Hera unleashed

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Hera at the end of a good day of upland hunting.

I woke up this morning later than planned, filled with enthusiasm for another day afield with Hera, my Brittany. These days I find my body lags behind my enthusiasm for getting up to go upland hunting. Usually, I am ready and on the road by 7:00 am hoping to start the the hunt by 8:00 am. This morning I woke up sometime after 8:00 am and undaunted, had breakfast, loaded my shotgun, hunting gear and Hera into the car and got underway. The objective for the hunt today was to check on the deer stands on the farm near Spencerville where some of my hunting buddies and I hunt whitetail-tailed deer in the rifle season. This year rifle season opens November 7th and runs two weeks. I grabbed a coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way to the farm and arrived shortly after 9:00 am. I noticed on the drive to the farm that the recent rainfall was sufficient to fill the swamps that were dried out when I first hunted the farm at the end of September. “Good,” I thought, “hopefully, the wetlands on and adjacent to the farm are holding water again.” Hera was raring to go when we got to the farm and off we went.

This time I was careful to bring a leash after what happened on our hunt the day before. Hera was very naughty, she disobeyed brazenly when I ordered her back into the car at the end when we concluded sweeps of the three patches of cover we hunted. As we made our way across the farm I was pleased to see there is indeed water in some of the wetlands on and adjacent to the farm. In addition, I saw flocks of migrating geese in the air and a single flock of ducks. The last time I was at the farm in mid-October, sitting in a deer stand with my crossbow, the ground was dry and there was nary a duck or goose in the air. The swamp next to the homemade stand built by a neighbour of the Hobkirks (owners of the farm) was good and wet again. Rick, the neighbour, will like this. He listens, while sitting and watching in his stand, for the footfalls of deer in the swamp.

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Rick’s deer stand overlooking the swamp.

As I moved through the edge cover next to Rick’s stand, Hera found and pointed three woodcock. It was thick cover and I walked up each point, thinking my chances of getting a shot away were so-so, but to my delight, I got two of the birds. I thought I missed the first bird, but Hera retrieved it for me. I saw the second bird fall, but without Hera to retrieve it I would have had a hard time finding it. We put up six woodcock at the farm in all. I shot at five of them. Hera pointed one of the birds in a clump of cedar. I walked up the point from the opposite side of where she stood locked on point and as I hoped, the bird flushed, flying away from Hera. It emerged from the opposite side of the cedars where I stood and I missed spectacularly on a straight away shot. I did my best shooting today on birds that flushed in thick cover, interestingly.

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Hera pointed a woodcock in this clump of cedar at the farm.

 

I made my way to Jason’s stand, positioned overlooking the swamp at the edge of the farm. The stand is in place, undisturbed as is the trail camera watching the deer trail. The swamp is still dry, however. It remains to be seen if Jason will get out for this rifle season as he is very busy with work and family life these days.

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Jason’s stand ready for the 2016 rifle season for deer.

As I continued on to check out my stand I jumped a snowshoe hare, still brown, and got off a shot. I missed, but the hare stopped, thinking it was hidden in the thicket. Before I could shoot, Hera moved in behind the hare, putting her in the line of fire. Then she jumped it and pursued it briefly, following so close that I dare not shoot for fear of hitting Hera. She was a good girl. She abandoned the chase very quickly, after a few paces, and returned to my side to continue hunting grouse and woodcock. We moved on to my stand and found all in order. I look forward to sitting and watching for deer on the opening afternoon of the rifle season. I have a doe tag this season and as I am hunting for venison a doe will do nicely.

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We spent two hours sweeping the cover on the farm and as we returned to the car, I put Hera on leash, reminding her “this is what happens to naughty girls who disobey.” With Hera safely on board, we made our way to Cowan’s Corner in hopes of finding a few more woodcock. As I drove in to the forest road leading to Cowan’s Corner, I saw a man unloading an ATV and two people walking out, one of who held a map. This reminded me that hunters are not the only ones using the forest, so I would take care to make safety a priority and observe the proper etiquette in the presence of hunters and non-hunters alike I meet in the forest. Hera and I started the sweep of Cowan’s Corner and in short order Hera pointed a woodcock. I walked up the point and missed again on a straight away shot. Maybe I am too cocky these days and not mounting the shotgun properly, I don’t know, but resolved to do better. Despite stiffening my resolve, I missed again on following points offering straight away shots at woodcock.

It was shots I made at woodcock in thick cover where I found the mark. Hera pointed two woodcock in a small patch of cover that always holds birds when it is nice and wet. I missed the first bird, but dumped the second. Thinking about it, I concluded that on the straight away shots I have time to think about the shot and end up either aiming instead of pointing the shotgun or lifting my head to get a better look at the bird. The result is the same in both instances: I miss spectacularly. Shots I make at birds in thick cover are reflexive. I don’t have time to think about the shot. I mount the gun, find the mark and shoot in an instant. I got a fourth woodcock over Hera’s point along a nice edge near the beaver pond at the far end of Cowan’s Corner. It was a snap shot in thick cover also.

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This pocket of woodcock cover holds birds when the ground is nice and wet.

We completed our sweep of the cover just before 3:00 pm. Hera pulled a fast one when it was time to go, slipping past me as I ordered her into the car. While I waited to see if she would return, she locked up on point. I picked up my shotgun and walked up the point. It was a woodcock, the fifteenth bird we saw today, but it flew low to the ground with Hera in pursuit so I could not shoot. As she broke off the chase, she ran into a dense patch of cover and locked up on point once more. “This is going to be difficult,” I thought as I walked up the point. I found Hera and then saw a running grouse. As the cover was so very dense and I had murder on my mind at this point, I ground swatted the grouse. Hera retrieved the hapless bird and this time I took her by the collar, put her on leash and took her back to the car. I can’t condemn her for her enthusiasm for hunting, but she has to accept that I am her master and I expect her obedience.

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Four woodcock and one grouse taken with my 20 gauge Franchi Instinct SL.

I hope to get into the field with her in pursuit of woodcock next weekend, our last chance before the rifle season for deer opens. To date, the woodcock season turned out much better than I expected, given the appalling conditions in the covers at the start of the season. The rain came late again this season, but it made a difference. Hera and I did very well for ourselves making it a fair season. With any luck, we may find a few stragglers in the covers next weekend. Here’s hoping.

Posted by Geoffrey

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