29 November 2009
Believe it or not, in all of my years of grouse hunting, I have never pursued the gray ghost in the wilds of the great state of Maine. Now Maine has the reputation of being the grouse hunting capitol of New England, with good reason - there's huntable cover in almost every part of this state. When I was invited by Paul O'Neill, one of my guiding clients, to experience Maine grouse hunting formyself, I jumped at the chance. In addition to this, we were also to be guided by a legend of Maine grouse guides, Jo Ann Moody, for three days. Jo Ann is a breeder of excellent grouse hunting springer spaniels, and knows a lot about all things grouse, hunting and hunting dogs. She really was a fountai
n of information for three days and she also had some pretty entertaining stories from her 25 years of guiding experience. Her Downeast Maine accent took a little getting used to, but Paul was there to interpret - Paul's been guided by Jo Ann for 11 years straight. Truth be told, I thought hunting in Maine would be similar to our hunting here, but it turned out to be totally different - in fact, so much so that I thought their grouse were a different bird entirely from what we pursue here. You see, not only do they receive a fair amount of hunting pressure, but the composition of the forest there is quite different from here. While our predominant tree species are conifers and yellow birches (I know, maples too), their forest is comprised of mostly southern hardwoods - oaks, beech and ash are major species there and there's not as many conifers there as what we have.
The hunting pressure, coupled with the sparser tree cover in places results in a grouse that truly is the "King of the Gamebirds". They are jumpy and skittish and not afraid to bolt from an area if things don't look and sound right. That's why Jo Ann emphasized that we quietly approach areas and not go bumbling through the woods in pursuit of grouse, and we always had a plan of attack for each cover. Her spaniels were excellently trained and hunted at a nice distance from the gun, but it was still difficult getting used to hunting behind flushers as opposed to pointers. Now, I'll always be a pointing dog man, but Jo Ann's spaniels did such a nice job that I can see why some people prefer hunting grouse behind a flusher and they gained my respect. While I watch for my own dogs to slow down once they contact bird scent, it was exactly the opposite with Jo Ann's dogs. Once they kicked it in to high gear, we put our track shoes on to get in position for the flush. While Paul connected on one of his shots of the 39 grouse flushed, I came up empty on the four shots that I took with the 28 gauge (next time, it'll be a 12 gauge). We had a great time with Jo Ann and look forward to chasing birds again with her next year!