Pingpong is fun as long as you’re not the ball.
I stopped the truck, leaned my head out the window and heard the sound of a sooty grouse. Step 1 complete. Step 2 was to determine the direction. I backed into a pull out, parked, then stood on the road in front of my truck facing perpendicular to the road. Grouse on the right. Grouse on the left. I waited to make sure. Grouse on the left. Grouse on the right. I decided to go right but 100 yards up the road, I heard grouse on the left. Nothing on the right. Was I wrong? I waited. Left. Left. No right. I walked down the gravel road past my truck. Right. No left. What? I walked back up to the right. Nothing.
I was a pingpong ball being smacked up and down the gravel road by a pair of grouse who didn’t know I existed.
I decided that I was not hearing the sound because the road cut through a low point between two hills so the closer I got, the more texture of the rising hills got in the way of the sound. There was one on the left. I knew it. I just needed to commit, get into the woods and make it happen.
Hearing only the right bird as I climbed toward the left one, I started thinking about all the other things that can go wrong. Birds stop. Sometimes the nastiness of the upper branches never provides a shot. Sometimes you just don’t find them. Well, at least these things happen to me while hunting hooters this time of year.
I reached the soft, wooded crest and picked up the sound. The going was easier since I gained elevation and was soon close enough I felt the sound. Anyone who has hunted hooters knows this feeling. There’s that extra tone that seems to vibrate the inner ear. He’s close.
I found him most of the way up a spruce tree and tried to figure out a way to point my rifle at that angle. I backed up a little bit, braced against a tree, but that put a branch in the way. I sat down. Nope. Branch. The best shot was when I was at a half squat but that wasn’t going to happen. I morphed from a pingpong ball bouncing back and forth to a dog circling, circling, circling before finally laying down.
I laid prone, using the slope to assist me in getting the right angle. I propped the barrel against the top of my pack, and rolled my head back until the back of my head was resting on my spine. I fired a warning shot — one of my least favorite, but often used euphemisms. The grouse didn’t fly off, instead it just worked its way closer to the trunk of the tree. I readjusted and made the shot.
When it comes to eating a sooty grouse, the calorie math gets a little sketchy. The amount you burn compared to the amount you harvest, can be a little off in my case. I combat this by making it deliciously sketchy. Downing a hooter means I have permission to go to the store and get bacon, jalapeno peppers and cream cheese for grouse poppers. But not everything is about numbers — steps, elevation, calories, shots, and if you start to over analyze everything you’re in danger of missing the point.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.