Within the woods of the Chippewa Nationwide Forest, with the late morning solar shining by largely leafless bushes, a beam of sunshine enveloped an English setter named Tyler that was frozen on level.
Ken Taylor, Tyler’s proprietor, was dealing with the canine. Jeff “Cubby” Skelly, an area looking information, was transferring ahead on the left, able to shoot, as was hunter Jim DePolo on the suitable. Jens Heig, one other native information, was watching carefully, as was this newspaper reporter.
After which, precisely what all of us had been hoping for — a ruffed grouse exploded into flight. Solely this one was unseen, flushing by heavy cowl and away from the hunters. Then one other grouse flushed. Then one other. Three grouse in a single spot, and never a shot was fired.
“What an excellent level!” Heig mentioned.
“That was lovely,” Skelly added.
“Nice work, Ken,” DePolo chipped in.
After which Tyler was launched from the purpose, by Taylor’s voice command, to attempt to meet up with one of many birds, or discover a new one, up forward within the seemingly countless thicket of tag alder, younger aspen and hazel bush.
And so goes upland chicken looking within the conventional pointing canine fashion, the place solely birds flushed from beneath a strong level are thought-about truthful sport. If there’s no shot, so be it. The canine work, the pointer’s steadiness and magnificence, are honored as a lot as any chicken within the sport pocket of the Orvis looking coat.
That’s how our day within the woods went final week — a day which started windy, darkish and chilly, with a half-inch of surprising snow on the bottom however noticed a day that was sunny sufficient to soften all of it. One by one, three pointing canines — Tyler, Macey and Gee — did their half time and again, with greater than a dozen grouse flushed and about as many woodcock. However solely a half-dozen photographs had been fired all day, and solely three birds fell.
To those avid grouse hunters, it was nonetheless a day to cherish. Each level is a reminiscence, each grouse a trophy. It’s about carrying historical side-by-side double barrels thought-about useful artistic endeavors. It’s in regards to the camaraderie of Scotch in entrance of a fireside after the hunt and the laughter over who missed what and why.
It’s the method, not the success, that issues most to those guys.
“When you journey round in four-wheelers or vans and shoot them on the bottom, they’re woods chickens,” mentioned Invoice Heig of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish, an avid pointing canine proprietor and grouse hunter who joined us within the woods later within the day. “When you hunt them over pointing canines, grouse are the king of the forest.”
Taylor, of Wyalusing, Penn., and DePolo, of Falls, Penn., drove 1,300 miles to hunt northern Minnesota’s resident grouse and migratory woodcock, that are transferring by the area proper now. They’ve been making the journey every season for practically 30 years as a result of, even in a down 12 months, northern Minnesota has way more grouse than their house state in a very good 12 months.
That they had hunted 5 days at that time of their two-week journey and nonetheless hadn’t shot at a grouse. That they had heard a number of birds flush, and seen a couple of with no clear shot. They usually had some “foot flushes” — grouse they flushed accidentally with out assist from the canine, that are thought-about off-limits. However they hadn’t bagged one but.
“It’s been an excellent journey,” DePolo mentioned.
“Persons are going to assume we’re loopy to drive this far and work this tough” and never fear about what we kill or what number of, Taylor mentioned.
“It’s form of loopy,” Skelly chimed-in. “Nevertheless it’s positive enjoyable.”
“We’re chasing ghosts by the woods,” Jens Heig mentioned after one other pair of grouse flushed that had been unshootable.
There are a lot of methods to hunt ruffed grouse, some simpler and much more practical than strolling mile after mile following pointing canines. Grouse are sometimes seen feeding on trails and logging roads and might be simply swatted on the bottom by hunters on foot or using an ATV and even in a automobile or truck. To every their very own, mentioned Invoice Heig. However that form of capturing diminishes the chicken, and it’s not likely sporting.
By framing the parameters of how, when and the place they may shoot, the hunters have created a sport of ability and problem all centered across the canine as a lot because the quarry. It’s usually a foot race by the thickest tangles within the Northwoods. And the races go all day lengthy. It’s not a sport for the weak of coronary heart or lung.
“That is the toughest technique to hunt grouse, certainly,” Invoice Heig mentioned. “And it’s completely price it.”
As we walked and walked, watching and listening for the canine, Skelly made positive we didn’t get misplaced. He has bushwhacked by these woods for many years. We hunted nicely off the closest trails, following the bell hanging on the canine’s collar. When the bell stopped, the handler — who didn’t carry a gun — would examine a GPS unit that pinpointed the canine’s location.
“She’s 60 yards straight over there,” the handler would say, and our group could be off by the woods as quick as we might. Because the handler moved in behind the canine, the armed hunters would transfer up and forward. If all labored completely, and it not often does, the grouse or woodcock could be simply forward of the canine and flush inside clear shot of the hunters.
As a rule, it’s “higher luck subsequent time.”
“Take a look at that. That’s the entire deal proper there,” mentioned Invoice Heig, admiring a rock-steady level by Macey, a two-year-old English pointer. By no means thoughts that the woodcock she was pointing escaped unhurt. “Wasn’t that simply lovely?”
And off we went once more, following the bell.
Myers writes for the Duluth Information Tribune.