Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Friday, November 25, 2022

Rough Fall

by Lynn Dee Galey

Hunter's blogs are typically about glory days, full of birds, steady dogs and steadier guns. Like many others, I have a huge catalog of photos from so many of those days across the many years. And there will be many more to come, I'm sure. But this years entries are not as plentiful as most years and I have come to discover that I'm not alone.

We don't read much about are when things out of our control fail to align yet have considerable impact on our hunting.   This piece has been percolating in my brain after similar conversations with several very good grouse hunters.  Three of those hunters are friends that I consider "1 percenters" on ruffed grouse. These are guys who know grouse and habitat inside and out and talk about the diet and habits of grouse as thoroughly as some do their children. Their bar is set high for how their dogs handle birds and the dog is to set them up for efficient, productive gunning.  But the common thread heard in each of our conversations is that this has been a very rough fall on ruffs for each of us with fewer hours on the ground and fewer birds in the bag. 

Weather came up as a big player this year with temperatures much too warm, many days getting into the 70s.  It was possible to get out for a short hunt early in the day, coming back to the truck sweaty and hot and dogs played out by the water buckets.  But to those of us who typically hunt 50+ days in the early season it felt wrong.  We couldn't get into the usual rhythm of the Fall, when this year we would wake in the morning and feel in the air that it was already warmer than we like to hunt. Too often we would pull on shorts and a tshirt instead of hunting pants and boots and disappointed dogs would sigh and go lie down.

Conditions were dry, too.  Bone dry. The rustling of leaves on the ground makes for good word play but serves as a loud alarm for wildlife, and birds were heard but not often seen as they blew out far ahead even in front of solid dogs.  The warmth however seemed to attract an ever-increasing number of out of state and downstate hunters and every pull off was well worn from truck tires.  Tailgate photos from those folks showed numbers of woodcock and maybe a single grouse.  It apparently was a good year for woodcock hunters.

Employment and jobs this year played a bigger role than usual for friends. I'm not sure if it is a reflection of the instability of our country's economy or perhaps a phase related to the age of my friends, but job losses and job demands devoured many hours for several friends.  These are folks who normally have their work and hunting schedules ironed out months in advance for a seamless number of weeks of hunting.  

Personally this fall I struggled with multiple dog injuries which is very unusual for my crew of 7. I literally go years without any dog issues but this fall some of the dogs spent all of their allowance at the vets and weeks at home on the DL.  With my vet being an hour drive each way, each visit interrupts a whole day.  My vet is a bird hunter herself and just yesterday when she walked in and saw me sitting there again asked, "What are your dogs doing to you lately?!!"


I don't write this to whine or complain and conversations with friends were not whine sessions either.  Just an observation, more of a surprise, or disappointment. We  each still had memorable days this year, just not as many, and it all felt a bit out of sync.  We each hope that late season in December will offer good days yet to come.  The 18" or so of snow out my door is taunting our optimism, but the collars, boots and gun are all still sitting near the door.