Got out for the second time this week with Hera to chase some grouse and woodcock. This time it was a solo hunt, just Hera and me on our own. I set out for the farm near Spencerville shortly after 7:00 am, but had to double back when I realized I left my phone at home. After retrieving my phone we were on our way and arrived at the farm at about 8:30 am. The temperature was 5 C and there was no wind. It looked like a good day in the field was in store for us. My enthusiasm soared when seconds into the hunt Hera locked up on point. It was at the edge of a trail in a dense stand of aspen and evergreens. I searched for a way through the cover to approach Hera head on, thinking it might be a grouse. I pushed through the cover and a woodcock flushed, climbing through the brush to the right of me very close. I turned as quickly as I could and got off a shot, missing spectacularly. It was a challenging shot so I took it in stride, buoyed by the fact that Hera found and pointed a bird so quickly. However, what followed left me bewildered and a little dismayed.
A few minutes after the first point Hera’s bell stopped ringing, indicating she found another bird. It was in the same stand of cover, a short distance from where I missed the first bird. This time as I walked up her point she jumped the gun and bumped the bird before I could walk up her point and flush it. The bird flew past me in the open and I got off a shot. I saw it go down and thought maybe I hit it. I marked the spot where I saw it go down and made a bee line for it with Hera running on ahead. The bird was very much alive and flushed a second time, going straight up through the canopy, not offering me a second shot. I called Hera and we moved on. I wondered what caused her to bump the bird. She is usually staunch on point. A short time later she locked up on point and yet again broke point, bumping the bird (a woodcock) to make good its escape, leaving me perplexed. This is so out of character for her.
As we continued the hunt I noted the conditions were very good in the woodcock covers. The ground is moist and there is water in the swamp and cedar bogs. Still, Hera persisted in breaking point and bumping birds as the hunt progressed. The raw footage from my GoPro camera captured my frustration when I exclaimed “Goddammit Hera!” There were 12 flushes in all: 11 woodcock (though some of them were the same bird flushed a second time) and one grouse that flushed wildly and unseen. I got a few shots away at some of the woodcock, missing spectacularly every time. We completed our sweep of the property by 10:37 and as we made our way back to the car a neighbour’s friendly Rottweiler met us in the field behind the farm house. I packed Hera into the car and set out for the Marlborough Forest to a patch of cover I call Cowan’s Corner. I was determined to end the hunt on a positive note.
I parked at my preferred spot at Cowan’s Corner shortly after 11:00 am and set out with Hera. I noticed the ground was much drier than I expected given the heavy rainfall we experienced during the spring and summer. This came as an unpleasant surprise. We set out, sweeping a partially overgrown meadow that held woodcock in appreciable numbers in seasons past. Hera locked up on point in stand of fairly dense cover bordering the meadow and I walked up her point. This time she was staunch and only moved when I drew near and there was no flush. She moved on stealthily, I think it was an old grouse scent, but no bird was found. We continued the hunt, walking a familiar trail, finding it dry as a bone also. We left the trail, cutting through a stand of pine and cedar to reach a trail parallel to the one we left. There is a patch of cover that when wet is a good spot to find woodcock. Sadly, it was dry as a bone too.
We walked the trail coming to a beaver pond manged by Ducks Unlimited Canada. Hera took a moment to cool off in the pond and we took a bend in the trail that leads to a stand of hardwoods and a cedar bog. I chose not to plow through the hardwoods this time, given Hera’s less than stellar performance this morning. When we reached the cedar bog I found the ground damp at least. Hera pushed through the densely packed cedars and locked up on point. This time she remained staunch! I walked up her point and a woodcock flushed, flying past me, almost on a collision course with me. I got off a shot and missed. We pushed a little further into the cedars, but no more birds were found. As we backtracked through the cedars and emerged onto the trail the woodcock she pointed in the cedars flushed wildly in front of me. I missed cleanly with both barrels.
On the walk back to the car I let her sweep through the brush adjacent to an old gravel pit people once used for target practice. Target practice in the Marlborough Forest is prohibited now. Hera locked up on point and I thought maybe a grouse this time. A mourning dove flushed and flew past me. I chuckled as I let it go and praised Hera for another good point. As we neared the car a grouse flushed wildly from the treetops. Then Hera locked up on point in a stand of cedars next to the trail. I walked up the point and a woodcock flushed several yards ahead of where Hera remained on point. I shot and missed, yet again. Hera went searching for a downed bird following the shot and two more woodcock flushed wildly. I got back to the car at 12:20 and put Hera on board. In all, there were 17 flushes this morning: 15 woodcock and two grouse. It was good that we got into birds, but Hera’s poor performance left me disheartened. I hope she is back in form the next time we take to the field.
Posted by Geoffrey