Grouse hunting in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania is tough. You have to do homework to find covers at the right age, and even when you do find them, the grouse are often still tough to find. It's no longer the "golden age" of grouse hunting from the turn of the century, a time described in books by George Evans, Frank Woolner or Burton Spiller- about grouse and woodcock numbers that are plain hard to fathom. Grouse are, and always will be, where you find them.
Those days may be long gone, but it is what it is. Its a long walk in the woods, at a wonderful time of year, with nobody around. Most folks I know have turned in their fly rods for archery gear, or revert to watching football on weekends. Nothing wrong with either, but for me, I'm on the endless journey to use every drop of daylight. Grouse hunting is something I plain love, I look forward to the cold, the frost, and the long hikes across ridge. The shots made and missed, pulling on my old torn brush pants and shirt, still stuck with thorns and briars you always seem to "find" at the wrong moment.
I love the gear. From my Stormy Kromer waxed cotton cap, my old boots, and trim, small frame European sxs 20 gauge or Belgium made Browning shotguns, I'm in. all in. There is an air of romance that surrounds grouse hunting in its gear selection.
|Classic combination- Ruffed Grouse, Stormy Kromer and Belgium Browning A5|
And don't forget the dogs. Its an amazing thing to watch solid dog work and be a part of the process.
|Belle, one of the greatest English Setters ever|
We headed off to a cover I rotate in every other year. It has produced birds in the past and it's about that age where it will still hold bird, but on the old side. Another two or three years and it will be outgrown. Right now it's full of Greenbriar, which is always found where grouse are found in these parts.
I gave Chris the log road while we worked the hillside, busting through brush and thickets. "Bird UP!" I hollered as a woodcock thrust through the brush out ahead of me. I raised my gun, shot once and swear I had him. I worked my way over to what I thought was a downed bird and he flushed right at my feet, straight towards me and over my head. Chris was in my line of sight so I refrained and let the bird pass.
|American woodcock and Ugartechea Boxlock 20ga|
Swear words always sound better in the woods, echoing off the hills. Followed by laughs and "Nice shootin' up there!" out of Chris. It's part of the fun. The excellence of the day is the summation of its parts- the woods, the birds, the fun, the friends, the laughs.
We converged at the end of the cut and proceeded to finish this cover with the best part last. I always seem to bump a bird out of this part. Sure enough, we just passed a thicket 25 yards between us and a thunderous flush of a mature bird rocketed out of the cover right behind Chris. In an instant he raised, "BANG" and the bird was down.
.... "Nice shootin' up there!"
We hit another cover, to no avail. A little snow started to fall and we both decided to call it a day. I'd like to say I remember all the trout I've caught, all the birds I've shot, but I know that's not true. But as I sit here and think of grouse hunting, what I remember is the day. Every one of them. The fun we had, the laughs, the jokes, the friendship. The birds are of importance, they command pinnacle of respect, the highest honor in the woods, but the day, friendship and the company is the savored memory.
|RIP , Belle, you were one of the greats|