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Alan Briere

Conversation with a Bird Dog

Me: "What? Do you have to go out?"

Gypsy: "Dad, I'm going to leave my chin on your knee all afternoon until you show me the calendar and prove that it isn't time yet. Did you forget to turn the page to the pretty fall foliage picture?"

Me: "No, I didn't. It's not time yet."

Gypsy: "How about Vermont, they open early don't they? I know you got kind of confused over there last year, but you'll do better this time. If you just ask me, I can tell you where the car is if you get lo. . ., um, turned around."

Me: "It's not time yet."

Gypsy: "I'll be right here. Your knee is getting soggy dad."

Me: "It's NOT time yet!"

Gypsy: "I'll be right here dad." (sighhh)

Gypsy: Dad?

Me: "It's not time yet." (sighhh)

                                     Alan Briere

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Jacob Jesus Escape

There is little joy in this August heat, for me. The dog seems to revel in the rhythm of the sun, and smells the hunt coming, but I sneeze in these doldrums...as a semester, a crazed fall semester, comes to roost on my campus. It seems that this human will never learn to feel ahead and cannnot believe more than this heat and this day. I cannot smell Canada like that fool dog, so there is no joy in this August beyond the belief that I may survive its slow ending. There must be joy in this deceit, I must imagine.

Here in hell, the dog lifts my spirit and body. He calls me to work him. He points out the fool hens, the guardians of the trees and the like. He skulks insanely, a desperate clown, lost beyond the play.

I either laugh at that frozen smile or dread those teeth smiling upon the crush of summer, as summer writes the script of death. Stars are hot in the crimp of this technical net, folly and August...and I am more wild than rules in this heat.

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  • 3 weeks later...

from Fall Reflections: Reminiscences of a Wistful Bird Hunter


First Covert: Epilogue

by Steve Masalin

Curiosity bade me into the Church Cover that day.  I grabbed the gun and plotted a course through the areas I best remembered as hideaways of the last residents.  There was no anticipation of an encounter, however, so why the gun?  Out of respect, I suppose, for the countless opportunities this covert had yielded in times long past.

It was indeed a pointless quest.  Even memories of past adventures did not attend.  It was not that I did not cross former paths that bore memorable moments.  It was that I had changed, as well.  My passion for bird hunting had forsaken me.  Passion serves as an essential catalyst for remembrances. Without it, there is no spontaneity of nostalgia—memories lay dormant, aroused now only by concerted effort or invoked in passing among former partners.

Even so, a brief rest at a familiar stone wall stirred reflection.  Of everything, the stone walls remain unchanged.  They rest where, more than a century ago, they lined former fields that defined land use. Decades later they saw the rise of the ruffed grouse and woodcock, as the farm fields, once abandoned, were overtaken by scrub and saplings, bringing cover, shelter, and abundant food.  Stone walls seem to have a special affinity for ruffed grouse.  For many years, these walls provided aid and comfort to them as they scurried along to feed or to roost, or simply to loiter in the sun.  How many grouse passed by this way—how many even tarried at this spot?...


Sadly, in due course the walls saw the fall of the grouse and woodcock, as the cover aged beyond its former suitability to them.  But many corners of the covert still seem not remarkably unlike what they were even ten years ago, and even resemble, in some ways, cover I hunt in Maine that still holds birds.  So is there more to the story?  If the walls could speak, they would explain.  But if there is mystery in this, solving it changes neither the predicament nor the prospects.

At face value, that a patch of cover can be so precisely judged would seem strange to the uninitiated—from an uninformed perspective, even accounting for some variation, woods are woods and brush is brush.  Yet the soul of a covert is found not in appearances, but in what it conceals.  Only those who delve deeply and often enough into its recesses discover and know it in true measure.  Nowhere is this more the case than for a bird cover, since upland species, like ruffed grouse and woodcock, are attracted to it by a most particular blend of favorable attributes.

But in this intimate knowledge, one is ultimately confronted with a grim realization.  There comes a time in a bird cover’s life when, even left to itself, it dies.  Though perhaps marked by an imperceptible point of transition, only a persistent affair with denial would obscure the inevitable signs of succession into decline.  Nevertheless, all serious bird hunters indulge in this type of wishful thinking as cherished bird covers expire.  And the wisp of this loved covert’s last breath had passed, measured in a moment by the departure of its last tenant native.  Now only ghosts remain, few of which happened to meet the gun.

I would have appeared indifferent in this brief diversion, but a touch of melancholy betrayed a personal connection with this place.  Nevertheless, so much has changed; there is no point hoping for a return of even an impression of the covert’s former vitality.  I suppose the saddest reality of all is that in the end a bird cover is not itself a place, but rather only a phase—merely a period in the life of certain places.

Anticipation had left the Church Cover several years ago, and passion had not come with me that day. Without anticipation or passion, curiosity is a lonely companion.  Curiosity needed its release, as well.  What remains when curiosity finally takes its leave?  The stone walls remain.  They have been stoic witnesses to all that has transpired in these woods. They saw me come; they saw me linger for a season, a time marked by many glorious moments.

Now they look on dispassionately as I bid my farewell.

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x Bred Pointer

Ok, the new guy will step up.

Two short stories- one truth, one fiction-you be the judge.

Full Choke Nose

I was hunting several years ago with a friend who had been constantly talking of the great nose his new Brittany puppy had.

It was the first day of woodcock season which happened to be the last day of trout season in NB so we threw in our rods and a few crawlers in case the weather got to warm to hunt.

We were hunting a spot we called the Davis Brook covert and you guessed it, a brook ran through the covert.

The little Brittany got ahead some and we heard the bell stop at a distance. This was before we owned beepers so it took some time to locate her. We found her in about 5 minutes still pointing staunchly at the edge of a pool on the brook.

We couldn't make any game whatsoever and just as we were about to declare it as an unproductive, I noticed a nice sized trout lying in the pool.

After we had a laugh, we finished out the covert and finally took a couple of woodcock.

When we returned to the truck I decided to take a minute and go back to the stream and cast a line for the trout.

I dropped a juicy crawler and Hildebrandt spinner in front of the trout and let it drift down. Bang- a nice fat two pound trout was landed.

We hunted a couple more coverts that day and the bragging continued about the dog's great scenting abilities.

Later that evening as I cleaned the trout you will never guess what was in the stomach of that fish. Thats right-the remains of a half digested woodcock.

Unfortunately I didn't dare tell my friend what I found in the trout as he probably would have nominated the dog for the hall of fame.

Dead Grouse-No Shot

About ten years ago I was hunting alone with my Shorthair, Heidi.

We were hunting a very thick area which had been cut over twenty years earlier and it was thicker than the so called 'hair on a dog's back".

We were nearing a property line where the thicket ended and a mature forest began.

I heard Heidi's bell stop momentarily about 20 yards to my right and a grouse busted out.

I swung on the bird but couldn't pick it to take a shot.

I released the dog and we continued into the mature forest which would eventually lead us to some more productive bird cover.

Suddenly, Heidi slammed into a point at the base of a huge pine tree. This seemed very unusual as I had never seen a bird in this stretch of woods due to its mature nature.        

