Being hardened grouse hunters, Chris and Chip were undaunted by the 30 degree temperature, with gusts of 20 MPH that day, so we headed in to one of my favorite woodcock covers, in the hopes that the lousy weather had delayed our timberdoodles from their annual migration. Our hopes were confirmed, as we immediately started contacting woodcock, with Chris’s setter Dotty and Rudy doing the honors of pointing bird after bird. While Chris and Chip didn’t exactly put on a clinic for prospective wingshooters, they did manage to bag three woodcock in the morning. Dotty and Rudy both put on pointing exhibitions however, as they each had great woodcock points on several of the 15 - 20 we saw that morning.
We then decided to look for grouse in the afternoon, as we hadn’t seen a single one in the morning, so we headed to what I would describe as “feeding covers” of wild apples and highbush cranberries, where the grouse eat themselves silly nearly every afternoon. It couldn’t have worked out better. Monty did a great job finding lots of grouse, and actually pointing six of them. His best moment by far was his point of a group of four grouse that were seeking refuge from the weather. They managed to give Chris and Chip the slip however - perhaps we’ll meet them again some other day. We ended up moving a dozen apple picking grouse in this cover alone, which was quite amazing. At our final “feeding cover” we moved another six grouse, with Monty also doing the honors with another nice point on a departing grouse. Once again, this turned out to be one of those “great days” that we’ll remember for a long time. We’ve had a couple of days like this so far this year, and hopefully they’re not over yet!
Frequent visitors to northern NH each autumn, Chris Ramel and his son Mark, and Chris’s brother Chip, have been coming up our way for years, so they are quite used to our form of grouse hunting and have built up a good portfolio of their own covers. Still, we managed to hunt some new areas that Chris had yet to see, which seemed to add to their growing memory bank of hunts and haunts. Chris comes all the way out from Denver with his gordon setter Watson and orange belton setter Dotty, so you know he’s a very dedicated hunter of bonasa umbellus, while Mark ventures north from Brooklyn, NY each year when he can. Chip has a relatively short drive from Vermont.
Still, there was something, no, someone missing from this year’s excursions. Chris’s good friend Frank could not make the trip this year because of some nagging health issues, so we doggedly continued onward in our pursuits without him. Now, while Frank’s absence was felt by everyone, and generally agreed upon by the group as a “negative”, there were some decidedly positive byproducts of Frank not being here. Firstly, there were more opportunities for everyone else to take shots at birds that Frank undoubtedly would have attempted to blast (he is known as somewhat of a “G.H.” - Game Hog). Secondly, Chris and Chip were especially appreciative that they could be the “road” or “trail” hunter for our covers (Frank usually had this role, as the rest of us would bust brush for birds to flush in front of him). Finally, while I really enjoy Frank’s cameraderie as a first class gentleman, he also had the penchant for depleting my scotch supply at the end of each day’s hunt. Didn’t have to worry about that this year ...
The hunting went ahead (without Frank), with some good results. While we’ve seen good numbers of grouse, it is the number of woodcock that is really amazing. Perhaps it’s solely from our great spring and summer that we had for the brood rearing of the chicks, but it could also be that the efforts of fish and wildlife agencies all over the east at improving habitat for woodcock before it’s too late are also paying dividends. Whatever it is, we’ve been seeing as many, if not more, woodcock than grouse to this point in the season.
This explains why Chris limited out on woodcock on our first day together, and Mark also made good on two chances on grouse that day. The second day saw beautiful conditions (sunny, 50’s), but a few less bird contacts (10 grouse, 8 woodcock), and even fewer birds brought to justice (1 woodcock). Much like our bombers over Europe in WWII, the grouse and woodcock endured tremendous flak from the Ramels, with most flying quite safely to be pushed another day. Oh well, that’s another aspect of grouse hunting that happens, and it’s another reason that we keep coming back: redemption.
By the way, is there anything better than a bird dog retrieving a grouse, especially when the dog in question is a gordon setter? Nope, I didn’t think so either.