It's not usually a good omen for a day of hunting when your wife beats you out the door on her way to work. I was tired and unprepared, bumbling around the house gathering gear and making lunch. I should have left hours ago. She was sprinting out the door on nothing but coffee to make the case that an unfortunate Indian fellow was the victim of human trafficking and deserving of what she calls a T visa. As I kissed her pantsuit goodbye, I couldn't help but think the day wouldn't turn into much.
I headed out around 8:15 with our nine month old terrorist-in-residence. It was his fifth grouse hunt, although I doubt he knows that. For him, hunting is like going to the dog park, only better: no fences, first choice of the sticks, and plenty of swamps. I was starting to worry that this dog had no hunt in him, that he was more of a stick dog than a bird dog. Knowing the day was already short, I headed for one of my best covers to put him on some birds. The area is only 1500 acres of so - the better part of three sections - but it's all young aspen and alder, enough for a full day.
A little after 10am, a long while after the road hunters had called it a morning, we headed down the first trail. Now, when we're walking on a trail Sogn often thinks it's a racetrack for repeat sprints. He runs up and back, up and back, until his tongue lolls out the side of his mouth. After about a half hour of this exertion he hasn't once thought about birds, but he's ready for a nap. In an effort to curtail these antics and show him what hunting is supposed to be about, I've been spending most of my time off the trail. Once he's no longer on the racetrack, his leg rpms goes down and his nose and brain sputter to life.
100 yards down the first trail I dove into the brush with Sogn. 200 yards further into the tangle he started spinning in circles. Bird! A single shot brought it down. Good boy, Sogn!
A half hour later, he started weaving and bobbing, following a scent. I got ready to shoot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a prickly, slothlike lump inchworming up a tree.
Sogn, come! For once, he did. Disaster averted. I checked to make sure I still had a pliers for quills in my vest (I did), but I was really glad that I didn't have to use it.
We finished that first trail seeing three more birds, two of which offered a shot, and one of which went in my gamebag. After the first trail the score was Sogn: 2, Porcupine: 0. Good boy, Sogn!
We hunted a few more trails, seeing three birds and bagging two. I had told Harriet I'd call it quits by 5 to be home for dinner with a guest by 7. At 5 we had four birds, one shy of a limit. I hadn't shot a limit of grouse since 1998, and I wasn't doing to walk away from the opportunity just for dinner. After a quick blessing from the homefront, I resolved to walk one more trail.
As we headed out, I slipped a cold Oktoberfest into my vest, just in case this day needed celebrating. I didn't want to jinx it, but I didn't want to be unprepared either.
We walked a half mile down a prime trail that I'd resolved would be the last of the day without seeing a bird. Drat, perhaps the beer in my vest was just a little hubristic.
Up ahead a jack pine had fallen across the trail. I was looking for a way around, wondering if it was even worth it, when Sogn ran full bore straight toward the downed tree. With one leap he was over the tree, and for a moment the flying puppy must have shared airspace with the two grouse who were previously sunning themselves on the far side of that crumbled jackpine. I wanted this one so bad for Sogn; I fired both barrels.
When everything and everyone returned to the ground, the day was done. Good boy, Sogn!