Friday, January 30, 2009

Nothing has more character than a wind blown apple tree surviving on an old homestead.
The first maple catching fire gives the hunter hope that the Hunters Moon is not far behind.

A meal interrupted.

A volunteer apple tree heavy with fruit. Sprouted from a seed from who knows where it is a survivor.

A fruit laden wild crabapple tree draws the attention of the grouse and woodcock hunter to be alert to the possible flush.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trails & Tramroads

Nothing can match the excitement and anticipation of starting out on a newly discovered trail or tramroad. Not knowing what lays ahead, the mind can race with the possibilities of a new covert filled with grouse and woodcock in a beautiful setting just around the bend or just over the hill. Often they lead to cuttings that are past their prime to be good grouse cover but once in a while you stumble upon a jewel of a covert with just the right age saplings, just the right mixture of grape vines, greenbrier, barberry bushes, and wild rose tangles and life is good for you and your dog. Here are a few of my trails and tramroads that lead to special places that fill my memories with the thrill of past hunts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Affair with a Gun

A strange idea to the vast majority of people perhaps but to me this is no ordinary gun. A bespoken gun hand built to my specifications by the Grulla gun makers of Eilbar Spain. Built on a stock blank I selected, shaped to my dimensions, with hand engraved sidelocks, a skeleton buttplate, and sideclips, she is a 16 gauge, the perfect upland gauge in my eyes. Too pretty, some say, to carry into the grouse tangles with the briers, rocks, and steep terrain that make up good grouse cover in my Alleghenys, to me she was made to use. What ever scratches and dings she acquires will give her character and show future generations that she was owned and used by a grouse hunter and not safely tucked away in a gunsafe. To some a gun is only a tool, too be used for a month or two a year and then put away until the next hunting season comes along, But to me my little Grulla deserves more than that. When I pick her up she becomes an extension of my body. On warm summer evenings when I pull her from the gunsafe she becomes alive in my hands, and the memories of past hunts, the hits and misses, come flooding out of my conscious to bring a smile to my lips. With these pictures I share just a few of the many memories my little Grulla and I share.

Friday, January 23, 2009

After hunting with Hattie for a couple of seasons I decided I needed another setter in case Hattie was ever injured or just needed a rest after several days of hard hunting. My search led me south into West Virginia to the town of Terra Alta and Preston Miller owner of Crooked Stump kennels. Preston's dogs carried the blood of Walt Lesser & George Hanson's Alder Run kennels. He had one orange female pup available in the fall of 2003 and Copper became my "backup" setter. She developed in a bigger running dog that Hattie and although she was soon pointing woodcock, grouse proved to be a little harder for her to handle, although in her defense the grouse numbers were significantly lower during her early years . Now at the age of 5 she has given me some memorable hunts and I feel confident that if there are grouse in the woods she'll find them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Affair with Setters (part 1)

Although I had been hunting grouse for almost twenty years with Springer Spaniels I had never hunted with a pointing dog. Finally in 2000 I took the plunge and after much research I decided on a Ryman-type English Setter from Warren Sheckells Pinecoble Kennels near Cherry Valley NY. The first thing that impressed me with Warren's setters was the fact that most other kennels breeding Ryman-type setters were using dogs with Warren's bloodlines in there breeding programs. Then a trip to meet the man and see his dogs clinched it. A more soft spoken, unassuming man I had never meet with not one unkind word to say about other breeders (unlike several kennels I had talked too) he simply let the dogs sell themselves. After a year long wait it was finally my turn to pick out my pup. I had two blue belton females to chose from and as I peered into the whelping pen a big headed masculine looking pup looked back at me. With long low set ears and a deep muzzle it was hard to believe I was looking at a female pup but I instantly knew that was the kind of setter that I wanted. That fall I went into the woods with Hattie following behind me not at all acting like a hard hunting bird dog. Luckily I'm a man of patience and hoped that her breeding would some time "kick in" and she would realize what we were hunting for. On one of our first trips afield I bumped a grouse , fired and saw it drop into a mass of blackberry briers. As I trampled through the briers looking for the bird I noticed that Hattie wasn't following on my heels like usual. Looking around I saw her standing on the other side of the brier patch looking into the ground. It took me several moments but I suddenly realized she was pointing my dead grouse. As the season progressed she made several nice finds on fallen birds that I would have never found without her and she also began to hunt out in front of me. Finally during the late season on a isolated ridge in southern Somerset County she froze out in front of me. Being as much a novice as she was at this pointing dog game it took me several moments to realize that she was pointing. As I moved up to her a grouse erupted out of a brushpile and I dropped it with one shot and there on that steep, windy ridge my love affair with setters was born. As the years have slipped by Hattie and I have shared many wonderful days together in the Allegheny Mountains and down into West Virginia on the Dolly Sods wilderness area. She has been everything I could have ever hoped for in a birddog and I feel blessed to have had the chance to follow her through the many grouse and woodcock coverts we have explored.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Forgotten Places

Finding a forgotten homestead is always an interesting diversion from the hunt. These old places where people laughed and cried, loved and fought, lived and died have a special place in my conscience. Most of them are on state owned land, pl;aces where time stands still and they are safe from the progress of man as they slowly crumble back into the ground that they came from. Old stone walls that once showed boundaries of fields and pastures, that kept cattle, horse, sheep and hogs in or out, layed one stone at a time by old time farmers who no doubt took pride in their work. Old stone foundations of barns and houses and old stone lined well all have a story to tell if you just stop and listen. Imagine the excitement these people felt as they worked day after day and saw the fruits of their labor mature into a sturdy barn or a handsome house or a reliable source of water. Here are some of my homesteads that I have claimed in my wanderings in the Allegheny Mountains

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thoughts from the Alleghenys

The following are the thoughts and pictures of my wanderings through the Allegheny Mountains of southcentral Pennsylvania following my Ryman-type setters in pursuit of grouse and woodcock. As I age as a hunter the need to fill my game bag diminishes, with just the ability to hunt being all that I need to have a fulfilling day. It's still important to find game "for the setters" but a day spent on a steep mountain side without a flush is never a wasted day. The beauty of a spring seep oozing out of a rocky slope bright green on a dull winter day, a moss covered boulder lying at just a certain angle, or a long abandoned bird nest hanging in a bare bush can spark my interest and make me glad to be able to have the ability to see the beauty and uniqueness of it. In the days to follow I hope to share with you with words and pictures my experiences following my setters through this wonderland called the Allegheny Mountains.