It is November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night in England, and I spent a good part of the day out with Hera in the Marlborough Forest. I hoped we would turn up some woodcock, stragglers left from the Autumn migration. I left Ottawa with Hera on board shortly before 8:00 am. I stopped at a Tim Hortons to grab a coffee and chocolate glazed doughnut en route and arrived at Cowan’s Corner shortly after 9:00 am. It was sunny this morning and there was virtually no wind in the forest, which suits me fine. The ground is still nice and boggy and Hera was raring to go. From the get go, Hera found old scent left by birds that were long gone. I walked up a number of points only to find there was no bird. I wonder if this contributed to me watching in dismay as Hera bumped the first two birds she pointed before I could walk up her points. We turned up nine woodcock and two hares in the five hours we spent in the field. I shot at one of the hares, missing spectacularly, and three of the woodcock, also missing. Most of the woodcock flushed were found in the densest, most impenetrable cover and flushed unseen.
The rifle season for white-tailed deer opens Monday, November 7th and there was considerable activity in the forest today. I noticed several trucks parked at the entrances to access roads and heard the familiar roar of ATV engines while Hera and I swept Cowan’s Corner. I am mindful of other people using the forest, particularly those on ATVs and motocross motorbikes. The last thing I want is Hera getting run over. Hera swept a stand of cedar as I walked the outer edge and a hare ran past in front of me. I got off a shot and missed. As Hera and I continued on our way along one of the trails two men in an auto, towing a flimsy looking wooden boat painted in camouflage stopped to ask if it were deer season yet. They sounded Eastern European, judging by their accents, and wanted to know if it were safe to be in the forest. I told them gun season for deer opens Monday and asked if they were duck hunting. They said they were out on the Rideau River earlier in the morning and shot three ducks. They did not know the species by name, but described the common merganser as what they had in the bag. One of the gents assured me these ducks are fit to eat, provided you boil them for several hours. Yes, well, I remain unconvinced that merganser is fit to eat no matter how you prepare it.
As Hera and I passed the old quarry that people used in the past for target practice–before the City of Ottawa prohibited target shooting in the forest–I was surprised to find a man and a little girl pistol shooting in the quarry. I am unsure whether the pistols were air pistols or .22 caliber, but I thought this rather foolhardy of the man bringing and shooting restricted firearms in the forest. This is only asking for trouble. Hera and I moved on and as we neared the car we met a man and woman walking two dogs: a Labrador Retriever and a small dog, a terrier mix by the look of it. The small dog approached Hera aggressively and Hera stood her ground. The small dog retreated, yelping, which surprised me until I saw the woman using the remote for a shock collar. I stopped to chat with the couple and the man asked how the hunting was. He was surprised when I told him we put up six woodcock and a hare as it is late in the season for woodcock. He uses his Lab for duck hunting. He mentioned a public hunting ground somewhere on the St. Lawrence River near Morrisburg. This may be well worth checking out.
With Hera on board after two and a half hours hunting at Cowan’s Corner, I made my way to Lester’s Square, driving past Schäfer’s Wood on the way. I saw two hunters at the edge of the access road as I drove up to Schäfer’s Wood. I think they were probably deer hunters making preparations for the opening of the gun season on Monday. All was quite at Schäfer’s Wood as I drove past and as I neared Lester’s Square I saw an old camping trailer parked in its usual spot. Many deer hunters camp out in the Marlborough Forest during deer season. I saw two trucks parked up the road from the trailer, but the spot I like to park in was vacant. I let Hera out of the car and we set out on a sweep of Lester’s Square. Before long I hear the bell on the collar of another dog in the thicket. In the distance I heard voices and sounds of activity. I think it was deer hunters setting up. The dog was enjoying hunting for itself. I made my way to a familiar patch of cover, hoping to find the recent rain made it nice and wet, only to find it dry and barren.
I took Hera through a patch of cover that occasionally holds a grouse or woodcock, though it is really marginal as cover for game birds. We pass through it on the way to more productive cover. No birds were found. We made a thorough sweep the through more productive cover and Hera pointed two woodcock. I saw a hare hightailing it away from us, too far away to shoot. This time she held point while I walked up, but the birds were found in stands of cedar bog so thick the birds flushed unseen, offering no shot. This is not uncommon, in my experience for woodcock hunting at the eleventh hour. There were two trucks parked in the meadow next to the cover, parked there by deer hunters I expect. As Hera and I circled back toward where I parked some riders on ATVs roared past on a trail in the distance. Hera made a couple of points on old scents along the way too. As we neared the main forest road Here locked up on point. This time there was a woodcock and I got off a shot, missing again.
We made our way up the main forest road to a cedar bog where I thought we might still turn up birds. I stopped by the edge of the road, holding Hera’s collar as two men on ATVs rode past. They had clippers and a chain saw with them and what looked like an empty bag that held feed. I got the impression they were not pleased to see Hera and me, but it is crown land. The cedar bog was nice and wet, as I hoped, and Hera pointed two more old scents, but the birds were long gone. I was startled when I heard a shot, rifle shot, come from the old sandpit in the distance. This was once a popular spot for target practice, also. I steered clear of the sandpit as a precaution and as I neared where I parked the car, I put Hera on leash. It was about 1:50 pm when I called it a day.
Posted by Geoffrey