Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Ruff Time

The trip to Dad's grouse camp in northern MN is always a bit of a 180 from the Montana upland scene. His camp is a speck of private ground, amidst thousands of acres of public land.  Hence, there is no begging for access, no worry about fence lines and property lines, and very little competition.  This is where I grew up, where my Dad and I have spent 30 years of weekends and holidays.  Dad has pages of detailed hunting journals and his own records of drumming counts and grouse cycle statistics.  In other words, this is our home arena.

The dogs also seem to enjoy the chance of pace.  They get to sleep by a wood stove, they eat table scraps that would feed some entire families and the ground is fairly forgiving, moist and shady, compared to rocky and rugged in Montana.  There are very few stickers and burrs to bury themselves in the long setter fur, no rattlesnakes or cactus to worry about. Wolves are my biggest concern and with gunshots, beeper collars and some loud voices, the odds are slim that one will have an encounter.

We seem to have missed the major woodcocks flights, but encountered a few each day.  Grouse were up slightly from 2014 (5% up according to the grouse professor). The dog work was good; many prairie dogs struggle with pace and range in the northern grouse woods, but with dogs that are both in their twilight, they worked at just the right cadence.

The negatives will haunt me for a year, until I return to Minnesota.  It was actually just one negative: my shooting.  I can still see Tess on point, on the edge between scattered popple and a expansive cedar swamp. As Tess was locked up, I prepared myself for a shot, but stepping into a clearing and onto a slight mound.  Not one grouse rose, but two, giving the grouse hunter a rare, very rare, true double on ruffed grouse.  Boom Boom.  I choked.  I rushed my shot on the first bird and then in a panic, missed the second also. No excuses.  This wasn't my first hunt in the woods. I spent more time in those woods than should have been allowed. If this was hockey, I would have been benched.

It wasn't the only miss or screw-up that I recall from that trip either. Is my hearing fading? If you can't hear a bird flush immediately, you are giving that bird a huge advantage. My reflexes? I hope not. I can still beat my Mom in tennis. Maybe.  Then again,  is no more challenging bird to get a bead on than a fast-flying grouse in thick cover.  Maybe I am just forgetting that detail.  A pheasant or sharptail is not very sporty over a point, compared to ruffs. Woodcock are even a notch below ruffs, especially when the leaves are mostly gone from the landscape. I also had two reloads that didn't fire.  That is also maddening, when you consider you drive 12 hours and might get six to twelve opportunities on grouse per day.  I also spent too much time trying to get video this trip as well.  Attempting to get a dog on a point, a bird flying and a subsequent clean kill on camera, is as tough as it gets in the world of cinematography.  But, my footage of the dogs, hunters and camp shenanigans are priceless.

Great trip overall, one that makes me appreciate where I grew up, how I was raised, and every dog that I have shared those favorite coverts with.

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