IT’S A FUNNY thing. The older I get, the more miles I walk in the woods.

I suppose it only seems that way. Fifty years ago, I would often take off on rambles of 4, 5, 6 or more miles through brush, briers and down abandoned logging roads without thinking twice about it. At the end of my trek, whether with ruffed grouse in the game bag or not, it would seem like I walked, oh say, maybe 100 yards.

Now? Take last week for example. I hunted for grouse twice in one week.

I put on considerable miles on those two hunts. I swear that I walked 40 miles, though it really was only 4 or a little better both times. Yes, 4 miles busting through thick cover now seems like 40 miles compared to the 100 yards it felt like way back when.

Yet, I still walk. I walk, not expecting to bring any birds home, but more for the pure enjoyment of going back to days when hunters straddled the next ridge, forded the next creek and gazed out over wide valleys for pleasure and survival.

I certainly don’t need to kill a grouse or pa’tridge, as I prefer to call them, but they still call to me. Pa’tridge and all the other living things in the woods, climbing a steep hill to see what’s on the other side and fighting through a bunch of brambles where I think a pa’tridge might be hiding still calls to me.

I had chances to bring home a bird during my first hunt last week, but I missed one shot and couldn’t get a shot the second chance.

It didn’t matter. I hunted or at least pretended to hunt, in a place that was once one of my most visited pieces of the north Wisconsin woods. Within two minutes of leaving the truck, I had a pa’tridge run across a long-abandoned logging grade into the brush on the other side. Surprisingly, it did not flush into flight. I edged up close and saw it sitting on a stump.

When it did flush, I pulled up and waited for it to gain distance and an opening through the brush. It got the distance, but never came open. As a salute, I shot once, killing a bunch of brush about 3 feet behind the bird. The rest of the hunt, in my mind, was entirely successful, even though there was only one more wild flush that offered no chance for a shot.

The place I hunted that day was the place where I killed my first buck, way back in 1964. I stopped first at what used to be our family’s landmark stand; the Head Stand, we called it.

It was the stand where, at age 14, the second day of the season, I, along with one of my cousins and one of my uncles, watched a buck walk slowly down the slope toward the stand. It walked to within 40 yards of us, yet none of us could spot antlers even with scopes.

It turned, walked away from us then, on the other side of a hollow 80 yards away, turned broadside again and looked at us. We saw small, forked antlers. My cousin got the first open shot at it and made good with that shot. It was a buck to remember.

It was the stand to where my brother and I dragged my first buck. Grandpa Maines was sitting on the stand that Thanksgiving morning and I’ll never forget his words when I, the last of five cousins to kill his first buck, dragged it up to the stand. “Of all the boys, I was really hoping today you would kill a buck,” he said. Many years later, I wondered if he said that because I was the only cousin without a buck or if I was maybe his favorite. I prefer to think it the latter, though it might well have been the former.

I wandered through that country a sunny morning last week, bemoaning some of the changes wrought by the passage of years. I haven’t hunted the Big Valley for deer in many years and likely won’t again, but last week I savored every minute of my slow meandering there.

Then, last Sunday was another story. I walked an old maze of logging roads where I often killed pa’tridges in years past. I walked slowly, feeling the years that have wished upon me a couple of lower back bulged discs, a heavily repaired shoulder and a surgically repaired “football” knee that now has beautiful cartilage on the outside and none on the inside.

I walked 4 or more miles and when I had a short quarter-mile to finish my hunt, I couldn’t help myself but turn cross-country, a decision which caused me to fight through thick brush and briers, to bend low under spreading balsam branches and to stumble over treetops left from logging operations. I didn’t come out on the road exactly where I meant to, but that made the trek no different than most I have taken while after pa’tridges since 1961.

I must admit, the birds had my number Sunday. No flushes, no shots. On the other hand, the hunt was a rousing success measured by the number of migrating juncos that kept me company, the gray squirrel that chattered angrily at me as I passed near it and the two eagles that swooped at barely treetop level over my head as I stood resting for a moment.

Yes, it may have felt more like 40 than 4 miles and yes, these old legs aren’t what they once were, but they still took me there and back, and that’s all that counts.

Isn’t that the way it should be?