A sudden point quickens the heart and brings the upland hunter’s instincts to full alert. The gun instinctively comes to the ready position, footsteps become tactical and hands tighten on the gun as we anticipate that oh-so-special moment of truth and testing: the flush of a wild gamebird. Such scenes seem to stand frozen, as though chiseled in stone. An eruption of feathers shatters the stillness and etches memories into the minds of hunters and dogs. This is the charming nature of upland gunning.
Capturing such moments is a distinct privilege for the photographer. The memorable image here was taken several years ago during the Ruffed Grouse Society’s Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The gunner is Dr. Michael Zagata, who at the time was president and CEO of the RGS. The beautiful and talented setter is Scout. That day’s hunting party also included Mike’s wife, Beth, RGS biologist Andy Weik and me.
Andy and I were spectators, and we enjoyed watching Scout’s nose divine the presence of several grouse and a good number of woodcock. At the moment of this point, the tolerant gunner paused to let me get the Nikon into optimal position. Scout patiently held point and remained steady as the woodcock launched skyward.
Photographing grouse and woodcock in their dense habitat is highly challenging, and I was lucky that when I snapped the shutter, the proverbial stars aligned. The warm, October-afternoon light flattered the bird’s elegant profile; no aspen stems obstructed the view; and the triangle of interest linking hunter, dog and bird could not have been more symmetrical.
Mike and Beth passed on the shot, for safety’s sake, and the bird flew on, leaving a memory in her wake. Seconds later Scout pointed another memory. —Timothy Flanigan, natureexposure.com
This image appears in Timothy Flanigan’s new book, Grouse & Woodcock: The Birds of My Life.