Tony Vagneur: Never a reason to grouse about Gramps’ grouse
The note was succinct and to the point: “We left a chicken in the creek for you.” Five or six days at cow camp without seeing another soul, and the closest I came was a note extolling the dinner menu. Never was a grouse more welcome, and I have to admit, even with my perceived culinary limitations¸ cooked over an outdoor fire, it could not have tasted better. Thank you, Tim and Steve.
My cousin Billy has it now, the single-shot .410 shotgun my grandfather always carried in a scabbard alongside his saddle. It wasn’t one of those things you’d particularly notice, like a 30.06 or other bigger caliber slung there, and I never really paid attention to it until the scene unfolded.
Even if I didn’t know what we were stopping for, the excitement in the air became palpable as Gramps hauled his big sorrel, Slim, to a halt and before you could count “one-two,” that pellet pusher would be aimed at something, most generally a grouse camouflaged in a pine or spruce. Gramps seldom missed and don’t think the above scene happened every day¸ because it didn’t, but its occasional occurrence was enough to brighten the day for my grandfather.
I’ve likely told you the story of Gramps and me, coming down the Collins Creek trail late in the day. He spied some grouse up ahead and pointed out a wild raspberry patch to me, down along the creek. We tied our horses up while he went about his business and I worked on the sweet, juicy berries.
There was a shot or two and then quiet. I looked up to see what might be going on and there was Gramps, sitting alongside the trail, hurriedly motioning me to come to his position. I barely made it in time to hunker down with him while we watched a big, ol’ black bear mosey up the trail toward us. Due to the acoustics in the canyon, he must not have heard the shooting and might have had his mind on wild raspberries, as well. He sniffed us out before he got too close and darted off through the trees on the other side of the creek. That was the first bear I’d ever seen in the wild.
The excitement of hunting birds or fishing big, fighting rainbows out of the cold mountain stream is something I remember well. As a ranch kid, I caught the bug early, on those riding expeditions with Gramps or the fishing we did out of Woody Creek on the off days when we weren’t looking for cows. He could get as excited about digging up some bait worms as he did when he saw a grouse whiz up into a tree. He died the year before I was old enough to hunt big game with him, but I know that infectious excitement would have been floating in the air.
He was like that when he was a youngster, you can bet, and when he was in his 60s, it was clear he never outgrew it. The lure of the hunt or the tug of a wild one on his fishing line made him into a kid again for a little while, something to be cherished in one’s later years.
We ate those grouse and fish at various times of the day, whatever seemed right for our hunger pangs and my mother sometimes worried that I’d lost my appetite for one reason or another. Gramps was a good cook, made great fried egg sandwiches, too.
Like I said earlier, he died when I was 11, and that was the end of fishing for me. Went back a few times, but the magic was gone. But hunting grouse, that was another matter. And then, the year after Gramps died, I went on my first successful elk hunt with my dad and uncle Vic. The head of the poor son-of-a-gun hangs on my living room wall still. And oh yeah, I understood the enthusiasm, the thrill of the hunt, just like Grandpa probably did, for many years. Uncle Vic, cousin Wayne and I hunted a lot of grouse, too.
But somewhere along the way, more than a few years ago, the desire, the enjoyment of the hunt left me, or I left it and I’m done with the killing. It’s still exciting to see wild creatures, but strictly for my viewing pleasure.
If, in the future, Gramps and I should meet along the trail somewhere, I’d probably put away my reticence and after the joy of seeing him again, my excitement for the hunt would possibly return. How I’d love to share a grouse with him in that old ranch kitchen, the woodstove popping as the pan sizzled.
The significance of a grouse left in the creek can’t be overstated.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2019 Aspen’s electorate approved a contentious ballot issue by a 26-vote margin that paved the way for the 81-room Gorsuch Haus project. The hotel was to be part of a major redevelopment at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side that is also slated to include a new ski lift and ski museum.
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