Spaniel Journal


At the edge of one of those old fields, we turn in, skirting a foundation of granite and fieldstone while watching to avoid some rusted harrows along with the inevitable hand dug well.

In this field there is a sporadic growth of medium aged white pine. But on the other side this field the woods turn to young aspen and maple again. This is where we should find a few birds - and perhaps a snowshoe hare or two.

It's tough shooting in this kind of cover, the perfect place to hunt with a close working, hard driving spaniel. We will have many flushes in a morning, but very few shots as the grouse wheel and bank into the thick stuff. When a bird flushes there's no time to think. A split second response and pure instinct shooting is what will down a bird in here. This is what makes a bird delivered to hand so rewarding. Suddenly a bird goes up and we're in luck. The grouse goes straight away. Just before it can twist off into the hemlocks, I fire, and the Ruger brings him down. I send Finn, who returns joyfully and proudly carrying the young male grouse in his big soft jaws. When I take it from him I first spread the fan, admiring the complex and subtle colors of such a beautiful, perfect bird before placing it in my vest. I praise Finn whose eyes look at me with the profound eagerness of a dog bred and born to hunt. Later, I will open the crop on this bird to find it filled with tiny aspen, potentilla leaves, and wintergreen berries. For now we still have miles of discontinued roads, young woods, and abandoned farmland to explore alone in our own world.


Last night we received six inches of soft snow. Now, with the sun rising, the ground and sky sparkles. Parking my truck at the top of the hill, beside another abandoned road, a panorama of low hills stretches out before me. Perhaps not as breathtaking or awe inspiring as in the west, but to me, the view is serene and comfortable. I can see just a couple of houses from up here and the only other indications of human habitation are a few rising columns of woodsmoke. Four miles away, a large bog that is a federal waterfowl production area, reflects the vibrant blue of the clear winter sky.

"...once the leaves are gone we hunt silently, communicating only by the mutual understanding of each other."

I let Rowan out of the truck. She shivers and squeals, "hurry up! hurry up!" I cross the gravel road and start toward an old foundation, now grown up with lilac, barberry, multiflora rose, blackberry briers, and feral apple trees. In May and June this spot was in full color with acres of purple lupine, pink columbine, pale blue forget-me-nots, and tiny white and yellow narcissus. Sadly, an elaborate gazebo which once sheltered a well, has collapsed into a weathered grey pile of broken shingles mixed with elaborate trim.

There are no tracks in the snow yet this morning, but instantly Rowan gets birdy and dives into a barberry bush. I can see neither dog nor bird, but I hear a flutter as the grouse fights to get free of the cover, rocketting out the other side. I pull up on it and fire just as it's about to drop out of sight

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