When I reached the dog, there, five feet from her nose, layed a dead grouse.  

The bird was still warm and there had been no other shooting in the area.

My only explanation was when the bird busted from the thick cover into the mature forest, it must have let down it's guard, looked over it's shoulder, or something. It appears it struck the pine tree at full speed and was killed instantly.

I saw something similar to this several years ago while moose hunting. I spooked a black duck and as he flew accross an open bog he struck a dead tree and fell to the ground never to get up again.

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from Fall Reflections: Reminiscences of a Wistful Bird Hunter


For Old Times' Sake

by Steve Masalin

The passion is absent, but enough of an ember remains to evoke at least a sense of duty to honor the pilgrimage to Maine.  Our advance north brought us well beyond the line of peak autumn color, confirming our hopes that the intense October storm of a week ago had greatly accelerated the defoliation of our familiar destination.  This bode well for visibility in the woods, and, coupled with the anticipation engendered by returning memories, fanned the ember into a soft, but steady flame.

Dennis had been my fellow traveler four years running now, aptly filling a void of fellowship left by others.  But our bird-hunting relationship had spanned some seventeen years.  Those years ago, I had returned to Connecticut after leaving naval service, and as a result was back in familiar territory, having served my first tour several years earlier at the submarine base in Groton.

I began a jump-shooter, and after only a short exposure through Jim and Jesse to hunting behind a dog, I had resorted again to brush-bustin’ and bird-doggin’.  When birds are relatively abundant, young legs and enthusiasm can, in some measure, make up for lack of a dog, but any serious bird hunter would agree that a bird dog is integral to bird hunting—hunting birds without a dog is not technically bird hunting at all.  In fact, the dog work is the heart of upland bird hunting; the shot, though an exciting climax, frequently requiring honed skill, speed, and agility, is only validation.

I met Dennis through circumstances unrelated to hunting.  But when we realized a mutual devotion to bird hunting, we undertook the pursuit regularly as a joint venture.  I have not hunted behind many dogs, and with even fewer dog owners, but of those with whom I have, Dennis has demonstrated the greatest knack for developing a dog to its fullest potential.  When we met, his companion was Brit, a steady German Shorthair.  Dennis was also breaking in a Gordon Setter puppy named Lass, who became, among his dogs, the standard.  Since that time, and as dictated by passings, Dennis has acquired others.  There was Buddy, a stubborn, but stalwart Shorthair.  We are here now with Ginger and Haley, middle-aged Gordons, nearly equal in age, but distinct in personality and style.  And Morgan, a Gordon puppy, is home unaware that adventures in Maine may lie ahead for her.

Our first morning we struck out for Appleton, confident of better hunting there than at the “farm” in Lincolnville.  But it was the farm that proved more prolific this year—a mixed blessing, considering future prospects lie with Appleton.  Development activity had again been the culprit. As we entered the “Pond Cover,” our favorite remaining covert on Appleton Ridge, the signs of irreversible change greeted us.  We came upon a small chalet situated at a critical spot deep in the cover; a mortal wound had been sustained.  We met the owner, who was happy to let us hunt, but a key part of the experience, a sense of liberty and freedom from the constraints imposed by civilization, was lost. This injury was magnified by a dearth of birds.  We did not fare well in Appleton this year.

We knew we would find some birds at the farm, but we face ever-shrinking options there, too.  To compensate, we had developed a surgical approach to hunting the remnant corners, and undeterred, we proceeded—if for no other reason, to settle a score.  The grouse in the strip behind my uncle’s house had eluded us three years running.  In fact, in all the years I have hunted the farm, the “strip” grouse had managed an escape every time.  Of course, over the many years, and even the last three when Dennis was the shooter, grouse have come and gone.  A ruffed grouse is fortunate to live past two years; thus, “the” grouse had actually been several that had been drawn to the strip in their day.

Escape was again our portion upon our first visit.  Haley had worked the bird beautifully, and had given me a solid point and a chance to move in, head up.  I didn’t get the gun fully to my shoulder, and blew a going away shot.  But this, after all, was not my grudge anyway. It was a matter for Dennis to ultimately resolve—the bird, as it had every time before, was to burst out of the strip on Dennis’ side over the blueberry field.  We would be back.


Unlike Dennis, I have never belonged to a hunting club, and thus our mutual adventures revolved around the pursuit of natives.  In the mid-80’s to early 90’s the ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers were respectable enough to keep us occupied in Connecticut, a quest that included Danny and Bob.  For what seems now like a brief season, the bird-hunting paths of the four of us crossed.  In those years, I don’t think there were four more passionate native hunters in all of Southeast Connecticut, from Franklin to North Stonington, Montville to Pachaug.  Because of our zeal, it was understandable that we failed to recognize then that we were witnessing the decline of upland hunting here.  And there is no use now living in denial after so many dry years.  So a lingering desire to pursue natives, to the extent it still abides, has led us north.

Our second hunt in the “strip” was not marked by different expectations than for any previous visit. We were confident of an encounter, and always anticipate a possible shot.  But this time we did gain a bit of an advantage.  On our approach, Ginger kicked a grouse out of thick barberry at the edge of the field below, and we watched it glide into the lower section of the “strip” above us.  Losing concentration is a major occupational hazard in grouse hunting, and thus not being alert for the opportunity, whenever it presents itself.  That would not be an excuse this time.  Dennis carefully hastened to the blueberry field side of the cover.  After giving him time to reposition, I entered the strip at the lower end from the side opposite—Ginger soon joined me.  She slowed, and a mere moment later the bird hurtled up and angled out of the cover into the blueberry field.  I can’t recall ever having heard an emotional reaction, good or bad, from Dennis after a shot.  A single report…“I got it!” Dennis exclaimed in obvious triumph.  Missing a grouse is common; the odds of success are especially low given a quick, low, left-to-right shot like this, which seems particularly difficult for a right-hander.  So, after three years of missing a relatively open shot, the relief and sense of accomplishment were reasonable and understandable.

We had managed to dodge raindrops on this trip, in spite of the forecasts.  Our last morning was dry enough.  We did not equivocate over where we were headed after breakfast.  Appleton held no attraction, and though Dennis had outdueled the “strip” grouse, several others at the farm had eluded us.  Not on this day.  First we outmaneuvered a young grouse above my uncle’s old camp, but not before it had first outsmarted us (in classic fashion).  It let us pass within ten feet, and then instinctively rocketed away when we were helplessly out of position, an outcome we had experienced countless times over the years.  But the bird offered a reflush, which proved its undoing.

We continued up the ridge through the “strip” and into the last stretch of poplars.  Ginger led the way this day.  It was apparent that she had scent almost as soon as we entered the lower end.  Ruffed grouse will not tolerate an impulsive dog; some dogs learn to adjust to this, and respond to grouse scent with appropriate deliberateness.  I can’t recall when I have seen a grouse worked so masterfully. Ginger swept carefully and slowed noticeably several times as we advanced.  After a long cast to the left in the upper end proved scentless, she swung back across us and recovered the trail.  She broke into the field edge and locked on point just below a depression in the stone wall that marked the upper limit of the cover.  We were puzzled—it was obvious that she was tracking fresh scent, and we’d heard no flush.  Perhaps we had simply encountered the lingering evidence of a jumpy grouse, another all-too-frequent grouse hunting experience.  This time, however, the bird had not escaped.  As unusual as it is that a ruffed grouse meanders well into relatively open ground before flushing for thick cover, the grouse burst out of some low poplar scrub in the edge of the blueberry field above us, offering a one-shot outcome.  Or was it one shot?  We offered each other mutual credit as Ginger retrieved her well-deserved prize.

