Nancy Anisfield May 14, 2014
My Mountain Grouse
Gunning the Ruffed, Blue and Franklin grouse in the wild mountains of Idaho
Walkabout Press LLC 2013
140 pages, hardcover
Upland Almanac publisher John Gosselin opens this collection by introducing us to Craig Kulchak and his dedication to upland hunting. Readers then find the book structured something like a song, with each “verse” giving a brief geographic and historical refrain about the mountains in which Kulchak hunts (and has hunted for over 30 years) – the Boise Mountains, Mountains of Cascade, Mountains of McCall, and the Tetons. Kulchak, his setters, and often his sons then take us in search of Ruffed, Blue and Franklin grouse.
His tales are assembled by date, with hunts from 1981 to 2007. Recurring melodies play throughout – the tenacity of the old Land Rover, the Oreo cookies shared with his Ryman setter, treed grouse granted safety, and other characteristic touches. Set in charming contrast to the precision of his accounts are hazy black and white photos and loose, energetic sketches taken from his gun diary.
The beauty of this book lies in Kulchak’s skill in describing the moment. He has an exceptional knack for evoking the landscape’s sensory elements and the actions of a dog at work and a grouse flushing. This ability to draw readers into the moment is his gift to us.
An example: “As we moved down the game trail, it opened up to the hog-back stretch that brakes off steeply on both sides, then terraces and drops off to the valley below. Briar was working like a dream and tacked purposefully back and forth to the left side of the trail. There were patches of alder and fir in the open park of sage, the temperature in the mid-seventies with the sky a bright sapphire blue and not a cloud for miles.” The book may be titled My Mountain Grouse, but because the reader can be so easily immersed in each recollection, it becomes our mountain grouse as well.
No particular momentum or narrative builds this collection to climax, and the early chapters have a pattern that becomes fairly predictable until subsequent chapters start offering more diverse content. Then he relates encounters with elk and moose, fishing anecdotes, and stories of working with a film crew and his sons’ discovering upland hunting.
Kulchak’s Epilogue is subtitled “Reflections of an Upland Life,” but it really just focuses on his dogs. Readers like myself might find themselves looking for conclusions about the different grouse or this type of mountain hunting or what he learned there over the years. Nevertheless, subtle reflections are embedded throughout the book, as when he writes in the Tetons section:
“The Sun was beginning to fade and the air had begun to chill, when Briar and I came across a lone, massive boulder, gray, black, and sage. We stopped to rest and I felt a sense of wanting to linger and explore more of the secrets this land had to offer. In the distance, I heard the Herd Bull bugle. Perhaps another time.”
anisfield hunting dog photography