Cock up!

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Grouse and woodcock taken over Hera’s points on Opening Day of Woodcock season 2016.

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.

We arrived at the first patch of cover, a spot where I thought we might turn up some grouse. We set off and minutes into the hunt, Hera found and pointed a woodcock. The bird was in a patch of birch and aspen and though she was staunch on point, when I flushed the bird, it made good its escape, hidden in the leaves still on the trees. It was a great start to the hunt; there were woodcock in the forest in spite of the dry conditions in the covers. With new enthusiasm, we pressed on through the cover, working our way through the edge habitat where the hardwood stand meets a meadow. As we made our way along a stand that is parallel to the forest road, Hera locked up on point. I walked up the point, once more she remained staunch, and a woodcock flushed. I pivoted to make the shot and fumbled with the safety on my new Franchi, but made the shot, dumping the bird cleanly. Hera made the retrieve and we moved on. She swept the cover on the other side of the forest road and bumped a wild turkey. We walked up an old trail that led to the ruin of an old deer stand. While I paused to photograph the ruin, Hera saw fit to take off for a jaunt. I hate when dogs do this; it feels like an eternity when they are out of earshot and my imagination kicks in with “what if she never returns” mercilessly. She was gone a few moments before I heard (to my relief) her bell in the distance as she made her way back.

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Deer stand that is no longer in use.

We moved back to the other side of the forest road and Hera locked up on point again. This time she stood on the forest road, pointing to a patch of hardwood. She had her head up, which usually indicates a running grouse, and sure enough a grouse flushed wildly as I walked toward Hera on point. Hera ran ahead in search of the bird and quickly locked up on point. This time I walked into the thicket from the meadow, found Hera and approached her head on, putting the bird (a grouse) in a squeeze play. The bird flushed and I fired twice, missing spectacularly. I banged the barrels of my Franchi on a tree as I made the second shot. The bird offered me a straight away across the meadow. Nice to see I still miss as spectacularly as ever with the Franchi. We completed the sweep of this cover with no more points and moved on to Lester’s Square.

Found Lester’s Square dry as a bone, but in spite of this, got into grouse and woodcock. Also, on the little water that remains on the beaver pond at the edge of the cover I flushed several mallards, well out of range. Hera worked some running grouse at the edge of the pines and I got my first grouse of the season. I thought I missed as I shot through leafy cover, but Hera retrieved the downed bird. It was killed cleanly. As we made our way through the varied types of cover she found and pointed four more woodcock. She was staunch on all but one of the points, but I managed to miss spectacularly on the three birds that offered a shot. We met some people riding ATVs and I was careful to observe the proper etiquette this situation commands. As soon as I heard them approach, I unloaded my firearm and left the action open for them to see. They waved as they passed by and I made certain to keep Hera out of harm’s way. It is important that hunters make a good impression on non-hunters using crown lands during hunting season. I take care to show I am aware of their presence and pose no threat while we share the same space.

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Water level on the beaver pond is very low this season.

Hera knows the area well from hunting in seasons past so we pressed on through a patch of cedar that is usually nice and boggy. Like the rest of the cover, it was dry as a bone and though she locked up on point once, the bird was long gone. By the time we completed the sweep of the dry cedar bog it was noon. We were out for four hours and by the then the temperature climbed to 13 degrees C, not overly hot, but without water for Hera to cool off in I decided to call it a day. It was a good start to the season, we put two birds in the bag. I sure hope we get some torrential rainfall the next two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Weekend. Without it, I fear we are in for a poor woodcock season. Regardless, Hera and I and hopefully some of my hunting buddies will try our luck. After all, in hunting, nothing is guaranteed and getting out with your dog and hunting buddies is a worthy effort in its own right!

Posted by Geoffrey

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