I have thoroughly enjoyed bird hunting, though the enthusiasm for it that once seemed unfaltering is now elusive and undependable.  It has been an eventful adventure, but it is currently marked by more uncertainty than ever before.  To the extent the journey continues, I suppose it is fitting that I round it out with Dennis.  Of all my companions, he has persevered most faithfully and tolerated me best. It is not easy for a bird hunter to endure an impetuous jump-shooter sometimes; I’m sure even he would say the same.  We have been somewhat encouraged by better results in Maine this year. Despite the discouragements of Appleton, we were already talking of next year.  Lord willing—we will return.

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yellow eyes and whiskery chin

an innocent look

hidin a need to win.

it's a great training day

but the glint in the eye

speaks of finding another chance

ole bailey's ass to fry.

bird's in the grass

I'm steady on

he kicks it up

I'm holding fast

bird's in the hedgerow

I got it marked

he's not looking

I'm out of here

but I gotta believe

he's really gonna like

this retrieve...

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Bonding of spirits

 A cold crisp morning and a multiple colored sunrise casting an aurora of pastel light onto a snow dusted sea of grass. To see a two toned GSP gliding from side to side on casts searching for a scent to guide it to its quarry. Then to see the dogs head turn and pace quicken. The dog’s intensity grows as the scent richens. The dog becomes even more intense and then with a stop so sudden, the dog wrenches its body into a point and throws dirt and snow from under its feet. And now you hasten to assist the dog. And you notice the dog is so staunch on point every muscle quivers with excitement and anticipation. You move in front of the dog to hear grass rustle and wings beat. Your heart jumps into your throat. Your shotgun rises and hits your shoulder and boom, you see the shimmering of feathers as a bird plummets to the ground. The dog is sent and brings you the most marvelous of presents to hand. And as you gaze into the dog eyes you see a question, dad did I do good? And with a pat on the head and a good girl you have bonded to a new degree and changed both of your lives forever.

                  Gregg Stevens/ Gselkhunter

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Got this from My brother the day after I lost my hunting partner of 13 years.  Probably one of the best things he has ever given me.  

Toast: to Tonic

It surely is a day of sorrow

when tomarrow she's not there

when the mighty pheasants flush next fall

to the bed mat flat and bare

Oh to those days when in her mouth was the prized bird of the day

and to those days when she'd snuggle up tight

..........................ya...just like that!

What a precious gift we all had to pat that curly soft top

and to see those teeth so bold and white when she saw the great gray mop


For her inspirational memories are etched in the hearts of those she

served so well

To all her efforts, triumphs, loves and snuggles, never mind the smell

"What a dog" will be said by brothers and all forever more

and now with Gin in the shadows tough shoes to fill with this open door

Good by to Tonic, run fast turn sharp, obey the lord, nestle to the harp

Say hello to Wimtim, Molly, Rex, Hikey, Rambo, Bear and Sas

Meet the relatives all hunters of course and fetch the ball with dad in

the grass

We'll see ya soon when our sun sets greet us gladdly..wiggle..talk, (that

we'll never forget)

To you we toast a dog to boast we Love you Ton we'll miss you most.


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Jacob Jesus Escape

It's been hot, too hot and dry for young prairie chickens, and now that they are gone cool rains have come to send the dove away. Sweltering heat followed in the wake of their winging off, halting waves of teal from buzzing down into our early season. It's been hot.

Now two cool days are strung together just after our prairie chicken opener is rained out, so I head to a marsh the next morning, seeking teal and snipe. The air is crisp and the sky a glorious blue.

The dog is bouncing like a fiend and desperate to crash the weedy edges of the fresh clear water, now flooding through the green. I am wearing $3 Vasque boots from the Salvation Army, light wool socks and cheap brushed nylon pants. The bright cool water refreshes our souls.

A multitude of frogs leap about, safe momentarily from those striped serpents less tolerant of these cool tempratures. Safe from the dog, too. He can't seem to catch a one, though he tries incessantly. He continues to pogo about as, by now, we have discovered that there are no birds around. We continue on, dutifully. The dog checks that there are only pods of blackbirds in the rushes, feeding egrets escaping from the cattail edges and a few grebes slinking about. That's it. I try to see what I can see: bullfrogs and bullfrog polywogs with a winter to live through, little leopard frogs squiding around below reflections, various marsh plants, most green and seeding except for the skeletons of flooded fall aster and hemlock. I wade some water that becomes a bit deeper than I'd hoped and take the opportunity to add a bit of my own to the mix. It's not often that a 49 year old kid gets an opportunity to pee his pants!

Anyway, the day is beauteous but the birds aren't there so we trudge back towards the vehicle. The dog's bounce diminishes in direct proportion to our proximity to the SUV. As we reach the lonely parking lot I reach for my keys and remember having to return to the vehicle for a pencil to fill out a wildlife management hunting card. I remember this when I feel that my zippered pocket only has my pocket knife in it and not my keys. They must have fallen out on the seat when I looked through the glove compartment...and I was so careful about zipping my pocket up when I left the second time!

There they are, my keys on the passenger seat. I usually carry a spare in my wallet but I have a different wallet. I also forgot my cell phone in the rush to get outdoors. The dog begins to hunt the edge of the parking lot and finally almost catches a plains leopard frog. I call him off his chase and place him on the gravel as I ponder the situation. I'm not much of a ponderer once something catches my eye and/or fancy. In this case, I stopped thinking almost immediately about trekking towards the pestering of strangers. That would be like asking directions. It's simply not done, which is to say that it's the last resort.

I've had a massive crack shooting across my windshield for the last year and a half. It was joined by a lovely sliced pie star several months ago, with a couple of little rock crack planets orbiting around it. I figured it was time to replace that windshield. I also figured I wouldn't be arrested for vandalizing my own vehicle. There was no temptation to defraud the insurance company influencing my decision, due to my high deductible. I simply needed a bit of stress reduction, a new window on the road and to get home and clean the poison hemlock sticktights off of the dog. I was seeing this more and more as a win/win gambit, as I combed the gravel lot for a good sized rock. I quickly found a chunk of concrete on the edge of the parking area and without much hesitation sent it rocketing towards its mission to the pie star. It was a powerful and perfect hit so I was a bit surprised to see that, though the center third of the glass was shattered into a lovely mosaic of destruction, there was no penetration. I quickly learned how resilient and sharp a shattered windshield can be. Good to know! I then got a stick and worked it into the window's wound, twisting it until I thought I'd created a gap big enough to reach in and press the rear window release. No go. The sharp glass' wound seemed to be healing itself. A few more seconds of thought were required before I spied my antenna which, thankfully, was not built into my windscreen! It seemed just long enough for a bit of key ring fishing.

