In this fall 2018 article, Editor Nick Green reflects on his grandfather, their grouse pursuits and his reintroduction to a sport that his grandfather revered. The feature photo was taken by Michigan Out-of-Doors Communications Intern Mikayla Carter during a training day in Southern Michigan.
Like many, my grandfather’s gun cabinet was host to an array of single- and double-barrel guns that had taken down a grouse or two through the years — most of which I assume were worthless to a purveyor of fine shotguns. I remember studying that cabinet, wondering about the stories each double gun could tell and, more importantly, though, why they remained untouched for decades.
I suspect, as time usually dictates, my grandfather just couldn’t handle the rigors of grouse hunting as he aged. I never did go on what I would call a true grouse hunt with my grandfather. By the time I was old enough to shoulder a shotgun, he was donning a handicap sticker and smoking two to three packs of cigarettes a day.
Nonetheless, when my grandpa stared me down under the brim of his straight-billed cap, the youthful exuberance radiated from him the second he started talking grouse. He talked about days when he flushed them by the dozen and shot three with two shots. The truthfulness in this claim is hairy, to say the least; but, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
By the time I was 14, I became engulfed in high school sports, women and the fast life. My thoughts drifted away from that gun cabinet; it only ever entered my mind when I thought of a gun’s value and how many libations that could afford me.
My grandfather and I remained close through his last years. We would play Rummy, smoke cigarettes and talk about the good days of hunting. I was an adult by then, and I had almost forgotten everything I knew about a shotgun, ruffed grouse and the excitement I felt when a bird flushed.
Eugene Green passed away when I was 22. It hit me hard. I didn’t have a porch to sit on to vent my problems anymore, I didn’t have that old TV with rabbit ears to watch Walker Texas Ranger and I couldn’t, with any dignity, stare at that gun case that held so many memories.
As family matters sometimes go, I was left with nothing of my grandfather’s except an old .410 single-shot shotgun that he had bought for my father, who passed away when I was 21, when he was a boy. It was okay; I didn’t deserve the guns at the time. I do wish, though, that I had opened that case one last time and wiped the dust off of those guns before they moved to their new homes.
About a year after my grandpa’s passing, I decided that I would take up college. I had turned my life around thanks to a strong mother, fly fishing and a core group of like-minded friends. During my senior year at Central Michigan University, I started to become interested in grouse again.
Calvin goes on point during a training day at a Southern Michigan State Game Area. Photo: Mikayla Carter, Michigan Out-of-Doors Communications Intern
I don’t know why. I couldn’t even remember the sound a grouse made when it flushed or what one looked like. I just knew that I needed to reconnect to that old part of my past and in some way or another, try to conjure up that feeling I got when my grandfather talked about grouse.
After graduation, my wife, Emily, and I rescued a small Münsterländer. Emily had grown up with shorthairs, and the rescue of Calvin, our Münsterländer, was on a whim. He was gun-shy, and I knew it would take a lot of work to get him even comfortable around a gun.
Calvin on point in Northern Michigan. This piece of cover borders an 8-year-old aspen stand and often produces both grouse and woodcock. The author missed the grouse that Calvin had pinned with this point.
I had never hunted over a dog. My grandpa had never hunted over a dog. I wasn’t sure what the experience would bring and had no way to weigh my expectations against reality.
Calvin turned me into a bird hunter again, though. We worked all summer of 2017 to get him over the problem with guns, bring out his hereditary “birdiness” and make him comfortable working covers.
Where I am from, much of the “traditional grouse habitat” expectations can be thrown out. We don’t have many huge tracts of early-successional aspen with wintergreen littering the forest floor. Yet, we always have grouse. Transitional areas that border rivers and support conifer growth are my go-to grouse spots.
Calvin and I took a week off last October to try our hand at finding a few grouse in these unconventional habitats. I was humbled: Calvin, although staunch in a field, still had a lot of learning to do when it came to the grouse woods. We bumped grouse by the dozens before, on the fourth day of our week-long endeavor, he pointed a grouse in an open field and I was able to connect with it.
Calvin stands proud with a grouse he found while beating brush in Northern Michigan.
As Calvin searched for the grouse, I became emotional. It was the first grouse I had harvested since I was 12. A 17-year drought had ended.
I can remember, with clarity, that grouse when I was 12, too. My grandfather and I were driving through a tract of national forest, as we often did on Sundays, looking for squirrels, rabbits or birds. We came across a grouse that was picking stones from the road, and when it noticed us, it scurried into some tag alders.
My grandfather carefully uncased the .410, knowing with 95 percent certainty that I wouldn’t hit the bird, and told me to walk towards where I saw the grouse enter the alders and try to flush it. Somehow, and I think fate may have it that because it would be the last bird I harvested with my grandfather, I managed to tickle the bird enough to bring it to the ground.
“Finish it,” my grandfather said as I Ioaded another shell. I didn’t know at that moment how special that grouse would come to be. That was my first, last grouse.
As Calvin returned with our bird, I thought of my grandpa and 12-year-old me retrieving that grouse while grinning ear to ear. The pride he would have felt knowing that his passion was passed along to me again filled me with emotion. At 29, I had again harvested my “first grouse.” This time, it was behind, and thanks to, Calvin.
My journey back to grouse hunting was a long one; one that I think my grandfather knew I would embark on again sometime in my life. I still shoot that .410, and despite my awful shotgunning skills, it may get the call on a few hunts this fall.
Calvin’s first bird hunting successes were on woodcock — which is not surprising to most who have spent time chasing upland birds in Michigan. The author and his dogs still target specifically woodcock during certain times of the year for their delicacy on the table and their unusual flight patterns that keep many game bags empty.
I don’t know now where my grandfather’s old doubles are. I probably never will. I do know that, as I start to fill my own gun case, I will be sure to instill in my children and grandchildren the story of my grandfather, his grouse endeavors and the special moment when I harvested my “first, last grouse.” Hopefully, someday, long after I am able to trek through the grouse woods, they will be able to wipe the dust off of my guns and think about their first or last grouse.