By Jay Dowd
“During a few phone conversations with him, I was able to gather that his immense love for grouse was only overshadowed by his love of bird dogs. One didn’t have to look too far down the list to see he also had a fondness for good double guns and a stiff drink.”
During the 80s and 90s, growing up in a small, country town in mid-Michigan usually meant ample time to choose a life that somehow involved the outdoors. Though computers and video games came of age during this era, I was fortunate enough to be swayed by my grandfather’s sporting lifestyle and take up the rod and gun. Summers were spent exploring local creeks and helping my stepfather sell reloading supplies at local gun clubs. In the fall, I spent my weekends either chasing grouse and woodcock in the Northern Lower Peninsula or pheasants at a few different family farms in the central portion of the state. However, no matter where my pursuits took me, the name Roger Moore always found its way into the conversations that transpired around the tailgates and clubhouses.
The first time I heard of Roger was from my Grandpa. One day, upon returning from the local pet store to buy dog food, he came back telling of “just having met Roger Moore.” The way he said his name made me feel it likely that the man had his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The two grouse hunters and setter men made small talk in the parking lot, and Roger apparently made quite an impression on my Grandpa. After that, it seemed like everyone in the hunting community had a story to tell about Roger Moore. He was in the newspaper, on tv and I saw his truck with the name of the kennel he trained at driving all around town. However, despite living in the shadow of the big man, and having his presence strongly felt in the community, it wouldn’t be until somewhere around the age of 30 that I was able to finally meet him.
I remember it was opening day of grouse season, though I can’t quite put my finger on the year. My grandpa and I were on our way to another covert after hunting the morning and grabbing a quick lunch. It was dry and hot, as the weather often is during the early portion of Michigan’s grouse season, and dust was all you could see in the rearview mirror as we bounced along an old logging road. I slowed down as I saw a dog cross the trail ahead of us, and as I hit the brakes, I could see a party of hunters gathered along the side of the road in the shade. I pulled up next to the group and immediately recognized one of the fellows as Roger, sitting on the high sandy bank, looking very hot and ornery. I asked how they were doing, and after taking a long drag off his cigarette, he replied that it was too hot but he assumed we had already figured that out for ourselves. He asked how we had fared, and I told him that I had one grouse, but it had cost me the better portion of a box of good 20-gauge game loads. Despite his outward appearance, he had a very kind demeanor and we wished each other luck. I pulled away slowly, so as not to kick up too much dust, and as I looked in the mirror, the large man stood up, stepped on his cigarette and crossed the trail.
A few years later, I would start attending my local Ruffed Grouse Society banquets at which Roger presided. I soon learned that grouse and woodcock habitat was very important to him. He felt strongly that if you hunt these birds, you owe it to them to give something back. Roger was also a well-known dog trainer and breeder of “old-fashioned-type” English Setters. During a few phone conversations with him, I was able to gather that his immense love for grouse was only overshadowed by his love of bird dogs. One didn’t have to look too far down the list to see he also had a fondness for good double guns and a stiff drink.
Shortly after Roger’s passing, I was asked to join the banquet committee for the aforementioned Ruffed Grouse Society chapter. John Short, the committee member who asked me to start volunteering, was a longtime friend of Roger. As I got more involved with the chapter, I got to know a group of hunters ranging from young guns just getting their feet wet to experienced veterans who have spent countless days hunting the aspen stands and alder runs. I soon realized that each member had their own story to tell about Roger and the way he touched their lives. Through the committee, I have also been fortunate enough to become friends with Carol Moore, Roger’s widow. Like Roger, she is a conservationist and grouse hunter who still has her own bird dogs and is a mainstay at local RGS events. It is through the time spent with these people and the stories they have shared that I am finally able to get a glimpse into the life that has become the legend of Roger Moore.
It seems that Roger’s love for gun dogs was kindled at a very tender age. His father, passing when Roger was only seven years old, left a setter behind that Roger took care of as if it were his own. He took his first job as a teenager cleaning out kennels for the famed grouse/woodcock dog trainer Roy Strickland. Roy took to Roger and ended up having him help handle the dogs that were brought in by his clients. This time spent with Roy undoubtedly helped shape Roger’s love for bird dogs and hone his desire and ability to work with them. When Roy passed, he left Roger his prized training gun — a highly coveted 20-gauge, Belgian-made Browning Superposed Lightning.
