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Rod, Gun & Game: Man and nature: a timeless bond

A NEW FRIEND — Ruffed grouse are curious wilderness birds. This one joined veteran East Aurora hunter, Bruce Mohney, and his first-time hunter, 14-year old nephew, Riley Hill. The bird eventually followed Mohney home.
Every season, big game hunters trade their time in the woods for the hope of a fickle exchange in the bounty of a whitetail deer or black bear harvest. For most hunters, moments in the woods offer no harvest except for the enjoyable exposure with the natural, outdoor world.

Most hunters can recall certain special moments in the woods when a magical bond was created and a remarkable new relationship began to develop, between the hunter and the hunted.

An appreciation for the outdoors soon develops and a reverence for nature, wild animals, birds and fish grows to define the reciprocal relationship that veteran hunters cultivate in the woods, over time. This relationship creates a dilemma for experienced hunters, who work to maintain and support the health of wildlife with multiple support programs but, during the big game season, the correlation between predator and prey is renewed for several weeks.

Big game hunters also share a bond. Experienced veteran hunters share their time with the new students who come to the hunting world every year. Perhaps this is a responsibility of hunters that has descended over centuries. Such was the case for Riley Hill, a 14-year old hunter and nephew of East Aurora hunter Bruce Mohney.

Mohney offered to mentor the youngster in his first-ever hunt for deer, on opening day of firearm season. The pair reached the woods in time to climb into their stand well before sunrise and enjoyed the silence of the undisturbed woods. As the day wore on, no deer came their way, but the quiet moments of watchful waiting were displaced by squirrels, chipmunks, a fox, an assortment of fleeting bird species and one very special visitor to their tree stand: an adult ruffed grouse.

The grouse apparently spotted the two hunters and decided to explore their presence, landing on the edge of the platform they occupied jointly. The bird examined the pair, edging ever closer, until it came within inches of Riley’s hand, resting near his gun. The young hunter instinctively moved to pet the bird and began to carefully stroke its feathers.

As the hunting day passed, Mohney shared conversation with his nephew. They talked about the woods and nature and held a discussion about Bruce’s age-old hunting trips with his father, Edward, who passed away in 1996. That ruffed grouse provided an extraordinary experience for the two hunters and new tales that will never be forgotten.

The hunting season ended very quickly. Mohney had not returned to the stand until the last day of the regular New York state Southern Tier firearm season, last Sunday. He didn’t get there until mid-afternoon, but as he walked to the stand alone, he could not help but recall the experience with that special bird that had visited the last time he and Riley hunted. Mohney also thought about his dad, who had taught him so much about the kinship of the outdoors and respecting nature.

He had been relaxing in his stand for several hours, when he heard flapping wings. The ruffed grouse was back. He spoke to the bird, which walked close to Mohney.

A large branch snapped to Mohney’s left. There, in the thicket of the dense woods where he was hunting, a monster buck appeared. Mohney turned his head to the deer and stopped counting at 12 points – when the ruffed grouse hopped into his sightline.

Mohney raised his shotgun and put his iron sights on the monster buck, just 35 yards away. He exhaled and had his finger on the trigger ready to gently squeeze off one shot. Just then, the grouse hopped from the rail of the tree stand to the barrel of his gun.The bird was standing between the rear sight and the front bead of the shotgun. The deer was moving and was soon was out of range. Mohney sighed and smiled, realizing that yet another extraordinary moment had just occurred.

Mohney had a new traveling partner. Upon reaching his home on Underhill Road a few minutes later, the bird flew out and onto Mohney’s porch. Mohney went down to the feed store and bought some seed to feed the bird. The two are now fast friends. If you ask Mohney about this experience, he will simply smile and tell you, despite not getting a deer, “It was an amazing hunting year!”

Each fall, approximately 75,000 New York hunters take to the field, in pursuit of ruffed grouse, making the bird the second most popular game bird, behind wild turkeys. Despite declines in their numbers over the past 40 years, ruffed grouse are still common, particularly in younger forests, and provide excellent hunting opportunities. One bird has a new home, this year. Hunting can be a powerful experience.

Outdoor calendar:

– Dec. 13: Western New York Safari Club International’s 19th annual game dinner, Michael’s Banquet Facility, Hamburg, 4 p.m. start. For more information, call 984-2773.

– Dec. 17: Last day of New York state’s late archery and muzzle-loading season, at sunset.

– Dec. 18: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen monthly meeting, 7 p.m., free dinner, Bison City Rod & Gun Club, 511 Ohio St., Buffalo. For more information, call 597-4081.

– Jan. 4: Erie County Trappers Association Fur Handling Seminar, Collins Conservation Club, 2633 Conger Road, 9 a.m. – 1p.m. For more information, call 337-2556.

– Jan.11: Fundraiser for Ray Markiewicz, who is fighting leukemia, Eden Legion Post 880, 1 – 6 p.m. For more information, call Jim Bailey at 649-9714.

Email outdoors information to Forrest Fisher, 10 days in advance, at nugdor@yahoo.com.

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