BRAD DOKKEN COLUMN: Afternoon hunt yields enjoyable meeting in the woods
I'd barely gotten into the woods when I saw the two dogs, German shorthair pointers working the brush to perhaps flush out a ruffed grouse for the father and son whose voices I could hear nearby.
The dogs saw me and stopped in the middle of the trail, not quite sure what to think about the intruder who now stood in front of them.
They stood their ground but didn't bark. In my experience, GSPs—as German shorthairs often are called—aren't known for their aggressiveness so I wasn't particularly concerned.
Still, I wasn't about to take any chances.
"I hope they're friendly," I said in a voice loud enough for the hunters to hear me.
"They are," the man replied as he and his son appeared on the trail.
So began an encounter that would be a highlight of my afternoon.
We struck up a conversation, and it turned out the father and son lived nearby. Like me, they were taking advantage of a nice afternoon that offered a welcome reprieve from winter's first blast.
Like me, they hadn't been in the woods very long, and like me, they hadn't flushed up any birds.
Our surroundings resembled a winter wonderland as the first snow of the season clung heavy to the trees that surrounded us. It was almost hard to believe that only a week earlier, I'd walked this same trail on an afternoon when the temperature rose to 80 degrees and the air was filled with Asian lady beetles, nasty biting bugs that emit a scent like rotten potatoes when threatened.
There wasn't an Asian lady beetle in sight on this afternoon.
We covered a lot of ground during our chat. We swapped hunting stories, talked of mutual acquaintances and shared in the opinion that everything changes with ruffed grouse hunting after the snow hits the ground.
Spots that hold birds when the ground is bare seem to dry up when the woods turn white.
Kids aren't always talkative, in my experience, but that wasn't the case with the boy out enjoying an afternoon in the woods with his dad and their dogs. He had lots of stories, like the time he shot a ruffed grouse on a trail only to find he'd actually shot two grouse when he walked up to retrieve the bird.
The boy obviously enjoyed the outdoors and being in the woods with his dad. Just as important—and perhaps even more important—Dad obviously enjoyed being outdoors with his son. Teaching him the ways of hunting and nature, of being polite and courteous.
At a time when too many young people have lost their connection with the natural world in favor of smartphones and video games, it was encouraging to see and hear the boy's enthusiasm.
The dad, it turns out, was a coach for the local high school trapshooting team and said an older son, an avid trap and sporting clays shooter now out of high school, had put thousands of rounds through his shotgun every year and had racked up the rewards of that hard work.
If what I saw that afternoon on the trail is any indication, his younger son will be doing the same thing in the not-too-distant future.
We must have spent 20 minutes or more talking and swapping stories during that chance meeting on the trail. We said our farewells and went our separate ways, the father and son continuing a loop back toward their vehicle and me down the trail they'd been hunting when we crossed paths.
Even though they already had hunted part of the route I planned to walk, I felt uplifted by the encounter.
There's a lot to like, after all, about a father, a son and their two dogs in the woods enjoying a grouse hunt the way it should be enjoyed. On foot, working the dogs and watching for the telltale point, soaking in the sounds of nature in a snowy woods.
I never saw a bird that afternoon, and since I didn't hear any shots, I'm assuming they didn't, either.
I'm not sure that mattered. Sometimes, just being out there is enough.
It certainly was on that afternoon.