Sunday, October 5, 2014


My Hell Hole
Aug, 2014

    I'm not much of a traveler, but out of necessity I find myself doing it more and more. It is usually about going to a calling contest or something like that, but I often get home sick and find myself thinking of places I would rather be. I recently found myself at Niagara Falls in upstate New York. I was sent to Rochester for work, but had a chance to ride over to the falls for an evening. I rode on that little boat that travels out in front of the thing and did the whole tourist deal. I was completely blown away by the power of the energy in the form of wind and mist that comes off of that thing. Nature is amazing no matter where you are. Still I long for home, and the world that I love so much. I guess birds of a feather do flock together because I met a very friendly local grouse hunter. We visited only briefly but were able to exchanged a few stories and talk about bird dogs a bit before we went our separate ways. It was really nice to talk with him, but it made me long for mid September and a very special canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

Tom sitting at around mid elevation in the hole.
    It is a place my wife, and friends have affectionately called hell canyon because they feel its evil. Many go with me once but few go a second time. It is only minutes from a major city, and has been a treasure of a hunting spot for many years. My dad first took me there deer hunting when I was a boy, and it is exactly the same today as it was back then. In my life time I have watched most everything change. They call it development, but to me it is simply the loss of another playground. I see houses and roads and stores taking over what was once farm land. Nearly all the places I hunted as a boy are gone to “development”. It can be very depressing, and it seems to happen everywhere. That steep evil little canyon up there is the same as it ever was. Though physically challenging it is my favorite place to hunt forest grouse. They might not be the grouse of lore from the east, but they are the grouse I grew up loving. Usually the bag there consists of both blues, and Ruffed grouse. I have countless memories of dogs and friends in that canyon, but today one is really on my mind.
   was in Tic's yearling season. I had worked very hard to give my young friend every opportunity to find birds on his own. I left the older dogs home often to allow him to really learn and took him out at least twice a week on his own that first season. It was late September or maybe even early October when I started Tic down into that steep canyon for the first time. A fresh skiff of snow was on the ground and I knew from experience that this was good for our chances, but not my footing. The already melting snow made the whole canyon glisten in the morning sunshine. It has the most beautiful stand of deep dark pines on one side and short heavy brush on the other. The bottom of the canyon has a tiny spring running down it and the cover around the water is impenetrable. There are also Aspens, elderberries, some kind of red-orange berry that is common in the Utah mountains, and all types of leaves and buds that often turn up in the craws of a grouse. There is so much habitat that on the best days one finds birds many and often all the way through it from top to bottom. For one reason or another it is a place they congregate when the weather starts to turn. It is so steep that the blue grouse found up high in it only have to flap a few times before diving down the canyon and out of site. It is among the best places to be period.
    It is always interesting to watch a young dog learn about new cover and terrain. He had not seen terrain this steep or brush like this before, and I wondered how he would handle it. He struggled at first but adapted quick and was covering ground well in no time. His first bird encounters of the morning were not the best. He crowded a small group of blues near the top and then another group several hundred yards down from there. It is hard to not pull the trigger and harvest a bird or two like that, but I feel strongly that it is best to shoot only pointed birds for a young dog so I gritted my teeth and watched them fly away down the canyon like they were dropping off of the flat earth. I smiled as I watched Tic all excited and hopped up on bird scent. I found him very entertaining racing all over the place being young full of foolishness, energy, and enthusiasm. I waited for him to settle down a bit after the second birds jumped, and then started back down the canyon. We worked our way down to the upper edge of those dark pines. They have some nice thick brush on the uphill side of them that often holds both blue and ruffs. Tic was hunting that stuff when I stepped around a large pine and saw the tip of his tail still and high in the thick stuff. I was so excited to see my young dog standing like that. I got to where I could see him a little better and stopped to admire his beauty for a few moments. When a took another step birds went everywhere, and I was able to connect on one. It tumbled down the hill as I yelled “fetch Tic fetch” just like we practiced in the yard he brought the ruffed grouse up the hill to my hand. I made a huge deal out of it. We rolled around on the ground while I scratched his ears, roughed him up a bit and told him “good boy!” over and over. I remember
Young Tic on this hunt.
how happy and excited he was that he had pleased me that much. I ended up shooting three birds that day. One ruffed and two blue grouse all pointed by Tic that morning. He had several other bird producing points that I couldn’t get shots at. That was the first time he really looked like he knew what he was doing. I remember thinking Hmm he might just make a bird dog after all.

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