With grouse season drawing to a close this weekend, I have been trying to get my young pointer out to hunt when the weather cooperated. Brandy has been having trouble handling birds in the snow, it seems bird scent in the snow confuses her and plays tricks on her nose. She has flushed birds she should have pointed and pointed places that didn't have birds. Then, at times, she exhibits the excellent grouse finding and holding ability that she is bred for using the instincts God gave her.
Of course, she is young and hunting in the snow is something new, without snow cover she does very well, remembers her manners, points and hunts very well, which was the case one day we hunted Canaan Valley last week.
The snow had melted in places and there were patches of green exposed in the boggy areas between the spruce and hemlock as we started up a small creek bottom that morning with bright sunshine promising to expose more, scenting conditions should be good.
With a steady breeze from the southwest, we hunted into the wind along a small stand of spruce bordering a creek hoping to find birds in the exposed bogs feeding on cranberries in the spongy terrain between the creek and the evergreens where the grouse like to roost in inclement weather.
Brandy was zigzagging through the spruce and bogs running to every thick, brushy tangle (she's starting to know where the grouse like to hide), searching for the aroma of grouse. We had not gone far when she went on point in the spruce where snow was still laying in the shadows and sure enough, there were grouse tracks in the soft snow but no bird. We had not gone far when I came across more tracks; at least we found where the birds had been now we just needed to find the birds.
Brandy was still very excited and paying particular attention to a clump of spruce trees and rhododendron on the edge of the creek when a bird rocketed out of a tree about fifteen feet up. The bird flew straight away, I saw it for a moment but before I had a chance to shoulder my gun, it disappeared through the dense evergreens. We made it through the spruce with a couple more grouse, flushing wild ahead of us but still not shot.
On the other side of the spruce, the terrain opened up into knee high bracken and greenbrier cover interspersed with hawthorn trees. The birds we moved in the spruce flew this way and Brandy moved ahead searching the wind for scent. While Brandy was to my left checking a few holly bushes a pair of birds flushed wild to my right, once again disappearing before I could fire a shot.
We were approaching another pocket of spruce and rhododendron when Brandy struck scent again and went on a beautiful point staring intently into a small cluster of shrubs and laurel surrounding a hemlock. I circled to her left moving toward the scrub fifteen yards away, nothing, more tracks in the little bit of snow on the north side of a large rock , still no grouse.
I looked back at the dog and she was still solid but glanced at me as if to say, 'I smell birds old man, be ready.' I turned back to my left and started up the hil. I took maybe three steps when thirty yards up the hill a grouse thundered out going away to my right and out of sight just as another came up from the same place. I swung the gun back to the left and missed with the first shot as the bird climbed toward the crest of a curtain of rhododendron twenty feet high. The second shot centered the bird just as he topped out and he tumbled into the top of the rhododendron and out of sight. Brandy broke at the first shot and circled around behind the rhododendron and I heard a third grouse flush somewhere behind the impenetrable curtain.
As I stood looking at the wall of rhododendron, trying to figure out if the bird I hit was in the upper branches or had fallen through the limbs. I could hear Brandy on the backside of the large tangle of branches not thirty feet away but I could not catch a glimpse of her. I heard her beeper and she was pointing something, I had no idea what, but hoped it was the fallen grouse. I told her to fetch it up and a few minutes later, after she maneuvered through the scramble of rhododendron she delivered a fine mature male grouse.
She sat waiting for a head pat and I reached into my pocket, gave her a treat, and made a big deal of such a good retrieve and a job well done. We hunted some more but I was happy and Brandy was getting a little wild with all the excitement and ended up bumping a couple birds so we called it a day. I couldn't be angry, she made some mistakes but she learned a few things and made a fantastic retrieve, already I look forward to next season.