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Wild Side: A good dog makes hunting a joy

Craig Purse and his English setter Jake, Badger and Dan Wilcox in Trempealeau County. Ken Schreiber photo

We have been fortunate to have owned a series of great hunting dogs, each one better than the last. Our current dog Badger is a golden retriever over 13 years old.

In his prime he was fast, tireless, an avid hunter of grouse and pheasants and an ice-breaking retriever of ducks and geese. He still loves to hunt and has a good nose. His speed and endurance have diminished but his enthusiasm remains. Like me, he takes longer to recover after a strenuous hike and he likes to sleep a lot.

The most popular kind of small game hunting in Wisconsin is for ruffed grouse. It's my favorite kind of hunting. Last week, my friend Craig Purse from El Paso and I visited my brother-in-law Ken Schreiber and his wife Anita at their farm south of Osseo. It's a picture-postcard beautiful place at the upper end of a valley with a variety of habitats -- a spring-fed pond, wetlands, white pines, planted prairie, blackberry thickets, brushy ravines and oak woods.

Ruffed grouse have done well in that good habitat around Ken and Anita's house. Kamikaze grouse shattered three expensive windows in the last year so we were invited to help thin them out.

Both Ken and Craig are avid grouse hunters. Craig has been hunting grouse over 30 days so far this year in Minnesota and Wisconsin with his English setter Jake. Craig is in love with Jake, the best grouse hunting dog he's had.

English setters are traditional grouse-hunting dogs; fast, stylish, and all business. Jake is a slightly-built dog, only about 40 pounds and built like a greyhound. He has longish black and white fur with brown eyebrows.

Jake ranged out in front of us, running at top speed through the thickest cover. When he scents a bird, he stops and points. Old Badger and I hunted off to the side, watching Jake cover a wide swath.

I had a bit of an epiphany watching Craig and Jake hunt. With a pointing dog, you don't need to stay close to the dog in order to get a shot at a bird like you do with a flushing dog. I should consider owning a pointing dog now that my sprinting ability is winding down.

The dense cover that grouse occupy makes hunting for them more than a casual walk in the woods. It's tough exercise climbing over the rough terrain and through all the dense brush.

The difficulty of hiking through grouse coverts is offset by the joy of watching dogs work, the thrill of flushes, the challenge of shooting the rocketing birds, the grand scenery of the woods, and the camaraderie of hunting with friends.

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