I got out with Hera yesterday afternoon for an impromptu grouse and woodcock hunt in the Marlborough Forest. Our destination was the patch of cover newly christened “Schäfer’s Wood,” the same patch of cover in which we started the season last Sunday. I opted for this patch of cover as there is a beaver pond nearby: a spot where Hera could cool off after hunting hard in the cover. We were on the road shortly before 4:00 pm and thankfully, traffic was light. I noted with enthusiasm mallards and wood ducks resting on pools of swamp water in the forest next to Roger Stevens Drive. I look forward to getting out for some duck hunting over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Nice to see there are ducks in the region. It was sunny, warm and the wind was light. The wind died down as evening set in. We arrived at Schäfer’s Wood shortly before 5:00 pm. This gave us just over two hours of hunting until the end of legal shooting time at approximately 7:20 pm. It was a brief, but very memorable hunt.
Cock up! This is the cry that goes out during a driven grouse shoot in England when the beaters flush a woodcock. This was in the back of my mind as I got out with Hera this morning for the opening of woodcock season 2016 hoping we would turn up some birds. We were on the road shortly after 0700 bound for the Marlborough Forest. The weather was near perfect for upland gunning: sunny, cool (hovering near 0 degrees C) and virtually no wind. This was my first hunt with the new Franchi Instinct SL o/u in 20 gauge I acquired in August. I have it choked with skeet and skeet tubes as most shots at grouse and woodcock are at close range. I stopped for a coffee and apple fritter en route and remembered as we drove along Prince of Wales Drive I forgot to bring water for us to drink. I stopped at an Ultramar station and bought a bottle. I expected the forest would be drier than I would like, given the drought we endured over the summer months. We had some rainfall in the weeks leading up to our hunt this morning and I tried to remain optimistic, but feared the lowland bogs that hold woodcock would be dry. As we neared the forest, my fears were justified. Two of the streams that cross Roger Stevens Road were dry. A patch of swampland at the edge of the forest still held water, but it was much lower than usual. Undaunted, I pressed on and as it turned out, Hera and I had a good morning in the field.
Over the past several years as the opening of a new hunting season drew near and anticipation grew in me and my dogs, I liked to go to Banin Upland Game Farm to gun for pen raised chukar and pheasant to whet our appetite for wild birds. The proprietors of Banin Upland Game Farm and Fionavar Kennels, Ed and Vera, breed Springer Spaniels for use as gun dogs. Banin Upland Game Farm is set up for dog training and I spent time training all of my dogs there. In fact, the header photo for the blog shows me posing with Juno, my third dog, after her first hunt at Banin Upland Game Farm. Juno was my third dog and sadly, I lost her in 2012. She was felled by cancer at four years of age, just as she was coming into her prime as a gun dog. Tragic as it was, life goes on and now as the 2016 season draws near, I thought it would be fun to take my current dog, Hera, to Banin Upland Game Farm in pursuit of some chukar. I called earlier this week and Vera answered the telephone. She recognized me right away and we chatted briefly, getting caught up on what is new for both of us. I asked if she had birds in stock and her reply took me by surprise.
She told me they had birds in the spring, but since then bears, yes multiple bears, turned up and broke into the pens to get at the feed for the birds. In fact, she told me bears are brazenly continuing to raid the pens and out buildings on the farm in search of food. She told me because of the problem of nuisance bears, they are not stocking chukar and pheasants for now. She added that she has hunters lined up to deal with the bears and once this is taken care of they will probably have birds again. I immediately thought of my hunting buddy Jason Quinn. He shot a bear during the spring season. I wondered if he might be interested in party hunting for bear at Banin Upland Game Farm with me in the fall season. I contacted him and raised the subject, but the demands of work and family life are too pronounced for him to take part this time. In addition, I must confess that bear hunting really does not interest me that much. Given the opportunity, I might give it a try, but I do not plan on going out of my way to take up bear hunting.
I hope the hunters Vera has lined up take care of the problem of nuisance bears on the property in short order and Banin Upland Game Farm will be up and running with chukar and pheasant in stock later this season. I really hope to take Hera to chase some chukar and pheasant later this season in continuing the tradition that started when I took my first dog, Christie, to Banin Game Farm back in the 1990s.
Posted by Geoffrey
Jason and I got out with our dogs to the farm near Spencerville to check on our deer stands and the trail cameras over the Labour Day Weekend. We picked up a sack of corn and a gallon of molasses en route at the Old Co-op in North Gower. The corn and molasses was to replenish the bait piles we set out in the spring. As we neared the farm what struck me was how dry the area is. There is a lot of swampland adjacent to the farm and the surrounding areas. One patch of swampland we pass on the way to the farm was completely dried out. The drought we experienced over July and August took its toll. It only got worse. Jay’s deer stand is situated at the edge of the swamp that borders the farmland we hunt. We count on the swamp, its cool, fresh water, for our dogs to cool off in after a vigorous run through the meadows and woodlots in search of grouse and woodcock. The swamp was dry as a bone. This does not bode well for the woodcock season that opens September 25th. I sure hope we get some torrential rainfall between now and then else it promises to be a dismal woodcock season.
Fortune smiled on us, however, in that the apple tree (a landmark in our stand placements) is laden with fruit for the first time in many years. Moreover, it looks as though deer are feeding on the apples and browsing the lower foliage on the tree. We checked the trail cameras we set out last year (watching the trails at Jay’s, his wife Fran’s and my stands) and found lots of photos of deer and one bear, going back months. Jay and I will return to the farm on the 24th, bringing another sack of corn and the container of molasses, and check the cameras once more before archery season opens October 1st. I hope to bag a deer with my crossbow this season. We will watch the weather and sit with crossbows if the temperature is cool enough that should we can kill a deer, we can dress it, then take the carcass to the butcher before the meat spoils. Otherwise, we will wait for the two week rifle season that opens in November. We will see what fortune brings us this deer season and based on what we found I am feeling optimistic.
I documented our expedition to the farm on the video that follows.
Posted by Geoffrey