THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A wild adventure comes to an end

Having a wild grouse as a buddy was really a unique experience for Doug Domedion. 

The “tame” wild grouse that I named Drummer Boy was with me at camp for three years.

It was during DB’s third spring that I was riding my ATV up a lane next to one of the ravines at camp when I spotted a grouse standing on a stump in the thicket about 30 feet off to the side. Figuring it was DB, I stopped to “visit,” and I thought he didn’t look quite right. DB had been molting, however, and his appearance changed, so I dismissed the thought.

Then, when I got off the ATV, he jumped into the tall weeds instead of coming over to me as he usually did. As I followed, “talking” to him, another movement in the weeds caught my eye, and then another. Soon, six young grouse materialized.

So it was not DB that I was following, it was a female grouse with her brood! Neither she nor the young seemed too concerned about me, but she kept a close eye on me as her young slowly moved through the thicket pecking at this and that. I watched them no more than 20 feet away for less than five minutes and then went on my way.

The appearance of a brood was good news, as it explained why DB had disappeared for a while: He now had a family! I was surprised, because I never saw another grouse’s tracks in the previous winters and thought he was the only grouse in the area.

That year, I didn’t see DB on a regular schedule. Sometimes he was out of my sight for five or more days at a time. He rarely followed the ATV or me any more, but he always came over to “visit” when I stopped. He had been staying in this ravine thicket ever since he had a bad experience with a hawk near an open area by my cabin.

One day as I came to the bridge I spotted a grouse on a pile of lumber and I thought it was DB, but, no, it was the female and her brood again. They didn’t run or flush, they just slowly moved off. That evening as I crossed the bridge again, there was DB on the lumber pile. I knew it was him because he was darker than the female, but I saw that his tail was completely gone.

Getting off the ATV, I sat on the ground next to the lumber pile. DB came over to visit, but he wasn’t cocky as usual. I opened a small jar of sunflower seeds that I had stashed on the ATV, for the times when I encountered him, and he came over and ate from the jar as I held it. As he ate, I pondered what could have happened to his tail. Even though he was molting, he wouldn’t have lost all of his tail feathers at once ...

Then I remembered, a big red-tailed hawk had been hanging nearby the past few weeks. Maybe DB had another run-in with him? Or, maybe a fox or a coyote tried to grab him and he got away, leaving his tail feathers behind? Or, maybe the “kids” were rough on him and instead of getting gray hair he lost his tail feathers!

After that day, DB always stayed hidden in that thicket near the bridge. He seldom came over to the cabin anymore, but he always came when I called him down by the bridge, or when I drove by on the ATV, and from there he’d join me on whatever adventure I was on.

It was during that third summer with me and my Lab, Amy, that DB disappeared. Eventually, Amy found a pile of his feathers. He was a victim of a feral cat that I had been seeing around. The same cat destroyed a family of bluebirds in one of my nesting boxes near the cabin shortly afterwards. Amy treed him one day, and I don’t think he stayed around any more after that, but it was too late for our little buddy.

The next summer another grouse began hanging around, but he was nothing like DB. He did allow me to take pictures and he’d show up while I was out and about in the woods. I believe he was one of DB’s young. He never really got used to Amy, though, and after a year he too disappeared.

Although these “grouse adventures” are almost 20 years old, they still exist in my mind as if they’re from yesterday. Amy and Drummer Boy are gone now, but what great times we had!

• • •

A new, early September deer season opens on Sept. 11 in New York state and continues through Sept. 19 in Wildlife Management units 8A, 8F, 8G, 8J, 8N, 9, and 9F for firearms and 8C for bowhunting equipment. This is being done in an attempt to reduce the growing deer herd in these units. This new early season includes the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, but the Feeder Road will not be open for hunters to drive.

Also new this year, hunters are required to wear a solid or patterned fluorescent orange or fluorescent pink hat, vest or jacket.

Hunting hours have been changed to one-half-hour before sunrise until one-half-hour after sunset.

Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or woodduck2020@yahoo.com .

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