A Day in the Woods

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Joined: 06/03/2010

A Day in the Woods
     I was watching a partridge strut through my back yard the other day and it got me to thinking back to past years when I had hunted with my younger brother. The following is my recollection of a typical day afield in the northern woods where we grew up.
     Late October mornings can be chilly in the Upper Peninsula but there is no better time to hunt birds than when the trees are losing their leaves and giving the hunter a bit more visibility. The late fall hunter has a better chance at a hit than when the early fall woods is so dense with foliage that you can’t see more than a few yards ahead. On a chilly morning there’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee to prepare the hunter for the field. Kevin was supposed to be at my country home around 7 a.m. and I was up early making coffee and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage. I was also packing some sandwiches and a thermos for the noon lunch break. I was usually the one who took care of the details like this when I did stuff with Kevin but I was used to it.
     I had always kind of taken care of my younger brother since he was born even though Kevin was seven years my junior. We had a bond that was very close and I enjoyed being with him and he was also one of the few people I would hunt with since I had pretty much taught him and I knew what to expect from him. We were heading to a large tract of cut over paper mill land that had lots of new growth aspen and was supposed to be full of partridge.
     Although the land had been logged several years earlier and the logging trails were already starting to grow over with weeds and brush they still were passable and plainly visible, even in the morning mist. We had scouted the area several times earlier in the late summer so we knew which paths we would hunt. Some cut over areas showed more bird sign than others and we wanted to concentrate on those first before we started hunting the other areas. Kevin was eager to get out since he lived in town and didn’t get out in the woods as much as I did. His enthusiasm was contagious!
     We had only walked a few yards down the trail when a bird flushed out ahead and Kevin swung his single barrel Stevens 20 gauge up smoothly and the bird fell as a few small feathers drifted gently to the ground after it. As Kevin popped open his gun and the empty hull flew out another partridge burst up in a flurry of drumming wings and without even thinking my trusty pump 12 gauge was up on my shoulder and that bird dropped not far from Kevin’s; two shots, two birds and we were off to a good start for our day.
      I usually field dressed my birds right away by pulling the entrails out so the bird cooled better and also tasted a lot better and then I hung them on my belt with some homemade hangers that looked like large safety pins. I carried a bunch in my back pocket and would grab one whenever I had a bird since we never could afford fancy vests or coats with bird pockets back then and we made do with improvised gear and it worked fine. Hanging the game on my belt was a lot easier than trying to carry game in a hand and trying to shoot.
     We hunted several more rutted lanes and made our obligatory misses as is required of any grouse hunter worth his salt! I figure that a bird per every five shots or so is about par for the course when hunting thickets and brush filled woods. Partridge seem to be able to put trees between them and the shooter more often than not and I imagine I have dusted quite a few young saplings with fine shot in my hunting days.  Kevin was maybe a little more precise since he was shooting a single barrel and he took better aim than I did.
     By noon we each had a couple of birds and our snack of sandwiches and coffee was welcome that day as we rested on the tailgate of Kevin’s big Ford truck. I snoozed a bit and relaxed while Kevin checked more sites we had marked on the map we had of the mill land. I wanted to hunt almost till dark if we didn’t have our limits of five birds each and Kevin was more than eager to stay out as long as he could and enjoy his day in the woods. I enjoyed the day and the company since I usually hunted alone and it was fun watching my brother get excited every time he hit a bird. 
     Partridge are a walking browser bird and they spend a lot of time softly clucking or peeping as they step stealthily through the brush and undergrowth picking their food from the ground. They are also a bird that doesn’t turn away a good meal when it appears as I once watched a bird for over an hour high up in an old ironwood tree hop around the branches picking off dried seed pods. The young chicks are browsers from the day they are hatched and there is nothing more interesting than stumbling on a hen with her young in the spring. The chicks, usually a half dozen or so and not much bigger than a golf ball, will instantly hop to a branch or weed stalk and perch so still you can lose sight of them since their plumage blends in so well. The hen will flop one wing out as if it is broken and hop around trying to lure you away from her young.
     We would walk a trail slowly and wait for the birds to flush. If a hunter walks slow and stops every once in a while the bird sometimes gets edgy and decides to vacate the area in a hurry. This makes hunting partridge a very unnerving ordeal as you never know when or exactly where the bird will explode in a roar of wings that often scares the daylights out of even an experienced hunter. They seem to have an uncanny instinct to be where you don’t expect them to be when they jump to flight. Hunters with dogs lose a lot of the excitement as the dog often points out the bird and allows the hunter a chance to get ready for the flush. Dogs are a plus for retrieving downed birds though so you choose which way best suits you.
     We hunted for the rest of the afternoon and bagged our final birds towards the end of the day and headed home. I cleaned all the birds and wrapped them and then we sat around for a while drinking coffee and talking about this and that. The end of a typical day in the woods hunting for partridge although the bag limit was not always filled as it had been on that particular day.
     That day was many years ago and my brother passed away a few years after that hunt so I pretty much went back to my routine of hunting alone. Sometimes when I kicked up a partridge I would catch myself waiting for the single barrel 20 gauge to speak.