Early in November, I went on my annual out-of-state bird hunting trip. Typical of these far flung journeys, it was not a great success bag-limit-wise, but was a good adventure.
Old college buddy Doug Born and his brother Dave agreed to allow me to tag along on their grouse hunt to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The brothers both live in Fairmont, but Doug had spent the better part of a long U.S. Forest Service career in the U.P. and had knowledge of the area as well as access to a cabin. Perfect.
Our first evening in-country, we took a short walk, without guns because our three-day licenses did not kick in until 6 a.m. the next day. On that little stroll we flushed six grouse. Visions of whirring wings filled the cabin that night.
During the next three days, I was in shooting proximity to 12 grouse flushes, which I would consider to be about three years worth of Appalachian hunting under present conditions. I missed two on the first day.
Dave Born sagely advised that the only explanation needed for missing while grouse hunting is simply that. It is grouse hunting.
Even though I was close to birds later in the hunt, those first-day shots were the only ones I took. Thick woods and fast birds are a tough combination. Again, it is grouse hunting.
The other guys had a similar experience of shots and misses. Fortunately, not long before sunset on the last day, Doug Born was able to kill two grouse. They were large, darkly feathered birds with gun-metal-gray tails. This allowed us to have a fried grouse supplement to our final night’s camp menu of Dinty Moore stew.
As with so much of hunting, the real trophy was the experience itself. Our camp was in a new cabin, but one that was so far out in the woods that it had neither plumbing or electricity. We cooked and lit our evenings with propane, took pseudo-showers outside and kept things overly cozy with a woodstove.
The camp was equipped with an outhouse and that part of the adventure needs no elaboration.
The woods of the Upper Peninsula are simply amazing, consisting of thick stands of timber made up of a variety of trees I had not even thought about since forestry school. There were black spruce, larch, balsam fir, jack pines, white pines, red maple, aspen, birches, hemlock and on and on. It did not look one bit like the woods of home.
Those thick woods and the mostly flat topography created a combination landscape that could make it easy for a hunter to get lost. I was real careful the few times I was off by myself and was very glad that friend Doug was an old North Woods hand.
Was perhaps equally glad to have a pocket GPS and for the first time in my life actually consulted the electronic gadget on several occasions. I am not much on modern technology but those woods were big enough to make the weight of that GPS feel comforting.
One afternoon we three orange-clad hunters walked up very close to a nice-sized black bear that was apparently digging out its winter quarters under a large pile of old logging slash. Upon realizing we were nearby, the shiny bruin simply turned around and backed down into its cubby hole.
We heard coyotes, ravens and the wind but not much else, certainly no human noises. On the last morning I found some wolf scat on a woods road. Non-hunters might wonder why I would remark about such a thing, much less get excited about it.
You outdoorsmen know that what is neat about the experience is it told me that for at least that one moment in time I was standing on the same patch of earth that had recently supported a wild timber wolf. Simply priceless.
My hunting journal now contains references to different sounding places like Gurgle Creek and Ottawa National Forest.
It was a long drive, real long, but even that had its moments. On the second morning going up we watched a huge yellow harvest moon sinking into Lake Michigan. Coming back we saw six-foot waves and snow squalls being battered into the rocks along the shore of Lake Superior, a spin-off from the tail-end of Hurricane Sandy.
Someone said that we take these trips at least partly for the stories we can tell about them later. That is probably true and I am sure that more than once in the future I will begin a story with “I remember when we were grouse hunting on the U.P. along the headwaters of the Silver River….”
Life is good.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.