Much for Retrievin'

Artemis, my aging GSP, never cared much for retrieving. Never really had to, I guess.  A few times I greatly regretted not insisting on this more, but those were generally fleeting pangs; Artemis hunts dead pretty well.
Today I decided to work a woodcock hunt into my Friday schedule, to honor old Spy (over whom I think I shot my first woodcock, in Maine... or maybe that was Butch...), and to tune up "Miss" for a week in the ADKs. It was a full moon, and it had been windy so maybe there'd be birds in my favorite coverts, I thought. I enjoyed the sound of the laptop closing, signalling the end of the week and a clean break for the woods. We headed for the Finger Lakes National Forest.

Miss was excited to be out, and it was windy, so I opted for two bells, each with a different tone, which has been working well for me. She was on birds quickly and I missed two in the first five minutes. I called Miss to heel and we took a little time out together.  Miss seemed to understand the little exercise, and didn't push to move or whine. She just relaxed, her nose opening and closing like bellows, but otherwise still. I soaked in the wet smeary fall colors, the mosaic of landscapes on the ridge, and cloudscapes in the sky. I breathed deeply the poignant aromas of wet autumn leaves mixed with a little pine. I admired the familiar lines of my LC Smith 20 gauge, which was a key to a door I thought permanently closed, but opened by Josh who encouraged me to just give shooting left-handed a try ( a massive turning point in my life, but that story is for another day). I recalled other friends, too, that I shared many memorable hunts with in these woods. I smiled at my good fortune, a gesture not lost on Miss, who perked up.  "Find a bird," I said enthusiastically, having firmly pressed the reset button.

She hunted flawlessly, pointing and holding woodcock among the head-high dogwoods. There were two in the bag in the span of 5 minutes, and a third fell from a group of three Miss pointed in a rose thicket. A dramatic turnaround and exhilarating flurry of upland bird hunting at its finest. I was thrilled, each time I saw the bird fold and Artemis follow up, locating and worrying the bird a bit before looking  up to be sure I saw her mark of the downed quarry.

After picking up the third bird and placing it gingerly in my shooting vest's game pouch, I thought it would be nice to get a good picture. There was a pond very near, with a barbed wire fence around it, which I thought would do nicely for an October sporting photo. The shot would take advantage of the pond in the background, and I could use the wire to hang the birds rather than the more typical placed-on-the-ground shot. I emptied my gun, set it securely against the fence, and reached in my pouch for a woodcock. I felt around  and found one, pulled it out and brought my other hand to it, to admire it again before hanging it and thus transforming it from quarry to food in my possession. I looked at it for a moment and vaguely wished I knew how to sex and age woodcock, when the bird fluttered and flew away, landing with a splash in the middle of the pond!

Every hunter has experienced that perfect moment that turns imperfect. The fantastic buck that eludes easy recovery, plaguing the hunter with all manner of self-doubt and anxiety. The great shot on a first drake Canvasback that lands in the cattails, besting the trusty retriever. But a woodcock escaping the game bag and splashing down in the middle of a pond?

I looked at Miss, who came when I called her, but had missed the drama. I looked at her the way a coach looks at his kicker who hasn't made one all year, but is needed now, to win the big game. I think my dog deeply resented me looking at her that way, judging by her facial expression. Or, she was thinking "this kind of thing only happens to the most idiotic of orange-clad men."

Artemis never cared much for retrievin' , but her number was called to make a play. I brought her to the water's edge. She smelled the bird and worked the bank a little. The bird fluttered and splashed a bit, drawing the dog's attention. She looked back at me. Sheepishly, I said "Miss, get the bird," while pointing out over the water. She walked to the water's edge, stepped slowly but confidently in, swam to the bird and retrieved like she was a duck dog doing a boring drill. All I could muster at first when she dropped the exhausted bird in my hand was "thank you.... good girl." But she already knew that.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Spidey was a Grouse Dog

Bonasa Northern Spy, Sept 6, 1997 - Oct 11, 2013
Last Friday Spy breathed his last.  I saw it coming, and dug a hole for him a couple days earlier.  He went to the earth in the side yard on a pleasant October morning with a couple grouse tail feathers and a 20 gauge shot shell. That evening after playing catch and shagging grounders and flies, Nolan and I stood over Spidey's grave and I told a few stories, and a bit after sunset a woodcock came in low over the field and set down on the lawn about 20 yards away.  It seemed fitting.

Spy was the last of his litter; Kate went before him a few years ago.  He was okay on woodcock, but he seemed to really enjoy finding grouse.  He was certainly more fleet of feet than either Kate or their dad Butch.  Rather than trail birds, he seemed to pin a higher proportion of them than did Butch.  I remember the first pointed grouse that I killed over Spy, his first season when he was a year old.  It was an October afternoon at Frye Mountain WMA in Maine.  The bird held very tight and I was expecting a woodcock. When it rocketed out I downed it with one shot from my 20 gauge SKB SxS; that was also the first shot I had taken on grouse with that gun, which I had picked up that summer. That gun and dog combination was together for 13 seasons.

Spy split bird dog duties with Butch for 4 years. In the era Before Kids, they got plenty of time on the ground.

Spy on woodcock, rookie season 1998 -- see the birdy?

Old dog on woodcock (bottom center).  Same old ATS Basic Beeper!

Spy's retrieves of upland birds were memorable... because they were relatively few, and usually were tough cripples brought back alive.  He pointed dead more often than not.

