A Day at Grouse Camp

Grouse-camp-cover

Our semi-annual get together was scheduled.  The reservations at a nearby for a cabin at a campground in North Haverhill, New Hampshire had been made and Stan, Mark, Rene and I were all set to leave early on Thursday morning.  Our goal was to hunt in New Hampshire and Vermont for three days.  As with all well laid plans, something always happens.  As it would turn out, due to appointments that could not be changed and other things beyond my control, I was unable to join my partners on Thursday.  To make matters worse, I could only spend one day, Friday, at camp.  Three days of planned hunting turned into one very long day for me.

Thursday night, while I was getting my gear together, I got a call from Grouse Camp.  First Stan, then Mark, got on the phone to tell me all about the birds they had seen.  Notice I said, “seen” not taken.  They had flushed a few grouse, but no birds went down.    What really interested me was what they said next.  They told me about the large flocks of geese that they had seen.  The campground is located right on the banks of the Connecticut River, a major flyway in New England.  Telling them I would meet them at the cabin around 7am, I hung up the phone and continued packing.

Mark and Rene, checking the "cover" for birds.

Mark and Rene, checking the “cover” for birds.

In New Hampshire we could take ducks, geese, woodcock, grouse, and pheasant.  As none of us had a Vermont duck stamp, we couldn’t take any waterfowl in that state.  Vermont doesn’t stock pheasants so this left grouse if we decided to hunt there.  I packed Federal Steel Game & Target loads in #7 shot for the pheasants, grouse and woodcock.  For geese (which I could hunt in New Hampshire) I brought two boxes of Federal BlackCloud FS Steel in #BB shot.

Mark moving towards a hedge-row.

Mark moving towards a hedge-row.

Friday morning found me up at three and out the door at four.  It was at least a two-hour drive to North Haverhill and we wanted to get out early.  I met the guys at the cabin and we loaded up and headed for the field.  The partially cut cornfield we were hunting looked great.  Picking a spot at the edge of some standing corn, I sat and waited.  The geese were in the air, flying from their roosting spot to the areas they wanted to feed.  I could hear them, but due to the heavy fog, I couldn’t see them.  In desperation I pulled out the Haydel H-81 and started calling for all I was worth.  They didn’t respond.  These were not resident geese that could be easily fooled.  These were migratory birds and they had been shot at all the way down from Canada.  They knew where they wanted to go and as it turned out it was a cornfield in Vermont.  When the geese settled down, we all met back at the truck, changed from camo to blaze orange and decided to try our luck at upland birds.  In this area we were just as likely to flush grouse and woodcock, as we were pheasants.  Thankfully, #7 steel shot, while a little light, is capable of bring down a pheasant. Grouse-camp-pheasants-in-flightThe four of us spread out and worked an area of cut corn.  To our left, where I was, was a thick hedgerow.  To the right, where Stan was, was the Connecticut River.  Mark and Rene stayed in the middle of the field.  The first bird up was a pheasant rooster.  It took me totally by surprise as it flushed out of the hedgerow.  While I did shoot, and miss, Mark was able to bring it down as it flew out into the middle of the field.  The next bird up was a hen pheasant that flew straight up out of the corn stubble in front of Rene.  This went on for about the three hours with birds flying and shots being made.  Some birds were taken and many more flew away unharmed.  Mark, Rene and I each got two birds and Stan got one.  By this time the fields were beginning to fill up with hunters.  We decided to leave the area to them.  We would have liked to stay to see if we could get a grouse or two, but there were just too many people.  Instead we headed back to the cabin to clean our birds, get something to eat and prepare for an afternoon of grouse hunting in Vermont. After lunch we loaded up and headed over to Ryegate, Vermont.  When we finally came to a stop at the end of a gravel “road”, at the top of a hill, I knew I had died and gone to grouse hunting heaven.  This was classic textbook grouse habitat.  Fields with pockets of spruce and pine thickets surrounding stands of alder, birch and other hardwoods.  This was my first time at this spot, but Stan, having been born and raised in this area, had hunted it many times before. We all spread out, as there was a great deal of ground to cover.  Following deer trails through the thickets, I flushed my first grouse of the day.  I saw him leave the ground at the same time as I heard him.  My first shot of #7s went underneath him.  At the same time as I shot the second shot, the bird made a sharp left turn, my shot clearly missing.  As I cleared the cover I met up with Rene and Mark.  We teamed up to work an area thick with fallen timber.  We stopped a few times to get our bearings and to rest as this was tough going.  On one of our stops a grouse flushed, but none of us saw the bird.  Within a few seconds another flushed with the same results.  Three flushes, two shots and no birds.  When we all met back at the truck we found out that Stan had flushed one grouse, but he too had no bird.

Pheasant in flight…still flying!

Pheasant in flight…still flying!

It was time to head back to the cabin.  I needed to collect my stuff and make the drive back home.  I was pretty tired as I climbed behind the wheel, but satisfied.  We had a good day in the field.  Not many birds to bring home, but plenty of memories from Grouse Camp.

From left to right- Dana, Mark and Rene…at "Grouse Camp"

From left to right- Dana, Mark and Rene…at “Grouse Camp”

 

Dana has been writing about the outdoors for 30 years with his work appearing in regional and national publications.  He holds a M.Ed. in Heritage Studies, teaches History and Political Science at Granite State College, and lectures on Native American History throughout New England.

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