Making one’s living from the bounty of the natural resources, to include hunting, is deeply engrained in the rich history of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, urban sprawl has taken many sections of the state away from those who enjoy the great outdoors. Thankfully there are still places in the western and northern parts of the state with their doors wide open. It was the end of the first week of October and I found myself making my way up the backside of Bald Hill located in the Town of Marlow, New Hampshire. With me were my friend Chris Devits, his father Bob and a 9 month old English setter named Belle. Our goal for this day was to put Belle on some Roughed grouse, also known as “partridge”. Our hope was to bring some of these birds home for the dinner table.
This event all started when Chris asked me if I would be interested in tagging along with him and his father as they trained their new English setters Belle and Jake. Chris acquired these dogs as a result of the sudden death of his fully trained 6 year old setter. These dogs were young and still had a great deal to learn, but the only way they will learn is to get them in the field, so that is what we were doing. The areas around Lempster, Goshen, Marlow and Washington are prime grouse and woodcock areas, so there was no worry about putting the dogs on birds. Now the part of us bagging any of them is another story.
Our plan was to meet at Sturgeon’s General Store in Lempster at 7:00AM. I was there at 6:30 and Chris and Bob arrived shortly thereafter. From here I followed Chris to Bald Hill. Let me tell you it was a little hairy getting to the location. My truck is not a 4×4 and it was touch and go in some places. We did make it in, and I didn’t want to think about the ride out right then.
Belle was the first out and like all pups, she was full of energy. It took her about a half an hour to settle down. During this time we made our way up one of the numerous snowmobile trails that crisscross the area. The scene that unfolded before my eyes looked like it came out of a painting and I almost forgot that I was carrying that Mossberg 500 shotgun. The leaves on the birch, aspen and beechnut trees gave off different variations of yellow while the majestic oaks were a brownish-red. In such a setting the mind tends to wonder to a much simpler place and time.
Reality slapped me in the face as Belle started getting “birdie”, meaning that she had picked up the scent of something. Not very steady on the point yet, she bumped a woodcock. None of us were in any position to shoot, so that bird went on its way. The flushing woodcock put us all on guard as where there is one there is usually another. While there may have been another bird in the immediate area, Belle lost interest, so after Chris praised Belle for finding the bird we moved on. After all, this day was more about teaching her to find birds than it was about us shooting any.
As we moved from the trail and into the thick of the hardwood forest Belle once again got “birdie”. Working her way back and forth she went on a very quick point and then the bird flushed. It was a grouse, but I never saw the bird due to the thick cover. I only heard the telltale sound of the flush. Once again none of us were able to take the shot. As the morning wore on we flushed another couple of woodcock and three more grouse. It was a great day for Belle. For a 9 month old dog she had great potential. I would love to hunt over her in another year.
For me, hunting is much more about the experience than it is about taking game. My wife calls it an excuse for me to get into the woods, and sometimes I think that she is right. This trip on Bald Hill was definitely an experience. As if the beauty of the outdoors was not enough, the wildlife we encountered, or didn’t encounter, was well worth the trip. Sometimes it is what you don’t see that is the most exciting. Working my way through the hardwoods I came upon some very large bear scat. Large bear scat means large bears, and the scat I found was fairly fresh. The bear was not too far away and I really didn’t want to run into this animal armed only with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with bird shot.
Moving to lower ground put us into a fairly marshy area full of grass and ferns. It was in this area that I came upon a spot where a moose had been resting. I could tell because of the flattened grass and ferns. Without realizing it, I was following the moose’s path, and it wasn’t really that far ahead of me. The tracks that I found in the mud were fairly fresh, as they had not filled with water yet. October is moose breeding season and doesn’t equate to a good time to come face to face with one as they can be very dangerous. I really did not want to come face to face with this animal on this day.
After about three hours we started heading back to our trucks. We had accomplished part of our mission; Belle had gotten on some birds and that was a good thing. While we didn’t take any birds, and in fact we never fired a shot, I feel that the day was a win. Here in this part of the state is where New Hampshire history, both human and natural, is still alive. Our outdoor heritage is what draws thousands of people here every year. Bald Hill is just one of those special places.