I’ve spent the past two weekends in the thickest, nastiest, aspens I could find. Pushing through pines so dense that I couldn’t see an inch in front of my face. My elbows are scratched and stuck with tiny bits of thorns. My knee is swollen with a bruise the size of a baseball. It’s late September. When pain and ice packs mark the new season as much as that first trip to the cider mill.
Most feather-chasers laugh when I say I’m hitting the northern Michigan woods for the grouse and woodcock openers. They tell me they don’t hunt until the leaves are down. The forest is too thick. The odds are stacked against hunters. They tell me they don’t waste the time.
I know the truth. They used to hit those woods when they were younger. When they had dogs that could run all day. When just a few motrin would put their knees back in brush pants instead of under ice packs. I know because I’m not as young as I used to be. These days it just makes sense to wait until the woods aren’t so mad you’re there.
But I can’t wait. I can’t sit at home when there’s birds to hunt.
It’s a good hurt.
So I push on. Dragging my brother and my buddies through the thorns and briars. Where spider webs cling to my face and aspen branches whip my ears. Where my old dog pulls new tricks. Where woodcock spring to air with that unmistakeable chirp.
The only place you can hear that heart-stopping sound of a grouse flush. That’s what makes it all worth it.