Set out this morning the day after Friday the 13th with Hera for a solo grouse and woodcock hunt. The farm near Spencerville where my hunting buddies and I also deer hunt was the destination. I noted in previous hunts this season the conditions in the uplands are very good for woodcock. That and we got into birds, both grouse and woodcock on prior hunts. The weather was better than forecast: 15 C, very light rain, more drizzle, and no wind. These are good, not great conditions for upland gunning. We arrived shortly after 8:00 am and set out. Go off to a rocky start when Hera bumped a woodcock early on. Somehow she failed to scent it and stumbled over it. It flushed wildly a short distance ahead. I was hopeful that Hera was back in form. She made a staunch point on a woodcock the weekend before for Mike, one of my hunting buddies, in the Marlborough Forest. Given what we found this morning, I think I should have taken her out for Friday the 13th.
I sploshed through puddles left from recent rains and listened to Hera’s bell as she swept through a stand of cedar. She made a flashpoint on an old scent. We steered clear of the spot where Jason and I shot a porcupine at the start of the season. Though coyotes likely took care of the carcass, I did not want to risk Hera getting quills from the carcass. As we approached the corner of the property where Rick, a neighbour who deer hunts on the farm along with us, built a deer stand in a clump of tall cedars I heard the feeding chuckle of a mallard duck. I looked over the treetops in the swamp and saw a sizeable flock of mallards circling, looking for a place to set down. Rick’s stand looked undisturbed too. I found deer footprints in the soft earth by Rick’s stand; he should be pleased.
I continued the hunt with Hera and eventually we walked up to Jason’s deer stand. I was relieved to find the stand where it should be, undisturbed.
As I paused to photograph Jason’s stand, Hera swept the stand of poplar and birch behind the stand. She locked up on point, farther from me than is usual for her and remained on point as I searched for her. It seemed an eternity as I had no idea where she was. Finally, I heard the bell and followed the direction of its sound only to find it was a squirrel that caught her intense attention. Still, during the search I noticed a lot of woodcock droppings on the floor of the cover. There were woodcock in the area very recently.
With the squirrel safely ensconced in a tree, Hera moved on, quartering through the cover as a light rain fell. In short order she locked up on point and as I walked it up, to my dismay she jumped the gun once more. I stood and watched haplessly as the bird, a woodcock, made good its escape. What am I going to do with her! A while later on another far ranging cast she locked up on point. It took me some time to find her and as I walked up the point a woodcock flushed. This time it was unclear whether she flushed it or it finally lost its nerve and flushed wildly. I gave Hera the benefit of the doubt this time.
As we worked our way back to the farm house, I checked out the remaining stands, finding them undisturbed. When we reached the edge of the wood and the gate leading to the farm house, Hera locked up on point. This time she remained on point, but the woodcock was in a patch of cover too thick to offer a shot.
I put Hera on board, packed my shotgun and gear and left the farm bound for Cowan’s Corner, a patch of cover in the Marlborough Forest. As I pulled into the spot I park at Cowan’s Corner I found someone saw fit to discard a pile of spent shotgun cartridge casings on the ground, in plain view. Leaving litter like this behind does not give the public a good impression of hunters.
Hera knows her way around Cowan’s Corner and set off enthusiastically. I hoped the ground might be wetter than the last time we hit the cover, but this was not the case at all. The little rain we had of late did not make any difference; Cowan’s Corner is dry as a bone. We pressed on in spite of it and sure enough, it turned up a woodcock for us. This time I flushed it and as it offered a straight away shot in the wide open I dumped it cleanly with one shot. Hera heard the shot and happily retrieved the downed bird for me.
We checked two hot spots for woodcock at Cowan’s Corner, but the fact is the ground is too dry. I found some old woodcock sign which tells me birds are passing through, just not staying as they cannot probe the dry ground for the earthworms on which they feed. Unless we get a heavy, sustained rainfall on Cowan’s Corner before the end of the month, I do not think it worth the effort for the remainder of this season.
Posted by Geoffrey