Sunday, October 19, 2008
Attempting to teach an old dog new tricks
This weekend the lure of the hunting camp finally got my butt out of the kayak seat. We headed north to Reefer Creek to move a few deer stands, check out the 40's that the aspen was taken off last winter, and attempt to shoot a grouse or two. Rookie the wonder dog was going to experience his first grouse hunt at age 9.
The Rook was raised in Bismarck, ND and has not been hunting before. He's not a fan of loud noises, especially thunder, and will attempt to hide in the bathroom with his rather large head jammed between the toilet and the wall; his reaction to a shotgun blast was an unknown. As far as I can tell there are no hunting dog genes in him at all, just some Australian Shepherd, Rottweiler, and probably two dozen other off breeds. I figured this year would be a good time to attempt the experiment. The Ruffed Grouse, or Partridge as its commonly referred to, are on a roughly 10 year population cycle. No one has figured out what causes the cycle and but its suspected that a number of factors contribute. All we know is that a lot of drumming in the spring usually means lots of birds in the fall and we heard a lot of drumming this spring; we're likely on the climb toward the top of the cycle.
The northwoods are beautiful this time of the year and I wish I could bottle the smell for when the muddy month of March rolls around. The Rook and I set off on an amble through the woods on a picture perfect fall day and checked out our timber sale. We looked at the new growth in the cut over area, made sure the white pine seedlings that were planted are flourishing, and headed into the thick stuff where the grouse are known to hang out. Rookie had his nose down and was acting very interested in something when I heard the grouse. When it flushed the Rook saw it and took off after it. The grouse made the fatal mistake of heading straight away down the trail and I dropped it. It hit the ground, bounced up and attempted to fly when Rookie jumped like one of those trained frisbee dogs, and grabbed it right out of the air. When I got to him he had it firmly in his mouth and was laying down, preparing to eat the bird on the spot. The only problem was that I was planning on eating it as well. It was a standoff; he had the bird clamped in his jaws and I was attempting to remove it any way that I could. The phrases 'give' and 'drop it' were not part of his understood vocabulary, which consists of 'food', 'wanna come with?', and sometimes 'sit' and 'lay down'. No, he was not planning on giving me the grouse and growled his disapproval. When I pulled out a venison beer stick, a delicacy he loves, and waved it under his nose, his ears went straight up and you could see a fine line of dog drool trickling out of the corner of his mouth. He still would not drop the grouse however. I finally grabbed his lower jaw in the back of his mouth and forced him to drop the bird. He looked at me, growled, and promptly ate the beer stick. It didn't seem like he even heard or paid attention to the shot, which was not very loud anyway since I shoot a 28 gauge. He definitely heard the gun when I shot the second bird though.
This time I saw the bird in a thicket and Rookie did not. When it flew I shot it and the dog was behind me. On the first bird I shot right over his head like a person would with a 'real' bird dog but on this one he was behind me. The GurneyGranny, back at camp practicing with her new bow, said she figured I was right down by the creek since Rookie was back in camp about 60 seconds after she heard the shot. After I shot, I turned to see if he had any interest in the retrieval and saw him heading back down the trail toward camp at cruising speed. GurneyGranny speculated that since the male brain is unable to multitask, his focus on the first bird precluded him from being afraid of or even noticing the shot. Its kind of like when we guys walk past the sink full of dirty dishes to get to the beer cooler; we see it but our mind is on the task at hand. Sounded logical to me, I guess.
It was a wonderful day in the woods in any event and the Rook was tired and content. When I cleaned the grouse I gave him a wing to play with, a tradition with the real hunting dogs at camp. He promptly ate it. I'm not sure what I'll do with him next weekend because I worry what will happen if I'm a far distance from camp. The Podman saw two timber wolves from his bowstand (we have our own little sub pack on the land) and if they caught our overweight specimen waddling back to camp after being scared by a loud noise it could go bad for the Rook. But I'm not worrying about that now. I'm actually anticipating cooking (and eating) tonights supper......
Take two grouse breasts, open them up, and roll up your favorite dressing up in the breasts. Hold them together by wrapping a strip (or two) of bacon around them. Bake covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for another 15 at 350F. Make a white sauce with 2 TBSP flour and 2 TBSP butter. Stir in 3/4 C chicken broth and 1/2 C half and half or cream. Pour over the grouse breasts and serve with fall squash, a salad, and a fine Chenin Blanc.
A fall meal just doesn't get any better.