Saturday, September 3, 2011

Into the Twilight Endlessly Grousing (a great book by Patrick McManus)

2 Sept 2011

The kids were out of school today and so I took them to hunt for the wild ruffed grouse of NE Oregon. We have some thickets we love to hunt each year, one of them is even named after my black and white springer Maggie. It's her thicket, no matter what the cows may think, she owns it and the grouse shot in there are tributes to her and her love of all things that fly.

We left a little later than I wanted to, but still froze to death on the ride in. A dog, 3 boys and me on one four wheeler has got to be against some law, but we went slow and had a nice time. The first grouse flew up from under our front tire. It was in some grass along side the trail and it "escaped" to the hawthorn thicket a few yards away. We tried to get Cole on it, but the excitement pushed it further in and higher up. In the end Tyler sniped it with the Wing Master. The old 30", full choke barrel, does a number on grouse heads, even at 25 yards. It was a clean kill and a good retrieve by Jesse, once he found it. There was another grouse running around in there, so Jesse had a hard time focussing on the dead bird, but once he realized it was there, the game was over.
We drove on another mile or so and Corey spotted a grouse off the road. We hunted the thicket through finding a half dozen birds. Corey missed the only chance at an adult bird, as it flew just before the shot. Corey vaporized the branch it was on, but only a few feathers floated down from its escape. Cole was the successful on, officially killing his first ruffed grouse, by him self. All I had to do was find it in the tree and then try and explain to him where it was at. Once found it had little chance. A stationary target is in big trouble with the single shot 20 gauge. Cole helped shoot a grouse last year; my dad held the 12 gauge and Cole squeezed the trigger, so it was kind of his bird, but today it was all his.

The next thicket produced a good covey of young birds. Jesse broke up the covey, scattering birds into the trees and bushes. He had a few good ground points, but the grouse scattered so fast off the ground and into the trees, it was hard for him to get a bird held on the ground. Personally, I'd rather the kids shoot them out of trees and bushes. It is safer, because we aren't shooting at the level another person would be at, and the kills are cleaner, with less meat wasted. We practice head shots, and head shots only, on ruffed grouse. Anyway, Jesse had the covey pinned down and they scattered into the brush and trees. I was on the outside of the thicket, walking along the stream. I could see Cole through the brush, and when the covey went up, he excitedly told me he could see one. It had landed right in front of him in a big ponderosa pine. He quickly cocked the hammer, drew a bead and killed his second grouse. His, "I got it" was a very satisfying thing to hear. He was all grins, as was his dad! It was fun, watching him through the brush, and seeing him respond, without help, and kill his own grouse. Dad didn't have to spot it and point it out, his dog put it up, and he did the dirty work.
Corey killed his first grouse of the day right after that. One of the other chicks landed in an adjacent pine, and Corey had to made a quick trail through some thick brush to get there. We pointed it out and off went its head. Tyler showed up right after that and while we were admiring the boys birds, another chick flushed straight away from us. Tyler passed on the shot because he felt the shot wasn't safe to take with us all grouped together like we were; a good, responsible decision! We jumped more grouse at the end of the thicket and Corey missed a chick, flying away from him through an opening across the stream. He swung well but it sounds like he held too far out in front of it. All the other grouse that day were running or flying through thick brush and we just couldn't knock them down.

We stopped for a few photos at the truck before heading home.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Grouse Season 2011

FLASH BACK to Sept 1st, 2010.........Jesse is 10 weeks old and new to the whole experience!

Since the last grouse season, one year ago, Jesse has grown up, putting on 50-55 pounds, moved outside into his luxury kennel, won over the hearts of the family, planting himself firmly in our lives and filling the void we didn't realize existed. Even Kim likes him and allows him in the house, often. All fall I took him out running birds. He has pointed quite a few pheasants, some quail, huns and finally chukar. He retrieved many dead ducks, a dead goose or two, and some other dead game birds in the back yard. He handled them softly and literally begged for more. We played retrieving games, find the bird wing games, and the pointing game. He can't get enough!

