For the hunter, fall is the island and the rest of the year is the swim.
– Charles Fergus
Everyone loves the warm days of summer. Unless you’re a bird dog. Or a bird dog owner.
Keeping a high-energy dog (or two, in our case) conditioned and mentally stimulated in the heat of summer is a challenge. Between Southern Michigan’s high temperatures and humidity, and swarms of ferocious mosquitoes, training dogs ranks right up there with yard work on the fun scale. So we decided to head north for a bit of cooler weather and a mid-July hunting ground scouting expedition with our Weimaraner, Stuka, to make the best of the time of year which has poetically been referred to as “the swim.”
Northern Lower Michigan boasts some incredibly beautiful national and state forest areas, criss-crossed with two-tracks and fire roads utilized by ORVs, hunters and snowmobilers. We loaded up the truck, and armed with a Michigan Gazetteer we made our way to an area I’d hunted last season. Our goal: Locate and hike hunting ground prospects with the right habitat to support Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock and waypoint those coordinates into the Garmin for easy access in the fall.
We headed to a heavily forested region I’d skirted on an earlier camping trip and used the map to find state-owned land available for hunting. Many state forest areas are not one continuous property and there are often small towns and private property scattered throughout, so a good map of the area with clearly marked public land is a must. Portions of northern Michigan have in the past been logged and clear-cut, which prompted the establishment of these protected wilderness areas. Conservation efforts in the 1930s were undertaken to reforest the land, and many pine trees were planted to help restore the forests. But we weren’t looking for pine trees. We were looking for young aspen.
And find them we did. Our waypoints included stands of aspen separated by wide, clear meadows. I’ve found success hunting Timberdoodle at the edges of new growth forest, so I specifically look for this type of environment. I ventured into one such stand of young aspens, watching as Stuka darted effortlessly between the slender trunks, his gray coat camouflaging him against the silvery saplings. I listened for the bell attached to his collar to keep track of his location, confident in the knowledge that he tended to hunt close.
Twenty yards into the thicket the bell fell silent and I could see through the trees that Stuka was on point. I took two steps towards Stuka and a woodcock broke cover and raced past me. With his long beak and oddly upright stature, it seemed improbable he could fly so fast. But the foliage quickly concealed him. I whoa’d the dog, not wanting to put any more pressure on the bird and said out loud, “Yeah, I think this place will do.”
Michigan has some beautiful beaches along its Lake Michigan coast, and reluctant to bring our expedition to an end we took advantage of the longer days to do some beachcombing and swimming. Stuka prefers the grouse woods to the beach, but with temps in the high 80s he gladly went for a dip in the cool water. The deserted beach seemed a fitting place for us to have “the swim” of our own, both literally and figuratively.