"Here I am, almost 30 years later," Wilmot said.
Much of his fly-fishing on the upper Brule is done on summer nights, thus the name of his guiding service -- Fly by Night.
If you want to know why some grouse and woodcock hunters use pointing dogs, spend a day with Woof and Casper. During the course of the full day, Wilmot and Rodelli witnessed 32 woodcock flushes and 19 grouse flushes. Most of them came just off the noses of the dogs. Rigid as statues, Woof and Casper froze in statuesque points, eyes riveted a few feet ahead, their stub tails stock-still.
Early in the day, the two dogs were side by side when they located a woodcock simultaneously, and they locked up as if they were a matched pair. Wilmot moved just past them, and the woodcock flushed low, offering no shot. But it might have been the loveliest moment of the day, watching the tandem point, both dogs guaranteeing that a bird was close by.
This not to say that hunting over pointers, or any breed of upland dog, guarantees a heavy bag at day's end. Many of the birds escape unscathed -- the cover is too thick, or to shoot would endanger a companion, or the gun barrel smacks a tree, or the hunters simply miss. There are a lot of ways to not shoot grouse and woodcock.
Why not then, as perhaps the majority of Northland hunters do, just putt down a trail on a four-wheeler and shoot grouse that stand or flush along the edge? It's physically less taxing. It works. The riding hunters likely enjoy being in the woods just as much on an October day, and they probably shoot more birds. But for those who prefer the company of dogs to internal combustion engines, it isn't so much a matter of birds taken as it is the joy of working with another sentient being toward a common purpose.
Ruffed grouse, of course, are native to the Upper Midwest. Some woodcock nest here, and many more pour down from Canada's boreal forest each fall, headed for Texas and Louisiana. Woodcock hunters wait for this migration. One day, a popple cover might hold just a few woodcock. The next, it might be full of them. Mid-October usually marks the big push, but it hadn't arrived when Rodelli came to hunt with Wilmot.
"I don't think the main woodcock migration has come in yet," Wilmot said during the hunt. "My theory is that when we get these warm falls, without the cold weather up north to push them down, they just kind of trickle down."
Still, 32 woodcock flushes in a day isn't bad. The hunters would end up with four woodcock and no grouse for their eight-hour effort.
"We didn't have a clean look at a grouse all day -- well, one," Wilmot said.