Nick majored in Scolopax minor (American woodcock)

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Nick Schäfer with three woodcock taken on his first woodcock hunt in Canada.

Days two, three and five of my hunting holiday over the Thanksgiving Weekend and the week that followed with my new hunting buddy, Nick Schäfer, were taken up with grouse and woodcock hunts in the Marlborough forest and on a farm near Spencerville with Hera, my Brittany. Nick is from Germany, he is here in Canada studying at Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I met him when he posted a request on the Facebook Group Ontario Hunters Unite, asking if he might accompany a hunter here in Canada on a hunt. I responded to his request, inviting him to Ottawa for some upland bird and wildfowl hunting. He accepted my invitation and I introduced him to the pleasures of grouse and woodcock hunting in Eastern Ontario. Each day we set out at 7:00 am bound either for Schäfer’s Wood and Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest or a farm near Spencerville it was a cool, sunny morning with a light wind blowing. We grabbed coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way and timed it so we arrived just after 8:00 am to take to the field.

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Hera looks enthused for the hunt.

Our first hunt was on Sunday, October 9th. We started at Schäfer’s Wood and quickly got into birds. I documented some of the action in the following video.

In our three days of grouse and woodcock hunting we got into more birds than I expected, given the poor conditions in the woodcock covers. The drought that struck Eastern Ontario in the summer months left many streams and wetlands dried out. I chose our hunting sites carefully, making certain there were bodies of water nearby where Hera could cool off periodically during the hunt. One of these bodies of water, a beaver pond at Lester’s Square held flocks of mallard and teal each time we walked up with Hera. The water level was very low and the birds flushed well out of range every time as we approached.

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We jumped flocks of mallard and teal each time we walked up  this beaver pond where Hera cooled off in the water.

One morning as we passed a pond maintained by Ducks Unlimited Canada en route to Schäfer’s Wood, we saw mallard decoys bobbing on the water. To our astonishment we spied the owner of the decoys seated in a canoe, partially concealed in a patch of cattails, but wearing blaze orange! We laughed out loud in spite of ourselves at the spectacle. I remember how clueless I was when I started out as a duck hunter. My first opening morning back in 1976 I sat with my dad in our 1973 Ford Pinto waiting for shooting time. It had not occurred to us that we could be in our blind waiting for legal shooting time, duh! We wondered how long he would sit, waiting for ducks to come to him before giving up and hopefully cluing in that he has a lot to learn about duck hunting. Still, we hoped he enjoyed himself in spite of his inexperience.

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Nick posing where we saw the duck hunter dressed in blaze orange.

While we were in the field, I showed Nick some of the sights one typically finds on crown lands. These include the ruins of old deer stands, built, then abandoned, eventually falling into ruin.

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This deer stand saw better days.

It is commonplace to encounter non-hunters on crown land, also. I demonstrated the proper etiquette for Nick when we met up with a group of people on trail bikes. We unloaded our shotguns and left the actions open so the people we met could see our shotguns were empty and posed no safety risk in their presence. This etiquette applies when you meet fellow hunters too. We met another hunter at Schäfer’s Wood one morning. He had three woodcock in the bag, shot over his English Pointer. We stopped to chat briefly before continuing our respective hunts, taking care not to get in each others way.

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Hunters and non-hunters share crown lands alike.

I showed Nick two of the ladder stands we have set up on the farm for deer season. Rifle season for deer starts in mid-November and this season I have a doe tag. I am hopeful I will bag my second deer this season (I took up deer hunting in 2011 and bagged my first deer, a doe, in 2012).

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One of our deer stands located in the background behind the salt block.

As a bonus, Nick bagged a snowshoe hare, his first, together with another woodcock on our second day in the field. On our third day in the field we turned up several woodcock, though in very thick cover. We shot at most of the birds flushed, missing spectacularly. Some flushed unseen in the dense cover. In addition, Hera suffered a brief relapse, a throwback back to her second and third seasons where she habitually locked up on point, then pounced on the bird before I could walk up her point. However, to my relief, she remained staunch on point on her last point of the morning on a grouse. The grouse, as grouse are wont to do in these parts, flushed wildly as I walked up Hera’s point, well before I reached her and got away. Neither Nick nor I bagged a grouse on any of our three hunts together. We got shots away at a few, mostly wildly flushing birds, but Hera made a couple of good points on them. I am pleased we turned up appreciable numbers of woodcock on our hunts and that Nick bagged a few. My biggest fear in hosting Nick for this hunting holiday was we would spend our time afield with Hera experiencing nothing more than an armed run with her.

I very much enjoyed introducing Nick to gunning for grouse and woodcock here in Eastern Ontario and hope we find the opportunity to take to the field again, if not later this season, in seasons in the years ahead. In the meantime, I will take to the field with Hera for the balance of the current season, hoping we will get into more grouse and woodcock before the cold weather sets in and the woodcock are gone, not to turn up in the covers till next October.

Posted by Geoffrey

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