“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” –Will Rogers
If any of you have read my book or followed me on social media, you may recall that my American Brittany, Misty Morning Sunrise (“Misty”) passed away unexpectedly in March of 2017. That was a tough loss for sure as she was one of the best grouse dogs I have ever hunted behind. I buried her in one of my coverts that I call “the Outhouse” where she first found blue grouse and it quickly became one of our most productive spots. We had a lot of fun days together there. I carved a big “M” on the tree nearest to her grave. Every time I’m up there, I stop and pay a moment of respect and leave her a few feathers from our hunts.
To fill the void in my heart and family, we picked up Rainey Creek Ruff (“Rainey”), a French Brittany in June of 2017. She has been a phenomenal dog from day one and, like Misty, she has come to specialize on ruffed grouse. Last year, she gave me my best season ever on ruffies.
This year started off pretty good with birds bagged, but I fell into a little of a shooting slump the last few hunts (which I know won’t surprise anyone who has read my book . . . lol!). On Friday, September 17th, I left work at noon and picked up my 9 year old son Ben. My wife and the girls were out of town, so we went for tacos at the local taco bus, picked up some treats at Maverick, and listened to good tunes as we headed up to Grouseketeer Ridge. I had that feeling that it was going to be a good day in the grouse woods.
Rainey pointed a ruff not fifty yards from the car, but I could not see it sufficiently to get off a shot. She found some blues up past the forks and she gave me an easy chip shot that I missed twice. I call those missed opportunities “groaners” for obvious reasons. We hunted up to Dusty’s Nub, the high point above timber, and moved no more grouse, but I pointed out to Ben where Misty had found three blue grouse a few years back and gave me a nice shot and retrieve. When I walk my old coverts, I can’t help but think about my bird dogs who have passed on. They are always close to my heart.
After a short break on Windy Ridge, we headed back to Grouseketeer Ridge and Rainey found and pointed two blue grouse in an alder thicket, but I had no shot in the thick timber. I felt a little discouraged by earlier blowing my best opportunity, but the hunt wasn’t over yet.
“Benny, let’s drive down to the Outhouse and see if we can find a few birds down there. We can stop and visit Misty’s grave while we are up there.” I suggested.
“Okay dad,” he responded.
Ben and I hunted up the narrow valley leading to the Outhouse, but we moved not a single bird. I knew that meant we’d have to hike all the way up to the Top Shelf, which is another mile up the canyon after it forks to the left. On the way, Ben complained a little about sore feet, but I told him we were almost to the sweet spot, a chokecherry thicket next to a small spring. Sure enough, Rainey immediately found birds. She pointed a few that flushed into trees and I got off a shot on one that flushed hard, but missed. Benny was ready to call it quits, but I plead with him to go just a bit farther so we could reach the Top Shelf. I fully expected there to be some birds up there.
Fifty yards up the trail, we reached the Top Shelf and Rainey bumped a blue grouse and I gave it the two-barrel salute. I scolded Rainey and told her to “Stop bumping birds!” I had to give that same lecture to Misty a few years back. Rainey listened and she soon pointed a ruffed grouse that held nicely in a chokecherry cluster, but presented no shot.
She went a few yards up to another thicket and pinned another grouse between herself and me. When the bird flushed, I swung hard, tugged the trigger, and the bird dropped back into the thicket. Rainey made a retrieve. Notice I didn’t say “nice retrieve” because she denuded the bird of all of its tailfeathers and did not bring it to hand. However, I was not bummed at all because I had just got the slump monkey off my back.
With one bird in the bag, I told Ben we could head back to the car and assured him it was all downhill from there. As we headed down, Rainey found a ruffed grouse that blew past me faster than any ruff I have ever seen. I missed it twice as I spun on my heels to get off my shots. Honestly, I did not feel one bit of shame for missing that fiery comet. You have to respect them as they will burn your biscuits!
“Let’s stop and leave a few feathers for Misty.” I suggested as we hiked back down toward the Outhouse. “Okay Dad, that sounds like a good idea,” Ben responded.
Rainey continued to hunt as we made our way downhill and as we approached Misty’s grave, Rainey’s bell suddenly went silent in the quakies to the right of the trail. Before I could turn toward her, a mature ruff ripped out of the cover and barreled directly toward Misty’s grave. I instinctually raised the gun and snapped off a shot dropping the bird not four feet from Misty’s grave.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe this was a coincidence. I think this was a little love from Misty on the other side. During her life, Misty had this uncanny ability to make grouse flush to give me a good shot. For the most part, Rainey had been pointing birds all afternoon and I was getting no shots–or tough shots–in thick timber. Maybe Rainey was channeling Misty at that moment because this bird flushed, giving me the perfect fleeting shot.
Ben and I stopped to pay our love and respects to Misty at her final resting place. Of course, we thanked her for helping us get this awesome ruff to end off the day.
Every time we go into the grouse woods, we hope for special things to occur: A stellar point, a plethora of birds, or a few good shots. But sometimes something truly magical happens. This was one of those times. Thanks Misty!