Indeed it was and we were quicky winding our way home...only fifteen miles of suffering through a miniature, glassy meteor shower from the destroyed pie star! Sure wish we had some birds for dinner.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The ruffed grouse may be the king of game birds, but for me woodcock represent every aspect of what upland gunning should be.  Pursued at a pace I find more pleasureable with each passing year, woodcock offer everthing I look for in favorite coverts and how much better the expereince when shared with an acquaintences of like mind.  I problably shouldn't be drawing any more attention to woodcock shooting than it already has, but speaking to this group, I hardly think I am telling you something you don't already know, yet I hope you might enjoy the story.

Where you find woodcock...their tendency to hold for a pointing dog...exlposive yet delicate flushes with equally delicate sound effects...its' challenge as a target and ultimate joy as table fair, each contribute to the objectives we seek as upland gunners.  Why this small bird is so perfect a representative for the uplands cannot be stated better than that - at least by me.  It is so perfect that those of us dedicated to its' pursuit should feel regret whenever we accepted them, dead, from soft mouths.  GBE asked, "How can we love a bird and still kill it?"  His answer was somewhere in what we owe to our dogs and to ourselves - both destined by breeding and blood to hunt - to seek, find, and bring to bag as ethically as possible.

A recent afternoon in near perfect woodcock coverts has me yet possessed by this charm.  The birds were there, flight birds as I assumed by their numbers.  The dog work was superb, at least by my standards, and my shooting was better than average.  A friend, new to the pointing dog experience, shared the day with my son and I and to watch the delight of discovery in his eyes only added to ours.  Who of us could not appreciate a setter coursing the dogwood and hawthorns, oblivious to our directives, proving time and again that he knew better where to find the birds.  The "pop" of light guage double guns in open cover and pronouncement of "Dead Bird!" brought 'round his tinkling bell to hunt dead with a serious constitution that only solidified our admiration.

Yes, for me, "woodcock" says it all - at least enough for me to want to share my reasons with friends.


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from Fall Reflections: Reminiscences of a Wistful Bird Hunter



A ‘Partridge’ in a Fir Tree

by Steve Masalin

We were a week early this year.  We much prefer the last week of October—it’s the week before the Maine deer season and the leaves are almost completely down, which allows good visibility for shooting.  Each of us had commitments during this favored week; I had a class to attend and Dan had to make a wedding.

It was the first day of our annual pilgrimage to the woods of Maine.  The strong cold front that had been our companion on the trip up the day before had pushed through overnight and left in its wake bright sunshine, but also a stiff and gusty wind.  In bird hunting even a light rain is preferable to a strong wind; in the woods the trees seem to further amplify the noise.  Whereas the whistling of the wind through the branches and clinging leaves severely hampers us from hearing each other, the dog, and flushes, the birds are unhindered.  If anything, they tend to be more nervous and alert, and they flush at a greater distance, intensifying the challenge of the pursuit.

Nevertheless, we came to hunt and were anxious to get started, none more so than Brandy, Dan’s German Shorthaired Pointer.  We emerged from my parents’ Lincolnville home a few minutes after sunrise.  It takes about an hour of daylight for ruffed grouse (“pa’tridge” to many Mainers) to fully work their way from their roosts into feeding cover.  Woodcock, on the other hand, swoop into their daytime retreats under the dim light of dawn.  We chose a route that brought us through the good woodcock cover first and then deposited us in the “grousy” terrain at the optimum time.


Though we had finished off the stretch of good woodcock cover with a respectable number of birds for an hour’s effort, we had hoped to see woodcock bounce from the thicket like popcorn, as they had last year.  The flight birds were apparently not moving through in big numbers, yet—another disadvantage of being a week early.  We had then angled our way through the edges of an alder swamp nestled deep in a mixed balsam forest.  The grouse numbers had been good here over the years.  As we entered the upper end of the swamp, we flushed the first grouse of the trip out of the same spot we saw our first grouse last year. Dan had dropped that bird on a good, quick, right-to-left shot, but this one didn’t even offer us a glimpse, all we heard were thundering wings.

It was now midmorning.  We had worked out the entire length of the swamp edge without another flush.  Dan and I usually work parallel to each other with Brandy meandering about for scent in front of Dan.  We were approaching the edge of an old hayfield that is set within mature woodlands much like an island not far from the coastline, isolated from civilization, but not distantly so.  Whereas Dan is generally content to let Brandy do the intense work in the cover as he walks the path of least resistance, I am by nature a jump-shooter.  I have adapted my tactical approach to compensate for being dogless, immersing myself in the thickets to induce flushes.

In this instance Dan found the open logging road which runs parallel to the swamp and enters the field at the middle of its back edge.  I could have gone toward him to my right, but my instincts drew me toward the left edge of the field that stretched out ahead of me beyond a balsam thicket.  After years of grouse hunting, you develop a sense about where the birds may be (though they throw you a curve often enough to reaffirm their elusiveness and unpredictability).  In this case my instincts were true. Just as I traversed the stone wall that delineates the back edge of the field, a grouse hurtled out of the left field edge ahead and rocketed low across the open field left to right directly at Dan, who had just emerged into the field.  “Bird!” I shouted, “Dan, it’s coming at you!”


What ensued is both humorous and reflective of why we continue to stalk these most challenging of game birds.  Though obscured by several saplings and low balsam branches, I watched a surprised Dan simultaneously duck, swing, and fire a volley of hasty, off-balance shots as the bird veered by him along the back edge of the field.  From my vantage point, and Dan’s, the bird zipped past unscathed.  It is routine for us to follow the flight path of the bird for a reflush and a further shooting opportunity.  I hustled over to join Dan.  Before I was halfway to him, he was already mumbling excuses faster than he could formulate them in his head.  This is normal for all serious pursuers of ruffed grouse, nothing more than a symptom of addiction to hunting them.

We looked down the flight path and noticed a few tiny feathers dancing in the breeze.  We had each taken feathers out of grouse before with no apparent deadly effect, so we simply reckoned it a close call.  The bird had disappeared through an opening in the balsam fir stand at the opposite corner of the field from where it flushed.  We casually made our way over.  The opening was a short path to the edge of a bog, across which stood another thick stand of balsam.  We enjoy chasing grouse, and we had not seen many that day, but there was no way we were going to attempt to cross a bog just to possibly flush a flighty grouse out of thick evergreens.

No sooner had we decided to continue on our original course, than the distinctive rapid flutter of grouse wings sounded above us high in a fir tree between us and the field.  Instinctively we swung toward the noise, guns moving into position.  We watched as the grouse fell like a stone and landed on its back less than ten feet away, its wings now in the waning moments of the involuntary death flutter.  Sometimes it takes a solid hit to bring a grouse to the bag; sometimes it only takes a single mortally placed pellet from the fringe of the pattern.  Though we strive for clean kills, a ruffed grouse is a prize we’ve welcomed however they’ve come.

