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.

Once we got off the road, we found deep snow that made for tough going for little Sunny and me, but we trudged ahead in hopes of one last encounter with a wild grouse.

Beautiful, long hoar frost covered everything at this high altitude.

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.

It’s moments like these that help me to appreciate Sunny girl. She may not be the best bird dog in the world, but I will say, without reservation, that no dog ever tried harder or loved the hunt more.

Over the years, an old combine has been a favorite place to take pictures of the fruits of our hunts. It seemed only fitting to honor this beautiful bird and this wintery hunt with a quick stop for photos.

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.

As we hiked back to the car, I couldn’t help but reflect on the symbolism of the whole experience. As the big snow bank had marked the end of the road for Red Ed, this hunt marked the end of the road for our grouse hunting for a season. Ol’ Man Winter will soon be in total control.
However, the sun’s faint attempt to shine through the clouds reminded me that just as suredly as day follows night, spring follows winter and fairer days will come again. Sunny and I will be together in the uplands again next year. Memories like these give me the hope, patience and wherewithal to wait for such future days.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, my friends!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Sunny certainly is all heart and a good bird dog! Love the photos and the prose brother! That grouse holds a special place in my heart! Congrats to the victor!

  2. Andy W. says:

    Shawn, That grouse holds a special place in my heart . . . and in my stomach too. I just made up a new recipe to die for: 1. Filet the grouse breast and cut into small strips. 2. Place into a bowl. 3. Put in a dash of cooking oil (olive oil or other oil). 4. Sprinkle with black pepper. 5. Sprinkle with Garlic powder. 6. Give a good sprinkling with Lawreys Seasoning Salt. 7. Give a couple douses of Tabasco sauce. 8. Add a little lemon juice. 9. Cut up a quarter of a vidalia onion and add to the mixture. 10. Cook the grouse strips and onions in a frying pay or on a skillet on high heat. Do not overcook! This is a cardinal sin wild game bird cooking. Grouse do not have salmonela like chickens so you don't have to cook them so darn long. Then enjoy with great relish!!!Andy

  3. Merry Christmas, old friend!What a lovely way to end the season. How did you ever walk through all that snow? I would have been stuck in the first ten feet.I shot my last ruffed grouse over ten years ago in Minnesota. There is nothing like them.

  4. Ben G. says:

    What a great hunt congrats on getting a bird. Sunny sounds like she is a great dog to hunt with. I only got out grouse hunting once this year and it was way too early and we couldn't get any shots off. My pup had a good time and did allright for her fist hunt.

  5. Andy, Very cool write up!! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Andy W. says:

    Thanks for your comments guys. This hunt is definitely one I will remember for a long time. Hope you all have a Merry Christmas. Andy

  7. Dual Setters says:

    Good bird Andy. Nice way to end the season. Ruffs have a way of touching a soft spot in you don't they. I think its that loner in the wilderness thing or maybe the way they look at you when flushed from close up. Enjoy your bird and Merry Christmas.

  8. Dale Hernden says:

    Nothing better than a hunt with just you & your dog! Great Post

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