I don’t need fortune and I don’t need fame
Send down the thunder Lord, send down the rain
But when you’re planning just how it will be
Plan a good day for me
Don Williams, “Lord I hope this Day is Good”
Have you ever had one of those years that totally kicks your butt? For me, this past year was a hard trial in so many different ways. To name just a few, last September, I took my son on his first hunt and he lost my favorite go-to shotgun, a Ruger Red Label 20 gauge. We looked long and hard for that gun on more than one occasion, but never could find it. In October, we had to put elderly Sunny Girl down, which was such a hard decision (but I still feel it was the right thing to do). This past winter was the longest and harshest that I can remember in Eastern Idaho (and I’m not much of a fan of winter). And then, just before winter was over, we tragically lost Misty on March 18, 2017. Talk about rock bottom!
As the saying goes: Once you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. Thank goodness for that!
Things started looking up when I committed to purchase a French Brittany puppy, Topperlyn Rainey Creek Ruff (“Rainey”), last Spring. Picking her up in Montana in June and bringing her home was such a salve to my wounded heart. Late July, we started to look for birds and I also took her fishing with me. She proved to be a good companion afield and astream (albeit a little hard-headed at times), but we struggled to find birds.
Opening day, August 30th, we found a small covey of ruffed grouse on Grouseketeer Ridge, which I pursued, shot at, and missed. To my delight, Rainey was not gunshy at all and helped me flush a second grouse which presented no shot. We could find no other birds on the ridge, the Nub (the mountain peak above Grouseketeer Ridge), Windy Alley, or even down in the Outhouse Covert below. In years past, we have always found birds in these coverts, but the harsh winter obviously had taken its toll.
On Saturday, September 2nd, I took Rainey to another favorite grouse covert, Grouse Springs. Rainey found a covey of ruffs near the springs in the thick quakie foliage, which–try as we may–presented no shots. She later found a covey of three blues up near the top of Sunrise Ridge, which I think she may have pointed (but she points everything including grasshoppers, butterflies, mice, cows, cow turds, rocks, etc.). I shot at one of the grouse, but missed. Rainey and I pursued another blue that landed not too far away after the first flush. It got up again, but I whiffed the shot. I was struggling with the Ithaca NID, not knowing where it was shooting or getting to the back trigger in time. Fortunately, we found a ruffed grouse in the last quakie patch on our way back to the car, and I took it with my second barrel–our first ruffed grouse together.
Labor Day, we hunted some unfamiliar turf with friends and Rainey found a covey of sharptails at one place (which season was still closed) and two ruffed grouse at another locale–one that she pointed and one that she bumped. I didn’t have any shots that day.
Then, on Saturday, September 9th, we found the proverbial break in the clouds. My friend, Matt Tower, and I headed to Grouseketeer Ridge hoping to find a few birds. Matt and I walked almost the whole ridge pointing out where we had seen birds so many times before. And then, as we got to the last switchback before the logging road cuts through the ridge, I noticed a big blue running on the ground below the tall, dark pine trees above the old logging road. Rainey had seen it too and was already headed in that direction.
“There’s a grouse!” I stated excitedly to Matt, “We better hustle up the road because Rainey is going to push it our way.”
Just as I expected, Rainey flushed the grouse across the logging road and it headed for a tall pine tree on the downhill side of the road. I missed with my first shot, but, without even conscientiously thinking, hit the back trigger and thumped the blue before it made to the tree. Matt shot a split second after me and hit it too.
“Good job Rainey!” I praised as she came to see what all the ruckus was about.
I was so elated that we got Rainey’s first blue grouse (and with my back trigger to boot). As I held the big blue, Rainey jumped up a few times and plucked mouthfuls of feathers from it. She too was exited. Rainey is going to be a great grouse dog.
As Matt, Rainey, and I hunted up to the top of Dusty’s Nub overlooking the Snake River plain below, I reflected on the many trials of the past year. From this majestic view, things were definitely looking up.