A Walk In The Woods

All roads lead to waters… or at least they should!

I paid a visit to my friend JA yesterday, toting my bird gun instead of my fly rod. The wind in the mountains was blustery and carried a chill despite the sunshine when I found him sitting on the deck, relaxing for a moment after an active weekend. Our goal was to sharpen our eyes and our skills with October’s grouse season on the doorstep, but the talk of trout and dogs and birds and deer was as welcome as that first report of the shotgun in the crisp mountain air.

It has been a good summer. We fished together quite a lot, tossing whatever dry flies we had tied and exchanged to those wonderfully wild Catskill trout. We both cast fine bamboo rods, and JA enjoyed the distinct pleasure of taking trout with the rods crafted by his own skilled hands. That is an art that I covet, yet we must all know our limitations. More than thirty years of arthritis warn me away from the countless hours of hand planing, straightening and wrapping required to craft such a wand. Sadly I know that passion does not overcome the pain.

JA set up the trap and I reacquainted myself with the Model 101. As expected, those first “birds” flew past unscathed, but I concentrated on my gun mount and swing and improved my score somewhat. It is a simple thing to watch that spinning bit of clay puff into dust and fragments at the gun’s report, but immensely satisfying. JA is a practiced wingshot, and scored well as we traded places.

Throughout our target shoot, we could hear the barking from the cabin. Finley the Lab knew what those shotguns were for, and she was more than ready to hunt up some real birds for her master. She wasn’t at all happy when left indoors while the guns boomed. After cleaning and casing the guns and picking up unbroken clays we took that noble dog for a walk through the grouse covers.

Her exuberance was clear, for she smells the same autumn air that we do, in far more intricate detail, and she knows what the guns and orange caps mean. It is nearly time! As we walked, Finn worked the covers close at hand, never straying far from her handler and best friend, and always responsive to his whistle despite her pent up excitement. Grouse, woodcock, ducks or pheasants, Finley hunts and retrieves them all: one impressive lady.

My legs were tight when I arrived that afternoon, too little time along rivers of late, but they loosened as we climbed and coursed through forest and field. October promises crisp mornings afield and sundrenched afternoons along the water, perfection in a word!

The rods and guns are ready, Finley is certainly ready. Judging by the afternoon’s shooting, JA and I are as ready as we are going to get. May the birds flush in the clearings and the rivers bring forth the autumn hatches and the last rising trout of the season. I feel certain that JA will shoot straight, and I hope that I might swing true at least a time or two this fall. Roast grouse would be lovely, as would a nice pelt for tying winter soft hackles. There is strong magic in flies tied with the fur and feathers harvested by the hands that tie them!

Mistress Finley with a winter pheasant (Photo courtesy JA)

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