Around here, an early season grouse hunt tends to be an exercise in futility.
That was certainly the case on my opening day hunt. Even though I knew better and we were experiencing summer temperatures, I decided to visit three of my favourite covers.
The fact that I try to hunt grouse on opening day is a testament to the blind optimism that lives within this hunter’s heart. I knew the leaves would be full. I knew the goldenrod and ferns would be high. I knew that any contact made with grouse would be heard but not seen.
And yet I went. I always go.
A grouse hunter does this, I think, because he or she wants to see the season unfold from that unlikely beginning.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had good opening days despite all of this. Sometimes the birds do make mistakes and fly across clearings or straight down the trail. Sometimes the lessons learned last season linger.
But, honestly, for me an opening day hunt typically has a lot more to do with affirmation. I want to know that the covers I have come to love still hold birds and have not fundamentally changed. I want to get a sense of how many birds are around. I want to put some mud between the treads of my boots and have my arms experience the heft of a grouse gun once again. I relish how my legs feel after a few hours of hard walking. All these things make me feel alive.
If I don’t get a shot at the birds I flush, that’s OK too. At some point during the season leaves will fall, vistas will open up, and opportunities will rise up – literally.
I flushed two. The first lifted behind a screen of spruce and hemlock. It was probably six feet away when it took wing and I never saw it.
My second bird rose off the side of the trail and I caught a glimpse of it. My excuse was simple. I was using a new shotgun and I went for the tang safety – which would have been great, except the gun I was carrying has a cross bolt safety behind the trigger.
In the split-second it took to process that, the grouse was gone.
That’s another reason to get out early. I’d rather make my mistakes and improve my reaction time at the front end of the season. Then, when the leaves are down and the conditions are just right, I’ll make the most of it.
There’s that blind optimism again.