I am a lucky guy and I know it. I am on the last half of my fifth decade and have never had a serious illness or injury. I haven’t even had the flu or a cold for six or seven years. But my family has a terrible history of sudden death from heart attack. My mom died at age 40. Her brother died while working on is truck. He was under the truck and asked his son to hand a wrench to him, but was dead before the wrench arrived. He was about 55. So when I don’t feel good, especially if I have chest, arm or shoulder pain, it gets my attention.
Several years ago, I shoveled what seemed like 10 tons of snow off the roof. The next morning, my shoulder was hurting. Duh right? My shoulder would have hurt if I were still 20 something. But not wanting to ignore a real warning, I went to the clinic. When a middle-aged man shows up complaining of chest, arm or shoulder pain, they are immediately thrown on the bed and hooked up to the EKG. Everything was normal, but they suggested I take a stress test.
So, I had a full nuclear stress test. I was injected with a radioactive tracer and then walked and ran on a treadmill until the blood was really pumping. They can take some very good pictures that show all the coronary circulation and relative uptake of the tracer by the heart tissues. I was waiting around after the test to get the result. Finally a nurse came and told me that nobody would tell me anything. They would send the report to my Doctor and he would discuss it with me. That just great! This was on a Friday, so I wouldn’t know anything until Monday at the earliest. She smiled and told me to relax, if they saw something that concerned them, they wouldn’t let me go home at all, so no news was good news.
After another week, I finally got a phone call that basically said my test looked O.K. The person on the phone couldn’t answer any of my basic questions about the result, but would have the Doctor call me as soon as he could. I had already been waiting a week for him to call. I never did get that call, but I was feeling good and so I went back to my normal routine.
Just after Christmas last year, I wasn’t feeling good again. No real complaint, just unusually tired and sluggish. One morning I felt like there was some pressure in my chest. Probably just some indigestion, but remembering my family history, here we go again. I went to the clinic fully expecting to have another EKG. They took my blood pressure and listened to my heart, but no EKG.
Like most people, I put on a few pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Eating 5,000 calories per day will tend to do that. And like most people, when my weight goes up, my BP goes up. The Doc suggested I have a stress test. I told him I just took one three years earlier, but never got any feedback about the test. He said he would review the stress test results and get back to me. In the mean time, he told me to take it easy and not to exert myself. I was also supposed to keep a BP log for a week.
I did as I was asked. I took it easy. I cut back on the calories. I slowly strolled around the neighborhood like an old man. No serious hiking, no snowshoeing, no shoveling the driveway. After a week of this, I was feeling much better but I was bored out of my mind. The week rolled by and still no word from the Doc.
By Friday afternoon (Jan. 30th), I had given up hope of hearing from the Doc and planned to spend another boring but easy going weekend, but against all odds, the Doc called me on Friday night. He said the previous stress test looked very good, no blockages and no tissue damage and he didn’t think much could have changed with my heart since then. My BP was not perfect, but not dangerous, so as long as I was feeling better, I could resume my normal activities. Yeah!!! I was free.
Last Day of Grouse Season
The next day was Jan. 31st, the last day of the forest grouse season. I had been taking it easy for about two weeks, but I was getting out the house no matter what and what better way than to go hunting.
I got an early start the next morning. It was warm (mid 20s F) and it looked like it might snow. Perfect. I parked the truck and grabbed my favorite old single barrel 12 gauge and a hand full of shells and started up the canyon. I was hunting dog-less, which usually means I go grouse-less, but that doesn’t matter when you get to walk in country like this.
I was released by the Doctor, but I was still planning on taking a nice, slow easy walk. I decided to take a little trail that went up a steep little side canyon, but I would take it easy and go slow. If anyone had been this way recently, it would have been on foot. No ATVs, no snow machines and few horses. I had barely started through the gate, when a ruffed grouse blasted out of the brush and went straight up the hill. I hadn’t even loaded my gun yet.
Hunting Grouse Stress Test
I had a dilemma. Do I ignore the grouse and continue up the trail to the area I normally see grouse? Or do I chase after the only grouse I might see today? The slope was ridiculously steep, as close to a 50% grade as you will ever see. I couldn’t see the grouse anymore, but I thought it went into a group of mountain mahogany trees about 70 – 80 yards up the slope. Normally this slope would be covered in snow this time of year, but not this year.
So much for my plan to take it easy, I started up the hill. It was steep and felt like one step forward and two steps back. I needed a walking stick, so I checked again to make sure my gun was still unloaded and used it as my walking stick. At times, the ground was too steep and the soil too loose to even stand up, so I “4-wheeled” it up towards the grouse on my hands an knees. When I got close to where I thought the grouse was, I had to stop at catch my breath. My heart was racing and I was sucking wind, but damn it felt good! My own stress test trying to find a grouse.