Ducks were different -- he had no problem retrieving them until ice-up.  Not very stylish, but he liked fetching them.
Rich and Spy, northern Maine 2008.
I don't recall the first woodcock I killed over Spy, but I vividly remember his last.  Three years ago, when Spy was 13, I'd hunt him up to a couple hours a day and Brody (1.5 yrs at the time) would get the lion's share of time.  We were in Minnesota and I was guiding a gentleman from PA.  Spy pointed this woodcock 3 or 4 times and each time we either didn't get a shot or missed.  It was getting late and the dog was getting tired. FINALLY, my guy from PA kills the bird, and I'm jumping around cheering, it was such a relief and I was so grateful.  So I leash Spy and lead him -- or more accurately, he leads me -- out toward the truck.  I've got my shotgun (same 20 ga SKB) over my shoulder, Spy tugging on the leash pulling me through the brush and saplings. He suddenly stops and I just about trip over him, and a moment later up flies a grouse.  My shotgun comes forward off my shoulder, butt-stock to cheek and shoulder, and pop -- drops the grouse.
Good old Spidey.  He was a grouse dog. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

In the Sunflower Field

An awesome afternoon of dove hunting.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pathwalker's October Dance Card . . .

. . . is filling up.  Hurry and send a check to RGS for $850 if you want to be part of Andy's Oct. 2-5 grouse camp.

Hunting News

Ruffed Grouse Society to 

Host 2013 Upland Bird 

Hunt in Northern Maine

New ruffed grouse society logo
Following an extremely successful hunt last fall, the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) has once again chosen Northern Maine for its second annual grouse and woodcock hunt. Held out of the New EnglandOutdoorCenter, Fire Road 20D, Millinocket, Maine on October 2-5, 2013, the guided hunt is limited to ten hunters.
According to RGS regional director Tripp Way, registration is $850 per gun and  consist of a “Meet and Greet” reception party on Wednesday at 7 p.m., three breakfasts, two field lunches and two dinners — which includes a lobster or steak repast Friday evening. Hunting hours will run from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Lodging will be at The Twin Pines Cabins, which has a spectacular view of MillinocketLake and Mt.Katahdin.
“Wednesday’s meet and greet will provide information on the terrain, followed by a Q&A session with RGS regional biologist Andy Weik,” Way said, adding that hunters are encouraged to bring their own dog or they can hunt with huntsmen’s dogs.
A 50-percent deposit is required by September 21, 2013, with remaining payment due prior too, or at the event. All major credit cards accepted and, with the exception of a $100 cancellation fee, refunds will be provided before September 27, 2013.
For more information and/or registration contact Mark Gray at 207-299-4172. Way can be reached at 607-743-0760; Weik at 607-793-4832.
Reservation forms can also be downloaded from the Internet at:
Logo courtesy Ruffed Grouse Society
Sounds like a good time!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

oops, sorry to post over the pics of Rich in Quebec, but I promised Josh I'd post this photo. Our annual tradition.

Power brokering in Salt Lake City

Friday, May 17, 2013

ADK Annual Spring trip - A typical evening respite

There's lots more to the story, but  as usual, I will hope that others will tell it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Welcome Hank to the Grousers group!

Here comes Hank!


Jenny and I went to MN this weekend and picked out Hank (de Neui's Henry the Eighth).  Very Very please so far.  Really looking forward to getting him on birds and introducing him to the grouse woods this fall.


P.S.  We have a place to stay near Oscoda Michigan if you want to do grouse camp in Michigan at some point.  Check out the Amazing Beach-Lake Huron-Oscoda property (  This is my brother and sister-in-laws.  The fall is blocked out for hunting!  We can use the Michigan DNR's MI HUNT site ( to identify quality grouse and woodcock habitat Its a great resource.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A new addition coming to Grouse Camp!

The newest addition to the Smokygold family is in there somewhere!

Hope to have my new boy home by the first week in May.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Extreme Dog Breeding

Had a friend post this on a Gordon Setter forum. Thought I'd share


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Best vension recipe? Quite possibly.

This recipe posted at Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook is for Belgian Venison Medallions with Gin and Juniper Sauce. Not only is the sauce very, very delicious but the preparation is quick and easy. I strongly suggest you all give it a go. We've made it twice so far, and the whole family couldn't get enough.

Pan frying the backstrap with a bit of butter (okay, maybe more than a bit) to rare doneness does lay down the foundation for a great meal, regardless of the sauce.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Hearts and minds...

Something about Josh's "hearts and minds" comment stuck in my craw...

There, that's better. Thanks Teddy. Miller time.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Unsung heroes--- unwritten stories

Well, I THOUGHT there would be exploits and stories, war songs sung and war dances danced.  The guns are now silent, and the war songs and dances never came... But the brown dog and I, we soldier on.  We apologize in advance for our personality disorders.

Painting of Chesapeake Bay Retriever at Old Ebbitt's Grill, Washington DC.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Dispatch from Fort Gusty, New York

 An element from the Pennsylvania detachment linked up with "Team Terminator" Canoga, NY for a joint field exercise which included an aquatic search and destroy of  Aythya Americana, Aythya marila, and Bucephala clangula americana (divers), as well as suppression of Branta canadensis (BC).  21 divers and accomplices including puddlers and a snow goose were destroyed.  22 BC were terminated over a 72 hour period at Fort Gusty. A complete report will follow, contributed by members of the Pennsylvania detachment.

Fort Gusty Defensive Position
Fort Gusty battlefield photo at the end of day one.

Successful search and destroy mission for divers.