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Hook and bullet club - the last chance

In the first 23 days of the 2004 ruffed grouse season we saw three grouse and got one. On the 24th day we doubled those numbers.Evan and I had jumped in the truck for an after work/before supper hunt as the sun was speeding down into the western horizon. We found a dirt road outside of town that has been known to harbor birds and cruised along slowly. Actually it was more like a crawl since Evan was sitting on my lap doing the steering but you get the idea.This was one of those weird cases where you don’t see anything going in but on the way out your luck changes. We did see a pine marten hop across the road in front of us as we headed in but that was about it until we turned around.The clock on the radio hit 6 p.m. and the birds decided it was time to come out and play. The first grouse ran across the road from left to right about 100 feet ahead. If you’ve been in that situation you know the procedure: pull over and stop the truck, open the door and start unzipping the gun case at the same time, then quickly load the gun and unload the dog. Luckily everything went as planned and with the dog leading the way and Evan bringing up the rear we headed up the road. This is where it got to be even more fun. Bayley was in the back of the truck and I don’t think she was looking around the cab when the bird crossed the road. So when she did an all stop and hung a right where the grouse went in, I knew things were going good.As with most golden retrievers, Bayley will fetch darn near anything you throw for her no matter how far you throw it or if the sun is up or not. But she’s had no formal training on bird hunting, whatever she does is pure instinct.We’ve had some nice action in the past with a flush, shot and retrieval that was textbook but I’m not banking on that every time we go out.This time, though, Bayley was on that bird. She even stopped and locked up for few seconds until the bird made a move and she was in the woods after it in a flash. I clicked off the safety and looked for an opening to take a shot through the balsams that had grown thick along the road. The opening was to my right and Bayley was going at the bird from the left so things were lining up.On the first flush the bird went straight up and landed on a branch. Bayley stayed right with the bird and the second flush was my chance to knock the bird down. Seasoned grouse hunters know what’s coming next. The bird flushed directly away from me with a flight path that appeared to be impossible to even see through. Just like that, there it was, gone. We walked back to the truck and reversed the procedure, unloading the gun, loading the dog, zipping up the gun case and getting the truck heading down the road again.Another grouse flew across the road in front of us a short way away but the flight was high and long across a swamp. Bird number two, gone.We proceeded along toward the highway but the daylight was holding on long enough for one more chance. This time it was a ruffling of leaves on the side of the road that caught my eye. I rolled down the window and saw the bird hightailing directly away from the truck.Pull over, load and unload and determine a plan of attack. More out of pure luck than anything else we entered past where the grouse went in the small Norway stand that offered good visibility.Bayley tore off ahead, looping a little deeper in the woods. This worked out perfectly when the grouse decided to hightail it out of there, doing its best imitation of the Road Runner. I was tracking along with the shotgun when the grouse ran right toward the dog and paused just long enough. Bang. We stopped near a small lake and used the tried-and-true cleaning method of stepping on the wings and pulling on the legs, which worked perfectly. A quick cut on each side to remove the wings and we were almost ready for the frying pan. That grouse, which was one of the biggest ones I’ve seen in years, was mighty tasty. The breast was cut off the bone into four pieces, rolled in Bearden Farm’s breading mix and sauteed in butter. A great end to an after work/before supper hunt. Try doing that in Minneapolis.

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