When I first started reading my mentor’s cast-off sporting magazines around 1960, I was as drawn to articles about casting dry flies to stream-bred trout as a brookie to a #16 Royal Coachman. Hunting “The King” in the North Woods was also high on my very short bucket list. Everything else was pretty much just OK… in a ham-and-egg sort of way.
I didn’t start the hunting part until Christmas, 1978, when my newly acquired father-in-law introduced me to hunting snowshoe hares behind beagles in the cedar swamps of his going-back farm north of Malone, NY. By Valentine’s Day, 1979, I had my first shotgun — a 20-gauge Mossberg 500 — and my first beagle, Jupp, who’s pictured at the right with some other old buddies.
Those first 10 years’ hunting were among the best in my life. Jupp and I chased snowshoes in the North Country, and cottontails when we were back home in western NY. But here’s the thing: even though Jupp was strictly a rabbit hound, we still shot more grouse then by accident than we have lately while in vigorous, dedicated pursuit.
After Nancy’s parents passed, we sold the family farm in 2004, and I’ve pretty much pursued partridge only on public land ever since. Specially here in western NY, public land birds are scarce because public land is not managed for birds. While I like to avoid politics here, it appears that our public lands are managed for spruce graveyards.
As it turns out, my upland hunting’s been saved by the woodcock, a bird often mentioned back in those 60s magazines simply as a sort of consolation prize. American woodcock — Scolopax Minor to some, the little russet feller to others, and timberdoodle to still others — just love to nest in and migrate through my home ZIP code. I’ve learned to cherish hunting this sporty little bird very close to home as The Main Event; grouse are neither present, nor needed. That he’s damned tasty medium rare out of the sauté pan doesn’t hurt his VIP resumé, either.
Maybe some future day I’ll dither into new thickets that are lousy with grouse. But until then I’m not going to spend much time hunting for grouse that aren’t there when for 45 sweet days I have this terrific seasonal bird right under my dog’s nose. So, joined with a few local friends who love li’l bec as much as I do, I offer a toast
to our genial guest who makes every October delightful. Cheers!