I lived in Vermont for 15 years, between 1979 and 1994, and despite the long winters I loved it! The bird hunting was great and for years after I moved to Florida, the bird hunting kept bringing me back. I’m talking ruffed grouse – what the natives in the Northeast Kingdom call “pa’tridge.” They are plentiful all over the state, the limit is a generous four birds a day, and you don’t need a pointing dog. In fact, I’ve found that most dogs are a hindrance – they range too far, and too fast – bumping more birds out of range than they do pointing.
You can hunt this bird by yourself, without a dog, but it’s best with a partner. On my last trip to Vermont, however, no one was available – one of the disadvantages of retiring before all of your hunting buddies!
The advantage of hunting in pairs is great. Two guys can better cover the ground they hunt and you simply get more opportunities, and then it’s always better to have someone with you should something go wrong.
My hunt was short, only three days, and the second day it rained dawn ’til dusk, so I never left camp. The last day I had to meet a friend to pick up some books I had left behind when I moved away and didn’t get hunting until 1 p.m. I was hunting familiar covers, and trying to confine myself to ones that were easy and close to the car.
The first cover of the day was off a logging road with a row of wild apple trees that bordered a field. There were usually grouse and woodcock here, hugging the edge of the field that dropped off into a ravine neatly dissected by a narrow brook. I had crossed this brook hundreds of times in the past 30 years to hunt the creek bottom that led up to a stand of softwood, so there was nothing exceptional going on.
The brook was shallow, a couple of inches deep for the most part, and not very wide where I usually crossed – maybe 6- or 8 feet. There were several big stones to get you across without getting your feet wet, but for some reason they were extra slippery this day. As I went to step across the brook my foot flew out from under me. I came down on the rocks butt first, and hard. My butt found the biggest rock, as I tried to keep my 1925 Ithaca double in the air and out of harm’s way, causing my hip to take the full force of the fall. The pain was immediate and such that my first thought was I had broken my hip. Both boots were full of water and I was soaked from the waist down as I struggled to get up. I did have the wherewithal to move my cellphone and my wallet into my hunting vest before they got wet – hoping that I wouldn’t need the phone. But lying there in the water and having a good deal of trouble trying to stand up, that issue was still in doubt. Finally I was able to get my feet out of the water, and pulled myself into a standing position with the aid of a sapling.
I took a step, and the pain in my hip was intense. I felt a little faint, so I stayed put and steadied myself as best I could. I looked my shotgun over, and it had fared much better than I did. Then I looked uphill and I could see my car a mere hundred yards away. The problem was I was at the bottom of a steep little drop, and had about 60 feet of serious incline to get back to the road. It took about a minute a foot to get out of the ravine and onto the road, and I’m sure my complexion was white as any sheet of paper.
I reached the car, stowed my gun, closed the trunk and finally sat down. I stayed there for 15- or 20 minutes before starting the car and heading back to camp. The pain subsided as soon as I sat down, but when I arrived at camp, standing up and moving again proved to be as painful and trying as it was trudging up the hill.
I loaded the wood stove, started a fire, and cooked a light supper before hitting the couch. There I had a chance to ponder how lucky I had been that I wasn’t a mile from the car when I fell. I had my phone with me, but I’m not sure there was even reception in this remote location. It occurred to me this was a good reason for any senior citizen not to hunt such rugged country by himself. For sure it won’t happen again.
I was on the road before sunrise the next day, and my bad luck continued on my 410-mile drive home. It had snowed overnight, and it was windy and very cold for October. Fifty miles from camp, I hit a piece of debris from an accident that just happened on Interstate 91 outside of St. Johnsbury that ruined my tire. To get to the spare, I had to move all of my hunting stuff out of the trunk and into the back seat of the car. Changing the tire with the little screw jack was made harder and very unpleasant by the cold, my bad hip, and the fact that I wasn’t wearing socks, and had no gloves. Huge semis rocked the car as they blew by, and it took half an hour or more to do the job. When I got into St. J, I found Autosaver Body shop and they were sympathetic with my plight and had me on my way two hours later. I finally got home to New Jersey later that afternoon with no further delays.
The lesson learned here is a hard one. I can’t hunt like I did 30 years ago, and I don’t think hunting alone is a good idea anymore. It won’t happen again.