“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart.”
Grouse hunting is an art and the canvas is truly unique around every bend, up every knoll, and beside every stream.
This outdoor adventure usually begins the second week of September in Michigan and can be enjoyed with the companionship of a dog, with partners, or by oneself.
Though I don’t have a dog as a companion anymore, I truly admire the style and picture-perfect form of pointers or setters seeking grouse.
Who wouldn’t appreciate the constant back-and-forth trot of a Lab or a springer on the hunt with collar bells sounding and the soft whistle of its owner betraying the dog’s whereabouts?
Without a doubt, flushing wily grouse in Michigan woods is easier when accompanied by a dog. Yet, more importantly, the hunt is even more enjoyable with a dog as a companion.
Such companionship exists between avid bird hunter, Andy Duffy and his 10-year-old English springer spaniel, Lily, despite a disadvantage they share: hearing loss.
Andy’s interest in dogs and hunting began by watching and learning from his dad on their 27-acre homestead in Evart on the Muskegon River.
“My dad didn’t hunt grouse a lot when I was a kid in Evart (job, family kept him pretty busy); however, I think I took to bird hunting just because I love dogs and I thought bird hunting was a lot of fun,” Duffy said. “I did see my dad shoot one grouse though. It was the first grouse I ever saw anyone shoot.”
According to Andy it was a Christmas morning when he was around 12 years old. Both he and his two brothers each received BB guns that Christmas.
“Naturally, we wanted to go out hunting with our gifts,” he said.
They knew they had time before Christmas dinner so their dad took them out for a walk in a nearby state forest.
“We were walking down an old logging road when a grouse took off from a tangle of grape vines at the road’s edge.
He dropped the bird with his Stevens 620A shotgun. It was a pump action 20 gauge.”
Andy was also an avid reader as a kid. “Oh yeah, I liked to read books such as Old Yeller, Savage Sam, Stormy, Big Red, and The Voice of Bugle Ann along with other dog books. From there I knew I wanted to live in a rural area and have hunting dogs when I was an adult. I’ve been very fortunate. That dream has come true!”
When Duffy talks about his springer Lily you can hear the excitement in his voice and notice a smile on his face.
“I first saw her when she was four weeks old or so. Seven or eight weeks later I picked her up and brought her home,” Andy said.
Boy, how she fit in.
“It is a characteristic of springers that they develop a special closeness with one person,” he said. “For sure Lily is great with my wife, kids, and grandkids, but she is very attached and eager to please me.”
Unbeknown to them, things would start changing with Lily starting in 2021. Talk about faith, trust, and love coming into play between man and dog.
“I first started noticing how bad her hearing was getting during the 2021 bird season when she wouldn’t mind me. Then I got it. She couldn’t hear me,” Andy explained.
He says Lily always tried to stick close to him in the woods even before she lost her hearing. She is not totally deaf with some hearing remaining, since she does react to loud noises if they are close.
“Lily can still hear a gun if I’m fairly close to her when I shoot. I can just tell though she can’t hear much. It seems her deafness has made her very dependent on her sight to try to figure out what I’m up to. For example, when I put on a coat or my cap, she knows I’m heading outside. She watches for visual cues for sure. I wish I could take all the credit for working so closely with her. I think it’s just in her nature.”
Those who have hunted with Lily and Andy realize after a day in the woods with this duo that both are compelling to watch. Andy offered this explanation as to what makes her tick, “Because she can’t hear me, she depends on sight and smell to keep track of me in the field. When I’m out of her sight for a bit, she finds my scent trail and follows it back to me.”
Lily is indeed interesting because even though she is so attached to Andy, she’ll range back-and-forth in front of several hunters, but never lose track of her best friend.
This is not the end of the story. Andy Duffy is hard of hearing himself so the bond between these two is even more endearing.
“I was shooting without adequate hearing protection sighting in my deer rifle at a range,” he explained. “The range had an awning over the shooting stations, but I was wearing those foam ear plugs instead of ear muffs. The sound of the gunfire was really reverberating under the awning. I felt I was getting exposed to too much noise so I think I took only three shots, just enough to confirm that my scope was on. There were people on both sides of me, but only there long enough for maybe, 10 shots to be fired among the three of us, maybe fewer. My hearing never recovered after I left the range.”
He went to an audiologist and the doctor said he only suffered moderate hearing loss, but added, his real problem was, “the loss across nearly all the pitches in the sound spectrum.
I have hearing aids, but I still have a difficult time hearing people. It’s especially difficult if there is any background noise.”
So, how can he tell when Lily flushes a bird?
“I miss a lot of flushes because grouse so often flush out of sight. I can only hear a grouse take off if it is very close.”
Indeed, if a pointing dog goes on point, hunters know a bird is or was there because of its behavior. A flushing dog won’t hold a point the way a pointing dog does, so hunters again don’t have the luxury of being able to move in and flush the bird themselves. But they can tell by a flushing dog’s behavior when it is scenting game.
“Lily will put her nose down to the ground. Sometimes her body quivers. She will poke her nose into little tufts of grass (with pheasants) or the little tangles of branches and such where grouse sometimes hide. Really though, I have to see the bird take off. That hurts sometimes,” Andy said. “If I could hear a grouse take off, I would have a better idea of where it might appear and would have a better chance of getting it. That’s less of a problem though with pheasant hunting.”
All dogs live forever in the hearts of their owners. But hunting dogs take that love to ultimate dimensions of affection. The dogs and their owners have worked together to obtain skills and understanding of the outdoor world where they thrive.
The wonder of a bird dog working its rear off is truly a magnificent spectacle. The sight of his partner working his rear off is far less majestic, but for both truly rewarding and memorable.
Author Dean Koontz wrote this about dogs and humans: “I think dogs were put into this world to remind humanity that love, loyalty, devotion, courage, patience, and good humor are the qualities that, with honesty, are the essence of admirable character and the very definition of a life well lived.”
Koontz’s words have accurately depicted the relationship between Andy Duffy and his English springer spaniel, Lily.
Michigan’s grouse season began Sept. 15 and runs through Nov. 14, then Dec. 1-Jan. 1 statewide. The daily bag limit is five in Zones 1 and 2 (10 in possession), three in Zone 3 (six in possession).