I love bird hunting. It is, without question, the activity I'd chose to do on the proverbial last day of my life. Throw in my wife, dad, or mom as a hunting partner along with my German shorthair, Trammell, and the day would be perfect. Well, that was the recipe last week. But as tends to happen when a plan looks perfect, Michigan's ruffed grouse - locally known as the partridge or pat - got the best of my good humor.
A year ago, I'd dropped eight grouse on Michigan's opening weekend. Add a couple of magical shots to the mix and I would have bagged a daily limit of five ruffed grouse each day. I'd contend that the ruffed grouse daily bag is the most difficult limit to take in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. Bird hunters spend a lifetime in the woods without a five-grouse day. Add last year's magnificent results to the fact that all three of the nation's top producing grouse states (Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin) showed that 2009 drumming counts were up, and you can guess how high my expectations were heading into the weekend. I also spent Monday of last week at Metro Gun Club brushing up on my scattergun skills. I was ready!
With my excitement bubbling over, my wife Meredith and I crossed the Michigan border at 11AM on Thursday morning with the local temperature climbing into the '80s. By the time I'd purchased my nonresident Michigan small game license ($69) and reached the Copper Country State Forest north of Norway, Michigan, the thermometer in my truck read 85 degrees. That's right, September 17th in the Upper Peninsula and it was 85 freaking degrees HOT! Determined to lift the lid on the grouse opener, we climbed the rocky trail with two gallons of water loading down my new Wing Works vest. The long and the short of it . . . we were gassed after 30 minutes and headed back to the truck.
Friday brought more manageable temps in the 70s and the addition of my mom to our hunting party. We started the day on the Stonington Peninsula in a favorite stretch of woods where I've bagged more grouse and woodcock than any other. My folk's Brittany, Bleu, also joined the charge. Bleu has a fantastic nose and can sniff out a grouse like no other dog I've hunted behind. Unfortunately, Bleu and Trammell had it in their heads Friday morning to compete for "Top Dog;" completely forgetting about their gun-toting masters. That morning's canine competition led to a flurry of unseen flushing grouse, followed by a double whiff on the lone opportunity of the day. Do you know that shot at the end of a skeet course where you have to hit the high-house clay as it passes over the top of your head in a split second? I missed that shot four times last Monday night at Metro Gun Club . . . and whiffed again on Friday. I was feeling a bit . . . peeved!
On Saturday, my dad was free from work for his first hunt of the weekend. He made short work of his first opportunity of 2009 with a nifty shot on a Hiawatha National Forest grouse trying to escape down a two-track. But that was all the grouse gods would offer up for us on this 2009 opener weekend. We walked the rest of the day without even a timberdoodle lifting off.
I spent half of the 400-mile road trip along Highway 8 back home on Sunday afternoon steaming about my poor grouse opener. Then, somewhere near Prentice, Wisconsin, I began to look at things in a little different light.
The leaves have begun to change. The woods were filled with reds and yellows that will last only a few days. It was sunny all weekend with no threat of a rain out. My autumn allergies never appeared. And, most importantly, my wife, my mom, my dad, and our dogs are all healthy and happy as we all began another season. Add my brother and his two youngsters to the mix (they came to Escanaba from Rhinelander, Wisconsin for the weekend to see if the salmon run from Lake Michigan had begun - not yet); and it was a PERFECT St.Pierre family weekend regardless of the number of grouse I bagged . . . which was ZERO if you are keeping score at home.