PINE RIVER, Minn. -- "There," Ted Lundrigan said, freezing in his tracks as he spotted his old German shorthair, Butch, locked on point just down the trail.
Instantly two ruffed grouse exploded in the thick woods, offering barely a glimpse of whirring feathers, but a third bird banked back toward Lundrigan and his son, Max. Each shouldered and swung his shotgun instinctively, and the elder Lundrigan squeezed the trigger once.
"Nice shot!" Max shouted as the bird tumbled to the forest floor.
"First bird of the year," said Dad, admiring the young grouse in his hand.
Ted Lundrigan takes his grouse hunting seriously.
So he was irritated when, during a hunt a few years ago, a friend -- "he's what we call a keep-in-touch guy" -- kept text--ing and checking messages on his cellphone with one hand while toting his shotgun in the other.
"A grouse flushes, he drops the phone, snaps a shot and hits the grouse," Lundrigan said. "He's not paying attention to what's going on around him, and now he's been rewarded for his behavior."
It was too much for Lundrigan, 65, an avid ruffed grouse hunter, attorney and author of three hunting books who lives in Pine River, Minn., where he grew up.
"I said, 'Let me see that phone.' He handed it to me, I tossed it in the air and shot it," he said with a chuckle.
"He said, 'You shot my phone!'
"I said, 'Yeah, I did. There are no cellphones in the grouse woods.'"
The man remains a good friend, "but he won't hand me his cellphone anymore," Lundrigan said.
For 40 years, ruffed grouse hunting has been a passion for Lundrigan. But it wasn't love at first sight.
"As a boy, I rode around in a Jeep with my dad and brother and we shot grouse by the side of the road -- that's what everyone did. I didn't really hunt them."
He left Pine River for the University of Minnesota in 1965, got a degree in English and was admitted to law school, but the Vietnam War forced a detour. "I joined the Army in '69 and they decided I'd make a good medic," he said. He survived, with hearing loss, returned home and got his law degree, then headed back to quiet little Pine River north of Brainerd to practice law with his father.
And got hooked on hunting ruffed grouse.
"I got a bird dog and a lightweight shotgun, and life was good," Lundrigan said. "I had the benefit of good bird dogs that taught me. It was one of those things I started to do, and did well. Everybody has one thing they can do really well."
Lundrigan hunts other game birds, including ducks, pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse. But tramping the dank woods near his home for ruffed grouse is his passion.
"I'm at home in the woods with grouse," he said. "I'm not sure why. The smell of it. The look of it. The challenge it presents. Grouse are unpredictable -- you never know what they will do. It's a chess game between dog and bird, and I have to execute my part of the plan; four of five times I fail."
Lundrigan doesn't travel far.
"I hunt right around here," he said. "Cass, Beltrami and Crow Wing counties, I think, are the best places in the world to hunt grouse. The counties all manage their aspen. That's why we have good hunting."
He hunts often, and this year isn't concerned Minnesota's grouse population is down, plunging to the bottom of its boom-to-bust cycle.
"Oh, hell no. I recommend everyone stay home," he joked. He has friends, and 30-year-old Max, to hunt with, if he chooses.
"I hunt alone almost all of the time," he said. "I like the freedom of hunting alone. It's a solitary bird, it's a solitary pursuit."
But he's never without a dog.
"I couldn't hunt without a dog; it's as important as a good pair of boots," he said.
Butch, his German shorthair, has been Lundrigan's hunting partner for 14 years.
Lundrigan has written three hunting books: "Hunting the Sun" (1997), "Grouse and Lesser Gods" (2002) and "A Bird in the Hand" (2006), all published by Countrysport Press. "I've never made any money at writing. I write because I have something to say. For me, words are tools."
Meanwhile, by lunch Saturday the pair had flushed six birds, bagging one. They flushed two more later but got no shots -- and then rain washed out their hunt.
"I anticipated a few more flushes," Lundrigan said later. "But that's hunting. It will get better, without a doubt."
(c)2013 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services