Opening day of bird season, always grouse, came and went. I had to wait until after school to head out, and even had to turn away a friend who’d stopped by for a beer unannounced (talk about tough decisions). The continued heat, and the lack of sleep and scores of sick students this first full week of school, I must admit, dampened my enthusiasm for the plan to look for grouse after school. But when I got home, Leslie was ready to go. So go we did.
It was drier than I expected, but also more overgrown than I’d ever seen this place. I wasn’t expecting the dogs to find many birds because of the heat and time of day, but at least the creek would keep them happy, and grouse hunting’s just a walk with a gun anyway, right?
In 150 minutes we saw two birds, ruffed grouse. Leslie shot and killed one, and I shot at and missed the other. Hers was the first creature she’s killed, and it moved her as I thought it would, but I knew she couldn’t know how she’d feel afterward. On the walk back to the truck she said she was over it and wanted to hunt again. For me, if she had decided, after killing that grouse, that she never wanted to hold or shoot a gun again, that would have been fine. I’m glad she wants to keep trying, and gladder that she got the bird on the first outing. It’s valuable data for her, and for me. I reflected on the first ever bird I shot, also a ruffed grouse, dogless. You can’t compare that experience because you can only really know what’s in your own head and heart. Shortly after she shot the bird, we separated for a while, letting the creek divide us, and I was glad she had some time and space to think about it. For those who’ve killed scores of creatures, this might seem like a dusty memory but I appreciated the time I had to contemplate the event and compare it to my own first ever. I drew no conclusions and didn’t need to.
Peat found the dead bird in the dense thicket, after both dogs had run amuck trying to find it.
He brought it straight to Leslie, which amazed and greatly pleased her. That was my favorite moment of the day.
On the walk back, as we stood listening near the creek while the dogs investigated the brush, Leslie said, “Chukar!” High on the hill above us, in the rocks, crowing. I’d been so focused on the hope of hearing grouse wings beating near the creek that I wouldn’t have noticed. Those were the first chukar sounds I’ve heard this year, a joyous relief after the past winter, spring, and summer of discontentedly wondering whether there would be any chukar this fall.
The other first I’ll mention, which tarnished the evening, was that while we were putting our guns in the truck Angus was viciously attacked by a dog from a nearby pickup.