Roger went on to pursue a career in law enforcement as a State Police officer, operating at various posts around Michigan. He then took a job as a fire marshall in Clio. It was at his home near this small town where Roger started Pine Run Setters, a breeding program dedicated to preserving what Roger called the “old-fashioned” Ryman-type setter. He would later go on to become a full-time dog trainer at Wayback Kennels, also located near Clio.
Roger was a dedicated grouse and woodcock hunter who made his presence felt throughout the state of Michigan, and for nearly four decades, it was the vast expanse of wilderness known as the Pigeon River Area that he had come to love. During grouse season, you could find Roger’s trailer parked on a small hump on the Pigeon River called “Woodcock Hill.” Over the years, many hunters and bird dogs came to join Roger at this camp, and it eventually took on the monicker “Dog Shit City.” It is said that in its hay-day, on a Saturday night in October, if you were looking for any of the “who’s who” of grouse hunting, you’d be sure to find them sitting around Roger Moore’s campfire.
Roger donated his time as a volunteer woodcock bander for the state of Michigan. To do so, you have to go through a certification process to ensure that you and, more specifically, your dogs are up to the task. Roger looked forward to time spent each spring afield in the Pigeon River country when the woodcock chicks would hatch and he could attach the small bands around their tiny legs. Banding allows information to be gathered regarding the distances and routes woodcock travel throughout their migration.
Roger’s passion for grouse and woodcock also manifested itself through his volunteer work with the Ruffed Grouse Society. He was president of what was then the Keith Davis Chapter. During his tenure as chapter president, Roger devoted himself to raising money and increasing public awareness of the organization — whose goal is to protect and create habitat for the ruffed grouse and American woodcock. He donated countless hours of time over the years and helped to organize events, recruit members and put on the annual banquet. Rather than being recognized by name for anything he donated to the RGS, he humbly filled out the donation, “a friend of the grouse.”
On the morning of February 17, 2014, Roger suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow from his driveway, just days before the Ruffed Grouse Society annual banquet. It was a loss that was felt throughout the quaint Michigan upland hunting community. Later that fall, on the opening day of grouse season, a small group of friends and fellow grouse hunters gathered on a small bridge overlooking the Pigeon River. Stories were shared and a toast of whiskey was made as Roger’s ashes were cast into the stream’s cold, swift current to flow eternally through the aspen stands and alder runs that held the grouse and woodcock he loved, in the country he held so dear.
Though the big man has passed on, he has left a legacy in his wake that embodies good sportsmanship and conservation. The Keith Davis Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society has since officially changed its name to the Roger Moore Chapter. Here there are a handful of dedicated volunteers doing their best to follow in Roger’s footsteps. In 2015, the year after his death, a large tract of land was set aside in the Pigeon River State Forest and utilized as an area of enhanced grouse and woodcock habitat. Here, mature forest is harvested, and the healthy, young forest that grouse, woodcock and many other forest animals prefer is regenerated. Many fruit-bearing trees that grouse feed on during certain times of the year are also planted in this area to ensure a well-balanced habitat for these birds to thrive. This operation is a joint effort between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Ruffed Grouse Society — the endeavor has been aptly named The Roger Moore Project.
Each October, a group of hunters still holds a camp in a spot near Woodcock Hill to pay homage to Roger and all he has done for grouse and woodcock conservation in Michigan. However, before any hunting is done, the group spends a day planting trees and putting up fencing to protect the new growths from the local elk herd and doing other allotted habitat improvements. After the work is finished, the shovels are traded out for shotguns and eager bird dogs are let loose from their kennels to once again pursue game birds in Roger’s old coverts. When the day is done, the hunters return to camp to gather around a roaring fire. Drinks are poured and memories are shared as woodcock fly overhead and elk bugle far off in the distance. Being there, one can’t help but feel Roger’s presence, leaving you to wonder if somehow, in some way, the big man is sitting right next to you, enjoying a stiff drink and sharing stories of the birds, dogs and guns from days gone by. One thing is for certain: through his work as a conservationist and the new grouse and woodcock habitat being created each year in the Pigeon River Country, the spirit of Roger Moore truly lives on.