I was struggling. It was Sunday morning and I was on the second day of a fruitless grouse hunting/scouting excursion intended to produce some new spots. You see, I’ve been hunting my exact same haunts the last five years and “my” aspen stands were starting to age out of their grousey prime. So, I’d set off east and north of my normal destinations in search of new coverts.
I spent Saturday pounding decent looking grouse woods with very little flushes. And the one layup shot presented to me clanked off the backboard with a horribly makeable miss.
Truth be told, I was really struggling with two nagging thoughts in my mind. First, it was my first solo exploring expedition with two dogs, so I was very nervous about losing my 6-month old pup in the woods. Second, I was nervous about getting lost myself. Despite my GPS lock on my truck’s location, I had trouble diving into the grouse woods with abandon. Fortunately, hope was just around the corner.
Around 11AM on Sunday, I rounded the corner of a state forest gravel road and passed two trucks on my right. To my surprise, I recognized the two faces under the blaze orange hats. If you’ve attended Pheasant Fest or Game Fair in the last ten years, then you’d probably have recognized both of them too. They were Tom Poorker and Mark Haslup from Focus Outdoors Television and Midwest GunDog Kennels.
After commenting on the serendipity of their coming out of the woods at the exact moment I drove by, I shared with them my frustration of learning a new grouse woods. That’s when my luck turned around. Although, they’d both been set to finish their hunting for the day with dog training obligations waiting at Midwest GunDog Kennels, they offered to show me a spot in their home woods. They even went so far as to insist on my two pups being the only dogs in the woods as their bird dogs had already completed their work for the morning.
Needless to say, we found grouse and woodcock in the woods where these two veteran hunters aimed our trio. In fact, Mark bagged a nice opening weekend timberdoodle that my young pup was able to deliver to his hand, and Tom brought down a beautiful ruff with a dandy shot. However, I earned the trophy of the morning’s walk with renewed confidence.
After sharing a few laughs over our impromptu hunting trip and thanking them for their generosity, I went north in search of some spots of my own. And I finally started to find what I was looking for in the woods. In fact, in one particular alder/aspen mix, I elected to hunt my 6-month old shorthair solo for the first time and she produced three neatly pointed woodcock, quickly earning me a day’s limit.
To me, the moral of the story is that membership in Pheasants Forever definitely delivers more habitat on the ground - we’ve got 8.5 million acres of proof of that fact - however, membership in Pheasants Forever also creates friendships. Whether you’re a chapter officer, banquet goer or Pheasant Fest attendee, your involvement in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people. Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot.
To Mark & Tom: Thanks a bunch for a great experience! It truly meant a lot to me for you to take the time out of your plans to give me a little nudge in the right direction.