“Good luck in all weathers,” Shirley E. Woods Jr. wrote to me when he signed my copy of his memoir “Gunning for Upland Birds and Wildfowl.” I met him at his home in Rockliffe Park where he lived in the 1970s. His memoir is an account of his experiences hunting upland game birds and waterfowl in the Ottawa Valley and Quebec. Weather indeed is a significant factor in hunting. Weather conditions determine whether it is safe or worth to go hunting. Yes, the weather is but one of the factors that play into the vagaries of fortune in hunting, but I learned over the years what a significant role weather plays in successful hunting. Weather conditions over the summer of 2018 made for a rocky start to my upland season this year.
I thought Christmas came early this year when I viewed the hunting regulations for the 2018-2019 small game and waterfowl seasons. For the first time in many years ruffed grouse and woodcock season opened on the same day. September 15, 2018, is the opening day of both ruffed grouse and woodcock seasons. How I looked forward to getting up on the morning of September 15th to take to the field with Hera. August 2018 saw a fair bit of rainfall. I welcomed this after the arid conditions that came before in late spring and early summer. I hoped the recent rain would top up the bogs, and the swampland on my preferred grouse and woodcock hunting grounds. I planned for a hunt on the farm near Spencerville where I hunt deer in rifle season. I invited my newest hunting buddy, Mike, with his young German Shorthaired Pointer, Maggie Mae, to accompany me with Hera, my seasoned Brittany for our opening day grouse and woodcock hunt. I arranged to meet Mike in North Gower as he lives outside the city. We met up at the appointed time, 7:30 am and set out for the farm to see what fortune would bring.
Things got off to a rocky start as the temperature was unseasonably warm. It was 24 degrees C when I got up at 6:00 am, and the forecast called for the temperature to rise to 38 degrees C by the afternoon. “No matter,” I thought, “we will take the dogs for a good run through the bogs in the morning before it gets too hot.” Optimistically, I expected to find water in the swamp also the dogs could use to cool off. However, as I drove on Highway 416 south toward Spencerville with Mike and Maggie following, I noticed with some trepidation how dry the fields were. That and familiar landmarks like Mud Creek, Cranberry Creek and Stevens Creek were very low. I tried not to worry; “surely the wetlands on the farm are okay,” I mused. My dismay grew when we turned on the road that leads to the farm. There is a well-sized marsh on one side of the road on the way to the farm. As we passed the marsh, I observed it is dry as a bone.
We arrived at the farm shortly after 8:00 am. The dogs were excited and raring to go hunting. Mike and I noticed how hot it was already, and the dry terrain. Wisely, we brought water with us for the dogs to drink. I brought my Franchi Instinct SL o/u in 20 gauge choked in skeet and skeet. Mike had his Remington 870 pump in 12 gauge choked improved cylinder. I hoped we would get into grouse and woodcock despite the heat. Our secondary objective was to check on the deer stands on the property. We set out, making our way to the patches of grouse and woodcock cover with the dogs quartering ahead of us. How disappointing when we found the cover is like a desert. On the positive side, bugs were minimal; we were bothered only by a couple of mosquitoes while were out this morning. Deer flies were not a bother. We completed a sweep of the first stand of cover with no points or flushes. We paused so the dogs could have a drink then moved on to the next patch of cover. We passed by the first of the deer stands en route and found it in good order.
We walked on to a corner of the farm that abuts on a swamp. Typically, this area is good and wet. You wade through pools of water in your rubber boots. The surrounding lowland cover attracts woodcock at least when it is wet. This morning, unfortunately, we found the swamp completely dried up. I sure hope we get decent rainfall between now and October. In spite of the dry conditions, Hera locked up on point in the surrounding lowland cover. I walked up to her point and flushed a bird. Honestly, I could not tell whether it was a woodcock or grouse as I caught a fleeting glimpse when the bird flushed. I got a shot away and thought I might have bagged the bird. A thorough search or the area with Hera and Maggie turned up nothing so I must conclude this marks my first spectacular miss of the season.
Hera and I pressed on through the heavier cover while Mike and Maggie worked the outside edge to our left. Hera and I turned up nothing though Maggie bumped a woodcock for Mike. The flush presented Mike with a golden opportunity. The woodcock broke cover and flew straight away against the open sky. Alas, Mike was not paying attention. He hastily mounted his shotgun then fumbled with the safety. He did not get a shot away, and the bird made good its escape. I know the situation all too well as there were many times in seasons past where I messed up an opportunity to bag a bird while lost in thought. This scenario saved the life of many an otherwise doomed game bird over the years.
We found the second deer stand undisturbed. The mineral salt lick showed the sign that deer are using it, also. By this time we were in the field approximately one and a half hours, and the dogs needed time to rest and cool off. The earth in the swamp in front of Jason’s stand was damp, but there was no water for the dogs to use to cool down.
After the dogs took a breather, we moved on making our way to check on my deer stand. We swept a patch of cover that often holds grouse. Hera got birdy at one point, but no birds were found. We reached my deer stand and saw it in fine shape. The mineral salt lick showed signs that deer used it. Mike noticed a well-worn deer trail in the pines on the left side of my deer stand. Hopefully, when deer season opens a nice buck will make his way past my deer stand in rifle season when I am seated with my Browning 30-06 ready and waiting.
On the way back to our cars we passed by the last of the four deer stands. This deer stand sits overlooking a meadow that deer cross. We found the deer stand undisturbed, and a deer trail crossing in front of the stand.
After crossing the meadow where Omer’s stand is located, Mike and I took the dogs for a quick sweep of the area where Mike saw the woodcock he and Maggie flushed flew. By then the heat was nasty. I am not surprised the dogs failed to turn up anything. Still, as we walked back toward our starting point, Hera locked up on point in a clump of trees next to the trail. I asked Mike to walk up the point. He walked in with his shotgun ready, but nothing flushed. Hera remained on point. I walked up behind Hera while Mike stood ready, and a woodcock flushed. I caught only a fleeting glimpse of the bird as it put the cover of the trees between itself and me. The woodcock did not offer Mike a shot either. There were no more points of flushes on the walk back to our cars.
Once back at our cars we gave the dogs water and put the air conditioning on full blast. The dogs had a good outing and performed well–given the hot weather and dry conditions on the farm. In all, we spent between two and three hours on our morning hunt, despite the less than stellar weather. Mike and I resolved to get out again just as soon as this heat wave breaks and our schedules permit. In the meantime, I hope we get some decent rainfall between now and October; else I fear we are in for a dismal woodcock season. Regardless of the weather conditions, however, