PARTRIDGES HAVE MY number. If you’d rather be scientifically correct, ruffed grouse have my number; always have. 

Last weekend was no exception. With the start of another partridge season, I prefer the colloquial name, I was once again left with my mouth agape and no partridges with which to make a pie.

It’s almost always my fault when a partridge gets away, but this time, it really, really was my fault. After all, it’s hard to bag a partridge if you don’t have a gun.

I should add that during the woods walk which found me running into a covey of eight or 10 birds was not intended to be a partridge hunt. In fact, I purposely had left my over/under 20-gauge at home when I took my two “idjits,” as I call them, Gordie and Molly, for some retrieving and woods running fun.

We started out with a stop at a local lake we like to frequent where I spent a half-hour throwing two dummies — the dog training type, not the dogs — for repeated retrieves. I always hope to wear out the retrievers before my right arm wears out, but as usual that did not happen.

After 20 or so throws, I gave up trying to wear them out and made the decision to continue our outing with a late afternoon hike along some nearby logging roads. Within 200 yards after leaving the truck I heard a partridge drumming off to my right and as my dogs romped through the woods on that side, partridges sitting in a cover of ferns and short brush began bursting into the air to my left.

Even as the dogs charged to my rescue, more birds flushed. The dogs left me to my own rescue, if they indeed thought I needed rescuing, deciding that chasing flushing partridge was much more fun. Hot bird scent usually does that to a hunting dog.

Bottom line is, more than half the partridges decided to land in trees within 15 yards of me, young and dumb ones no doubt, leaving me with the pleasure of watching potential partridge pies almost within arms’ reach. Had I a few rocks handy I probably would have thrown them at those innocent lambs. As it was, I whistled up the dogs and we continued our walk.

Coming back that way 20 minutes later, at least three of them were still sitting safely on branches 20 feet above the ground, thumbing their noses, or beaks, at me and the dogs as we headed back toward the truck.

Know the honest truth? I had more fun with that encounter than I would have had shooting two or three or even a limit of them out of their perches like so many metal ducks in a carnival shooting game. After all, I have plenty of chicken drumsticks in my freezer.

But like I said, this isn’t the first time partridges have had my number and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Sometimes, like this latest one, they’ve gotten me without a gun in my hands. Other times, they simply outwitted me.

One time I remember well occurred during a weekend hunt I was on while home from college for a couple days. I was hunting up in the Nebish Lake country on a fine and sunny late October afternoon. Two hours of walking had resulted in exactly zero flushes.

It was getting late when I stopped to pull out my pocket watch to check on how much time I had to work my way back to where my car was parked. At the exact instant I reached my hand deep into a vest pocket for the watch, a canny partridge bolted from its hiding place less than 10 yards from where I had been standing still for a good two or three minutes.

Dastardly little things, these partridges are. That one knew full well that if it flushed before I set my shotgun down to fish out my watch I would have plenty of time to send a lethal load of No. 71⁄2 shot its way. No way, too smart for that, the bird intentionally waited until I was unarmed before blasting out of its hiding place, even stooping to pause in mid-flight while turning back to thumb its beak at me with its left wing.

Then, there was the time when I was out cutting firewood in early November. It was a gray, cold morning, perfect for cutting wood. Not having one of my own, I borrowed my cousin’s truck for the purpose of hauling a few loads of wood. I set out on my woodcutting mission, leaving my shotgun at home intentionally so as not to tempt me to take a long walk for partridges when I should have been keeping my shoulder to the wheel or more precisely, to the chain saw.

I knew where there were a couple of bonanza-sized standing dead oaks at the edge of a logged-off clearing, and it was at that place where I stopped. No sooner had I opened the truck door than I caught movement at the edge of the clearing just 10 yards or so away.

It was a trio of partridges, all handsome cocks as best I could tell. Two of them had their dark ruffs fully fluffed out, a picture that remains with me to this day. Casting a suddenly panicky gaze into the truck I saw my cousin’s shell belt filled with partridge loads. I quick looked under the seat, hoping that maybe his shotgun was stashed there. No luck.

Resigned to my lost opportunity, I walked to the front of the truck and talked to my partridges for a full five minutes or more, chiding them for their arrogance. They paid no heed to my rebuke grinning, nay smirking, at my helplessness.

Only when I got out of the woods and stopped at my cousin’s house to return his truck and unload a truckful of wood as payment for the loan of said vehicle, that he said, “Why didn’t you look behind the seat? My shotgun was right there.”

Dang partridges. They knew it, just as well as my cousin did. My wife and I and our two children had hot dogs for supper that night once again.

One of these days it will be my turn to win. Yeah, right.