04 February 2018
04/02/18 Filed in: 2018 Bird Hunting
Grouse hunting season has been over for a little over a month now, and I miss it. It ended abruptly for me, as we had lots of snow and snowmobilers when I returned from a trip to San Diego in mid-December. The lodge got busy, and then I got sick for a couple of weeks, and the season was over. This morning was our first snowshoe excursion in to the grouse woods, sad to say. A combination of bitterly cold weather at times as well as icy conditions without much snow cover has delayed venturing forth in search of birds, not to mention the normal and not-so-normal work obligations (trade shows, computer melt downs, etc. - it's been a fun five weeks). But, this morning we have a few inches of new snow in the woods and the temps were pretty good.
Monty and Rosie ran giddily through the grouse woods this morning, finding a couple of tracks from long departed grouse and the usual tracks from what seemed like a million snowshoe hares. Eventually, they found two grouse themselves, with one sailing off downhill in to thicker cover and the other pointed beautifully later on by Monty, with a nice honor from Rosie after a "whoa" from me. It was spectacular to witness, and anytime, winter included, is a good time to get out in the woods and reinforce the commands that you'll be using all spring, summer and fall. We'll be doing this a lot over the next two months, as long as the weather cooperates.
Other Thoughts …
My nearly 12- year old GSP, Rudy, has had a littany of health problems over the last year (GI problems, seizures, and weight loss have plagued the old boy) and it got so bad on Wednesday that on the way to the vet I was contemplating that things might be coming to an end for my "Old Man". I get wistful at times like this and so many memories of Rudy as a pup and our first hunts together with his old running mate Greta come to mind. He hunted in Montana for pheasants and sharptails (he really excelled on the sharptails and made some amazing retrieves on wounded ringnecks) at only one year old and has been a constant companion when I take trips to the river for fishing (he seems to scare off prospective interlopers that would like to intrude on the water I'm fishing … little do they know that he is actually very friendly and can easily be bribed to betray his master).
All of this led me to look at some old posts on the blog of Rudy's time in the grouse woods, and his status as a good grouse dog was confirmed after reading some of those posts. He was quite a grouse hunter in his day and the foundation of the guiding business early on. Greta was a great one too, but often didn't have the stamina to go out day after day - that was Rudy's job, and he held up his end of our arrangement.
But, there was another thing that I noticed when reading the entries from 7 or 8 years ago … we seemed to be running in to a lot more grouse than we have in the last couple of years. I don't think this is simply because I'm hunting subpar areas compared to before - I actually pride myself on finding several good areas every year so that the covers don't get stale, and I think I've done a good job of it, especially lately, of changing up our "rotation". Spring and early summer hatch weather is always a concern for grouse hunters, and it has not been what I generally consider as being "good" the last couple of years. Still, it seems as though we've had some poor springs before and rebounded just fine in the fall.
There is still a decent amount of logging going on in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, but certainly not to the degree that we had decades ago in the hay day of grouse hunting. The landscape is changing and maturing and that could be having an impact on grouse numbers in some of our covers. Some of the productive food covers (old apple trees, pasture edges from long gone farms) are simply not as productive as they used to be. Rumors that avian flu could also be responsible for the decline in bird numbers are rampant as well. There are many different factors that affect grouse - literally a mosaic of conditions can have an impact on the birds we love to pursue every fall, so who can say for sure what is happening.
Personally, my opinion is that our constantly changing weather, with its assorted highs and lows and severe rain events and (at times) drought conditions is impacting our birds more than anything. Global warming may be affecting our birds in ways we can't even be sure of, but grouse are birds of the northern forest and cold climates. The more the northern hemisphere warms and results in changes to tree composition in our northern forests, the more we'll see changes to grouse populations and other northern forest loving species. Sorry for the ramble … just my thoughts on how our sport may be changing.
Oh, and Rudy has seemingly recovered and is feeling much better today - I know you all wanted to know how he is doing.
Check out the Project Upland website to get your fix on upland hunting, dogs, training, and short videos this winter. There are other people out there as crazy as us - this is the proof!