Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For November 7th, 2008 Edition.
It's funny how one's priorities shift when their wife is away from home for a week. My list of "what I've got to do before the snow files" changed to "I think I'll hunt most of the week" shortly after Wifee Poo kissed me good-by and headed south to visit our daughter Anna and an old classmate and friend, Beverly.
I sorted through various scenarios and decided seeing I hadn't ventured out on a serious grouse hunt for quite some time, the time now seemed to be perfect as the taillights of Peggy's yellow Dodge Caliber disappeared down our driveway.
Actually, to be totally honest, I had planned this minor adventure several days earlier after my wife jotted her travel schedule on our activity calendar. It had been well over twenty years since I ventured west on highway 70 for a grouse hunt towards Fifield and Park Falls, an area their chamber of commerce labels "The Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World."
Under cover of darkness I packed my truck the night before to cut travel time to the "partridge woods." Belle and I traveled fairly light as I knew full well my aging legs would probably only carry me through the cut over popple and blackberry briar patches for a few hours. The list included high top boots, brush pants, game vest, blaze orange cap, light weight jacket, drinking water for man and dog, a couple of sandwiches, two chunks of Peggy's lemon squares, freezer packs in a cooler to keep all the grouse cool, my double barrel LaFever 20 gauge and a box of number sixes.
The weatherman didn't disappoint us. As Belle and I cleared the morning traffic west of Lac du Flambeau a cloudless Royal blue sky promised a perfect fall day. The roadside was plastered with a thick layer of frost and Old Sol was just beginning to kiss the tops of the evergreens a joyful good-morning. Various faded colored leaves slowly drifted earthward as though looking for just the perfect place for a final resting place. Ah, life was good!
Our first stop was on old logging road that meanders through a stand of medium sized Red pine, interspersed with patches of hazel brush, blackberry and raspberry thickets. Years ago I found grouse here, but on this morning it was not to be. My first discovery was a lone wing feather from a wild turkey. I picked it up, stuck it in my hat as a good luck charm. Time would tell if it would work.
A bit later I stumbled upon the sun bleached skull of a young fork horn buck. This I also salvaged and stuffed in the pocket of my game vest. I have no idea why I removed it from the environment, but at the time it seemed the right thing to do. I silently pondered what fate had befallen the buck. Had its death been caused by an errant arrow? Or possibly a poorly aimed bullet? Or perhaps a hungry wolf? By the lack of other bones anywhere near the skull I guessed it was the later, as this area in Price County is well known as wolf country.
Our second stop was at the intersection of an old logging road and an ATV trail. I suspected the ATV trail might be a good location for grouse as the roadway contained freshly turned dirt for birds to dust in as well as small pebbles to help them digest their food. By now the sun had risen high enough to generate enough energy to begin melting the heavy frost. Tall grass, weeds and saplings were now dripping moisture and the silence was so overpowering when I stood still I could hear the water droplets falling on dry leaves.
It was here, along the ATV trail, less than a hundred yards into our meandering, the first grouse of the morning thundered into the air. However, the wary bird exploded from cover along the trail some seventy yards ahead of Belle and I. Much too far for a shot. Another quarter mile slipped behind us with nothing but pristine beauty as our reward. I left the easy walking of the ATV trail and headed into the trailside tangle, planning to work the heavy cover back to my truck. Lady Luck decided to smile on the dynamic duo of grouse hunters.
I eased into a minor break in the heavy cover, an area of young popple, brown ferns and tall grass. Belle was working her heart out zigzagging back and forth in front of me. Believe it or not but a little inner voice commanded I stop and let the dog work. The voice repeated several times, "There's a bird in here, get ready!"
It matters not how many times a hunter has witnessed the sudden and unexpected thunderous takeoff of a grouse. The event is always nearly a heart stopper. Pheasants, quail, woodcock, prairie chickens and sharp-tail grouse are fairly predicable. But not so with Mr. and Mrs. Ruffed Grouse! No sir! Those bundles of brown feathers generally bust cover when and where you least expect it. And this time was no different!
Belle was about fifteen yards to my left, tail rapidly rotating as she carefully inspected every clump of withered ferns. I knew she was "birdie." The grouse burst from its hiding spot about fifteen yards to my right. Everything my dad pounded into my head some six decades earlier came into play. My master instructor had drilled and drilled into my head one simple lesson on how to occasionally hit grouse on the wing.
"Ya ain't got time ta aim. Ya can't point, swing and follow through like ya kin on ducks and pheasants. Ya ain't got time. Ya gotta shoot from instinct. Throw the gun up, point and let 'er fly." And that's exactly what I did!
Just as the grouse was about to make a quick "stage right exit" behind a bushy balsam there was a small puff of feathers in mid-air and the grouse crash-landed in a clump of ferns some twenty-five yards away.
Belle reacted to the sudden break in the silence and rushed to my side with that "huntin' dog look at her face" that I easily understood as "Did ya git 'um buddy?" I pointed in the general direction of the object of our quest and simply said, "Find the bird."
Thirty seconds later our first grouse of the morning was delivered "Black Lab, special delivery" at my boots. Belle was smiling and so was I.
Well, to make a very long story much shorter, that was the team's one and only grouse of the day. Only two additional birds were flushed during the next four hours, and both of them flushed well ahead of dog, hunter and gun.
Belle and I shared two sandwiches and a chunk of lemon squares about 1:30, then climbed in the truck to head home. Belle didn't want to call it a day, but my body did. She looked genuinely disappointed we only had one grouse in the cooler. But I told her, "Hey Belle, at least we weren't skunked. We had a wonderful day together, saw some beautiful country, bonded with Ma Nature and got plenty of excellent exercise. Don't feel bad Belle, you and me had a good day."
She grinned at me, licked my hand, then curled up on the passenger side of the front seat and went to sleep.
Yes sir, we had more than good day, we had a great day!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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