Yesterday, as Sunny and I approached the Royal MacNab–my favorite hunting covert in the world–we found a big snow bank, left by the county snowplow, which blocked our progress. This was the end of the road for Red Ed, my Ford Explorer, but not for Sunny and I. We would hoof it through the deep snow to the quakie-filled draws that held (hopefully) the object of our pursuit: ruffed grouse.
I had in mind a particular place for Sunny and I to hunt. My brother Shawn and I have a favorite spot on the Royal MacNab where it is very likely to find both sharptails and ruffed grouse. In fact, last year, Shawn had a huge ruffed grouse burn him royally in the thick timber. After this experience, he wrote: “I’ll be dreaming of the ruffed grouse that THUNDERED out of that aspen choked draw of the Royal MacNab, without offering me a shot, for years and years to come!“
If the truth be told, I’ve been outsmarted more than once by one (or more) of that bird’s ancestors. In the words of Grandpa Grouse (Gorham L. Cross), I have certainly been tempted to “grudge” (Bill Tapply defines this as: “(v.) — to curse; ‘Grudging is equivalent to putting a ju-ju on a bird. It is a challenge and duly respected by all.'”) those birds, but how can you hold a grudge against such magnificent creatures?
At the top of the draw, Sunny girl became very birdy near an elderberry bush, the fruit of which had been shriveled by the sun and blown about by the wind on the snow. This happens to be right where we always run into this character and there were bird tracks all over. My heart started to pound heavily.
Sunny soon located the source of the scent and struck a stellar point. The picture below does not do her justice. I’ll never forget watching her nostrils flare as she sucked in the mesmerizing scent. As they often do, however, the wily bird snuck out from under her point.
With the intensity of Sunny’s point, I knew the bird had to be somewhere nearby. So I stepped outside the top end of the cover and pushed toward the head of the draw while Sunny worked the cover below me. At the very end of the cover, the bird felt the pinch, flushed not five feet from my position, and gave me an easy shot as he dived back down into the heavy cover. Of course, it took me two shells to get the job done. Honestly, as I smoothed its plumage, I felt remorse for the demise of this gorgeous grouse.
The sun gave a good faith effort to pierce through Winter’s veil all day, but to no avail. Yet, with the thrill of success and the physical exertion, I glowed with warmth as Sunny and I made our way back to the vehicle. I can’t think of a better way to end a season.