Sunday, October 24, 2010

What a Swan Song

As most of you know, my 11 year old lab Kwik has been battling liver failure and was given a very bleak outlook just two short weeks ago. The vet explained that his life would probably last a few more months, but that his quality of life would be pretty good. So for obvious reasons as long as he could hack it, I wanted to get him out a few more times to hunt his favorite bird.
The meteorologist explained that this was going to be a very rainy weekend for us, so I decided to head up to grouse camp early. None of my cohorts could make it up early, so Kwik, Dottie, and myself left early on Friday morning in hopes of getting some dry weather grousing in.
I'm not sure why, but I decided to grab my old 20 ga Citori this trip, a gift given to me from my father as the death of my first hunting dog (Learch) was ridiculously hard on my at the tender years of 14 years. This gun was my pride and joy for my childhood and young adulthood, taking everything from grouse to ducks, but was being used less and less because it meant a lot to me to keep in it good shape.
Much to the dismay of my GSP Dottie, I decided to give Kwik the nod for the afternoon. It wasn't to hot or to cold, and I figured I would try and find some logging trail that both him and I could take an easy stroll down. This type of hunting usually doesn't produce anywhere near what busting brush does, but at his decreased capacity, it's about all he can handle.
One whining German short hair in a Tahoe was the only disturbance in an otherwise beautiful afternoon. We had probably walked about 15 minutes, and the cover on the trail that I had picked was looking suspect. I decided to give it just a little bit more as I wanted to see what was over the next hill. I was pleasantly surprised to see a decent mix of Aspen, Pine, and scrub brush that might hold a bird.
One thunderous flush out of a pine tree offered us no shot, but a little bit of scent left on the ground from that bird really perked up both Kwiks and my attitude of getting a shot at another bird.
We strolled along this swamp bottom and had three more birds rocket out of pine trees offering little or no shot. I gazed ahead on the trail and saw a bird walking in front of us 30 yards or so, and while I really wanted to get the taste of feathers in his mouth one last time, I didn't want it to be on the ground.
So we took a pass, and that bird strolled into the tangled mess never to be seen or heard from again.
We then came upon a very gorgeous, but very eerie beaver pond. I paused for a second because it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I decided we should turn around, as I was expecting a wolf, bear, or ghost to appear. Except it wasn't any of those things, it was a grouse. No more than 5 feet from Kwiks nose on the trail a the bird flew from right to left and then made a sharp angled turn right when I shot. I folded the bird, but its momentum and distance from me took it about 40 feet right into the beaver pond.
Kwiks head was still down at the flush and his hearing has gotten pretty bad , and I'm not sure he could see the direction of the bird and didn't see it fall into the water. I was sitting there for a second wondering weather I could send him on a blind retrieve that far (considering his already exhausted condition), when he slowly raised his nose in the air, closed his eyes and began to scent the bird on the water. I've seen him do this many times on waterfowl, but never on an upland bird.
I watched him back up to the end of the trail, take a quick look at me, and launch himself in the water. I was as happy as I was scared. This was along way for him to swim, but I figured if he went this way, so be it.
He eventually found the bird behind some driftwood and started his way back. I couldn't help but notice the slow manner in which he swam back, almost as if he knew this was probably going to be his last water retrieve and wanted to cherish every moment. Such a strong swimmer in his prime, it was a little hard to watch. The tears welled up in my eyes as this dog never ceases to amaze me. He got to shore, shook all sorts of muddy swamp water on me and my Citori, and licked the salty tears from my face.
I walked the entire way back on the trail with my gun open, and let Kwik carry the bird all the way back to the car (pic on top of post). A truly great way to celebrate a great life. I said thanks to God for blessing me with this last event, and letting him be a part of my life. I now KNOW that he got his last wish this season.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mission Accomplished, and one happy camper

Its been a year of first birds.  First dove for Wyatt, and now first grouse for Ryan. I can remember my first grouse like it was yesterday. I was near Wabeno, on a friends private property, during a down cycle. We had managed to bag a few woodcock, but sometimes as it is in down years, the wait between Grouse flushes was almost brutal. I heard a distant flush and didn't see the bird until it was probably 30 yards on a left to right crossing shot. I missed cleanly on my first shot as I was looking into the setting sun during the "MAGIC HOUR", we all covet.
My second shot seemed like it was slow motion. i can still see that bird and a small puff of feathers sillouted against the reddish orange hues of the setting sun. It was pure luck, and I knew it. My next fear was not being able to find the bird. One of the guys who was hunting with us (suitably named "Stubby"), said don't worry.
His veteran yellow lab of 9 years had only lost one down grouse in all her years. Right on cue, Kelly had the bird in her mouth and was trotting back with my prize in her mouth. I took a second to admire this grey phase female and spread out the fan, as I had seen my teachers do so many times before me. It's a moment that will stay with me till I die.
Ryan had the same look of wonder after missing some earlier and often opportunities before it finally all came together. Oddly enough he took the fan and did the same exact thing that I did. I guess what our mentors teach us DOES have a way of following us through habit, even if we don't realize it at the moment.
One thing I know for sure. I managed to pluck and groom one from the depths of video gaming systems, malls, and now have a new grouse partner who can battle the covers all day with me, hopefully for a very long time.
Ryan, welcome to the club.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Small Hunting Report

Well, it was 74 degrees on Saturday.