Hunting the ruffed grouse is seldom uneventful; the strange is almost normal.  We have observed many of the peculiar behaviors associated with this bird, even some of the classic ones recorded by the great grouse hunters of the past.  The ruffed grouse is relentless in its instinct to survive; rarely does it offer you an easy shot, and even when hit it musters all its remaining strength and mobility to escape.  This characteristic engenders a strong respect for the bird and plays no small part in fanning the flames of the competitive passion to pursue it.

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The Back Field

I sit in the office this mid-October day and the dogs remind me that it is not too cold to have the door propped open. This so they can come and go to patrol the yard as they desire or just sit on the still green grass to watch out. They are good at this. My view from the office shows me most of our back field. Referring to this piece of ground as the back field falls painfully short of doing it justice.

It is home to mice, snakes, insects and birds. An ever changing landscape if you pay attention. It provides us with the summer blueberries we strain our backs to harvest and then throughout the winter we enjoy the flavors brought forth by a subtle combination of sun, rain and earthy nutrients. The half acre field produces lowbush small blueberries by the gallon rather than the pint. As far as we can tell, they are hybrid mongrels seeded by birds with stock from pedigree highbush plants in what constitutes our formal front yard.

The back field was calling to me today and since the brits were already enjoying their taste of independence aroused by free passage from indoors to out, I decided to join them for a short stroll away from work and responsibility.

I wasn’t very surprised to find them in the usual positions. Gypsy on the slope near the well house watching the road at the corner and Penny just lying near the truck, her favorite position since lying there means there is no chance I can escape without her coming along. Penny must be feeling the need for an extended pack today since she has carried her stuffed walrus out with her. It lies on its stomach, tusks extended toward any intruder with the hubris to attempt an assault on our driveway. At my appearance the girls arise with a clear indication that fun is about to happen and they await my signal before bounding away in the direction of the back field. Walrus makes the trip part way until Gypsy steals it from Penny’s mouth to inform her that the stuffed stuff stays out of good upland covers.

My only desire was a slow stroll to examine the recent changes to the field and they are many. The dogs covered the territory in record time, but they don’t see as I do. They’re pointers; their world is seemingly all in their nose. I barely made it to the edge of the lawn before I was stunned by the changes. The Argiope spiders are gone along with their webs that seem designed to hold the entire planet together. The Cedar waxwings left with the last of the berries and the yellow crowns of goldenrod are now brown and khaki colored seedheads. Several of the branches of blueberry still hold scarlet leaves but the big surprise was the clumps of Iris still viable from gardens now overtaken by nature. The flowers are long gone for this season, but the leaves stand out in dramatic contrast to the browns, grays and reds. The leaves are lime colored with upper portions leaning toward the fresh banana yellow and tips to the aged banana brown. They add beauty in an unusual way and seem entirely out of place in our field; but are welcome to stay at any rate.

The field edge is surrounded by aging maple and ash trees still holding fast to their leaves and once again the evergreen pines stand out in stark contrast against color instead of starkness and vertical trunks. Watching the year pass in the back field carries with it a feeling of rapidly passing time and sadness. I didn’t get enough chores done this summer and I didn’t spend enough time in the lawn chairs enjoying the blue skies and warmth. Soon the only warmth will come from the furnace and sleeping dogs sharing the bed. I never know where the years go, but they do and the back field has seen many of them. Certainly more than I have and in different phases. The field was forest, then lawn, then field and is now attempting to revert to young forest again. If I want more berries I will have to keep it field and use tools such as fire to assist in that effort. For now, different work beckons and I must interrupt an enjoyable interlude to share my experience and do something that carries responsibility along with it.

Thanks for sharing a moment in time in my back field.


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  • 2 weeks later...

A tale for Halloween

…and the deep blue sea

Copyright 2001 by Kevin C. Shelly

A cool wet wind smacked the back of my neck like an unwanted kiss, startling me awake.

Remaining alert in a duck blind on the deserted bay is tough. Without a partner along for company it is impossible when the birds don’t fly.

I’d been here alone on a quivering sliver of not-quite terra firma dividing the bay’s gunmetal waters to the east and the endless green and brown woodlands known as the Pine Barrens to the west since 2:40 p.m. Now the sun was edging toward dusk on the final day of October. I had nothing in the bag to show for a chilly boat ride out of Absecon Creek, across Reeds Bay, followed by a tramp across the marsh. The blind, a snug elevated platform built on an otherwise inaccessible bend of a shallow salt marsh creek, sheltered me from the cutting wind. Miles of barren bay, vast marsh meadows and uncountable scrub pines surrounded me. Hard to believe I was in New Jersey.

But I sensed something nearby as my mental focus returned.

A man, small, stooped and old, cradling a worn side-by-side shotgun in his stubby arms, stood 12 yards from the blind. He stared my way. Dressed in rough woolens from head to foot, the little man looked as though he belonged in a vintage photograph of professional market hunters from a century ago. A bulging burlap sack sat next to him.

“Afternoon. How long I been asleep?” I asked him, attempting a cheery tone. But I uneasily stood and peered nervously over the side of the brush-covered blind to get a better sense of the old fellow. His stealthy approach – unseen and unheard -- had made a fool of me, supposedly a wary hunter.

“Least 10 minutes I know of,” croaked the old fellow, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. Instead of the waterproof chest-high waders worn by most duck hunters, his feet were encased in stout mud-spattered leather boots that came only halfway to his knee. Not ideal for slogging across muddy marshes or wading small salt creeks lacing through its meadows like capillaries.

“How’d you get here?” I asked, meaning to inquire about his boots.

“Live round here. Always lived here in Leeds Point. Born here. Raised here, too. Sometimes I raise a little hell in the pines, but this damn place is in my blood,’’ said the old guy, sounding nostalgic.

“What I meant was how’d you get out here across all the water and mud in those low boots?”

“Oh, I got my ways, my secret ways. You don’t live as long as I have without learning a trick or two. These cricks are as familiar to me as the hallway of your home is to you,’’ said the old man, stroking his creased face with the hammer-like fingers of his right hand. His cobbled left hand grasped the old double gun as though it were a part of him.

“See you came across in one a Tip’s ol’ boats,’’ he said, gesturing toward my tiny Barnegat Bay sneakbox. The boat was safely run up on the muddy meadow at the mouth of the creek and securely anchored just in case the tide turned before I got back to it.

“Tip?’’ I responded, unsure who or what he meant.

A crooked smile played across his weathered face for a moment.

“Yes sir, Tip, that’s what we called young Hazelton Seaman on account a how many times he spilled over the side while duckin’, clammin’ and fishin’ not too far from here, up Barnegat Bay. Got so he spent more time in the water than a fish. Tip – jus’ seemed to fit’m! Didn’t like being called Tip at first, but nicknames have a way a growin’ on you, I know that.”

I wanted to ask his name or his nickname, but once he got rolling there was no stopping the old chatterbox, who went on rapidly as the truly lonely sometimes do.

