Outdoors columnist Len Lisenbee has been sharing stories from readers in past installments, but this one out of Potter steals the show
This is the third installment of special outdoor memories from readers. And while all of the various accounts are outstanding in their own ways, this particular tale stands out not only because of its uniqueness but also because of its duration.
It began years ago and, in a way, still continues today. Memories past, present and apparently future from the same reader.
John Hammer of the Town of Potter, Yates County, is a dedicated deer hunter. He is also dedicated to conserving the environment. His experiences with a fluffy little forest game bird are not only moving, some are downright hilarious. Here is his special memory, in his own words. He calls this feathered critter “My Grouse Pal Sammy.”
“In late summer of 2008 while I was riding my ATV on a skid trail in my woods a grouse appeared and stood within a couple feet of the trail as I slowly passed by. Based on all my past experience with grouse that bird should have “exploded” at my approach. I figured it was sick.
“Little did I know that this encounter would be the beginning of an amazing five-year relationship. Over the next few weeks each time we saw each other he would get a little closer and a little friendlier. Before long he would meet me at my truck each time I arrived at my hunting property. Whenever I took a break he would sit on my knee as I drank my coffee. He would follow me like a puppy over hundreds of yards while I did chores, cut firewood, and prepared stands for the upcoming deer season. My grandson, who loved spending time with the bird, soon had a name for him. He would be known as ‘Sammy.’
“A few months later at the start of the whitetail archery hunting season, I hunted from a tree stand within Sammy’s core area and, within minutes, he was at the base of my tree. At first he stayed on the ground under my stand making a lot of good ‘cover’ noise. I thought that this was great because any approaching deer would never think any human was in the area with all the ‘natural noise’ made by a grouse. By the end of that hunt he would fly up onto my platform and stay with me until it was time for me to leave for home. That was when I began referring to him as ‘my little hunting buddy.’
“A few days later on my next hunt he again flew up onto my platform and soon jumped onto my seat. I thought that this was pretty unusual so I grabbed by camera and took a couple of photos. I put my camera back in my vest pocket and looked up to see two deer that had crossed my shooting lane. I missed a shot opportunity while taking pictures of the grouse.
“Luckily within 10 minutes the deer were working their way closer. I held my bow vertically in front of me. It was about then that my ‘ex’ hunting buddy jumped off the seat and onto the lower limb of my bow. The grouse was now sitting on my lower bow limb between my limb and the bow string. Then he began pecking at my oak-leaf camo hand warmer that was around my waist. He apparently thought there might be some food under those ‘leaves.
“I was frantic at this point, and tried to shake my bow to get the bird to fly off without spooking the deer. He would not go. Finally after tipping the bow almost 90 degrees, the bird jumped back down but only to land on my arrow quiver, making a noise that would rival the rattles of a 20-year-old minivan. The big doe ran off, but fortunately not too far.
“I still had a chance if only this bird would behave. Sure enough, five minutes later the doe began moving closer once again. She came within range, but was partially blocked by a tree. All she had to do was take two more steps. I held my bow vertical once again, with my release on the string loop. The deer lifted its leg to take the first step ... and the grouse flew up and perched on my knocked arrow! I can tell you that it is pretty difficult to draw and aim a bow with a ruffed grouse perched on your arrow.
“And this time the jig was up with the deer ... and a grouse making all kinds of noise while trying to balance on the arrow and the arrow making its own noise rattling around on the arrow rest and bow riser.
“But that was just the beginning of a relationship that would last through 2013. Sammy was my constant companion while at my farm. He followed me around just like a puppy dog, often pecking at my pant legs and nearly tripping me. When I was on my tractor tilling food plots he would walk along beside me until I got too far from his core (safe) range. He would hang around me all day as I cut and stacked firewood. He was with me each spring while I was hunting shed antlers. On several occasions he was by my side as I recovered several deer that I had harvested. And when I drove my ATV he would fly along side of me, often perching on the handle bars.
“Unfortunately it might have been his lack of fear of that ATV that led to his demise. One day in mid-summer of 2013, while riding on my ATV and Sammy flying close behind me, I turned onto another skid road. He must have thought I was stopping, and the little guy landed in front of one of my rear tires while I was still moving. I was afraid to look back to see what might have happened, but saw that Sammy was still standing.
“Unfortunately he had lost most of his tail feathers. They served as a rudder, and he often had ‘crash landings’ after the accident. But other than that he seemed to be alright, and of course I checked on him regularly over the nest several days.
“Sadly, the missing tail feathers may have been the beginning of the end for Sammy. Without a full array of rear-end feathers he had trouble maneuvering in flight weeks after the accident. Then one day I was walking through my woods, chainsaw in hand and Sammy in tow when all of a sudden the ground around us erupted with the scrambling of adult grouse and several baby grouse.
“Were they Sammy’s little ones, I wondered? I’ll never know for sure, but I do know that Sammy immediately began pecking at my pants legs and slapping me with his wings as if to prevent me from harming the baby grouse.
“That was the last time I ever saw my friend Sammy. So, did Sammy move his family to a new core area and off my property to protect them? Or, did he fall prey to a hawk, fox, coyote or another predator due to his reduced maneuverability? I found myself listening and looking for him over the next several weeks and months. I sure miss his companionship.
“But there is a happy epilogue. This past spring, ‘Sammy II’ appeared. While cutting firewood one April day a ruffed grouse approached and walked toward me which, of course, is something that ‘normal’ grouse don’t do. I stopped the chainsaw and sat down with my back against a tree, and the bird walked right up to me and perched on my leg. This bird’s core area is a little deeper into my woods, but whenever I am in his area he walks over and spends time with me, just like the old Sammy.
“Could this be one of those baby grouse I saw on that day in the summer of 2013? I’ll never know for sure, but just like the original, Sammy II was by my side one day this past fall helping me recover a buck that I had arrowed. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Thanks, John, for allowing us to share Sammy with you.
Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.