I don’t think words can explain the excitement we feel when a season opener is upon us. Our minds are spinning thinking about plans, birds, gear, dogs, and you can’t forget about work! It was a relief when I finally picked up my dad and pointed the truck north. We were only three hours away from our shack and the next morning we would be out in the woods chasing Mr. Ruff.
Morning came quick so we had a good hearty breakfast and headed out to our favorite covert. It happens to be a Ruffed Grouse Management Area and it has a nice trail with good cover. The trail runs a couple of miles and provides plenty of opportunity for a couple of hunters and a few dogs on the ground. I was excited to get my new pup, Surly out so we put both Surly and Stella down along with my dad’s Shorthair, Gemma.
We were about an hour in and we still hadn’t had a bird contact. I didn’t want to overwork Surly as he is only 16 weeks old, so I turned to head back and my dad continued on with plans to meet back at the truck for lunch. Not long after I turned back, I heard the report of my dad’s 16 gauge and my spirits were lifted. Shortly after that, Stella’s beeper started going off so I made my way to her in the thick woods. Luckily for the woodcock that she was pointing, the season wouldn’t be open for another week. Stella continued on to point five woodcock in the next half hour. I was excited to get some bird work and was hopeful that Surly would find one.
We continued on and finally ran into a few grouse. Stella was not on her game that morning, she bumped three birds on the way back to the truck and I was able to bag one. I had broken the ice on the 2014 season. Once we made it to the truck, I kenneled Surly and wanted to check out another nearby trail that I hadn’t hunted before.
Stella and I walked down the road to the trail and Stella went into the woods on a scent and flushed another bird. We got to the new trail and the cover looked promising. Stella must have thought she was some sort of flushing breed because she went on to bump five more grouse in the next hour. We headed back to the truck for lunch and I marked the new trail on my GPS for a return trip sometime this season.
My dad was back at the truck and reported that he had seen around eight grouse but was unable to connect on his shots. We enjoyed lunch and rested the dogs a bit before we continued our hunt. We were parked right at the beginning of another trail and a couple of 4-wheelers passed us so we waited a half hour or so before we let Surly out to hunt the trail. Since this trail is a known producer, I wanted to hunt Surly on his own to give him a chance to find his first bird. What we saw halfway down the trail was slightly concerning. Right in the fresh 4-wheeler tracks was a big paw print and it was much too big to be Surly’s. This was definitely a wolf track and the wolf had been there less than a half hour ago.
Luckily Surly wasn’t ranging too far out of sight and I was running him with a bell so I had a good grasp on where he was located at all times. We continued hunting and began walking on a side trail. Surly was about 20 yards in front of us when he locked up on point. I walked forward and heard a noise and saw movement to our right. It appeared to be a rabbit so I let my guard down, as I took another step a grouse flushed, I pulled my gun up but was too late on the draw. Just as I let my gun down, another grouse flushed. I stood in disbelief. Surly had just pointed his first and second grouse and I didn’t get a picture to capture the moment and more importantly, I was unable to reward him for a job well done. If there is any consolation, I was able to witness the whole thing and have the memory of him on his first point.
The fire had been lit and Surly was off to the races. He stretched out searching cover for the next grouse. Before we made it back to the truck, Surly had taken a sharp turn off the trail and worked his way in about 40 yards. His bell went silent so I started in after him. I only made it a step or two before I heard the unmistakable sound of a grouse flushing. Surly found and pointed that grouse making it a total of three birds pointed in an hour or so.
By this time we were all pretty well worn out. We decided to drive some new roads and scout out new coverts. We walked a couple short trails with no success and decided to head back to the shack for dinner.
Sunday morning, we continued looking for new cover. We spotted a thick aspen stand a couple hundred yards from the road. We found a good place to walk and unloaded all three dogs. The trail leading to the aspen cut looked promising and I was surprised we hadn’t had a bird contact. The trail led to a clear-cut surrounded by aspen. My dad chose left so I headed to the right with Stella and Surly.
By the time I thought to myself we should have seen a bird by now, Stella locked up on point. The bird flushed before I could get to her so we continued hunting. I was watching Surly work when he hit scent and flushed a grouse. Just after that another bird flushed wild 30 yards ahead of me. It was utter chaos and I was enjoying it thoroughly. Stella had locked up again and continuing her form, she bumped this one as well. After that, things settled down a bit but the dogs were working and I was working equally as hard bushwhacking through the cover. We came upon some low ground and Stella pointed a few woodcock. It was a good thing that I had a GPS because between going after dogs on point and trying to keep up with Surly, I had myself good and turned around.
I made my way back to the clear-cut to get my bearings and to see if I could meet up with my dad. I saw him off in the distance and waited for him to come over. We both headed back into the cover and worked the same woods on the way back out. We got into some more birds and we both took shots at a grouse that flushed out over the trail and over our heads. In total, we only had one grouse in our game bags while we flushed 10 grouse and 7 woodcock in the covert.
The dogs needed a break so we scouted a bit more before heading back to the shack for lunch. We headed back out to the woods for one last walk. We chose a cover we hunted last year and saw good bird numbers. With all of the foliage still on the trees, we missed our turnoff but continued hunting the trail we were on. Some sections looked promising while others looked too old to hold birds. Stella, staying true to her form locked up on the trail 40 yards in front of us and busted in to flush yet another grouse. With the dogs showing signs of tiring, we turned back to the truck. As we were resting, a grouse flushed out of a tree right next to the trail we were on. Neither of us was quick enough to get a shot off. Shortly after that, another grouse flushed from a tree but made a deadly mistake and flushed across the trail. I pulled the trigger as I swung on him and Stella made a nice retrieve.
With the increase in drumming counts this spring coupled with the heavy spring rains, the bird numbers were in question. The three birds that I bagged were all young birds indicating that the hatch was successful. We saw good bird numbers all around so I have high expectations for the year. I ended the weekend frustrated with Stella’s bird work. She bumped nearly every grouse that she encountered. On the other hand, she handled the woodcock like a seasoned bird dog. Hopefully the birds taught her a lesson and she will improve her pointing on grouse in the coming hunts. I couldn’t be happier with Surly. He worked hard and searched cover. On top of that, he had a number of bird contacts and gained his first points on wild birds. Woodcock opens this coming weekend and I’m excited to get out and hopefully bring home a mixed bag.
Best of luck to all of our followers as this season begins. Stay safe and shoot straight!