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Shell’s Covert: Survival Box Grouse/The 5Bs Hunt Club Finishes Out Season

I guess you’d say the 5 Bs Hunt Club would be an example of an eclectic group. Members included the three core men, and several other fathers (along with their sons) that migrated in and out depending on what they enjoyed hunting.

Occupations included: insurance adjuster, teacher and wrestling coach, power company line foreman, auto mechanic, school principal, college professor, and more. The “executive committee” consisted of: my dad, known as the “Virginia Quail,” at that time principal of Giles County High School and “veteran” of a “jerked-up-by-the-bootstraps” McDowell County, West Virginia, upbringing, World War II;  10th Mountain Division veteran Robert ‘Dirty” McGlothlin, aka the “Virginia Skunk”; and Coach Aubrey Correll (played center at the University of Georgia in front of Fran Tarkenton until injured), aka the “Carolina Bear.”

The term “club” really was a misnomer because there were no by-laws (other than no one under 18 could be told what the 5 Bs stood for), no membership fees, and no real meetings…other than we hunted or fished for something nearly every weekend of the year. I hunted so much I gave up on organized sports because I missed hunting too much. (That and I was not very good at most of them).

The hunting “season” began with dove in early September, migrated to squirrel mid-month during what was then the “early squirrel season” (picture those fat grays and fox squirrels raining down shagbark hickory cuttings on foggy late summer mornings – a kid’s heaven), archery deer season followed in October, and in those days snow was not unusual by bow season’s end. In early November, all small game and fall turkey came in. There was no muzzle-loader deer season then, so we hunted small game until the “big event” – the 2-week gun deer season opened. Short, sweet and intense, the gun deer season was followed by 2 months of weekend rabbit hunting. Most of the dads had beagles and, depending on who showed up each week, we might have from 2 to 6 or 8 dogs out.

These rabbit hunts were occasionally pierced by the stumbled -into, terrifying flush of a quail covey…and for an hour maybe, we’d switch to trying to ferret out singles. None of us could hit one at that time, but every now and then we scratched one down and it became the prize of the day. After all this, you’d think that by late January, when the rabbit and squirrel seasons closed, we’d of been tired of hunting and ready for a break. That wasn’t the case.

What followed were two weekends of grouse adventures. Virginia’s grouse season has traditionally stayed open until mid-February. By “hunting” grouse (we really just walked up rhododendron choked hollows in a skirmish line hoping we’d flush one and it would fly past somebody) we cut the time between season’s end until the opening of spring turkey season in early April by 2 long weeks. This made it a mere 8 weeks without hunting of some kind.

You need to understand that our grouse hunts were built around the “survival box” and the chance to use it. Back in those days 4-wheel-drive vehicles were at their zenith. Big, burly vehicles that guzzled cheap fossil fuel like an athlete guzzles Gator Aid…our crew had huge Chevy Blazers or Ford Broncos, some had International Scouts and one had a Jeep Commando. And in the back of each was the “survival box.”

My Dad excelled at carpentry and loved building things that could be made out of 2 x 4s and plywood. I don’t know where the idea stemmed from, but these men were all hearty guys who enjoyed being out in the backcountry … as long as the 4WDs would get them there. Somewhere Dad saw an article on backcountry survival, probably in Sports Afield or Field and Stream, or maybe Outdoor Life – we subscribed to them all.

I joke now that I think you could have dropped one of his boxes off Niagara Falls and it would have survived. The full width of a Blazer’s interior, and about 2 and ½ feet deep and 1 and ½ feet tall, it took two big men giving it all they had to lift a loaded one in or out of the vehicles. Inside these boxes (as every vehicle had one made by my Dad, of course) was an utterly amazing array of “stuff.”

For starters, each carried a small chainsaw complete with mini-fuel can, bar oil and rat-tailed file. On the opposite side of the box, as far from the fuel s fumes as possible, was a compartment that housed cooking ware. The “kitchenette” consisted of two long, deep, cast iron “skillets” wrapped in greased grocery bags to keep them “wet”, and various spatulas, spoons, ladles, knives, forks and more. Another smaller compartment was full of “snack fare” – pork and beans, Vienna sausage, Slim Jims, Nabs, the kind of health food we ate in those days before folks started worrying about cholesterol (I don’t recall ever hearing the term “artery” until I was in first aid training in boot camp). In the center compartment rested the two things that made our grouse hunts complete – a 2-burner Coleman Stove and Coleman fuel can.

Everyone saved at least one deer tenderloin from November’s harvest, and those loins were packed in coolers for the grouse hunts. Our hunts consisted of a long drive to a backcountry spot where some clear-cuts existed and where every “hollow” ran flush with a creek choked by laurel and rhododendron. Teaberry was a common ground cover.

We started at the hollow mouths forming a line of hunters 4 to 8 abreast with one on each side of the creek close to it and the others progressing up each side of the hollow. We’d hunt out the hollows upward until reaching the ridge lines; then we’d cross over a ridge, re-form our line and work down one hollow over. This usually took until lunch, when we convened at the survival boxes and made a lunch of snack food. The process was repeated after lunch in a new hollow.

Hunting grouse without dogs, your nerves are always on edge because there is no warning before that eruption some call a “grouse flush” happens … and for this reason we rarely got a grouse. We flushed plenty, and those hills rang out frequently with “Grouse Dirty…coming your way!!”, or “Heads up Biiiiiillllllllll!!” Quite a bit of shooting was not unusual, but very little killing occurred. Now you know why we carried deer loin.

The whole event was just a way to get outside, enjoy some fellowshipping, and work up an appetite for the real reason we were there – Coleman stove, tailgate cooked, cast-iron greased pan fried deer loin and onions.  Around 3, maybe 3:30, the hunt ended and the cooking began. My Dad usually did the frying and everyone else did the storytelling. He carried a bag that contained flour, salt, pepper, and a bit of cornmeal. He’d dip those loin slices in milk, drop them in the bag of seasoning, shake them around and then toss each into the hot skillet grease that erupted with a gurgling spatter and a rise of steam.

It was usually cold so sometimes we built a small fire to huddle around. The vehicles would be parked in a circled wagon fashion, all tailgates down, and us sitting there with our wet boots dangling and eating deer loin until it was gone and we were stuffed, fat and happy. I don’t want to dishonor other more noble forms of grouse hunting, but as a 15-year-old boy I would not have traded these “survival box grouse hunts” for a vintage Parker side-by-side.

Marc Puckett

Photo by Meghan Marchetti, VDWR

Marc Puckett is a Small Game Project Leader with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR).

Marc has worked with VDWR for 25+ years. He currently serves as the small game project co-leader. He was involved in several quail studies, including for his master’s degree at NCSU. He served his country for four years in the US Army’s Airborne Infantry. Marc resides with his family on a farm in central Virginia.