The truck hunters

For me, grouse hunting has never been the same after losing my little setter Sally. She was the connection for it all, really. Watching her work a bird was pure joy. She was imbued thoroughly with the gundog DNA. When her adrenaline pumped and she got all “birdy,” she sometimes forgot that we were a hunting team. Proud gundog owners make excuses, or come up with euphemisms to describe or minimize the elusive nature of an unrestrained bird dog. They say their dog can be “rangy” at times. Sally could be that way. Today I wish that I hadn’t scolded her back then for her excessive enthusiasm. If I could have her back beside me in the truck she’d be the most spoiled gun dog in Maine.

But that is not to be. It is the main reason why, over the years, while still an active hunter, grouse hunting fell by the wayside for me. Of course, you don’t need a dog to hunt grouse. You can be a truck hunter. And there is certainly nothing wrong with driving Maine’s incredible grid work of backwoods roads looking for a partridge in the road. Plenty of folks do it.

An old friend, who has some mobility issues and cannot handle woods walking, invited me to spend a few days truck hunting grouse north of Portage. We rented a cabin. Each day we packed a lunch and spent the days poking about the old logging roads hoping to get lucky.

The days were classic Indian summer ones with razor-blue cloudless skies, balmy temperatures and brilliant fall colors. The crimson swamp maples and rust-colored beech trees were almost like flames against the backdrop of dark green conifers.

We saw some birds. Not a lot but enough to keep it interesting. In two days of driving the roads, nine birds showed themselves. With lots of leaves left on the trees, the birds had us at a disadvantage. It seems like they are getting smarter with advanced degrees in stealth and stay-on-the-ground-don’t-fly evasion strategies. The final score after the three-day hunt was Birds 9, Hunters 0. My shotgun was triggered just twice.

Upland grouse gunners blessed with dogs don’t know what they are talking about when they insist that “road hunting pa’tridge ain’t fair chase.” Although there is always a dumb bird in the bunch that doesn’t know enough to come out of the rain, road hunting the Thunder Chickens without a dog — from my experience — is not as productive as it sounds.

There is a pleasant social facet to road hunting birds with a friend. It’s a great way to get caught up on things and compare notes with other truck hunters on the back roads. Once in a while you’ll see a moose or another critter.

During our two days of driving about we saw almost as many deer as grouse. That was an unexpected pleasant surprise to me. It tends to validate the talk that deer have begun to make a long-awaited comeback in the North Woods!

If you are planning a North Woods bird hunt, a suggestion. Hold back until the end of the month. The roads are as dusty as I have ever seen them and we need a good week of rain and some high winds to bring down the leaves and improve visibility.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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