Early October can be a difficult time to grouse hunt. I prefer to stay home until sometime after the second week of the month, after many of the leaves are down, and I can see to shoot. Being a shortened season for me this year I didn't have the liberty of being able to wait, so I planned a 5 day cast-n-blast early in the month. Regular readers of this blog know how that panned out, but I'll recap. A week before my trip Ginger ended up with an injury meaning she would be sidelined until the third week or so of the season; I'd be grouse hunting without a dog. I could still trout fish, though. Right? Well, that didn't exactly work out either; it rained a lot, so not only were the woods wet, but the rivers were swelled up, too. So my trip took on an different form. I hiked, and explored a lot of territory I had been wanting to see for some time. Of course I took my gun, and the dog along, and I even got to see Ginger retrieve a grouse I'd had the pleasure of flushing along side the trail I was hiking, so it wasn't a bad trip. In fact, it was a pretty good trip, as I made the decision to give Ginger a couple of short runs in some easy cover, and sure enough she did her job, and I did mine, resulting in 6 birds in the bag.
My regularly scheduled grouse camp was later in the month. Every year BK and I spend a week up north, and this year was no different. Well, it was a little different. I decided that a week wasn't long enough, so I headed up a few days early to make it a 10 day stretch in camp. Also, BK's father Frank joined us in camp for his first ever grouse hunt. We also got to spend the some time in the woods with Gregor McCluskey of Braeval clothing. As usual the food was splendid, the drink merry, and the company unsurpassed. The hunting was damned good, too, but the shooting,.....well, it's true that I am haunted by some of the easy shots I missed. But what would grouse hunting be without the occasional whiff at a slow pitch? The negative to this season's camp was the weather. It rained a lot. We often found ourselves starting late, or finishing early because of the rain. While it is true that grouse can be hunted in the rain, I don't like to do it. Grouse hunting is supposed to be pleasurable, and being wet and cold in a great north woods grouse covert is anything but. Of course, we did hunt a few days in the rain, because we were left with little choice. Most days, however, we only hunted a few hours between showers, and then enjoyed some good story telling in camp.
Like all camps there were memorable moment, and Frank getting his first, and second woodcock (on the same hunt, in the same covert) was just one of them. Early, before BK, and Frank got there I had the good fortune to kill 4 birds (1 grouse & 3 WC) in 4 rises, only needing my second barrel on the grouse flush. That doesn't happen very often and I doubt I'll forget it anytime soon. I also had the pleasure of seeing Gregor's young Red Setter, Laddie, point a grouse; something he's struggling to do like most young pointing dogs. I enjoy watching a young dog come in to his own, and Laddie was fun to watch. BK's Labrador, Ruby, put on a woodcock finding clinic one afternoon that I'll soon not forget, and on the last day, after everyone else had left I made a memorable shot when a woodcock flushed out of an edge, and tried to escape by flying across a clear cut top, and up a cut finger, only to be dropped stone dead at no less than 50 yards. But perhaps the most memorable event was an end of the day redemption walk. It had been one of those days when I just wasn't connecting. Early in the day I'd suffered some terrible shooting, and only had a woodcock to shot for 14 flushes. I hunted the last 2 hour of the day with BK and Frank, and while we were again getting birds in the air, none were coming my way, and BK and Frank were getting all the shooting. As we cut across a clear cut to get out to the road, having called it quits, I decided to walk the edge of the wood line perpendicular to the cut down the hill to a skidder I knew went out to the car where I'd meet them in a few minutes, it only being roughly 150 yards to the skidder and out to the car. What a great 150 yards that turned out to be, and by the time I'd hit the skidder I'd filled my woodcock limit, and killed a grouse. Not only was the edge holding birds, but BK and Frank got shots at woodcock out in the clear cut. It'll be a long time before I forget that short walk.
Returning home, I put away the guns and the hunting clothes, and turned my attention to the real life issues that cut my season short. But not before taking a good look at my notes. My season totals are as follows. Due to the weather I only hunted 22.5 hours. In those 22.5 hours Ginger flushed 163 birds, 87 grouse & 76 woodcock for a flush rate of just over 7 birds per hour. I killed 3 grouse and 15 woodcock, connecting on roughly 11% of the birds flushed. Considering that I (conservatively speaking) only ever get a shot at half of the birds that are flushed I probably connected about 20% of the time. Anyway, however you calculate it, grouse camp was fun, and I'm already looking forward to next year.
4 for 4
Ginger and Ruby
Ginger taking a break
A special bottle of whisky from Gregor's family cask
Ginger with a brace of woodcock
The 50+ yard woodcock