“Course, after I helped Tip with that first boat he quit spending so much time overboard,” he continued. “Told him the secret to floating on a mud puddle just as easily as it were the deep blue sea was all around him. Jest had to look harder. That’s when he started studying the shape of ducks sitting pretty out here, floating on a teaspoon of algae in the middle of a high marsh meadow. Put that knowledge together with all the buoyant Atlantic white cedar growing along the streams in the piney woods and you got a winner. Oh, he was grateful, too, Tip was. Named that first boat he built over there in West Crick after me,” said the old man, his voice rising with pride, seeming less stooped and stronger as he spoke.

I was more perplexed than before.

First the little old man appears mysteriously in the middle of an inaccessible marsh, looking like someone who stepped out of time. Next he tells me he helped invent a venerable gunning boat. Then he claims it was named after him!

““You helped invent a boat first produced around what, say 1850?’’ I asked incredulously, remembering a bit of the boat’s long history. “And if it was named after you then your name must be what, Sneakbox?” I asked, deciding to goad the old gent just a bit.

“Actually, Tip laid up the first one in 1836,” he corrected me. “That one wasn’t called a sneakbox, though. That name came later after some other fellas had a go at the design,” he said firmly.

“So what was the first Sneakbox called?”

“Devil’s Coffin,’’ he said, slow but clear.

“The devil you say!” I responded automatically, trying to sound as though I was in on his joke.

“Yes sir, I do,” he said flatly, his eyes narrowing as he turned to face me dead on. He somehow seemed taller and more vigorous now.

We stood facing each other. Silence. I didn’t know what more to say as the rust red of his ancient gunbarrels caught the low slant of the sun’s fading rays. The cool wind picked up again, ruffling the back of my neck. I felt an involuntary shiver.

“So that makes your name what, the Jersey Devil?” I said at last, deciding to play along – for now.

I was mostly amused at his unbelievable claim, but still a bit cautious. He’d snuck up on me, he was holding a gun, he was full of tall tales and now he claimed he was the devil. I wished then that my modern autoloading shotgun, stuffed with three magnum duck loads, was in my hands, not propped uselessly in a corner of the blind five feet away.

“That’s just my nickname. Didn’t pick it. That’s what I got called by people who didn’t really know me, just knew of me. Hated it at first. Don’t mind it much anymore, though. The name, my real name, is Leeds,” said the man, sounding stronger than he had when began his yarning.

Leeds. Of course. The family name of the legendary Jersey Devil, the 13th son of Mother Leeds. Cursed by his mother in childbirth, the unwanted and misshapen infant, part beast, part human, or so the tale goes, disappeared up the flue, taking to the woods and waters around Leeds Point, terrorizing the locals known as Pineys.

“Leeds?’’ I responded.

“Lemuel Leeds. Friends, ‘specially my duck hunting partners, call me Lem. I’m in need of new gunnin’ partner, so you can call me Lem, too,” he said.

“OK then Lem, you got me,” I smiled, deciding to humor his outlandish fantasy while keeping one eye on him and the other on my shotgun. “So if you won’t tell me how you got here, how about telling me what’s in the sack?”

“Why sure!” said my new buddy. “Hunting rig. A nice set of cedar dekes. About two dozen black ducks and a scattering of shorebirds.”

“Shorebirds? Hasn’t it been illegal for decades to hunt shorebirds?” I asked.

“That’s what the law says,” agreed Lem, sounding skeptical.

“So why do you carry shorebird decoys if the real things aren’t legal?” I asked, more curious than challenging.

“Well, what the hell would I do with ‘em? All you young gunners got them plastic ducks now a days. Not much market for hand-carved wooden blocks anymore. Not in this world,” Lem said bitterly.

“Well, maybe not for hunting. But for collecting, there’s a big market if they are good likenesses and in decent shape. Let’s see what you got,” I said.

As he leaned over and undid his sack, I moved slowly toward the corner of the blind, as though hoping to get a better look. But I was thinking only of my shotgun, wondering if the safety was on, as it was supposed to be, or off, as I hoped. Couldn’t tell which in the growing gloom of early evening.

“Always thought these Shourds’ black ducks were a bit on the scrawny side, but the birds seem to like ‘em. Nice paint, too,” said Lem, pulling out a black duck with one hand and a red knot shorebird in the other.

“Shourds? You mean you hunt over decoys carved by the guy down in Ocean View? Collectors love his stuff. Way too expensive to hunt over.”

“Not that young fella,” he said. “He’s the grandson. I mean his granddaddy, the original Harry V. Shourds, the one from Tuckerton.

Baffled again, I was. The first Harry V. Shourds had hand-carved a staggering 70,000 or so ducks, brant and shorebirds around the turn of the last century. Today his carvings went for thousands. Now here was Lem, who appeared increasingly younger as the long shadows of evening softened his features, claiming to have a sack full of Shourds’ decoys.

He strode to the blind and handed me a black duck.

I’d seen old Harry V. Shourds’ works in books and museums, even bought a decorative decoy from his grandson, but I was no expert. Still, it did have that distinctive dainty character that I recalled from the museum pieces. I turned it over and noticed the lead fitted in a slot under the keel. That was just the way the elder Harry V. Shourds had tucked the weight safely away, instead of clamping it to the keel, where it tangled on things or came loose, as most his contemporaries had.

“We like a decoy that floats nice, even if that’s not what it’s gonna do, ’’ I remember the younger Shourds telling me in a high singsong voice when I’d bought the decoy for my mantel from him. “My grandfather’s birds were thin, my dad’s fat, and I’m in between. But we all like to do a good job with the paint,” he had said, summing up his family’s work.

“Nicely done. Even has the lead in a slot,’’ I said as I studied the black duck, carved from hollowed out cedar and fitted with a soft pine head, making it easier to replace a damaged head after rough handling.

“Oh yes, that stumped him for a while. I told ol’ Harry it was time to bury it,’’ said Lem, his voice swelled with pride. “Didn’t get it at first. Just stared at me as though I was crazy. But he caught on and started carving a little grave on the belly of each bird to hold the lead. Floated real nice, too.”

“So you helped him with his carving?” I asked.

“Well, hell! Course I did! How do you think he carved all them birds with them ol’ hand tools a his? Course the shorebirds didn’t need no weights. Just stuck ‘em on a cedar stick on the mudflats. The cedar looked just like their skinny little feet!” he said with a robust laugh, handing me over a beautiful little red knot shorebird.

Then he reached into the sack once again and rooted around as I inched closer to my gun.

Out of the sack came a herring gull, a confidence bird, placed among the duck decoys to reassure incoming flocks that all was safe. It was a thing of beauty. An original Shourds’ gull went for $200,000, I recalled.

“Wow!” I said, marveling at the intricate work. “Lots of detail.”

“The devil’s in the details!” he cackled, delighted – too delighted -- at his lame joke.

I changed the subject.

“Is that a Parker shotgun?” I asked, noticing now that he was close that the metal had fine engraving etched all over its metalwork.

“No sir. It’s a local gun. Ansley made it,”  he said flatly.


“Yep, Ansley Herman Fox. You might know him better as A. H. Fox, the name he puts on his shotguns – the finest ever made. Least that’s what I tol’ him after we came up with his design. He liked hearing it so much he put it on his catalogs, made it his slogan. Very inventive fella. Good shooter, too. Likes chasing black ducks and brant. Has a house over on Lakes Bay in West Atlantic City, not too far south a here. Has an eye for pretty guns and pretty women,’’ a sly smile crinkling across his now young looking face.

