Hera has a taste for grouse

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Nick and Cocotte after a good day of upland gunning.

Yesterday I took delivery of my 2017 Jeep Patriot High Altitude. I traded in my aging Tucson for the newer vehicle. Just before I left to pick up the new vehicle I checked Facebook and found a message from one of my hunting buddies, Nick, whom I had not seen for three years as he was posted to the Canadian Consulate in New York City all this time. He is back in Ottawa now and contacted me, asking if we could go hunting this morning. I was happy to hear he still has his dog, Cocotte, a German Shorthaired Pointer who is nine years old now. I met Nick at a dog park when Cocotte was a puppy, the same age as my beloved Juno. Cocotte is Nick’s first hunting dog while Juno was my third so I offered to help with her training. We trained our puppies together and hunted them successfully as they grew into young gun dogs until my Juno was felled by cancer at four years old. I happily agreed to take them hunting, they were the first passengers in my new wheels.

Jeep

My 2017 Jeep Patriot.

Nick met me at my house shortly before 8:00 AM and we put Hera and Cocotte on board. After some preliminary sniffing, the two dogs settled in for the ride to the farm near Spencerville I intended to hunt. Cocotte is a mature dog, her muzzle is grizzled, but she remains very spry. We chatted, getting caught up after not seeing one another in three years as I drove to the farm. I opted to start out the hunt at the farm as I got into birds through the week and because crown lands on weekends tend to get crowded. We arrived in good time and it was another great day for upland gunning. The sky was clear, it was cool and there was little wind. As we put on our blaze orange vests and retrieved our shotguns from the car, I saw a coyote lope across the meadow behind the barn.

We made our way across the meadow to the woodlot, a woodcock hotspot, where conditions are excellent this season. I had three flushes the day before and got one bird, nothing to get excited about but given the poor conditions elsewhere, was tolerable. I asked Nick to take the lead and walk up the first point as he has not been in the field in some time. Minutes into the hunt Hera locked up on point. Nick walked it up and a woodcock flushed. He fired twice and dumped the bird cleanly with his second barrel. Hera made the retrieve and we moved on. Almost immediately a grouse flushed, unseen in a stand of pines. Grouse in Eastern Ontario are not the fool hens people find in other regions of Ontario where hunting pressure is not as pronounced.

We took the dogs on a thorough sweep of the farm, checking on the deer stands in the process. Happily, we found they remain undisturbed. As we walked up to Jason’s stand at the edge of the swamp another grouse flushed wildly. Grouse generally do not wait for the dogs in these parts. As we approached my stand I found a scrape in the earth that was not there the day before when I was hunting alone with Hera. This is a good sign with deer season coming up on November 6th.

Scrape

Scrape left in the soft earth near my deer stand.

We checked the remaining stands and found them in order as we made our way back to where we started the hunt. I find it is worthwhile to give a promising patch of cover a second sweep as you can easily overlook birds on your opening sweep. Another grouse flushed from a stand of pines, this time from the treetops. It was visible only for an instant; there was not time enough to get off a shot. No more birds were found as we wrapped up our second sweep of the cover. Before we left the farm for the Marlborough Forest to continue the hunt, we stopped to pay our respects to Val, the owner of the farm. She invited us in and we accepted the glasses of water she offered and we stayed and chatted with her a while. Though she does not hunt, she loves the natural world as we do and accepts that hunting is not at odds for those who love the outdoors and the pursuit of game when seasons permit.

Nick and I returned to the car to find Cocotte happily devoured the chocolate glazed doughnut I brought for a snack. No matter, we were quickly on our way to the Marlborough Forest to hunt the cover I call Schäfer‘s Wood. When we arrived I cannot say I was surprised when we saw a man drive across the meadow in a pickup truck with a dog crate in the back. He passed through, on his way somewhere else. A moment later a cavalcade of people riding ATVs emerged from one of the trails at the far edge of the meadow. Yes, crown lands tend to be crowded on weekends. Undaunted, we took the dogs for a sweep of the stands of poplar and brambles that make up Schäfer‘s Wood. I shot a woodcock over Hera’s point the day before and she found lots of old scent. I hoped we might find birds today.

No woodcock were found, but as we walked a trail off the forest road that runs along Schäfer‘s Wood a grouse flushed wildly. Nick and I followed up the flush with Nick and Cocotte pushing through the pines and cedar where the bird flushed while Hera and I continued on the trail. In short order a grouse, presumably the same bird, flushed. This time it offered my a crossing shot and though I thought I missed, Nick saw it fold. We walked up to the spot where the grouse fell and found Hera on the bird. Only this time instead of retrieving the downed bird for me Hera decided that raw grouse makes a fine meal. By the time I got the bird from her, she ate the head and tore some of the feathers off the breast. With the bird in hand, we retraced our steps and made our way back to the car. Along the way we came across several men seated by four trucks in the meadow. I think they are deer hunters setting up their temporary campsite for the upcoming season. As a courtesy to them, I will not be back hunting Schäfer‘s Wood until after deer season wraps.

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Hera and me after the hunt posing with my new Jeep.

Nick and I found birds where we expected and put two in the bag. It was a great day afield for us after three years apart. I look forward to more hunts with Nick and Cocotte now that they are back.

Posted by Geoffrey

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