Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Road Hunting

Saturday, 15 September, was the opening day of grouse season this year. I had been looking forward to it for several weeks. My plan was to take Sally, my best buddy.  

We arrived at the chosen forest road later than planned by about an hour and a half, but I was lucky that there wasn’t anybody else parked there already.  I won’t hunt a place if somebody else beats me to it, regardless of it being public land.  

I was just about to eat my breakfast when an SUV pulled in with three guys and at least one dog in it.  It being obvious to me that they planned to drive right by and hunt my road, I opened my passenger window and yelled at them.  Yes, I did.  “Are you just going to hunt over where I’m planning to go??”

They were surprised.  They didn’t realize I planned to hunt, despite my blaze-sleeved field shirt.  There were a few more harsh words on my part and some condescending appeasement phrases from them:   “Are you hunting with dogs?”  “We’ll only let ours out if we shoot something.”  “The birds here are pretty dumb.” 
I gave in and said by the time I finished my breakfast and got my dog out, maybe the birds would have relaxed again. 

Sally and I turned left where they had continued on the main road.  I’ve never seen birds that way, but it looks birdy to me and it lets whichever dog I’m hunting with expend a little energy before settling down to serious hunting. 

On this trip up that birdless trail, Sally made an unfortunate discovery and I got lucky.  She was quartering back and forth in front of me on the way back to the main road when she went to investigate something to my right.  She backed out fast and proceeded to rub her face in the grass, all the while looking at me for an explanation. 

She had poked her head into a paper wasp nest that was on the ground.  The lucky part for me was that they were satisfied with the warning given to the dog and opted not to chase us away.  Sally was fine and we continued our hunt with slight swelling to her right eye. 

In the meantime, I had heard the road hunters leave without firing a shot.  I was pleased.  

Flower On Trail
Sally’s hunting wasn’t as serious as I wanted it to be until she bumped a grouse that was in the tall grass about six feet from the roadway.  That was when I realized the wind was coming from behind us as well as when she started running down the road then turning and working back. 

Despite three or four productive points and five or six definite flushes, there was only one bird that the two of us moved together.  Sally had come to a beautiful point about twenty feet in front of me.  I got excited, as I tend to do, because I felt I was far enough back to put the bird between us.  I stepped into the grass, moved into the trees, and stopped, trying to see where a bird might be walking off.  Sally held tight as I tried to figure it out.  I looked first left, in Sally’s direction, then right, then left again before the bird, which was about ten feet to my right, broke and flew in a beautiful crossing shot to the left.  It was perfect:  I took off the safety, raised the shotgun, found the bird, and realized it was only about two feet above Sally’s head.  I slipped the safety back on.  That illustrated perfectly the benefits of training your dog to be steady to wing. 

Ah, well.  That was early on in the hunt and further cheered me, since the other guys hadn’t shot, either.  We continued far down the trail and began to approach a clear-cut that never held birds, but was nice as a place to sit and cogitate.  I heard a strange noise from off the trail.  It didn’t sound natural.  It was somewhat like a creaking door with a clack.  My over-active imagination started to work.  I don’t know what I would have decided it was before I realized it was a couple of trees rubbing together. 

Sally at the clear-cut
That wasn’t the worst.  Later, I saw a large tawny shape gliding along the edge of the trail.  I know what is large and tawny, even here in Northeastern Minnesota.  When I went back to look again, of course it was gone and all I could see was dead grass.  I looked up at the trees, just in case, and was relieved to realize none of them had branches large enough to support a catamount. 

Later, on a different trail, Sally went on cautious alert.  Before, her tail had been up, letting the world know that the forest was hers.  Now, it was low and stiff.  Her gait was off, too, as if she were prepared for flight.  It’s bear season.  My first thought was that she had caught wind of a wounded bear.  We turned around and headed back to a more relaxing part of the trail.  Of course she found and I saw what looked like dried blood, adding fuel to the imagination. 

We obviously made it out without further mishap though I’m sure the couple hunting from the four-wheeler that passed me back at the van questioned my sanity as I hurled "hello" and "have fun" after them.  They never slowed down.  Road hunters.