By Brandi Underwood
The Fayette Tribune
The mountains above the Gauley River are steep, rough, beautiful and home to a wealth of wildlife. During the month of November our state’s sportsmen and women can experience the season of their choice. For the small game hunter, November is the prime time to pursue rabbits, squirrels and grouse. Woodcock flights will be filtering in and out up until the ground freezes or snow covers the ground. White-tailed bucks will be at the height of the rut and black bears will be busy feeding and packing on fat for the winter. Fur will be prime and the trappers can get out to take muskrats, beaver, coyote, fox and raccoons. A fisher or an otter will be a bonus and a real prize.
As I loaded the dogs there was a hint of moisture in the air, just enough to sense that rain may be the order of the day. But long ago I decided not to go hunting based on the weather forecast. For one thing, a 50 percent chance of rain also means a 50 percent chance of no rain. I guess I subscribe to the half-full glass philosophy when it comes to hunting. Too many times in years past I stayed home with a forecast of rain only to see the sun pop out in the afternoon when it was too late for me to get out. And the forecast where I live may not mean a thing when you go into the mountains two hours and 80 miles away.
By the time I got to Birch River the drizzle had stopped and everything was actually dry. Continuing on for about 30 minutes found me winding my way up the mountain high above the river. The heavy frosts and the high winds had taken care of most of the leaves.
The country around home was still cloaked in the colors of fall but here on the top of the mountains the forest was taking on the stark, rather bleak, gray and black colors that come when winter settles in.
Soft mast like hawthorn, grapes and crabapples had done well while the only hard mast in abundance appeared to be hickory and beech. Grouse don’t really do much with hickory that I am aware of but they relish beechnuts. This mountainside was a mixture of cut-over hardwoods with a sprinkling of mature hemlock and beech still standing. I brought our two English pointers for the day’s hunt. First I would hunt Deuce and, in the afternoon, I would hunt his daughter, Snoopy.
Deuce was standing on the tailgate eager to go while I gathered a few 20-gauge shells, the whistle and his bell. In a few minutes we were moving around the mountain on an old logging road. Deuce was first below the road and then above it as he searched for a grouse.
We had gone about 200 yards when Deuce went into a small clump of beech with a lone standing hemlock. I could tell that he had struck the scent of a grouse but that he didn’t have it located yet. He went a few more steps toward the hemlock and then froze in a rock solid point. I decided that the best opportunity for a shot would be for me to move to the right of the dog. If the bird went up or down the mountain I should get a shot.
I moved up to the dog but nothing moved or happened. I stood there for a few seconds and this pause unnerved the bird. I heard it running first as it attempted to clear the low branches of the hemlock.
This gave me a second to get ready as soon as it cleared the low branches and roared into the air. The grouse attempted to sail back down the mountain and doing so made it cross the old logging road. Exposed for a couple of seconds, silhouetted against the gray November sky, it was a perfect target.
When the 20-gauge Ithaca double cracked, the grouse cartwheeled and smacked down in the fallen beech leaves. In a few seconds, Deuce scooped up the big grouse and came proudly prancing back to me with the bird.
After a few minutes of telling him what a great dog he was, and sharing a piece of my sandwich with him, we were off again around the mountain. I could hear a shot or two off in the distance but couldn’t really tell if it was a turkey or grouse hunter.
Every high mountain grouse is a trophy to me and taking one calls for a few minutes of admiration of the bird, a cup of hot coffee and a cookie, not to mention that “the dog” may need a little rest.
After our short celebration and a short rest for Deuce, not that I needed one also, it was time to work back toward the truck. Snoopy was waiting her turn and I was looking forward to finishing out the afternoon in another high mountain, November cover.
(Editor’s note: The author of West Virginia WILD is Frank Jezioro, director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.)