“Ansley Fox died more than 50 years ago,” I stammered.

“Don’t say? Wonder why I haven’t seen much more a him around here on the marsh then lately? We’re famous friends. My last duckin’ partner before you” said Lem.

“So Ansley H. Fox was a friend and hunting partner?” I asked, trying to mask the fear and skepticism I felt as I edged closer toward my gun.

“Every true duck hunter is a friend of the devil. Duck hunters: Out before the dawn. Back after dusk. Nothing but lies in between. Oh yes, the devil and duck hunters are kindred spirits. Didn’t you ever wonder how come so many famous duck gunners come to live here at the Jersey shore?” said Lem, my unease growing as he enjoyed his running joke more than he should.

“Say, would you like to see my gun young fella?” he said, turning the barrels in my direction enough so that I felt my pulse jump.

“I never pick up someone else’s loaded gun,” I said, worrying now that Lem’s bold jesting might turn into something more menacing.

“Not a problem. Never keep mine loaded unless I’m aimin’ to shoot. Damn shells swell up and stick in the chamber out here in all the wet,” he said, breaking open the action to show it was empty.

“I never have that problem with shells sticking,” I said. “What sort do you shoot?”

“Peters #6 duck loads,” he said, referring to a company that hadn’t been around in decades. “Always keep a few in the breast pocket since it is so far above the waterline,” he said, chuckling and fumbling at his jacket pocket with his free right hand.

An ancient waxed paper shotgun shell, the likes of which hadn’t been seen on this marsh in more than 40 years, fell from the clubby fingers of his left hand and disappeared into the mat of wet mud and grass below the blind.

“Damn! I need me a new partner!” he bellowed, stooping over to find the shell, still with the open shotgun in his left hand.

Worried that the cartridge might end up chambered in his gun when he popped back up, I took my cue as he disappeared behind the blind’s wall of greenery. I ducked down and grabbed my loaded gun.

I slipped the safety forward as I struggled to bring the long gun to my shoulder in the narrow confines of the blind.

He was gone. His gun and his sack, too, all in just a second.

All I felt and heard was my heart and my breath as I searched the gathering darkness for either some sign of his leaving or a last second warning of his return.

Nothing. And more nothing. Just a cool wet wind sending a quiver across my clammy skin.

The tide was coming in. My very own Devil’s Coffin was swinging from its anchor line in the rising water. I hurriedly left all my gear just where it was and moved quickly toward the small boat, carrying my shotgun -- safety still off -- ready for action at port arms.

An armed crazy person wandering the marsh, Lemuel Leeds, the Jersey Devil -- whoever he really was-- wasn’t in the boat, as I’d half worried. I clambered aboard. The little outboard motor whined to life with one tug of the starter cord. I shoved off into the enveloping darkness. Running at full-throttle, I steered with the tiller firmly grasped in my right hand and the loaded shotgun still clenched in my left, resting across my shaking knees.

If luck held, I’d be home in 15 minutes, just as full night fell, just in time to greet eager little Halloween trick or treaters demanding their due from homeowners on Bay Avenue.

Maybe I did need a partner.


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  • 3 weeks later...
N E Grouse Hunter

I pulled into the driveway of my hosts, Bea and Errol, looking forward to three days of hunting and exploring the 450 acres that made up the family homestead for close to a century.  An additional 540 acres of Wildlife Management Area, which abuts their property, was mine to explore as well. The sky was overcast as a storm that covered the ground with a fresh blanket of snow moved off to the east, with the promise of clear moonlit skies and quickly falling temperatures as a cold front invaded the area.

After a quick visit and a cup of coffee at the dinning room table, which afforded a view of a large field that had entertained us many times in the past with the sight of deer grazing on sweet clover in full view not more than a few hundred yards away, my thoughts returned to my reason for traveling the 200 miles to the area. Hunting!

Errol was to join me on this first day of hunting, giving me a brief tour of the lay of the land, and some likely spots to fill my tag. Having tilled the soil and harvested wood on this section of land in Central Maine for nearly sixties years, much like his father before him, he shares a intimate relationship with the land he was so graciously sharing with me.

Errol gathered up his old Thirty-thirty, responsible for many a deer for the larder in his many years of gaining sustenance from the soil and surrounding forests, making good use of all this land offers to those knowing it’s secrets and how to utilize them.

As we walked the property, I was the benefactor of the many memories stored away for times like these as Errol shared the rich history of living off this land has bestowed upon generations of those lucky enough to call this acreage home. A life someone such as myself can only daydream of as I explore and envision the toil and hard work responsible for chiseling out a farm from the forest that covered this part of Maine at the turn of the century.

Our travels took us down the old bridal path his father took to school as a youngster almost a century ago, now long forgotten by all but a select few. It must have been a long frightening walk through the dark woods for a youngster as the sun sank over the horizon and forest noises invaded their thoughts on the long trek home. As we continued on we soon heard the rush of boiling water as we neared a washed out granite bridge, it’s large granite pylons laying scattered in a jumbled mess not far from their original location. This bridge had served as a safe place for the crossing of the raging torrents blocking access from the farm to the main road that led into town a century ago. How many spring runoffs were responsible for it’s ultimate demise; how many countless gallons of water constantly rushing over and around these hardy granite fortifications would eventually lay waste to man’s futile attempt to conquer it’s amazing power?

Our travels took us through mature forests chriss-crossed with old stone walls, a constant reminder of how quickly mother nature can reclaimed unused fields back to their original wooded state. The power of the seasons and time immemorial were all around us as we continued our journey through time.

We continued on to a wild apple tree, a gnarled relic still bearing fruit and attracting deer, as we studied the many fresh tracks in the soft ground below it’s twisted branches, still laden with fruit too stubborn to give into the wind and rain, forcing them to release their tenacious hold and become food for the forest dwellers. This was a likely spot to be waiting at nearby at first light tomorrow, the many rutted trails leading to this beacon could surely offer a glimpse of one of the many deer visiting this natural food source. As I studied the fresh tracks, I was hoping the larger ones were those of a buck, as I had no doe tag and would have to wait for the correct sex to fill my waiting tag.

On our return home from a day of combing the countryside for suitable places to station ourselves an hour before daylight the next morning, we enjoyed a large bowl of piping hot venison stew, a fitting meal for an expectant hunter anxious to fill their tag. A visit from Neil was next, and it is always a special treat; a combination Tim Samples/Bob Marley kind of guy that hunts. Neil kept us entertained with his hunting stories, with pictures to accompany his great stories of “Hunting in the Bog. A more accomplished deer hunter I have yet to meet!

We retired early, bone-weary from a long day in the cold, covering miles of ground in search of the perfect spot to lay in wait for our quarry to appear in the following days that lay ahead. Sleep overtook me easily, and it seemed as if I had just laid my head on the pillow before 4 am. Forced me out of bed and into action as I began the long cold walk to my location in view of the apple tree we had visited the day before. It was 4:50 am. as I checked my watch and settled in for the long wait until daylight.

