This past weekend Booker and I headed up to the very northern part of the state to take a last crack at grouse. We got an early start, finding a warm, breezy, and humid morning as we loaded into the truck. As we went north the clouds lowered and gathered; hardly prospective for bird hunting. By the time we got to where I intended to hunt, we couldn't see the top of the ridge for the dark clouds scudding through the sky and rain showers were marching up from the south and west. Weather up there nearly always comes out of the west and if the trend is from the southwest, it is nearly always wet. After three hours on the road, we were faced with the decision whether to head up into likely rain and poor hunting or to turn around and go home without putting boots on the ground. We chose to go up and, before we'd made it across the mile and a half to the foot of the ridge, I had to pull on rain gear in the face of a chilly, sideways drizzle.
In a lifetime of hunting and fishing less than optimum conditions are bound to come up. You drive out to the water only to be confronted with chocolate-colored waves that are too rough to fish well and too off-color to hold many fish, or you get to the river to find that a sudden warm spell has dumped a bunch of cold, muddy snowmelt into it, turning off the fish and stopping any hatches, or get to the lake to be confronted by a forty-mile-an-hour wind that renders fly-casting problematic and dangerous, that same wind can blow for an entire weekend if you're turkey hunting and silence the birds while killing your chances of calling one in, or you go out for grouse and find yourself in wet weather that puts the birds up cozy in nice thick spruce trees, rather than down on the ground where the dog can find them. In most instances I end up going ahead and trying anyway. After all, you're there and you've set the time aside; you might see something or have some success despite the poor conditions. Every so often, it works out. Most the time, you do about as well as one would expect given the look of things.
In any event, as Booker and I started up a finger ridge we got out of the wind and the rain (mixed with pea-sized hail now) let off. I was able to pull of the rain jacket and entertain the optimistic thought that the dampness would improve scenting conditions for the dog. This particular spot requires a good hard hour's worth of walking to get to the top where we generally find the birds. Nearly there, we spooked a small bull elk lying on a point in some aspens. I didn't get a good look, mostly a big tan body, blonde butt, and flash of antlers through the trees. As we topped out, I slowed down and immediately got cold and had to pull clothes back on as the mist and clouds began to precipitate a fine penetrating drizzle. Booker flushed a grouse off the ground some twenty yards out and the uncooperative bird lofted high and off the edge of the ridge, disappearing into the mist. No chance of following him up, but at least we are able to say we found game. We hunted around that area carefully, checking all the spruce nearby for birds huddling in their shelter and walking around the little openings but finding nothing, apparently he was a single.
As we pushed along the edges of the trees and through the little meadows it would rain more and then let off, not great weather but huntable. Then it began to darken precipitously and the rain set in much harder as the temperature dropped fifteen degrees. Despite pulling on a pair of light gloves, I was starting to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers and my cheeks were numb. The dog found it invigorating, much more to his liking than the warm sunny weather I had been hoping for. Nonetheless, I decided that we weren't going to do any good and headed down the mountain. Just as we started down a ridge leading toward the truck, thunder started rumbling and we began to see flashes of lightning. Up high you can really feel that stuff and some of the strikes were too close for comfort, causing even Booker to tuck his tail and glance over his shoulder, so we started seriously bailing down the hill, moving as quickly as loose rock and frequent blowdowns would permit. We made it back to the truck dripping wet after three and a half hours of walking for an hour's worth of hunting. At least we got out there, though. Heck, we even saw something.
p.s.- Can't recommend these Rocky waterproof birdshooters. Only four years old, they have leaked like sieves the last two seasons and I blew that top seam the other day. Comfortable and light, but not durable at all.
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