We drive several
miles to another spot along a defunct railroad and quickly pick up three birds,
all within sight of a general store. But we are still wondering what the hell
happened to all of those birds under the tree. Grouse have an uncanny ability
to keep a tree between themselves and a shooter after the flush. In one
particular thicket I have flushed grouse on a dozen occasions and seen them
only twice. I keep going back, trying to figure out a way to outwit their
ability to keep the density of the thicket between me and their path of flight.
Sometimes a bird will break directly at you, sailing over your head, then
turning. I've never made one of those twisting shots.
Now the season is
in full stride. My shooting has even improved. Last weekend I got two grouse
and a woodcock in a hundred-yard stretch and without a miss. Unfortunately, the
next day I missed seven in a row, so my glory was shortlived. I've estimated my
success at about one out of seven, while a truly superb wing shot like Doc Hall
will get one out of three. But he has a marvelous English setter named Heidi
and another named Judge that is well above average. Heidi is somehow the most
graceful dog I've ever met, extremely feminine and a hard worker.
I no longer own a
dog, having lost my English pointer to cancer when she was five. I simply don't
have the guts to go through that sort of pain again. And she was a worthless
grouse dog, though beautifully stylish with field-trial breeding. Even in her
last month she would race across a hayfield in long zigzag casts and stop on a
picturesque point on a butterfly or tweety bird. She could jump higher than a
bookcase or over a car hood. On the one occasion I saw her with deer, she
wasn't chasing them but running some 10 yards ahead. I dedicated a novel to
her, and people who don't understand such things are upset, as they assume it
was a child who died.
Since I usually
hunt without a dog and without the splendid early-warning system they provide,
I become lazy hunting behind a good dog. With them I don't need the continuous
state of readiness that I own when hunting alone.
If you are
walking through the woods thinking about pretty girls or maybe an argument you
had with your wife or, more likely, how you will cook the two grouse in your
bag, you are going to miss every shot. If Zen monks had any predilection for
the sport they would clean up.
After a fine
start with a bird apiece we entered an area that had been pulped over the
winter before. It was an unbelievable tangle of poplar tops but we had a honey
bucket location to hit on our circular swing. Two hours later we emerged
exhausted from the tangle. Each of us had fallen three times and Pat had a
sprained finger and cut hand. Pulping is good for grouse because it allows new
growth, but terrible for a hunter when the tops are left in disarray. Since
this is state land on timber lease you wonder why the yo-yos can't be forced to
bulldoze the waste into piles. Though we flushed 10 birds I wouldn't walk back
into that place at gunpoint.
The other day I
talked to Doc Hall about seeing his log, the record of his hunting since 1946.
It contains daily accounts of birds flushed, birds shot at, birds bagged and
general remarks on habitat, weather and dog work. The locations are given code
names. Here we encounter the same secrecy found in the trout or tarpon
fisherman. You will not exchange secret places with someone who will abuse the
area by overhunting or divulging it to others. Doc Hall has so many places that
he can afford to be a little careless. Last year we traded spots, though I
suspect he already knew about mine.
We got lost in
one of his favorites, but only because the shooting was so interesting that we
hunted past twilight. So we floundered around in the dark with Doc lighting
matches to see the compass mounted in his gunstock. We kept reassuring each
other that we weren't lost, but we couldn't find the car.
lacks humor. I once spent an entire afternoon trying to get off a hairpin flat
in the Manistee River. First the river was on my left, then, 15 minutes later,
it was on my right. It was very warm and I was wearing chest-high waders and
carrying a bamboo rod. Michigan's swamps and flat pine barrens are
comparatively small, but it's best to have your wits about you. I flushed a lot
of birds, aimlessly pointing my fly rod at them and yelling,
A hunting friend
arrived from Florida today, hoping to catch the woodcock migratory flights and
shoot grouse for two weeks. There's something fascinating about introducing a
person to the sport. It is partly finding out what you know, having to be
precise in your information. Though my friend has done a great deal of quail
and pheasant hunting, ruffed grouse and their heavy cover are new to him. The
similarity to teaching someone trout fishing is striking, where the ability to
cast competently can be learned in short order and still produce no results.
You could shoot a 98 in skeet and flunk miserably in the woods unless you had
taken the trouble to find out how grouse live.