The sky was full of brightly shining stars, and an occasional shooting star streaked across the early morning sky, off in the distance a coyote yodeled, informing its pack members of its location. The forest was quiet, but every rustle of the leaves, or snapping twig was magnified by the crisp morning air and my sense of anticipation of a well-laid plan of attack.

The sky brighten by almost insignificant amounts as time clicked by, the silouete of tree tops became almost visible as the sun began to reach the horizon and the first rays of dispersed light filtered through the morning sky. The forest was coming to life as the birds began to move and scurrying creatures made their presence known as they moved among the fallen leaves. A brown woods mouse kept me company as it scurried through the dried leaves at my feet, seemingly unaware of my presence a mere foot or two away, or having never seen a human in it’s short life, unafraid of it’s uninvited guest sitting close by.

My senses were alert to any movement or rustling of leaves, time was quickly approaching the anticipated arrival of deer to the often-visited food source the old apple tree offered. My ten powered binoculars offered light gathering properties my aging eyes no longer held as I scanned the area for movement signaling the arrival of my quarry. The phenomena of the temperature dropping a few degrees just before daylight gave me a sudden chill, for I had been sitting motionless for nearly two hours. I needed to get the blood circulating to get some warmth to my extremities. I slowly stood to allow me to rock back and forth on my numb feet, attempting to make it possible to remain motionless as I sat on the log overlooking the apple tree for the remainder of the morning.

That’s when it happened! I was startled by the sound of crashing limbs from just below the apple tree, and watched a deer making a mad dash for cover, it’s white flag visible though openings in the woods a mere fifty yards away! Unable to determine its sex from the angle I viewed my quarry making its hasty escape, I lower my rifle that had instinctively come to my shoulder in reaction to this unexpected change in events! I watched what could have been the tag filling deer I had patiently waited to arrive at my lair disappear into the woods almost as quickly as it had made its presence known. I remained for a few more hours, but the nagging thoughts of “what if” started kicking in; what if I had only not given in to my discomfort for just a little longer; what if I had only worn warmer boots; all of these “what ifs” worked on my psyche, and I decided to call it a day…

I returned to a warm haven and a hot cup of coffee, and then a quick shower and a much needed shave. But the day wasn’t yet over as my son and daughter in-law and 2-month-old grandson had arrived the night before. My son was anxious to do some shooting with his recently acquired handgun, and I had brought along my new Ruger GP100, which I was anxious to shoot as well. A few hundred rounds later I was reminded of the advantage young eyes and strong hands have over my own, and conceded to the superior shooting of my 28 year old son.

It was now time to say my good-bys. With my gear stowed safely away, I began the three-hour trek south. I passed the many old farms that comprise most of the acreage within the town’s borders, ever alert for a glimpse of a deer in any of the many fields I will pass in route to the Maine turnpike. What stories these farms must hold, each one having its own rich history, much like the one I had the pleasure of experiencing during me brief visit. The lives these hearty folks choose to lead is a dying one, with upcoming generations less interested in the future these old farms hold. I witnessed the transformation of my own home town, a rural farming community of the fifties, become a bedroom community as one by one the farms were sold and houses now take the place. My wife and I grew up in the same town and often comment on our drive home after a visit, how much this area reminds us of our own small town fifty years ago. Time marches on, its inevitable that the fate our town succumbed to will eventually change the landscape I’m now leaving. I’m only hoping its progress North will be a slow one, and will spare me witnessing it in my remaining lifetime.

I enter the Maine Turnpike with new memories to cherish; thoughts of times past; and a better understanding of the Maine way of life. I enter onto the band of asphalt that dissects the state, a major south north corridor for a myriad of vehicles, all in a rush to who knows where? I often wonder, as I make the long drive home, how many others similar rural communities lay just a few miles east or west of the busy highway I’m traveling. How many other Beas and Errols would I meet if I take the next exit? I haven’t traveled far before I see a sign as poignant as one the department of tourism has erected on the Turnpike welcoming visitors to their fine state: “WELCOME TO MAINE, THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE”. This sign had the same effect as the department of tourism’s clever words do, or even more so.  It represents to me what Maine is really all about, at least to a flatlander such as myself. There standing not twenty yards away was the most beautiful whitetail doe I had ever seen……………..

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  • 2 weeks later...

An October Week-end

by Tim Mahn

The days are getting shorter, mornings and evenings are getting cooler and “Back to School” ads are everywhere. This means one thing. Fall is coming and more important than that grouse season is just around the corner.

There’s nothing quite like waking up at the cabin on a crisp October morning, looking out the door at the bush with all the freshly fallen leaves and thinking there is nothing to ahead of you that day that doesn’t involve a shotgun, a pocket full of shells and hopefully a cast iron frying pan over the fire that evening.

Of course these experiences are best shared with  friends. I always seem to be the first one up but not long after I’m up Cam and Sean are stirring. The three of us have been dubbed “The Trailer Trash Trio” and every year we try to get together for at least one week-end grouse hunt at our camp.  After a  breakfast that usually involves warm oatmeal, coffee or orange juice we get out our gear, put on boots and coats and debate about which area to hunt first.  In the end we usually agree that it really doesn’t matter and after one last check that nothing is forgotten we head down the trail.

We’ve decided to hunt the swamp edge at he south end of the camp. Once a very productive area, the numbers have dropped of considerably since an owl took up residence about five or six years ago. Non the less the area is still worth hunting. By the time we get to where we want to hunt the morning sun has already started to take some of the bite out of the air. Maintaining a distance of about30 yards between us we slowly head into the bush. The first thing I noticed is how active the deer have been in the swamp. Deer season is only weeks away and by all indications it’s going to be a good one. There’s even a few moose tracks passing through. Not long after we start walking  Ol’ Ruff springs up from under a balsam and BANG, a clean miss. No bird but by now we’re all reminded of why we’re doing this. With a new found energy we carry on keeping a sharp eye on the dense patches of ground cover.  As we near the end of the swamp we start to think that we missed our only chance when suddenly another bird springs up seemingly from nowhere. BANG, a shot and a miss by Sean but just when we think all is lost the bird circles back heading directly for Cam. BANG, first bird of the day. Of course we gather around admiring what a beautiful creature these birds are, talking about all the details as though we’d never seen one before.  We quickly acknowledge that one grouse between the three of us isn’t much of a supper so it’s time to move on.

The rest of the day is filled with similar experiences. More flushes, more misses than hits and as day light starts to fade and evening sets in we have managed to harvest four birds for the frying pan. Back at the camp Cam’s cleaning the birds, Sean’s getting the fire going and I’m busy getting the rest of the food for our supper ready. Eventually we all settle around the campfire, cast iron frying pan sizzling with butter and onions and of course tender strips of grouse breast.  After enjoying a wonderful supper the rest of the evening is spent sitting around the campfire reviewing the days events, bragging about the hits, making excuses for the misses, blaming the shotgun, blaming the shells, blaming the birds but in the end we all admit that the grouse seem to win more than they loose.

So here I sit, one of the few people who doesn’t mind seeing summer end because I know that in just a few more weeks……. I think I’ll go clean my shotgun now…..

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