End of the Line

All good things come to an end, or so the saying goes, and it was the same with my 2010 guiding season. The deer hunters have now taken over the woods for a few weeks here in New Hampshire, and also Vermont, meaning that our grouse chasing pursuits are limited to December, which is always risky up here. Some years we’re blessed with only a few inches of snow cover, while in other years full scale winter has hit us with lots of snow on the ground. In other words, you never know what it will be like. Making this even more difficult to handle was that we had some of the best weather of the entire autumn for these last few days, with high sun and temps in the 50s - perfect weather for grouse and hunters alike.

Harry and Peter Friel joined me for two days in Vermont to close my season, victims of mine last year as well. Last season we were able to hunt with Peter’s GSP Shane, but Shane tore a knee ligament a couple of months ago, so he was out of commission this year.
This led Peter to call me a couple months back, somewhat panicked at the prospect of a dogless grouse season, the worst of bird hunting scenarios. We were able to agree on some dates and it couldn’t have worked out better. While the mornings started off in the 20s, it didn’t take too long for it to warm up, especially in the sunny areas that were getting the sun from the east. The grouse were soaking up this warmth, taking advantage of the first sunny days that we’ve had in a while. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for us to start pushing birds, and Pete connected on a fine shot on a fleeing cock bird. This bird was one of the prettiest I’ve seen all year, a definite trophy and king of his parcel of the forest.

We also had a couple of interesting observances in the woods that first day. The first was by me - a beech tree with clear claw marks made by a hungry bear maybe a year or two before. It’s something I don’t often see out in the woods, so I took a picture - look at the trunk on the left for those claw marks. The second was us hearing three separate drumming grouse in this morning cover, and we were able to get close to a couple of them. While drumming is typically a sound of the spring mating season, I have occasionally heard it while hunting in the fall as well. To hear three different birds in the act was really special that morning, and maybe it indicated where each male grouse would have his little “kingdom” for next year’s mating action. As with most things involving grouse, I can only speculate!

That morning we would move a dozen grouse, but, as usual, there were far fewer chances for Harry and Peter than that. The afternoon saw another eight grouse flush, but only one presented a “decent chance” for Peter, that is if you count sinking down in a bog while trying to cross a blowdown as a”decent chance”. I was right behind him when he took it, and take it from me, it was a nice shot that he made on that bird. It went down and it took us a while to locate it, with Monty making his first of what I hope becomes
many retrieves. It was great, and a nice start for only an 8 month old pup.

Day Two saw more great weather for us, and while we had a slower morning than the day before, Harry and Peter each had challenging opportunities at the beginning that unfortunately were not “connections”. As New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate Robert Frost wrote, “the worst shot in grouse hunting is the one not taken”. Ok, he didn’t write that, but he probably thought of it. Lead in the air means a possibility of bagging a grouse, while no lead in the air means no chance. We would only move six grouse in the morning, but a hearty sun drenched lunch recharged us for the afternoon. While Harry sat out that afternoon (at 79 years young, Harry has earned the right to take an afternoon off from chasing grouse), Peter followed me on an extended excursion into the cover. Rudy was at his best, contacting a dozen birds (a group of four, and a group of five!) in a little over two hours of hunting and making a great point on a pair of roadside grouse that were preparing for a little grit. Unfortunately for them they both decided to fly right down the middle of the road. Have I mentioned that Peter’s a pretty good shot? Yup, two birds in the game pouch ...

For the two days we moved around 38 grouse - not bad for the final excursions of the season. Thanks again everybody for coming out with me and enjoying the outdoors for a while. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to doing it again. I’ll keep updating this when I can - there will be a few more moments of fun before the season closes.