That alone was ALMOST enough to keep me completely out of the woods this weekend, but then realizing we only get a few weeks every year to chase the bird I think about the other 8 months of the year, I just went.  I tried to get a early start to the morning, that ended up being about a 8:30 start, and it already felt like it was close to 60 degrees, but my buddy Mitch and I pushed on. I went to some of "his" covers which i have to say were much more aged than the what I would call "optimal", but right on cue a covey of three birds went up next to Mitch. He connected with a BEAUTIFUL brown phase male which was one of the largest birds i have ever seen. a true mounter if their ever was one. Dottie retrieved back to hand and we were off to another trail of his.  another 100 steps yielded another wild flush, as it was starting to get windy, and I think the birds were getting a bit jumpy.
It seemed to me that dispersal had taken place this past week, because there were A LOT of single birds in places that they REALLY shouldn't have been. it was a road hunters dream, but I still prefer to drive in back deep, and walk off what is usually a large breakfast.
It really started to heat up fast, reaching the 70 degree point by 10:45. Those of you that know Dottie, she doesn't need nor crave a lot of water while out hunting, that certainly wasn't the case today. she went through 4 liters of water in a bout two hours of hunting.
We only ended up with that one bird, I missed a VERY easy one, but bird numbers seem to be getting a tad bit better. we put up 8 birds with no woodcock in that time frame. starting NEXT wed, I have the rest of October off, so many good reports (albeit delayed), and stories should be in the making.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feathers of a different kind

Not so long ago, I lived for waterfowl. It was pretty much all I thought about, what I practiced and trained for, and where I spent the majority of my logged hunting hours. Last night I got the rare chance to go out for a quick hunt with two of my best High school friends who "for petty differences" haven't spent much time together over the past 5 years.
We were running traffic ( not a field the geese were actually coming too) and seeing as how two of us are fairly accomplished callers, we felt pretty good about our chances of getting at least one or two to be fooled into range. We also had Matt's young son Jack with us for his first goose hunt. At seven years of age, he obviously cant handle a gun, but was as excited as his father was at his young age.
The temps were near 70, so besides swatting a few mosquito's we figured that the fowl wouldn't be flying until the last minute. We were correct in our assumptions. We saw a  small group of seven heading for a field that was obviously not ours. We called with fury in hopes our racket would at least get them to pass closer for a look. They obliged and we managed to scratch two out of that group. One of which being a Richardsons goose, a subclass of Canada goose that resembles the ross goose of the snow goose world. The small short beak and small body size is a dead give away for this type of bird even in adult form.
I do believe this is where my shooting struggles started. After having a superb day on grouse the Saturday before. I was a candidate for my own award of the "conservationist" that my father received last weekend.  i shot 6 shells before I finally connected on my first goose. GO FIGURE!
Before long we coaxed a few more groups well with range, and finished up out limit of 6 geese just before closing time.
I sat for just a moment, and thought about how the three of us had been in this situation before, about 15 years ago (minus Matts son). It felt good to have the old group together, laughing, bagging a few birds, and making memories we can laugh about in another 15 year, God willing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The "CONSERVATIONIST", and this weekends report

The "conservationist" is a new grouse camp award created by yours truly for the easiest shot missed, worst excuse for missing made, or just plain general "overall suck" in regards to shooting. I'm pleased to announce the first award ever goes to my father. Keeping in mind he is a "trail walker", he had at least four opportunities to shoot both barrels at grouse down the road, or just barely off of it. He willingly accepted his award, and nominated himself after the mornings hunt. It's all in fun, and a lot of fun we DO have with it.
This weekends report was much better than the previous two. Considering the fact we actually bagged a few birds, and had action from the minute we got into a particular large cover made it better than the previous two outings. "Tick Heaven", as this extremely large cover has become so aptly named, has always held the largest number of birds no matter the cycle.  and while it took us a bit cover this massive mess of aspen, swamp, and hardwoods, it did what it always does, produce.
Although we didn't put up crazy numbers, we had 12 flushes in about 3 hours of hunting. I connected on one of those crazy swooping down from a tree shots (which I always seem to miss), and Dottie has decided that she DOES want to be a retrieving German Shorthair this season (she always hasn't been the best at that).
The temperatures in the high 30's really made for some great walking for the first three hours of the hunt. The fact of the matter is we have been pretty spoiled with temperatures the first three weekends, but that appears to be ending this weekend. I have to admit that with temperatures predicted in the mid seventies, I might find myself on the golf course,  rather than the woods. As we found out last weekend, a week isn't sufficient for any meteorologist to make a reliable prediction. So we STILL have hope for next weekend. My guess is the next time I make it up to camp, the woodcock will have arrived.