We arrived in the Promised Land around 9AM Monday, took a quick stroll in a favorite covert and struck out. The sun was shining as we set up our day camp and then headed to the cabin around noon for a quick yet restless nap. Popping our heads from the cabin around 3PM, we found the sky thick with clouds and headed for another local hot spot – Parker Road.
Upon reaching our designated parking area we spotted a bird stepping off the gravel trail. We sat back for what seemed like an eternity, but I am sure was less than a few minutes, in order to let the old cock meander up into the dense conifer cover. I sent my partner Kevin up into the woods above the bird and instructed him to blow on his whistle when he was in a position of any sort that would afford a possible shot.
Moments later I heard the soft toot of my partner’s Acme 210 dog whistle and I “released the hounds”, letting the two English Cockers hit their first fresh grouse scent of the year. It seemed only seconds before we heard the bird vaulting up through the spruce. By sound alone I could surmise it was rising straight up, first glimpse told me he was going to attempt an exit via the logging road I was on. It broke the open right to left and decided to bank downward while flipping its tail to swerve slightly back to the right (or so it seemed).
I somehow managed to react properly and the trusty 28 gauge spoke and the bird exploded in a puff of feathers. It was perhaps the most open shot I have ever had at a partridge, but I swear the most difficult. But then again, it could also have been the luckiest! Fired up with thoughts of a repeat of the 2007 hunt where I took five birds in rapid succession, I proclaimed I was batting a 1000. The next covert produced two flushes but no shots.
At 5PM, with mist in the air, we made haste toward my hottest evening covert. It’s a small ditch lined by alder with a pine stand on its right, but in between lays a small Hawthorn thicket lined with raspberry. I call it the “Dead End Covert” because it is usually the end of the road for any grouse found there. But when we arrived, the gathering clouds could hold back no longer and we lost the best 2 hours of the days for hunting. So we went off to Tuggers Restaurant for a superb prime rib sandwich and I was in bed by 8PM.
Tuesday morning’s fog and mist found us hitting the muddy trail around 9AM. We found ourselves on the Horace Forward Truck Trail heading toward other known coverts in Montague and the Huck Berry when we spotted two birds sitting in the road. Thinking that it would be a replay of our first bird, we backed off to let them waddle away. Shortly after my partner attempted to swing above the birds in search of any opening, hopefully affording us another opportunity to “release the hounds”. Much to his surprise, upon entering the wood he flushed five birds – and of course he missed them all and only had two shells with him (as if that would have made a difference).
“Aha,” I said, “well now we have a hot spot with five birds all scattered in less than a few hundred yards, let’s let them settle down and then we will work them!” We drove to the end of the trail (four miles) and did an about face. When we were 200 yards from the hot spot, lo and behold there are nine partridges crossing the road like farmer’s chickens. This is no longer the hot spot but the epicenter of the grouse population of 2010. With frothing mouths we put the truck in reverse and pulled off the truck trail at the closest solid shoulder we could find.”Let’s take our time and get ready for this one, pal,” I said.
Out came the Browning and Benelli autos and pockets that usually only held four shells were filled, and with compass bearings and GPS set we proceeded through the rain toward the direction the flock had headed. Working parallel perhaps 75 yards in, I flushed the first bird… Wham! “Damn tree!” Then came a late trailing second shot that stood no chance of connecting. Not daring to look down in anticipation of multiple flushes, I slipped two more rounds into the little auto. But there was never another sight to match the sound of all the flushing wings.
With dogs going wild, the cone of scent lead them into a spruce thicket that for the most part was flooded due to the seven inches of rain the area had gotten the week before. Again not daring to look down, I felt the cold rush of water as I stepped in a pocket that gushed over the top of my right boot. After a few more steps into the wet spruce, I could feel water run down my back. Thinking I should have more brains, I backed out only to find out that both feet were soaked. I skirt the spruce trying to coax the team into the cover, hoping one may flush our way, but to no avail and the dogs sound like they are swimming more than running.
“The hell with these birds, let’s get to the other side of the trail where Kevin flushed the five earlier.” Like mad men assaulting the beach in Normandy (and probably just as wet), we take to the woods to higher ground. Our first flush was 200 yards in; Kev took a 40 yard poke at a wild flushing bird and watched it fly into a deep valley, about a 300 ft. drop. He headed in that direction only to be halted by my protests, informing him that this old weary wet body should not attempt that hike as there were most likely easier birds to be had.
One cover lead to the next and I checked the GPS at about three-quarters of a mile in and decided to swing back towards the road along a ridge studded by spruce & hemlock. As we approached the first set of spruce we had a flush from the far side that resulted in no shot; continuing on, my dog Mr. Buddy popped a bird up from a big blow down. Four shots later Kev remarked he just couldn’t catch the gun up to the bird. Wet and feeling quite defeated, he asked how far away the truck was. A quick look at the GPS and I replied “472 feet,” and we dragged our water-logged selves to the destination of relaxation. Thank God for the heated seats in that Suburban, as the dampness from rain and sweat combined to chill the body to a point that anyone holding an AARP card should stop well short of.
We had previously decided we should knock down the day camp, as sitting in a cold tent sipping scotch may sound like fun at 30 years old but at 55 is not my idea of leisure. We packed the wet pop-up’s canvas in garbage bags and continued on to scout an area on another route, Poor Road, that I briefly hunted back in ’09. Well, after days of rain it was indeed poor, little more than a washed out logging trail. I saw a few promising lanes leading into deep spruce thickets, but the now steady rain and heated seats persuaded us to continue scouting via motor vehicle. When we hit the junction of Rector and Poor Roads, we were greeted by a small lake in the center of the intersection about a foot and a half deep. Rather that turn around we forded the stream and made it just fine. Once on Rector Road we encountered another truck and we pulled to the side of the road so it could pass. When we came window to window the fellow behind the wheel hailed us with a greeting.