I took Hera into the field this morning. We started out in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Lester’s Square. It was cool this morning, just a few degrees above 0 C and there was a light wind, lighter than was forecast, though it gusted at times. I noticed puddles on the forest road as I drove in, a welcome sign. The recent rainfall was heavy enough to leave puddles and I hoped the woodcock covers would be damper than they were at the start of the season. We had the cover to ourselves for the first time in a long time. This was often the case in years gone by when I hunted there with my first dog, Christie, back in the late 1990s. I know my way around Lester’s Square very well these days as I hunted there many seasons before. Still, I am always careful to take a bearing with my compass so I know which way is out. Even in the Marlborough Forest where civilization is half a block away, it is all too easy to get turned around and find yourself walking in circles in the brush. I arrived a little later than usual, closer to 9:00 AM, and set out with Hera to see what fortune would bring us this morning.
I took her up a familiar trail leading into the cover. I turned up hares, grouse and woodcock along this trail over the years, sometimes at most inopportune moments. I remember one October afternoon when I needed to stop to respond to the call of nature. I unloaded my shotgun, my nice Winchester 20 gauge side-by-side in improved cylinder and modified, and as I rested it against a tree trunk two woodcock flushed. There went on of my few chances to double on woodcock. Today as I walked the trail with Hera all was quiet. There were no points or wild flushes. The ground was still drier than I hoped. The trail leads to a mature stand of pines and cedars that I cut through to reach more productive cover. I worked out a route the pines and cedars over the years that leads directly to the more productive cover without having to push through the densest parts.
Once through we worked our way through some grouse cover on our way to a woodcock hot spot where I turned up woodcock every time out this season. This time both the grouse cover and the woodcock hot spot were barren. The ground is just too dry this season. We walked up the beaver pond at the edge of the meadow bordering the woodcock hot spot and turned up no ducks this morning. I noticed the portable blind I found the last time I walked up the pond was gone. I hope it was removed by its rightful owner and not some cretin with sticky fingers. Despite the cooler temperature this morning, Hera took the opportunity to cool off in the pond.
We doubled back, giving the woodcock hot spot a second sweep just to be sure we had not overlooked a bird, but nothing was found. We moved on to check out another pocket of cover that sometimes holds a grouse or a woodcock and things took an interesting turn. Hera got birdy in an open patch of cover then locked up on point. I thought it might be an old grouse scent as I walked up her point as woodcock are usually found in thicker cover. As I drew nearer to her I saw the bird, a woodcock, hunkered down on the open ground. Hera remained staunch as I approached the bird and then off it went. Despite flushing in wide open cover, the bird cleverly put a couple of trees between me and itself as it made good its escape. I missed spectacularly with both barrels with my 20 gauge Franchi Instinct SL o/u with its skeet and skeet chokes. I took it in stride, enjoying a good laugh and well pleased with Hera’s staunch point.
As we made our way back to the car, Hera locked up on point once more. This time it was in much thicker cover. She remained staunch again and a woodcock flushed as I worked my way into the cover, approaching her point head on. The bird escaped as the cover was too thick for me to risk a shot. I put Hera on board when we reached the car and on the way out of the Forest stopped to sweep a patch of cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. By then the wind picked up and gusts made it hard to hear Hera’s bell. We hunted the cover that held appreciable numbers of woodcock and a few grouse last season, but turned up no woodcock. A lone grouse flushed wildly well before Hera and I reached it. I called it a day shortly after noon and we headed home. Though I put no birds in the bag, I am well pleased that Hera is staunch on point once more.
Posted by Geoffrey