Bill McClure was a breeder and accomplished handler of Brittanies, bookseller and outdoor writer. He was a columnist for Gundog Magazine and Wildfowl Magazine for many years. I met him in 1989 when I was looking into buying a Brittany of my own. He became a friend and mentor to me, ultimately helping me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first Brittany in 1994. I enjoyed visiting the book shop he operated out of his home outside Manotick (a town outside of Ottawa) and bought a number of books on Brittanies, dog training and hunting from him over the years. He liked hearing me report on my hunting experiences too. He made the comment “multiples of ten excite the young,” in a column he penned for Gundog Magazine back in the early 1990s. The comment was a passing reference to an occasion when I reported on a woodcock hunt back in the days I hunted without a dog. I told him there were several woodcock flushes and I “had never seen so many.” Yes, in the many years I hunted woodcock without a dog, finding as many as 9 or 10 woodcock was a triumph. What made me think of this was my most recent grouse and woodcock hunt with Hera. Ten birds were flushed: 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in all.
Despite suffering from a flare up of gout in my left foot, I set out with Hera for the Marlborough Forest the morning of September 30, 2016. I wait all year for woodcock season and it is so fleeting I am loathe to pass up a morning in the field. It was cool, sunny and a light wind blew as we drove to the forest. A grouse was seen standing on the forest road as we approached Lester’s Square, the cover I chose to start the morning’s hunt. There was a time when I would have stopped and tried to flush a grouse seen standing on a forest road, but these days I give the bird a break. The bird scurried off the road and flew away and we drove on. It was the first flush of the morning and seemed a favourable omen. I held out hope Hera and I might have the cover to ourselves this morning. This hope was dashed when another hunting party, two mature gentlemen with an English Pointer and I think a German Shorthaired Pointer (the dog was hidden from view in its crate) drove up as I parked at Lester’s Square. They asked what kind of dog I had and I replied that Hera is a Brittany. They said they would drive on as I got there first, which was gracious of them. I assured them there is room enough for everyone and thanked them for their consideration.
It was just after 8:00 am when Hera and I set out. We worked a familiar path through Lester’s Square and while Hera quartered through a stand of alder and cedar a brown bunny hopped past on the trail ahead of me. The bunny came and went so quickly I had no time to react. I walked up to where I last saw it, but it was long gone. Hera and I continued, working our way deeper into the cover than I usually go in hopes of turning up some woodcock. I was careful to take a compass bearing so I knew which way the forest road was before we moved deeper into the cover. Even when civilization is half a block away, it is so easy to get turned around in the forest and thoroughly lost. Before long, Hera locked up on point. I walked up the point and when no bird flushed, Hera moved forward, following the scent. I thought it might be a running grouse, but she locked up on point once more and this time I flushed a woodcock, missing spectacularly with both barrels. Yes, I got the hang of the safety on my new Franchi Instinct SL shotgun. Good thing too that I thought to take a bearing as I could not retrace my steps as I hoped. I found my way back to the forest road well behind where I parked the car, following the bearing I took with the compass beforehand.
We resumed our sweep through Lester’s Square and in an unlikely patch of cover Hera pointed two grouse. I shot at the first one, thinking I missed, but in following up Hera locked up on point. I assumed she found and pointed the downed bird and walked up expecting to pick up a dead bird; however, a second bird flushed, catching me completely off guard. I made a very clumsy mount with the Franchi, kind of firing from the hip and missed yet again. One must never assume, I recalled. We moved into a stand of cover that almost always holds a woodcock or two and sure enough, Hera locked up on point. I walked up her point as I always do: approaching head on in hopes of getting the bird in a squeeze play. This time, the bird (a woodcock) was hidden a little farther away and flushed unseen, offering no shot. Fair enough, this strategy does not always work the way I hope. We followed up the flush in the chance she might find it again, but it was long gone. We doubled back in the patch cover and Hera locked up on point. This time my strategy worked as intended and a woodcock flushed, offering me a golden opportunity. Yet again, I missed cleanly with both barrels.
As we finished our sweep of Lester’s Square and made our way back to the car, I saw a grouse standing on the forest road. This time I decided to walk it up and see if it would let me get close enough for a shot when it flushed. The grouse was determined to stay alive and flushed before I was in range. I fired a shot, a parting salute if you will, as it made its hasty departure. I could hear the beeping of the electronic collar the other hunters had on their English Pointer in the distance and saw that they parked their truck close to my car. I wondered how they were making out. The wind was picking up and gusting. This makes it difficult to hear Hera’s bell and makes the birds skittish, but we continued the hunt in spite of it.
I got Hera on board and we moved on to Schäfer’s Wood. Three grouse flushed wildly as Hera tried to find and point them. I fired twice at one of the birds, though I knew better. It was well out of range. My impression is wild flushing grouse are frustrating to Hera as she bumped the fourth woodcock we saw that morning. This took me by surprise, given her staunch points on the first three we turned up. A mourning dove appeared in front of me at one point. It sat in the meadow, in the open. There is an open season on doves in Ontario now, but you are required to use non-toxic shot when hunting them. I walked up the bird anyway, curious to see how close I could get. It flushed out of range, but flew into the nearest tree, seemingly daring me to shoot. I walked on by and ended the hunt watching Hera work a fresh scent near where I parked the car. I enjoyed watching her work and the thrill that comes from anticipating a point, flush and shot was as pronounced as ever. The bird was long gone, no doubt a streetwise grouse that knew enough not to linger when a man and his dog are nearby.
I called it a day at 12:00 pm as it was getting quite windy and the temperature was higher than when we set out. Ten birds (grouse and woodcock), eleven counting the mourning dove, were seen in the four hours we were afield. Hera made some great points on grouse and woodcock and I got off several shots, missing spectacularly every time of course. While I am no longer the younger man to whom my old friend and mentor, Bill McClure, referred in his column all those years ago, I am happy to report in the present multiples of ten continue to excite when I take to the field with Hera, my Brittany.
Posted by Geoffrey