Oh he would have loved to have at it. This was our last hunts of the year.
Went out Monday the 18th and Saturday the 23rd to a state still open to hunting with a buddy and figured I would report on our Appalachian grouse trips.
My wife and I went to pick up my 1 year old lab from my parents and notice a slight limp, of course. We get him home and all of a sudden he will put zero weight on his right front paw, which seems to be my luck with him this first year. I narrow it down to an outer toe on his paw, but cannot see any obvious signs of trauma. My wife says she will make an appointment for Monday afternoon, but because he is a handful I will need to get home to go with her. He unfortunately has to stay home, so we will have no dog tomorrow.
Meet my buddy at 9 to start hunting a couple nice size cuts that back into each other. The conditions were pretty good, wet ground, nice and cool with a good forecast of just overcast weather. Hunt starts great the first cut we are in we have a flush within the first 15 minutes, never saw the bird, but know where he was and know he is now in a creek bottom 800 feet straight down, so he will continue to live. Another 10 minutes later another flush close but I am caught up in greenbriar and do not get a shot. Continue moving on and while trying to get through a massive bramble step over a log and out shoots a grouse from under my foot, scaring the crap out of me. Two quick shots later and I watch the grouse gliding away, theme of the day. Finish the first pass on the first cut with three birds up when, of course we start getting sleeted on pretty heavily, has been that kind of year. We then move on to the next cut which is about 3-5 years younger and more vertical than the first. We start hunting this cut, which means I bust brush while my buddy guards the path and though I run into sign I am not seeing birds. Once I am about to summit to the top of the cut I hear two shotgun blasts. It was a miss of a bird I flushed but never heard, next I hear my buddy yelling to me about the bird. Turns out he did not shoot at first because he said it looked like a Guinea hen all gray then he saw it bank and knew it was a grouse. We then had a discussion about the color phases of grouse, but for the southern appalachains certainly a rarity. Followed up on the gray unsuccessfully then hunted back through the first cut putting up another few birds and with the new snow/sleet cover seeing plenty of grouse signs. We took some shots and watched more birds fly. We then got in the trucks hunted another close by cut that needs another 2-3 years to really be huntable then I headed out by 1 to take the dog to the vet. Ended up with 7 flushes on the half day, especially considering the walk in/out.
Get home to help take the dog in to the vet and the mongrel is not seemingly limping anymore. We get to the vet and by that point it is pretty much not noticeable. The vet says there is some swelling and gives us some anti inflammatory, I decide the dog is a drama queen, but happy he is ok.
Last hunt of the season. Forecast is intermittent rain, but I have the pup this time! Head to the same cuts we had luck seeing birds on Monday as we really want to make sure the dog gets into some birds. When we arrive there is a solid layer of crusted snow on the ground, perfect for making sure the grouse are nice and jumpy. Our first pass turns out to be a complete bust, not seeing a single bird where we flushed three the week before. Good news is however, after we get to the end of the first pass the snow has started to soften in the warmer air and we have not yet been rained on. We start hunting the younger cut and are now seeing tracks in the newly soft snow. We surprisingly do not move anything at first when we come out of the thick and meet my buddy on the trail. We turn a corner and a bird blows out, a runner we pushed down from the top, then another. Neither we get shots on, but the dog now looks like he is on illicit drugs he is so fired up. The dog and I jump in the thick stuff again and he starts working the cover and I can tell there is another one around somewhere. All of a sudden I hear the bird take off near the dog, too thick for me to shoot but I hear two shots and confirm that our streak of miserable shooting is still in tact. Next we move to an area that is old dead mountain ash that is now filled with greenbriar, barberry, and occasional crabs. As soon as we get in the thick of it the dog again gets fired up, although it is tough moving. All of a sudden I see him dive into a big tangle and hear the bird. Unfortunately the bird went out of the cover across a massive log landing and right by my buddy, another two shots and another living bird. While that bird was flushing I tried to jump into a better position and only proceeded to put 4 huge cuts into my neck, the longest over 6 inches long and deep, had a really important meeting on Monday too. Now I am bleeding and we are 0 for 4 on grouse. Back to the older cut and we just start having flushes all over, easily 8 birds up and plenty of expended shells by noon. We go back eat and regroup and proceed to get rain for the next hour and a half. Normally that would not stop me, but I wanted to rest the pup some and my buddy is not as psychotic as me so we sat in the truck. We went and checked a few more cuts, but they were a little past prime so we ended back in the same prime cut we were before. I've already been long winded but ended up putting up some more birds and not connecting on shots I have no excuse to miss. We ended up in the mid to upper teens in flushes but bagged nothing. The dog ended up putting on 20 miles per the alpha and was still working with gusto ahead of me when we called it a day.
When we got home the dogs back legs kept shaking, I am guessing from exertion but stopped after some time and giving him some food. It was, however, long enough that I was told I over did it with the pup, even though as I told her he still seemed to have plenty of energy. Thoughts on this would be appreciated.