Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wrong turn in Gladwin County

"I think he's done," I told the vet after stepping through the clinic door.

The vet looked skeptically at Henry, my 13-year-old springer spaniel, and asked him, "Is that right, you're done?"

He had me cold.

"I'm not ready to part with him just yet, mind you," as I changed my tact, "but he's just acting mopey and limping around."

Of course, this was in addition to having a recent surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor from his testicles, which was the real reason for the vet visit. To have the stitches clipped.

Anyway, I went on to tell the vet how I went longer in my pursuit of grouse and woodcock than I wanted at one of my most favorite places in the world, a couple of public land tracts in Gladwin County, Michigan.

The rolling popple woods thick with fern floors never fails to produce numerous flushes of woodcock in late September. This, matched with the yellows, reds and whites of early autumn and all the other game -- sandhill crane, turkey, deer, grouse -- that comes through there, makes this area a hunting gold mine.

And Sunday, Sept. 23, the hunting didn't disappoint.

I was done in less than a hour after stepping out of the truck. In fact, I nailed the first bird I flushed. Or Henry flushed. Probably another Henry-Mac tag team, where I follow the liver and white superstar and he circles around in front, putting the panic on the bird cowering low between us beneath the fern leaves. The bird has no choice. He must go up and then get a ride for the rest of the day in my game bag.

And after rapid cadence. Two more went up and two more came down. Three's the limit.

Being I had another two or three hours kill before I had to pick up my wife and kids who were shopping at Birch run, I decided to try add five grouse to the menu. (Yeah, right, I'm lucky to hit one pat.)

I was keeping a close eye on Hen, who seemed to be doing well after an hour and a half in the mid-70 degree heat. He was delicately weaving in and out of the cover like he usually does. His game these days is one of finesse. It used to be shock and awe, where speed and blasting through cover were what he relied on.

The later is much more preferable. Probably the same could be said for me.

I finally had a shot at what I thought was a grouse slipping through the trees 30 yards on the edge of a dried-out swamp.

After marking where I thought I had hit the bird, I walked over to the big, bare popple. Or was it the pine? Hmmmmm. Maybe it was through this opening here?

Yep. I was in trouble. Depending on Henry was iffy now because he had slowed considerably. Not good for sniffing out downed birds.

I realized I was turned around. By the time I reached for my GPS and noted which way I needed to go, it was going on the third hour. Six years ago, no problem. Henry would still be in third gear.

But it wasn't six years ago. He made it to the road through the spongy swamp OK with only a slight delay behind me.

By the time we proceeded down the sandy road in the direction of the truck, Henry was creeping as if he was dog who was 130 in people years. Made for a few pics -- which he's always crazy about doing. Uh, not really. These ones will be special since this might be the last time we're there as an active team.

And with a bear hug at the truck, I had a very relieved dog.

The realization starting to hit me that his could indeed be it. "What am I gonna do without you?" I muttered to him.

Anyway, if you think I'm crazy about my dog. You're right.

Three days after this hunt, with temperatures now near 60, he seems to be coming around. There was more pep in his step while I took him for his moonlight walk.

He would prove me wrong again if he climbs back. I've written this dog off many times before but this time it looked for real.

To wrap up, I will put it like this because there is no other factor more responsible for my successful bird hunting than Henry. Before he arrived into his hunting prime, I never shot a bird.

Doesn't get much more definitive than that for a gun dog.

Long live Henry.

(To see pictures in the near future of our hunt or learn some of our secrets to woodcock hunting, see


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