Better late than never

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Mike and I on our first hunt together.

The last two days saw high winds with higher gusts blowing intermittently. This is really not good weather for upland gunning. Still, I offered to take Mike, my newest hunting buddy, woodcock hunting on Sunday, the 23rd of October. It did not help that I woke up early Sunday morning reeling from a shocking headache and waves of nausea. “That’s what Advil and Pepto-Bismol are for,” I said to myself as I made ready to go meet Mike for our planned woodcock hunt. Despite the poor weather conditions and my personal malaise, I was on my way to meet Mike shortly after 7:00 am. Mike lives in Osgoode, a village not far from where I gun for grouse and woodcock in the Marlborough Forest. A lot of rain fell toward the end of the previous week and I hoped this would improve conditions in the woodcock covers. If so, I was confident we would get into some late season birds passing through and dropping in on the Marlborough Forest. I arrived at Mike’s house a little late (I texted, advising him I was running late) and he was ready to go. He opted to follow me in his vehicle. Off we went, bound for Schäfer’s Wood.

We were in the field shortly before 9:00 am. The wind was blowing hard so I knew we would have to pay close attention to keep track of Hera’s whereabouts. She has a cowbell on her collar that rings when she moves through the cover. When the bell stops ringing she is usually on point. We know where Hera is because we track the sound of the bell. When the wind is heavy, however, it is easy to lose track of her whereabouts as the wind drowns out the sound of her bell. We made a sweep of Schäfer’s Wood and in spite of the high winds, tracked Hera and walked up a few points only to find the birds were long gone. She pointed a woodcock when we moved on to Lester’s Square. Unfortunately, we lost track of her in the gusting wind and as we searched for her, the woodcock lost its nerve and flushed. It passed Mike and I as it made its escape and I got two shots away, missing spectacularly. This was the first woodcock Mike saw as he is new to the sport. He has a six month old German Shorthaired Pointer named Maggie at home. He intends to bring her into the field next season in pursuit of grouse and woodcock.

We continued our sweep of Lester’s Square in the gale that blew and met another hunter hunting over a twelve year old Brittany named Annie. Joe had two woodcock in the bag. We chatted a bit and I found that Annie is from the same kennel as Hera: Ataboy in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

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Joe and his Brittany Annie with Hera.

The highlight of the morning hunt was a wild flushing grouse seen as we made our way back to our cars. It flushed from the grass in the meadow at the edge of the stand of cover Hera worked. Mike was distracted and I was startled, but got two shots off, missing yet again. Though we did not get any birds, Mike has two good spots he can bring Maggie to continue her training as a gun dog. I look forward to getting into the field with him again soon and look forward to the day Maggie joins us in the field.

The next morning, despite several hours of sleep, I still did not feel very well. I called in sick to the office and went back to bed. I woke up later in the morning and decided, since it is hunting season and the woodcock season is almost over, I would take Hera out to Schäfer’s Wood for a quick sweep. Hera expects a daily run regardless of how lousy her master feels and I thought an she will enjoy an armed run much more than her usual training run in town. The high winds persisted and as it is late in the season, I anticipated birds would be scarce, but then nothing ventured, nothing gained. I dropped Mika off at work before heading to the forest and set out at Schäfer’s Wood at about 9:30 am. Hera flash pointed a few old scents and we had two wild grouse flushes. I caught a glimpse of a snowshoe hare as it darted behind a juniper bush. No woodcock were found.

We moved on to Lester’s Square and found a truck with a dog crate in the back parked where I usually park. Hell, we cannot avoid the hordes even on a Monday, late in the woodcock season. I drove on to the opposite end of the cover and we set out. Hera found and pointed four woodcock in our sweep. Three were in dense cover and did not offer a shot. I missed twice on the one that offered a shot. As we completed the sweep of Lester’s Square, I thought about Cowan’s Corner, a patch of cover I avoided all season because of the dry conditions. Based on what I saw at Lester’s Square and environs, I figured the rain that fell last week probably moistened Cowan’s Corner sufficiently to merit a sweep. With Hera on board, I drove to Cowan’s Corner and parked in our usual spot, finding it happily unoccupied. As I expected, Cowan’s Corner was nice and wet; however, it remained to be seen if it held any birds. It did, and then some!

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A view of Cowan’s Corner in late October.

Seconds into the sweep of Cowan’s Corner Hera locked up on point. I walked up her point and flushed a woodcock. Despite fumbling with the safety, yet again, I dumped the bird cleanly. What followed was a series of points, flushes, birds I put up myself, shots, misses and hits ending with four woodcock in the bag. Two of the birds were lively cripples that Hera tracked down and retrieved. I would not have found them without her. There was on wild grouse flush too. In all, we put up 12-20 woodcock (counting the four we saw at Lester’s Square). I lost count quickly as we swept Cowan’s Corner.

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Four woodcock taken with my 20 gauge Franchi Instinct  SL over Hera.

The rain we needed came late this season, but better late than never as it turned out. I called it a day at 2:30 pm, much later than anticipated. While I was still tired, the headache and nausea were gone and with four woodcock in the bag, I was quite pleased as was Hera. It was a good day in the field.

Posted by Geoffrey

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