My freelance writing career spans 4 decades, and in the process I have hundreds of published essays and columns that I proudly share on this web site. Imagine my surprise when a friend wrote and congratulated me on being quoted in the national publication The Retriever Journal.
I found a copy at Barnes & Nobles to see for myself. There I found not only the quote, but acknowledgement that it was selected from hundreds of quotes found in a recently published Sporting Classics book, "Passages - The Greatest Quotations from Sporting Literature".
On page 103 you will find the quote,
"October is a month made for bird hunters. It's a scene filled with golden popple stands, walking ankle deep in leaves on the forest floor and watching grouse thunder out of red dogwood patches. Add a hunting dog, a golden brown cattail marsh and a cornfield, and watch an upland hunter's pulse quicken. Give me October twelve months of the year and I'll show you what Heaven's all about."
Ken M. Blomberg
Badger Sportsman, 1992
The following essay first appeared in my weekly newspaper outdoor column "Up the Creek". I made a few revisions and in 2014, it was published in the national Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.
The old man sipped his third cup of coffee and stared intently out the kitchen window. His bird dog lay at his feet. Memories drifted through his mind as he watched the sun rise over the trees bordering the training field. He daydreamed of seasons past, old hunting partners and long departed gun dogs. He tried to forget about the phone call that morning from the doctor’s office.
The spell was broken when the dogs in the kennel out back began howling. The front door swung open and his sixteen-year-old grandson stomped into the room. “Hi grandpa,” he exclaimed, “Ready to go?”
The old man and the boy had hunted ruffed grouse together many times, but today’s hunt would prove to be special. It was New Year’s Day and grandpa had promised the lad a special gift six days earlier. “Put old Buck in the dog box,” he instructed the youngster, “I’ll go get my shotgun.”
“Old Buck?” the boy thought to himself. “He died eight years ago. This is Duke, grandson of Buck. Dad must be right - the old man is getting senile.”
They drove west for twenty minutes, then headed north on a gravel road for another ten until reaching a locked gate. A key in the glove compartment gave them access to an area seldom allowed to others. Beyond the gate gravel gave way to a snow covered logging road quickly swallowed up by a young stand of aspen trees. They pulled off the trail and parked the pickup truck between a row of pines and a small creek.
“Never advertise your hotspots by parking in the open,” said the old man. “Let old Buck out of his dog box and we’ll get started.” Duke stretched and relieved himself on the nearest pine before ambling off into the aspen. The old man told the boy to follow the dog while he’d walk down the trail. For the past few years, he seldom strayed off level paths. His aging legs were unsteady in the woods and a tumble might break something, ending a hunting career in a hurry. He knew his limitations.
The dog’s bell went silent off to the left side of the trail. He heard his grandson’s shot, followed by a curse. With no need for further explanation, the three moved on. They followed the dog and the trail, crossing the creek twice before reaching a meadow where the path ended. It had been a forty-five minute hike and the elder hunter needed to rest. A rock fence bisected the field and included a large, flat boulder that made for a fine seat. From his perch, the old man could watch the dog and boy hunt the perimeter of the meadow and creek bottom.
It was a spot that never failed to hold a bird or two. The view never failed to remind him of a Ripley print hanging on the wall back home. A framed classic, “Autumn Cover” he purchased at a flea market – signed, framed and matted for seven bucks. “One man’s junk, another’s treasure,” he mused.
“Why don’t you take my gun for a while, it’s time for this old timer to take a break.”
The youngster couldn’t believe his good fortune as he stared down at the old side-by-side shotgun in his hands - the family heirloom. A fine Winchester Model 21 and he was holding it for the very first time.
“Hey, pay attention to Buck. He looks birdy down there by the creek.”
Sure enough, the dog hit a scent cone and with one foot in the water, stood stock-still as the boy moved in from the side. A ruffed grouse exploded from under an alder and flew left to right. The gun jumped to his shoulder and without thinking, he swung and fired instinctively at the bird. The dog broke at the shot, but before reaching the downed bird, slammed into a second point.
Meanwhile, the boy fumbled for a shell, reloaded and moved in for another flush. This time, two birds took to the air simultaneously, one flying directly over his shoulder and back towards his grandfather, the other to the right along the stone fence. He knew better than to fire at the first bird, so he whirled around and to his amazement, dropped the second one going straight away.
“Nice shooting boy,” the old man yelled. “Two are enough, call old Buck over here and let’s have a look at your birds.”
The young boy’s hands were still trembling when he pulled the birds from his game bag. They admired the brace of grouse for a long time, comparing the two color phases - gray and brown - and length of the tail feathers. Both tail bands were unbroken.
“Probably males,” said the elder hunter. “See two spots on their rump feathers? Yep, males.”
The two felt the deep satisfaction that comes from success. Grandfather and grandson had never been closer than at that moment in time. Before it ended, the old man reached into his pocket and pulled out the key to the gate.
Handing it to his grandson he said, “There’s your gifts for Christmas - and a New Year’s wish. Promise me you won’t mention this to your mother, but the doctors tell me I won’t be around much longer. So it’s time for the gun and the key to be yours. Treat both with care and if you do right by them, they’ll do right by you. I wish that someday you will be able to pass them along to the next generation. And remember, when you’re up here hunting with your dog, think of old Buck and me. We’ll be keeping an eye on you from somewhere along this old stone fence."