Monday seemed like a good day to get dogs out in hopes of finding some wary and wily late season grouse. The easy birds of the year that have survived human and animal predation by the time we reach December rarely make the same mistakes that give both dogs and hunters success back in October. Late season birds often flush or run long before you and the dogs get to them. Getting a bird pinned for a shootable flush is not easy at this time of year.
So, when Sam (Wild Apple Samantha) and I headed into one of our old stonewall and apple tree covers, I didn’t have high expectations. Five minutes in Sam’s bell went from ringing merrily to silent in an instant and she was in a very likely area of the cover about 80 yards away from me. As I approached and before I had located her I saw something white pop out of the fur thicket beyond where I expected the dog to be. My assumption was the dog was pointing the hare and had I not seen it I would have assumed a grouse had run out from her point.
A few moments later I spotted Sam high and tight to my right pointing into a patch of small fir trees directly under two big apple trees that still had some apples that had been shriveled by the cold nights of the last month. My hopes for a grouse were renewed as Sam remained tight. Then that darn hare came hopping slowly out of the brush again and headed in the direction of the dog until it passed just above Sam in plain sight. The big white rabbit looked almost as big as the dog and I saw Sam’s head swivel as she tracked the bunny. It was too tempting and she broke in pursuit of the hare. I’ve never shot a rabbit around one of my bird dogs but I was sorely tempted by this one.
As soon as she moved, the grouse blew out from under the apple trees in a roar of wings that brought Sam up short as she realized she had just screwed up. We went on through the cover moving five more birds all of which flushed high out of fir trees. The next two dogs down were puppies and each mishandled a grouse to give us 8 birds with no shots taken.