After catching my breath, I loaded my gun and crept up to where I expected to see the grouse. It was impossible to be quiet as rocks were rolling down the hill with every foot step. It looked like I was going to get a good workout, but may not get a shot at this grouse. But that is dog-less grouse hunting.
I was right. The bird was not as far up the hill as I thought and it busted out on the wrong side of tree and glided back down the hill and around the corner. I let it go. I was committed to climbing the hill now. The ridge would be a good place to find a blue grouse. Fun place this, two grouse species to hunt in the same area.
The parking area is about 6,800 feet and the ridge top is about 7,300 feet, and I figured I was about a quarter of the way up to the ridge. At least I had already climbed the steepest part and the slope becomes less steep as the ridge top rounds off. I unloaded my gun again and used it as a walking stick until I got to the point I could walk without it. I reloaded the gun again and scanned for birds as I moved through the scattered, sage, PJ and mahogany.
I wasn’t worried about the wind since I was hunting birds without a dog, but the wind was perfect, straight in my face for other animals. I slipped more quietly up the ridge now that it wasn’t so steep. Near the top there were a few inches of crusty snow, so the sneak was over. I took 10 to 12 crunchy steps then froze to look and listen for movement. I had just crested the top of the ridge and started back down towards a pond. On this side of the ridge, the steep dry habitat PJ and mahogany transitioned into a flat basin of aspen, service berry with a few large Douglas Firs. I had moved about another 100 yards, when I saw movement. I readied my feet and the shotgun expecting a grouse to explode out of the snow.
That’s Not a Grouse
I saw something rising up from just over the horizon of snow. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, then it was obvious a large animal was standing up. It was no more than about 30 yards away, but through the trees, it was hard to identify at first. After about three seconds, I could tell it was an elk, with it’s rear end towards me. I just froze and watched. It obviously didn’t know what or where I was, so it just stood there trying to figure it out. When the head moved, I saw antlers so I knew it was a bull. The way he was acting, I think he was snoozing and I just woke him up. He was wide awake now, but still didn’t know why. The wind was still in my favor. When he took another step, I could see his entire head. It was a nice 6 x 6, not enormous, but a mature bull. He looked straight at me, but I didn’t move so he never pegged me. If I were farther away, I’m sure he would have ignored me altogether, but after about a minute, he moved into thick cover and I lost sight of him.
I walked over to look at his bed, then started back down towards the pond. I had heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming here back in the Spring. I was crunching through the snow and I could hear the elk crunching too, but he still hadn’t spooked. I felt the wind shift and hit me on the back of the neck and blow towards the elk. I never saw or heard the elk again. As I got closer to the pond, the wind was shifting, but stayed behind me, so my scent was moving down the hill in front of me. Just as I could see the frozen pond through the trees, I saw movement again. This time I was expecting to see another elk. Wrong again. Moose. But she had already scented me and was trotting off into thick cover.
After a week of moping around the house, this was medicine for the soul. Fresh air, exercise and I had already seen grouse, elk and moose and I just stepped out of the truck 45 minutes ago. Over the next two hours, I worked slowly around the basin in a big circle. The sun got higher in the sky and started to peak through the overcast. I had told my wife I would be home for lunch, so it was time to start back towards the truck which was about a mile away.
There was a lot of good grouse habitat on one side of the trail and since I went straight up the mountain when I first got there that morning, I hadn’t walked through it yet today. I learned long ago, if I am moving I never see grouse until they flush. If I alternate between walking and stopping, I see more grouse before they flush. So I continued alternately walking and watching. I had a feeling the gods were smiling on me today. I saw movement again, and this time it was a grouse feeding on buds along the trail. He seem oblivious that I was there.
Now I had another dilemma. Do a try to push him so he flushes so I can attempt the classic wing shot? Or Since this will be my last grouse this season, should I shoot him where he stands and make sure I enjoy one last grouse dinner?
I have friends that are serious bird hunters with well trained dogs. Every man that hunts with a dog want’s to see the dog work. It’s more about time in the field with the dog than actually shooting at grouse. They argue that hunting grouse without a dog is pointless. Some even say it is unethical, since a downed bird is hard to find without a dog.
Years ago, I hunted with dogs, but until recently, my job required too much travel to keep dogs, so I haven’t had a dog for almost 20 years. While we debate the merits of getting another dog, I hunt dog-less.
Is it pointless? Obviously not for me. I need to spend time in beautiful country just to maintain my sanity, so I would be out walking or hiking, grouse season or not. It’s just more interesting to carry a shotgun just in case I run into a grouse that wants to go home in my pocket. I would carry my .22 pistol to shoot grouse if it were legal.
Is it unethical? My hunt, My ethics. I follow all hunting laws and make every effort to recover game. I returned down the trail towards my truck with my second grouse of the season in my pocket. That season, I probably hiked at least 30 miles and flushed at least 25 grouse, but shot only three times at three grouse.
Next time I see my Doc, I will thank him for calling me on Friday night and allowing me that last grouse walk of the season.