The last day of grouse camp for a loyal companion
The cool, crisp morning air found any water left outside frozen, whether it was in the dog bowls or in the puddles on the trail. I would have to carry water for the dogs just in case. We wouldn’t be hunting as long that day, as we had a little bit of a later start as we checked out of the cabin on the last day of grouse camp.
I chose to walk a couple of trails that produced decent action a few days earlier. The skies were clear and blue and there was a light wind. We ran both Allie and Meghan together that morning, as we didn’t have time for a lot of coverts and we wanted both dogs to run. Lexi needed to rest and Mark’s dog, Curtis, was fairly sore.
Both of these two younger dogs hit the cover hard, working the opposite directions from each other without needing to be taught to do so. They both were checking in like they were on a timer, which made the hunting enjoyable. We walked a long distance before the first bird, a grouse just off the main trail in the same spot he flushed just a few days ago. No shot was presented.
A quarter mile later, Allie pointed the first woodcock, and Mark harvested that bird cleanly. When we reached the end of the cover, we started heading back out the way we came. Meghan located a flight of woodcock about 150 yards deep to our right and produced several points and flushes. We harvested two birds out of that flurry in some of the nastiest cover of the camp.
On one of Meghan’s points, I managed to get a picture with both her and the woodcock visible. If you hunt grouse, you know that seeing the bird before it flushes and taking a picture of it guarantees a miss. Two of us missed that bird. I was told to stop taking pictures.
We made it out to the main trail just as Meghan caught the scent of a bird — that same grouse we flushed on the way in flushed from the same spot on our way out. It had already walked back to its drumming log, as we hunted 175 yards away in the thickest and wettest cover imaginable. She didn’t bump that bird; she was farther from it than we were. Meghan pointed honest. She held game for some fairly long points that week, as did Allie, who points just as honest. When I was talked into taking Meghan two years earlier, I wondered what the future held. Allie had not turned on yet, and despite showing potential, she wasn’t being productive. That all changed a season ago and by this season the combination of Allie and Meghan looked ready to set the woods on fire. They could hunt and find birds by themselves and together. They didn’t steal the other’s points and hunted independently. It was something to behold. The future looked very bright for our kennel at that point.
A litter with Meghan had been planned. But, more importantly, the youngsters had proven they could fill the shoes of Lexi, whose age has finally caught up with her, and despite her mind still being willing and wanting to hunt, her body failed quickly.
As life has a tendency to do when you let yourself start thinking that the future is looking bright once again, it throws you a curve ball. Meghan would be dead just a few weeks after our grouse camp. I haven’t thought about the future much since that ugly day.
And, this past Friday, Lexi moved on to that place where the forest is always full of grouse and woodcock, and the fields with pheasant and sharptails. I held her for the first time when she was less than a minute old and I was holding her when she took her final breath. It’s the price we pay for dogs; knowing they won’t live as long as us and our job is helping them have dignity in the end. She was one of the best dogs I’ve ever owned or hunted over. She was something to see in her prime in a vast sea of grass out west and she would always find birds.
I didn’t get out fishing this past weekend. I spent a lot of time toasting my Kraken. And her toasts involved nothing but the good stuff, because that’s all she ever gave us, her best.
CHUCK K OLAR LOCAL OUTDOORSMAN