|When Patch brought his A-game it was grouse beware...|
With wild roosters all but gone and having no interest in gunning the tame variety we turned our attentions solely to ruffed grouse and woodcock. With each passing season the Pennsylvania grouse population seemed to be spiraling slowly downward and, especially mature birds, became way more skittish and difficult for the average pointing dog to handle. Crowd one even a little bit and it would slink off and flush wild. Patch proved to be a quick learner and by age 3 (4th season) was as good a ruffed grouse dog as any I’d hunted over.
Opening day of Patch's fourth season, long-time hunting buddy, Mike Ondik, and I put Patch down in the State Gamelands just outside State College. A typical October opener, cool in the morning, too warm before noon, but with the woods and hedgerows a riot of colors who could fuss about a little discomfort. With the promises of a good hatch and Patch now bringing his A-game (at least most days) our prospects seemed as close to a slam dunk as any wild upland bird hunt gets.
Since I worked on the property and Mike lived a few yards from its boundary we all knew it well. And as with any familiar covert both hunters and dogs are well aware of the bird’s favorite hangouts. So when I sent Patch he bee-lined for a nearby sumac and grape tangled hedgerow. We trotted along behind and got there just as he slammed the first point of the day.
Mike went through the hedgerow while I circled to the Patch’s front. Two grouse thundered straight away down the near edge. A set up, I somehow missed both barrels. But then a third rocketed off, crossed the hedgerow and Mike dropped it. Patch made the delivery (always to me, no matter if I shoot or not...Atta boy), spun around and, bell clanging, took off.
Though too many leaves made for tough shooting (I know, excuses, excuses) still he gave us so many chances that by early afternoon we’d both limited on grouse and pocketed several woodcock for good measure. Wish now I’d counted points but trust me was a bunch—as good a piece of dog work as I’d seen at the time.
Alas, as I've hinted previously Ol' Patch did not always bring his A-game. Truth be known he had more baffling tricks under his too often damnable hide I hardly know where to start.
But stay tuned and I promise to at least try to sort some of it out...