It depends, I suppose, on your field of endeavor. Athletes can attain legendary status at a relatively young age. Hunters and anglers? Well, I generally look to see a little gray in the hair before conferring the honor.
But I could be wrong. Because when it comes to grouse hunting, the Heller brothers — Frederick and Ric, aka Fritz and Junior – are as good as any, even though neither is even approaching 40.
I’ve been hunting with the Traverse City pair for about a decade now and I can’t honestly remember a day — from the opener to well into December, during boom cycles and busts, in sun, rain or snow -- when we didn’t kill at least a few birds. Most recently, on a drizzly day just before deer season, the three of us killed six in just a couple of hours before heavy rains chased us from the woods.
There are a handful of reasons why the Heller bros outshine most other grouse hunters. They’ve got it all – knowledge, dedication and desire -- but what makes them stand out is that they do things differently than many.
Need a for instance? Well, in a world where there are two kinds of grouse dogs — English setters and the other kind — the Hellers are in the latter category. They hunt with Labs. In a game that seems perfectly designed for pointing dogs, the Hellers use retrievers.
The guys obviously spend a lot of time with their dogs (they are marvelously well trained) and that, they say, maximizes their opportunity. They can redirect their dogs with a simple whistle — one means turn, two means stop, three means return — so they’re never out of habitat.
“Our dogs are in the best cover all of the time,” Fritz said.
True. And Junior points out a couple other little advantages.