October 25, 2007 at 9:03 a.m.
The birds - six in total, four shots taken and zero hits - were skittish on that wet, breezy day. Evasive measures included skulking some distance ahead of us through the undergrowth before taking to the air amid the dense stands of young aspens.
As we quietly walked over the sodden leaves littering the trail that would eventually lead us back to the vehicle, I began to hear a faint clicking noise that was beginning to unnerve me. When I stopped walking, the clicking stopped, so I carefully took the time to check my vest pockets for the source and mumbled, "Where is that noise coming from?" It was then that I looked backward to discover Anders wearing four empty shotshells on the fingers of his left hand. Sensing my confusion and slight annoyance, Anders looked up at me with a big toothy grin and wiggled his fingers, causing the brass ends of the shells to click together. We had a pretty good laugh over that. I did, however, make him give up the empty shells for the remainder of our walk.
When we arrived back at the cottage, I was feeling a bit down at having missed four birds with my new 16 gauge, despite the fact that they were low percentage shots. It was Anders' sunny disposition that immediately brightened my mood when he reported to all that awaited us, "Dad almost shot four grouse!" I realized then that Anders would make an outstanding hunting partner in the years to come.
As I had hoped would happen, the following two days afforded me as many high percentage shots and the Browning did indeed swing true and find its mark. Two birds were admired and photographed in hand before slipping them around the back of my vest and into the game bag.
This morning, as I write this column, I recall Anders' hunting report and the excitement he must have felt as we walked the woods together. I realize now more than ever that it's rewarding enough to simply be out there enjoying the splendor of fall, and that there is no such thing as a bad grouse hunt.
Dan Brown's weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie's Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.