I wrote recently of a dove shoot I hosted for my friend Byron Dalrymple and his friend Ernie Cassel, both from Wolverine, Mich., at the time. Wolverine was a little hamlet close to the Mackinac Straits that separate the upper and lower peninsulas and is in the heart of a fine rural region that is something of a hunting and fishing paradise. Cut-over virgin forests make it a heaven for deer, bear, and that wonderful ruffed grouse that just might be the hardest bird on earth to bring down.
As repayment for a wonderful dove shoot, Byron hosted me for a memorable week of hunting the ruffed grouse and woodcock and a few side trips of drifting for rainbow trout (much in the same manner as it is done on the Arkansas trout streams).
The grouse hunt, however, was what the trip was all about. I can easily say that the week of hunting those birds was one of the most outstanding weeks of my long hunting career.
Ruffed grouse live in the densest, thickest and hardest woods to walk in. Some folks who hunt them regularly use pointing dogs, but most grouse hunters simply walk through cover and flush the birds, hoping (often futilely) to be able to get off a shot before the bird disappears in the limbs that are everywhere.
If it were not for the cover, grouse would not be particularly hard to hit. Since I prided myself on being a better-than-average quail shot, I was not expecting the birds to be as tough to hit as they were.
I surprised Byron somewhat by killing the first grouse that burst out of the cover in front of me. Without meaning to blow my own horn, I managed to shoot about as well as my companions who had grown up with the birds.
The secret of hitting a ruffed grouse in this sort of cover is to know the birds well enough to know what they will try to do when flushed. At the moment the bird flushes, you must have the bun up and intent on snap shooting where he means to be in the next second or two. If you delay in hopes of a better shot, you are lost.
You may find it hard to believe, but lots of the birds we bagged disappeared from view as we pulled the trigger. You knew you had killed the bird if you heard it fall to the ground.
As it turned out, grouse were at a fairly low cycle at that particular time. We hunted long and hard for the birds we bagged.
A satisfying benefit was that woodcock were quite plentiful and used the same terrain. We all managed to garner the four-a-day limit of those strange and delightful birds.
Woodcock are extremely easy to hit if you know the formula. When he flushes he jumps almost straight up for 25 or so feet and then almost stops dead still before straightening out and flying away. If you learn to hold your fire and let the shot off at the top of his initial jump, you can almost always bring him down.
Another interesting thing about a woodcock is that he simply can't carry any shot at all. If you manage to put one or two shots in him, down he goes. I learned this early in life with the occasional cock that flushed while I was hunting quail.
The woodcock has always fascinated me, and I always appreciated a bonus woodcock bagged while I was hunting quail.
Even without our success in taking birds, the hunt would have been memorable. Twice we routed black bears from dens in downfalls. Once we were surrounded by a drove of eight or 10 huge elks that resulted from stocking many years before.
I can still see and smell the colorful October hardwoods, but best of all, I recall the pleasure of hunting with men who had grown up thousands of miles apart but were strongly attached by their lifelong love of things outdoors... things that seemed to have been created especially for people like us.