Sunday morning, October 27th, 2013, was clear skies and a very light west wind blowing. I picked up Akber Hussain shortly after 7:00 am as planned. We had planned on getting out hunting together last season, but were unable to because of problems with competing schedules, but finally this morning we got out together. We arrived in the field at Lester’s Square shortly after 8:00 am. I noticed on the drive in the competition was there ahead of us. I could hear the bell of their dog in the distance when we parked and got out of the care. No matter, we were careful to keep our distance from them and were underway, walking the trail toward a familiar pocket of cover. Hera made a flash point on a woodcock in a thick patch of the cover. The bird flushed as I was walking up her point and I dumped it cleanly with a single shot. I showed the downed bird to Akber who had never seen one up close before.
We continued the hunt, making our way through a thick stand of cedar to sweep through the edge cover surrounding a meadow. Hera got birdy as we neared the end of the first edge and a grouse flushed as we walked toward her. The bird broke cover and flew straight away from me, offering an easy shot, but I managed to miss most spectacularly with both barrels. I think I forgot I was using a shotgun and insisted on aiming, rather than pointing the gun. This is a common mistake and has saved the life of many an otherwise doomed game bird. While I stood there, laughing, with my 20 gauge Winchester side by side broken open, a second, then a third grouse flushed, offering me a shot. Note to self, make a point of reloading promptly after making a shot. The grouse must have been the remnant of a covey. We continued the hunt making our way through the rest of the edge. No more birds were turned up.
As we crossed the meadow to the next edge, Akber spied a hare. I told him to take it. He walked it up and shot it as it crossed in front of him, killing it cleanly. I did not realize that rabbit and hare is not something he prefers to eat, so I agreed to take the hare. It will make a nice stew. I goaded him into shooting it, because I wanted him to get some action during the hunt. Next time I will know enough to let him pass up shots on hares.
When we reached the edge of the next edge, Hera immediately got birdy, as you will see in the video. No bird was found, it was an old scent, but the bird must have been there very recently. We moved deeper into the edge and Hera locked up on point. I asked Akber to walk up the point, instructing him to walk around in front of Hera. This way the bird is caught in a squeeze play and Hera is less inclined to break point. He walked up the point, but there was no flush. He strayed a little farther than he should, he is a novice woodcock hunter, and Hera took a few more steps, searching for the bird, bumping it. Akber shot at it and missed. Woodcock are a challenging target. We moved on through the rest of the edge, turning up no more birds.
We moved through the meadow, passing the beaver pond which was as barren as ever. The forest has lots of ponds, bogs, marshes, etc.; some attract ducks, some do not. You can sit and watch at a pond that does not attract ducks all day if it pleases you, only to learn that ducks are not going to go out of their way to come to you. You have to go where the ducks want to be; it is as simple as that. As we swept through the edge at the outer reach of the meadow, a single grouse flushed wildly from under a pine. We made our way through some promising looking woodcock cover, but no birds were found. Hera bumped a woodcock in a tight patch of cover near the road. She is still learning her craft. We made our way back to the car as Akber had to head home. He is a family man and had plans with his children starting at 11:00 am. As we made our way back to the car there were a few more grouse flushes, they flushed wildly. Akber got two shots away at a pair of flushing birds and missed. As we were driving out of the forest we saw a grouse at the edge of the road. We stopped the car, got out, let Hera out and tried to track the bird. Two grouse flushed wildly and escaped. I dropped Akber at his home at 11:00 and returned to the forest to continue the hunt on my own.
I parked the car at Paden close to noon and set out with Hera, checking a pocket of cover I renamed Cowan’s Corner, in memory of an old friend who lived nearby and hunted this cover for many years with his English Setters. Within minutes, Hera flash pointed a woodcock, it flushed and I missed cleanly with both barrels. A short time later I kicked up a bird on my own and dumped it cleanly. Hera found the downed bird for me. We moved on and very soon she locked up on point. I walked up the point and saw the bird perched on the ground. It flushed and I killed it cleanly with a single shot. We moved on to an area of the forest I had not hunted in a while. A hare jumped and ran in front of me, but I could not see enough of it to risk a shot. We made our way through a stand of poplar and birch and I kicked up a woodcock on my own, killing it cleanly with a single shot. Hera found and retrieved it for me. We swept the cover, including a boggy meadow that sometimes holds migrating Wilson’s snipe, but no birds were turned up.
We made our way back to Cowan’s Corner and moved into a thicker stand of the cover. Before long Hera pointed another woodcock. The bird flushed, but a poplar trunk blocked my swing and the bird escaped. Further into the cover she made a series of flash points and bumped more birds. One bird flushed as I fired haphazardly and missed at a bird she bumped. We continued the hunt walking past the quarry where people set up for target practice. We met two men who were out gathering mushrooms. I gather they can tell the difference between edible and highly toxic mushrooms that grow in the forest, I hope so for their sake. We swept through two promising patches of cover and turned up no birds. By then I was getting tired and thinking of heading home. A grouse flushed wildly and unseen in a stand of pine. It was nearing 2:00 pm and I decided we would hit on last patch of cover across from Cowan’s Corner. Hera was still raring to go. As we swept the cover, she locked up on point at the edge of a clump of cedar. This time she was staunch and I walked up her point, catching the woodcock that flushed in a squeeze play. It flushed, towered and I dumped it cleanly with my second barrel. Hera proudly paraded with the downed bird before giving it up to me.
We ended the hunt with five woodcock in the bag. This made me recall old times with the three dogs who came before Hera: Christie, Maggie and Juno. Juno passed away in August 2012 at four years of age, felled by cancer. I did not spend much time in the uplands during the 2012 season and fired one shot at a woodcock the entire season. The horror of Juno’s untimely death drained me of enthusiasm for upland gunning and for a time I considered not getting another dog. I decided otherwise, acquiring Hera as a puppy at Christmas 2012. She was born on Thanksgiving weekend 2012, which makes her one year old in the 2013 woodcock season. I must say her performance is exceptional for a one year old dog and my enthusiasm for upland gunning has returned with a vengeance. I miss Juno and still carry anger over what happened to her, but Hera and I honour her memory and carry on the tradition of gunning for ruffed grouse and woodcock that she so loved. I look forward to many more seasons afield with Hera.
Posted by Geoffrey