Monday, December 18, 2006

Looking for a capper

With barely two weeks left in the Michigan deer and small game season, I'm now in search of putting a cap on a fairly successful season.

A grouse or a ringneck pheasant would do nicely.

So with that in mind, Monday, Dec. 18, I loaded up Henry into my Dodge Ram -- the one with 355,000-plus miles -- and headed to the Lapeer public land spot where I flushed a grouse perfectly during the end of the deer shotgun season. (Now that I'm thinking of it, I wonder if same mileage could be applied to my springer? He's logged plenty in our 13 years of travel over the ridges in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and deep into the Michigan swamps.)

What began as a quest to put some native white meat into the fryer turned into an appreciation day.

Had to after the way the hunt started. Right off the bat, barely five minutes out of the truck, I landed myself into a marsh where the water was knee-high in spots. I immediately fell victim to a soaker. Full-on, swishy-squish from the left big toe up to my knee. Nothing kills a late season bird gig -- or any gig for that matter -- faster than wet feet.

However, with temperatures in the mid-40s, I didn't feel as bad if it had been 20 degrees and proceeded on with what supposed to only be a quick patridge assault before work anyway.

Into the briers and multiflora-rose tangles I went -- right where birdie was on that November day a few weeks back -- but no one was home.

Being I've been in this thankless bird business going on 14 years, I figured he might have moved on the other side of the hill.

Sure enough, I went over the lip of the ridge on the north side of this layout, into the "real" swamp, if you will, and the bird went up -- thhhpppppppphhhhhhhhtt -- behind my left shoulder and, of course, never in view for a shot.

I was fairly psyched. Most of the time, the flushes come at the end of the sweep, sometime hours later. I call it "doing your homework." Which is where you work one side of a hill meticulously, pushing the bird(s) to the other side or where you expect the birds to flush when you come around. That is just how it is done by this team of one hunter and one dog. Works pretty well if the birds are present. And the shot is true ... we won't go there.

But this flush came after only a half hour. Figuring he would be the only show in town for this quick bird attack, I tried to corral him by heading into the direction I thought he went. Yet, it was to no avail.

I tried a couple of other manuevers around the bowl of the swamp and ended up in amazement at how well Henry could still move in and out of the thick bog of swamp grass and fallen timber. My hat went off to him. Literally. I tried to step around a section of shrubs along the water, and a vine reached up and grabbed my boot sending me into the smelly muck. I somehow managed to keep my Browning out of the swill.

A double-soaker! However, this one was above the waist. Henry meandered by a little baffled at why I was on my backside. I hollered at him to "hup" a minute so I could get back into action.

Don't think that would have done me in, it was nearly 3 p.m. and I was already behind schedule to be back at the truck. So up I came like the Swamp Thing, talking to myself -- "I think what we need is more rain," is what I said aloud sarcastically -- or to Henry just so I can claim I'm still sane. But my voice among the slimy stumps seemed to goad a bowhunter into talking.

"See many birds?" he called out.

"Nope," I said tersely. "Not down here."

I then apologized for not seeing him and promptly saved face by immediately withdrawing from the land Henry so fleetingly tip-toed through with grace and guile.

At 13 years old -- I'm not sure what it is in dog years but I know it's easily over 100 years -- he left me beaming with pride. Appreciating another job well done in what I equate to "hunting with my grandfather."

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