The first time I met Jay, I was pulling into the driveway of his Michigan cabin. He walked up to the truck with his two setters, Ruthie and Georgie, bourbon in his glass, and an unforgettable smile on his face. The campfire in the background was surrounded by a handful of other grouse hunters.
Jay and I first connected through Instagram. I could tell from his posts that he values family, grouse and woodcock hunting, bird dogs, and classic grouse guns; we have a lot in common. He extended an invite last spring and a date was nailed down shortly thereafter.
We had five days of hunting ahead of us and we were excited to get a start. We made our introductions and plans for the following morning. I told them about my 11 hour trip over from Minnesota and my quick detour on the way. Before I had left for the trip, I conveniently did some research and noted a couple of spots I’d like to stop to rest and get the dogs out for a quick hunt. It rained the whole day on the drive but I was eager and determined to step foot in Michigan. I laced up my Bean Boots, collared the dogs, marked my spot on the GPS and set off into the wet cover.
I was fortunate and connected on a grouse within the first half hour and then I tried a cover down the road and bagged a woodcock over a point by Stella. We put a few more birds up but missed the opportunities. I remember getting a text from Jay heckling me about getting a jump-start on the hunt and urging me to continue my drive. The drive across the Upper Peninsula on Highway 2 is an absolutely beautiful drive. Someday I’ll have to drive it earlier in October to experience full fall colors. Michigan is also home to the famous Pasty and a number of good breweries so make sure to make a couple of pit stops to indulge.
The first morning out, we had quite the crew. We had six hunters and eight dogs so we split up and rotated dogs. We had a great time getting to know each other and watching the dogs work. The habitat is so much different where we were hunting compared to what I’m used to back home in Minnesota. Michigan’s soil is extremely sandy compared to the gravel we have and in addition, they have much more hardwoods than what I’m used to.
The second day, we were down to three hunters, Jay, Sam, and myself along with three setters and three GSP’s. We cut Surly and Stella loose first. Surly locked up on point before we even had our guns loaded. I walked in on his point and walked away empty-handed. We worked through the beautiful cover and Stella ended up casting out and went on point 70 yards off. The three of us converged on Stella and a woodcock shot up. Jay and Sam both let loose and the woodcock dropped.
A little bit later Stella was working a woodcock and finally pinned it at the base of a pine. I’m not sure how Jay picked it out through the cover but Stella retrieved the bird in hand. I was quite pleased with the performance of my GSP’s and the fact that they performed since Jay is a setter guy and although Sam has both a setter and GSP, he’s got a love affair with his young setter.
We hunted behind Sam’s two dogs and it was a joy watching them work the cover. Gus, Sam’s young setter has some serious fire. He has field trial blood and absolutely flies through the woods; it’s exhilarating to watch. At one point he was crossing in front of us and slammed on point. We were eager to shoot a bird for Gus but even more eager to get a picture. Unfortunately, we didn’t accomplish either as I was unable to get a picture before the flush or in position for a shot. We didn’t let that mistake happen again. Sam was able to kill a woodcock over Gus later in the week.
One afternoon, we put my two GSP’s down with Jay’s setters. We weren’t sure what to expect and I think we were all surprised that we had a productive hunt. At one point, Surly casted off to the left and went on point. We all marched over and Ruthie and Georgie both honored Surly’s point. As you can imagine, it was complete chaos when the grouse erupted.
Both Sam and I missed but luckily Jay and his setters were able to follow-up on the bird and put it in his vest. It was quite the site to see in the grouse woods! At the end of the day, we had a full moon and migrating woodcock flying over our heads as we toasted the hunt with some great bourbon.
Hunting behind Jay’s setters is an excerpt you could pull out of a classic grouse book. They are the type of dogs you see in grouse paintings, tri-colored setters quartering through the woods as a deadly team.
While the dogs performed well, we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain. I remember one of Georgie’s points like it was yesterday. We were climbing up a hill and she went on point just out of sight. We came up on her and questioned whether or not a bird was there. We made the same mistake as we did with Gus. We decided we should take a picture. The flush caught us off guard and the bird escaped unscathed. The three of us stood around dumbfounded and with empty barrels.
We had rain forecasted for one day so we decided to head up to Fieldsport in Traverse City. They have a nice inventory of double guns and Jay had a couple of coverts to hit on the way. We had Surly and Stella along and ended up getting into some flight birds. Jay had a great shoot and bagged a couple woodcock while I struggled with every ounce in my body. I missed a few woodcock and when I finally connected on one, I only wounded it. Jay and I searched along with the dogs until Surly relocated the bird. I walked up and flushed the bird. My gloves were wet and slipped on the safety so it never disengaged and I wasn’t able to fire. Luckily Jay backed me up and brought down the bird. Jay was determined to get me a bird for the day so I reloaded with shells back at the truck and we hopped across the road. We had more points and a couple of birds never offered a shot opportunity. I finally flushed a bird that flew across a clear-cut. It was the best shot opportunity I had all year. I centered on the woodcock and pulled the trigger. Instead of the normal gunshot, all I heard was a click. I broke my gun opened and to my surprise, my gun was empty! I emptied my gun at the truck when I filled up with shells and never loaded my gun again. The woodcock beat me that day.
Each evening, we retreated to grouse camp; we enjoyed phenomenal food including a woodcock strata, woodcock pate, and pheasant chili. The dogs lounged in style as the guns were cleaned and the day’s hunt celebrated with choice bourbon and beer.
I hated to leave for home but all good things must come to an end. Someday, I’ll be heading back to Michigan to team up with Jay and his setters.
“Much of the pleasure of shooting is what accompanies it and sharing it all with a good friend.” – George Bird Evans