Art Wheaton is the “perfect storm” kind of guy to write a classy, keepsake book about hunting the king of game birds. For a lot of reasons. Art, a son of the late Downeast guide Woodie Wheaton, cut his teeth on grouse and gun dogs. He and his family moved to Forest City (near Princeton) when Art was 11 years old. From the time he was 15 years old, Art guided landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass anglers from his folks’ sporting camp, Wheaton’s Lodge, and hunted grouse and woodcock every October.
A passionate grouse and woodcock hunter all his life, Art walked bird covers from Washington County and New Brunswick to classic grouse covers in Minnesota. For many years he worked as a senior executive with Remington Arms Co. During this period in his life, Octobers found him in the bird coverts, forging friendships afield, with men and dogs.
“Grouse Country” is the accumulation of almost a lifetime of devotion to upland bird hunting. The book really connected with me. Once an active upland hunter myself with a wonderful gun dog, a setter named Sally, the collection of stories in “Grouse Country” took me, as the book promised, “to the places and times of your own special memories.” It will do the same for you, and much more.
Although this book is informative, especially about classic bird guns and tactics for outwitting grouse and woodcock, it is, moreover, a philosophical outdoor book. Don’t be scared off by this fact. In his own words, this is what Art set out to do with this particular book: “Leaving the how-to for others, you all know how to do that, I found myself talking to kindred spirits, striving hard to draw the picture, build the bridge, touch the past or relate to the future about things, places, people, guns, dogs, birds and times … those meaningful times, those memories and seemingly little things that enrich our sporting life with remembrance and reward, all that have lasting importance to me.”
Art is an articulate storyteller, as most seasoned guides tend to be. So his keen ability to recall his fellowship moments in the field with a setter on point, at the tailgate lunch, or back at camp over a toddy or two, as well as his flair for producing good prose, give literary gravitas to this special book. Above all of this, though, and woven throughout his every chapter is a stirring sense of soulfulness and heartfelt fondness for the people and places that touched him deeply.
He writes, in a chapter about his hunting pals, “I am reminded that with age comes wisdom. The wisdom of knowing there are some things that one cannot recover from: the stone … after the throw; the word … after it has been spoken; and the time … after it is gone. May you have the wisdom to recognize first, then treasure, the true fortune of an often rare and long-lasting friendship. It will make the trail of life wide, and well paved.”
There is humor, too, among the life lessons and gentle philosophizing. Three chapters, Fox in the Henhouse, Cigar Celebrations and The House Outback, will remind you of the wonderful restorative laughter and spontaneous fun that is the hallmark of mature and lasting fellowship, whether at deer camp or grouse camp, or wherever outdoor-loving folks gather.
As a writer with plenty of time and experience struggling for words and ideas, I know that books of this caliber don’t come easy. “Grouse Country,” by its very nature, has to be a product of considerable labor and a lot of love — for people, places, hunting dogs and a way of life: remembrance and reward.
If you read this book, you will come away richer for it.
“Grouse Country,” 168 pages by Art Wheaton, is published by Peter E. Randall of Portsmouth, N.H. The price is $50. Contact the author at (207) 448-2234 or email [email protected]