At 7 months we hunted chukar together, for real. Not in the back yard, but in the Snake River country. He retrieved 2, one of which I shot over him as he pointed and held for me. He ran the country hard, worked into the wind, pointed many birds, flushing most of them, and loved it! I worried at the time it was a wasted day, the fog was horrible, cutting visibility to 25 yards at times, and he ranged big, pushing birds and hunting for himself. I knew he was young, but the work we'd done together, and the progress he'd made convinced me it was time to experience the real deal. I didn't expect to shoot anything over him, but his range was bigger than I'd anticipated and he wasn't holding on live birds like he did on the wings at home.

After a few hours of frustration I doubted my decision to bring him was the right one, but then I flushed some birds that were above me, Jesse was below, not even near them, so I swung, shot, and killed an adult bird. Jesse made a 60 yard track and a short retrieve; suddenly life had purpose and he gained a small understanding WHY he existed and WHY we were there that day. As we climbed out of that small drainage and onto the rim that capped the next ridge THE POINT happened. It was awesome! Suddenly he was crouched low, tail erect, his muscles tense, his nose extended, pointing and focusing his whole being on the sage brush in front of him. He let me walk to his side, the bird flushed, low and fast, cutting down, trying to escape the sting of lead, as Jesse held, strong and firm, the kill was quick and clean. On my command Jesse finished what he started, tracking the dead bird to its final resting place and ultimately making another short retrieve.
It had all come together, the instinct that had been selected for and refined by the master breeders of Germany, passed down through the generations of dogs that make up his lineage, expressing themselves, that day on a steep, rocky hillside of the Hells Canyon area on a bird native to the Himalayas. The natural ability coupled with backyard basics had produced the desired effect.

At 9 months we journeyed to Pilcher Creek Reservoir and he participated in the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test scoring a 107 out of 112 and earning a prize ONE. His only fault was on the water retrieve......he was a little skittish about the cold water, but entered and retrieve the dummy as required, but it cost him a perfect score. The highlight of the test was his 500 yard track and retrieve on a live pheasant (they had removed the flight feathers) at almost full speed. I gave him the pheasant to carry, after I disposed of it, and he carried it proudly for all to see; you'll see that same pride today in the videos I shot of his grouse retrieves.

September 1st, 2011, The Opener
La Grande School District started early this year. For as long as I can remember we started after Labor Day, but with budget cuts nothing is as it used to be. So I hunted this morning with my dad; the kids were in school. They have tomorrow off so we stayed away from the "honey hole" until the kids can hunt tomorrow.

We drove some roads we have seen lots of grouse on in the past. Jesse was in the back in a kennel and we didn't let him out until the grouse were dead. He hasn't hunted grouse at all, and the ones I've put him on he has flushed, so I wanted dead birds and retrieves, not points; those will come later.

The first grouse flushed off the road and landed in a tree. It was a young ruffed grouse and after positioning myself for a legal shot, I toasted it. Jesse was coming apart at the shot, really wanting to get out. He took off the wrong way, initially, since he didn't see what was happening. Once I got him lined out, he hit scent and the game was over. The video just shows the retrieve.

Dad was sure he was down there eating it, and honestly, when he said it I worried a little myself. The good news is, he didn't eat it............I do think he pointed it when he first found it and that is what took him so long to get it, and he loved the experience..........he's a very birdy dog.

The big blue grouse was in a small covey. They moved off the mountain road quickly, through the trees. Once I got on them I had to make a tricky shot, through fairly thick cover, to hit the one when it flew (thank goodness I was shooting the long barreled Wing Master). Dad let Jesse out after the shot and he immediately hunted up another grouse I hadn't seen. I was paying attention to one in a tree and so like a dummy I wasn't watching the dog. I heard the flush, but couldn't tell if Jesse bumped it (flushed it), or if he even pointed, so I let it fly. I was trying to get him to the last spot I saw my dead grouse when it fell while I keeping an eye on the tree I was sure held a grouse (it ended up being the wrong tree). Jesse found the dead grouse about the time the treed bird decided it needed to make its escape, I sent it on its way with a load of 6's behind it. I quickly put the gun away, grabbed the camera and filmed Jesse prancing with it for me, dad and the camera. The rest of the day was a beautifully bumpy ride through a rare and very unique Western Hemlock grove here in eastern Oregon and huge huckleberry patches. We stopped and visited my original dog's grave (Maggie's) on the way through but didn't see another grouse.