Lots of folks are out now with their bird dogs enjoying pheasant, woodcock and/or grouse hunting. Woodcock are often bagged as an incidental to the main bird hunt, when they flush in front of the dog.
Larry Mock, whom I mentioned in a column a couple weeks ago is a local dog breeder/trainer, whose Setter, Major recently won top honors: VersatileChampion at the trials of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.
The top dog trainer in Pennsylvania, Curt Frye who owns Slamming Point Kennels at New New Brighton, PA, trained Major. Frye has also earned top awards for his training prowess and so when Mock obtained the puppy, Major, he retained Fry to train him.
Photo for the Mirror by Shirley Grenoble
Champion dog trainer Curt Frye poses with Major, who recently won top honors as Versatile Champion.
But the most impressive thing about Curt Fry and Linda and Larry Mock is the time and services they donate to youth hunts. Many a youth in this county has hunted pheasants and chukkar behind Major and many of Fry's own dogs at various youth and disabled hunts around the state.
There is no doubt that a well-trained dog is worth its weight in gold when you go afield. Not many have dogs just for grouse hunting anymore. As for me, with or without a dog, grouse hunting simply frustrates me.
Grouse flush with that loud whirr of wings that always - even though I know it is coming - startles me so that in the first 2 crucial seconds, I flinch instead of shouldering the shotgun and getting off the shot. I consider myself hopeless as a wing shot. I am much better at stalking and ambushing than jumping things up and getting off a good shot. Oh well.
In my opinion grouse is the king of game birds for the table. The flavor of grouse is exquisite as is the sight of those purists who hunt grouse exclusively. I know a few of this type and they belong with the flyfishing purists. The finest shotguns grace their cabinets and vests and regalia identify them as the elite they are.
The Grouse's feathers are detailed and distinctive and beautiful and anyone who even sees a grouse in the woods is blessed indeed. If you can bag a couple for the table, you have been twice blessed. As for me, I seldom bag one. When I finally get the shotgun to my shoulder the bird has darted around a corner so I definitely need a gun that could shoot around corners.
I recognize good grouse habitat when I see it. They love briar tangles, grapevines, thick aspens and dogwoods and second growth bushes and trees that provide them the buds they love to feed on. I've often watched grouse hop from limb to limb picking off buds in the treetops while I was on archery stand. A hunter's radar alerts him when he is near a grouse haunt.
Like all birds, grouse love insects and worms and they spend most of their time on the forest floor looking for them. One thing you will notice if you are ever lucky enough to go grouse hunting with one of the purists: he knows where the good places are and he seldom spends time looking for grouse anywhere else. He hikes quickly from one spot after he has hunted it thoroughly to the next, wasting no time in the "barren" woods between spots.
One on the fringes of a good grouse habitat, the hunter zig zags through it, slowly, stopping to wait and watch since grouse, like other game birds, will hold tight and let a hunter go by. If a hunter pauses, however, the bird gets nervous and flushes. But my luck is that a grouse always flushes just as I am trying to get my short legs over a fallen log. When I am completely off balance in this effort, the bird zips out with that loud swish of wings, and I am befuddled again. Perhaps more practice would help.
Grouse hunters are more secretive about their favorite haunts than turkey hunters and that is saying something. One thing I've learned though is that flushed grouse don't fly far so if you can see a bird's flight path and head in that direction, you will almost always jump it up again.
Nothing tops hunting grouse with a trained bird dog; if you have that opportunity, you are in high cotton. One thing that will help you in that direction is to join with those of like persuasion that work tirelessly for their favorite game bird, the Ruffed Grouse Society. The society works tirelessly with habitat improvement projects, research projects and the like and you can get a wealth of information about it all by going to their website: RuffedGrouseSociety.org.