Deep Woods Discoveries
Reprinted by permission of the Ruffed Grouse Society Covers magazine.
Nancy Anisfield 802-482-4989 firstname.lastname@example.org
Some days the grouse woods feel like the heart of darkness on steroids or a swamp monster’s playground. The trees are impenetrable and the brush is a phlebotomist’s theme park. Other days the light filters gently through elegant birch stands and a carpet of soft pine needles cushions every step. The one thing these two upland landscapes have in common is that they both hold treasures, “treasure” being a subjective term. Beautiful or bizarre, we northern forest hunters are privileged to have access to such loot.
Every seasoned grouse hunter will nod when you talk about unexpected backwoods discoveries, the odd or surprising things that appear in the seeming middle of nowhere. Sometimes the finds are natural – unusual flora or fauna. Sometimes they are man-made – strange remnants of human intervention in a spot that hasn’t or shouldn’t have had a human presence.
David Kuritzky phrased it well when he said, “Have I’ve seen anything surprising or strange? My initial thought was I've not seen anything unusual. Then I realized that the events of nature may not be unusual to us grouse hunters, but they are seen by few. Huge deer in Kansas, predator versus prey avian and mammalian. Old foundations to old cars in seemingly remote areas....”
One season, Terry Wilson’s German wirehair, Rudder, pointed a peacock on the brush line at the back of his property in Vermont. An all white peacock. It flushed up into a tree and stayed there. He never saw it again. Tom Keer remembers an infamous "two-headed turkey" – one behind the other with body and legs perfectly aligned – that interrupted his hunt by turning the dogs inside out as they gave chase. Kelley Landry once found the skeleton of a dog chained to a tree. Deep in the woods of northern Minnesota, I found a perfect 8-point rack still attached to a bleached deer skull. Patti Carter found a not-particularly-sweet-smelling moose skull deep in one of Maine’s industrial forests and stopped to pry out a souvenir tooth for each of us.
Mark Levasseur discovered the hulking wreck of a burned out skidder. Jason Carter – and his dogs – know a porcupine that lives in a rusty old Studebaker in the woods. The one and only time I shot a double on grouse was in a cover up in New Brunswick dubbed the “Two-Holer” because in the center of what is now an overgrown abandoned apple orchard is a old two-seater outhouse.
Mike Bartz writes, “One day I paddled across Gunflint Lake in my 1920's era Chestnut canoe with my setter and my old English double and a handful of shells. On the Canadian side there is an abandoned rail bed that had been built in the early 1890's. Where they blasted through the rock to lay the bed, someone was killed. A cross carved in the rock. Obviously more recently, friends or family touched up the spot with a white paint depicting the victim’s name and date of death. I did some research after returning and discovered it was indeed a blasting accident.”
Matt Soberg remembers the time his dog pointed a Canadian goose. In the woods. “The beeper was going for a long time. He was just one year old at the time, and I was excited that he was holding point for so long. Come to find out it was a goose of all things, on the trail in the middle of the forest – no water in sight.”
We’ve seen faces in tree burls, mushrooms that look like flying saucers, wasp nests the size of condominiums and barbed wire grown through branches thicker than ten-gallon drums. We’ve been buzzed by turkey vultures and made eye contact with a mesmerized fox.
More often than not, these discoveries generate more questions than answers. The lilac bush in the middle of a forest most likely has an old cellar hole nearby. But what is the history of the family that lived there? What happened to the homesteader whose only footprint is the pile of bricks left from a collapsed chimney? Why was the now rusty hand-cranked washing machine left behind without a clue about the home it once was part of? What is story behind the tragedy of the dog chained to the tree?
The answers to these questions are left to our imagination. The only thing for sure is that chance wildlife encounters and perplexing relics from past inhabitants add an extra dimension to our hunt and fuel for fireside reflections.