Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Six, "Two Years Old: Part 2"

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section

While goose hunting proved to be a new adventure, it was nothing compared to hunting the wily ruffed grouse of northern Minnesota.  The grouse is a mysterious bird, often found in quantity by deer hunters tying to be stealthy in the woods, but ultimately being exposed via an explosion of feathers seemingly coming from immediately underfoot.  However, when hunted directly, they can be non- existent, or merely ghosts in the woods. 

Personally, I had only hunted groused a couple of times.  Both times were early in the fall when the wooded cover was still extremely thick, and both times were done without any kind of canine support.  My partners and I simply spread ourselves out into the wooded cover, fighting through the brush, pushing forward as best we could, but snagging ourselves on the brambles more than making any kind of progress.  Occasionally one of us would hear the unmistakable whirl of flushing wings ahead, which was sometimes followed by the sound of a single report and an utterance of some lively bit of profanity. 

In these two occasions I had a shot at a grouse only once.  While I say I had a shout, I'm better off saying I discharged my gun in the general direction of a fleeing grouse one time.  Instead of hitting the grouse I instead centered the pattern of my shotgun directly into the sturdy trunk of a large oak tree that my departing quarry happened to put between myself and him on his path of departure. 

It is a frustrating and humbling pursuit.  So that Thanksgiving when my nephew claimed that grouse were crawling all over his dad's hunting property, I was reluctant to go out.  Did I really want to go out there with Blitz, both of us grouse virgins (me to shooting, and her to hunting them), for a day of utter frustration, or do I want to sit inside the warm house and wreak massive amounts of damage to my mother-in-law's thanksgiving leftovers?  The answer seemed pretty clear to me, but the whining coming from the dog crate indicated that someone needed to get out and get some fresh air.  Judging as well by the tightness of my belt caused by the November feast, I need the exercise myself.  I quickly changed, loaded up Blitz, and headed for my brother-in-law's land outside of town. 

Armed with a description of some promising areas from my nephew, Blitz and I waded into the quiet woods seeking the elusive grey bird.  We pushed along some likely cover with Blitz working the woods well.  Back and froth she dodged, not necessarily haunting per se, but clearly enjoying her freedom from the imposed confinement of the crate inside my mother-in-laws's house. 

Given that she had never encountered the bird before , I was hoping that upon a meeting, shed know what to do.  To this point we had done enough pheasant hunting and live bird training that it should not have been too far outside of her comfort zone, or at least that was my working hypothesis.  We moved along some semi thick cover, and Blitz soon picked up the scent of something.  Her body signals made it clear that she was on something - head down, nose working overtime, gait akin to Barry Sanders in traffic, and tail flailing wildly. 

She focused her efforts on a massive blowdown, moving to and fro, trying to get into the jumble of branches and sticks.  I prepared myself for the expected explosion of wings when the chipmunk inhabiting the pile chirped his annoyance at our presence.  That of course set the dog off, which in turn got the rodent more agitated and vocal, and soon our nice grouse hunt had degenerated into yet another chipmunk vs. dog stalemate.  I was ultimately able to get Blitz pulled away and focused on moving forward, and soon enough she started acting birdy again.  Again, this time, it turned out to be  another agitated chipmunk - this one sounding off from inside a hollowed log.  This type of scene would be repeated about four more times over the next hour, and I started to think my poor confused nephew didn't know the difference between a grouse and a chipmunk. 

Eventually Blitz started acting birdy again, and I was convinced this would be yet another false alarm and we soon would be hearing from an angry rodent.  Then Blitz did something she never did with the chipmunks: she locked up statue-still and pointed.  Immediately I knew this was different based this behavior as Blitz had never pointed before when there was not a bird somewhere out in front of her nose.  I was finally optimistic, but then she did something else she hadn't done before while hunting: she started growling.  Bird hunters are unfortunate souls, and as a group we immediately assume the worst of any situation, because often enough that is exactly what happens to us.  For me, the worst scenario in the situation with a growling dog was that we had stumbled across Mr. Skunk, and Blitz and I would ultimately be sleeping in my mother-in-law's garage.  No football.  No leftovers.  Just lots and lots of tomato juice baths and smelly companionship. 

"Blitz!"I yelled, "Here! HERE!"  Immediately the dog lunged forward, completely ignoring my commands, and rousted the grouse that was sitting invisibly about three feet in front of her.  I couldn't beleive it she'd done it.  Her and my first grouse!  Now all I had to do is make the shot.  "Don't choke, don't choke, don't choke," repeatedly went through my head, and I leveled my shotgun to get a lead on the departing bird.  Satisfied with my lead I lightly squeezed the trigger and send a load of Federal number six shot directly into the the body of an oak tree that the grouse had managed to put between him and me.  I didnt know grouse migrated but am convinced now as this had to be the same brid that had previously pulled the same trick on me a few years and a hundred miles ago.

I followed the route of the departing bird and felt I might have had a good lead where he came to rest.  I corralled Blitz back to the task at hand and we headed off to the last place where I had seen the bird.  As we moved in the grouse didn't wait for us to get close and nervously flushed while we were still out of range.  Unfortunately for the grouse he flew forward to the edge of the property and a clear cut border area. That meant he no had nowhere to go.  Blitz and I approached the area and I was certain that this time our luck would hold.  We knew the general area of the bird, and he was out of cover.  A flush meant open shooting and no oak trees to serve as wooded armor.  Finally, the odds stacked in our favor.

We got right up to the cover with Blitz bridy as all get out but found ourselves unable to raise the bird.  This proved to be a huge frustration as the cover was thin, and there was no way we could have missed him.  That's when I looked out into the open field and found one lone pine tree about ten feet away.  Blitz's nose had already pointed her in that direction, and we moved toward the tree in complete unison without the need for any commands.  

Nearing the base of the tree Blitz went back onto point and I tucked in behind her left hip.  "Get him, girl!" I commanded and immediately the grouse was in the air, and this time with nothing surrounding him but grey sky.  He was attempting to double back on us and was headed for the cover from which wed just come.  I shouldered my gun while pivoting 180 degrees, getting my lead, and squeezing.  The grouse, clearly hit, fell into a thick pile of cover with Blitz closely behind.  I commanded her to fetch with a thrill in my voice hopeful that this would be our first grouse.  After a couple of seconds Blitz reappeared from the cover carrying our first grouse in her mouth.  

At that moment I felt incredibly proud.  Neither of us really knew what we were doing.  We had an idea, sure , but this was a first.  And working together, we were successful.  It was a supremely satisfying experience.  I sat down with Blitz there in the clearing, admiring the bird in my hands, knowing how much wed achieved and how much my mother-in-law would enjoy this toothsome centerpiece to some future dinner.  

For that moment all we did was sit there and smile at our first ever grouse.  I probably would have sat there a lot longer had I known that our first grouse was also going to be our last.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to include any thoughts you may have. Know, however, that kiddos might be reading this, so please keep the adult language to yourself. I know, for me to ask that language is clean is a stretch...