Any time we get to hunt in December is considered bonus time. The worst year I can remember, it snowed on Veteran’s Day (11/11) and we didn’t see bare ground again until Patriot’s Day (originally 4/19). A very few years in the last 30 we’ve had bare ground right up until Christmas. this may be one of those years. I’m not hunting every day right now as the dogs (and I) need to have some down time to lick our various wounds and fortunately for them (unfortunately for me) put back on some of the weight we lost during the prime time of the season. During the late season in general and especially this time of year, I do a lot of scouting for new covers.
Friday last week I loaded up Spot and two of the puppies (Molly and Jonathan) to check out a new area. Our cover is constantly changing as old areas grow up and new areas have been cut. There is probably a ten year window on the cuts in our area from the time they get good until they start yielding fewer birds. I use Google Earth and driving the logging roads as a way to spot likely looking cover but the only way to really know is to put boots and paws on the ground. So this outing I ran the dogs collectively for about 2 1/2 hours in three different cuts along one stretch of road. Molly was first out and as we worked our way along a sidehill I noticed the huge log that is pictured above. I leaned my shotgun against it just to give you some perspective as to the size. the log was over 50 feet long. It was in the perfect location for a drumming log — well hidden in the cover but open enough for the drummer to keep a watchful eye out for approaching predators and in the spring female grouse ready to be bred.
The irony is, while I was photographing the log, Molly was uphill from me about 75 yards away and stopped. She held point as I hurried to her but then, as is often the case with spooky grouse and puppies, the bell made a couple of tinkles followed by the roar of wings. Molly went in hot pursuit but is learning that grouse are all but uncatchable. She came back around quickly and continued to hunt hard until we got back to the truck.
Jonathan was the next one down and as we started in to the next new spot I wasn’t as optimistic as the cover was a little more mature and quite a bit steeper — not someplace I would bring hunters when guiding. Shows what I know. Jonathan pointed four grouse in 35 minutes with pretty much the same results as Molly. I did have a chance to do a little grouse CSI during this run.
From the evidence above my hypothesis is that since the feathers and the wad were in the same spot, the hunter had shot the bird on the ground and the dispersion of the feathers indicates that a dog was involved and was pretty abusive with the dead or dying grouse. The addition of the hull by the hunter leaves me to believe that like a male dog this person wanted to mark his territory. One of the reasons we discourage our hunters from using pumps and autoloaders is the fact that it’s almost impossible to recover all the shells. This hunter made a point of leaving one behind.
Finally it was time for Spot, although still a derby, the most broke dog I have right now. Spot had two finds. the first I never saw the bird as it had run far down hill and flushed out of sight. The second find was a perfect example of hiding-in-plain-sight. Spot’s bell stopped and we were almost back to the road. I figured the bird had gotten to the edge and hopefully the dog had it pinned. When I found him he was about 50 feet from the road and pointing towards the edge. I circled down to the road hoping to get the bird to fly out in the open. I walked dow the road in front of the dog and nothing happened. I released Spot and he moved forward 10 feet and locked up again. I studied the ground between us which seemed bare without a place for a grouse to hide and still nothing happened. Finally, I had to give up my idea of getting an open shot as the bird flew over the road and stepped into the cover. Halfway between Spot and me was a rock and suddenly a grouse materialized in front of it and exploded directly between us. By the time, the bird had flown enough to give me a safe shot it was behind some trees which took the brunt of both loads of 7 1/2s.
I was still happy with the dogs and my discovery of some new spots. Seven grouse in 2 1/2 hours with two puppies and a derby in December is always a good outing.
Sunday 3 of us hunted some of our standard late season covers and in 6 hours moved 15 grouse with 5 dogs. We did manage to run Rigby in new spot and she did her usual “grouse goddess” routine with a couple of far flung limb finds with a total of 4 grouse. A good day indeed in December.