Down the rabbit hole with Mike and Maggie

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Mike with Maggie on an October woodcock hunt.

Imagine my dismay this morning when I saw the weather forecast this morning after I got up to take Hera out after grouse and woodcock. Rain and high winds with even higher gusts and unseasonably warm temperatures were forecast for this Sunday morning. This is not good weather upland gunning. I arranged to go hunting with Mike and his eighteen month German Shorthaired Pointer Maggie this morning. I half expected Mike to text and cancel, but he was there waiting at our meeting place, the Old Co-op in North Gower, at 7:40 AM when I drove up. It rained heavily as I put Hera in the car and loaded my gear, but by the time I met up with Mike the rain stopped. The high and gusting winds continued unabated and I knew this would be an issue. High winds make grouse skittish and also make it difficult to keep track of your dog. The sound of the gusting wind drowns out the sound of the cowbell on the dog’s collar. I anticipated this hunt would be more of an armed run than anything else you never know what fortune brings.

I thought we should try Schäfer’s Wood, a patch of cover I hunt in the Marlborough Forest, first. I drove into the forest with Mike following and as we arrived at Schäfer’s Wood I saw three men standing outside a truck. I pulled up alongside and asked where they were hunting and what were they after. They were not wearing blaze orange, so I thought they might be bow hunters out for the archery season for deer. They said they were after grouse and rabbit and indicated they were heading in a direction opposite to where I planned to hunt. I told them we had dogs and were after grouse and woodcock. The added that there were more men in their party who already set out in another direction. It was a friendly exchange and we wished each other good luck. Still, it reminded me how crowded it gets on crown lands at times.

Mike and I parked our vehicles and let the dogs out. Maggie was very excited and wanted to play with Hera, so the two dogs ran furiously around while Mike and I put on our blaze orange vests and retrieved our shotguns. Mike carried a Remington 870 in 12 gauge with a modified choke tube; I should have told him beforehand that an improved cylinder choke is what he wanted for our hunt today. I brought my Franchi Instinct SL o/u in 20 gauge, choked skeet and skeet. We set out in the gusting winds hoping to get into some woodcock and grouse. Last season I turned up appreciable numbers of woodcock and a few grouse at Schäfer’s Wood and hoped we would see a few this morning. I was a little concerned about Hera after her appalling performance in the field the Friday before, but hopeful she would snap out of it.

Over the years I came across some odd sights hunting in the Marlborough Forest and today Mike and I were treated to the latest. The season to date feels off kilter somehow almost as though I went down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland and what happened next played right into this feeling. As I paused to urinate, I heard Mike greet someone. I looked over my shoulder and there was a man, dressed in camouflage, carrying a loaded crossbow, with a little girl walking at his side. The little girl was not wearing blaze orange and carried what looked like an empty white feed sack flapping in the wind. I finished emptying out and zipped up before turning to say hello myself. We chatted briefly with the man who told us he was deer hunting and that he and his daughter were camped out in the forest nearby. Though I thought it foolhardy for them to be wandering in the forest without blaze orange on and for the little girl to be carrying a white cloth bag while her father was deer hunting I said nothing. However, given that they were camping nearby Mike and I decided to pack up the dogs and move to another patch of cover.

We drove to the patch of cover I call Lester’s Square and surprisingly found there was no one there. It usually attracts hunters with their dogs hunting grouse and woodcock. I surmised the poor weather must have put them off this morning. We followed a familiar route I use in hunting this patch of cover, passing through some cover we found barren. We walked up the beaver pond that sometimes holds ducks and sure enough, a lone mallard flushed, well out of range.

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Mike poses with Maggie and Hera at the edge of the beaver pond at Lester’s Square.

As we walked back to the meadow at the edge of the beaver pond we found a Browning portable blind tucked into the cedars and spruce trees at the edge of the pond. Lucky for its owner, Mike and I know enough to leave other people’s property alone. Honestly, how hard is it to respect other people’s property? I hope for the owner’s sake no one less scrupulous stumbles across it. I am sure he paid a pretty penny for it and having it stolen would be really unfortunate, something that is lost on a thieving cretin who would take it without hesitation.

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Portable duck blind left at the edge of the beaver pond at Lester’s Square.

We pressed on to a particular stand of cover that usually holds woodcock and it did not disappoint. We swept one side of the cover, turning up nothing, but as we doubled back along the other side Hera locked up on point. I directed Mike to walk up the point and in short order heard a shot. Mike walked up Hera’s point and she remained staunch! This was the first time he walked up a woodcock on a dog’s point and the woodcock, true to form, held tightly. It flushed as he approached Hera who stood like a statue and he got off a shot and missed. Then his gun jammed as he tried to work the pump. He tried to clear the jam unsuccessfully, so I asked him if he would like to carry my gun. We were out this morning for his and Maggie’s benefit and he happily accepted my offer. He found, also, what a delight it is carrying a 20 gauge Franchi o/u in the uplands.

As we continued the hunt, Mike flushed two woodcock on his own, discovering this aspect of woodcock hunting. Both times he was startled and did not get a shot off. By 11:00 AM the temperature was climbing and the winds gusted on unabated so we decided to call it a day. We swept a partially overgrown meadow with a mix of cedar and juniper on the way back to the vehicles and Mike spotted a deer shed, what looked like it came from a ten point buck. It was a good way to end the hunt.

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Mike and Maggie with the deer shed.

We did not put any birds in the bag, but Hera made a staunch point. I hope this trend continues and the next time I get out with Mike and Maggie the weather is vastly improved.

Posted by Geoffrey

 

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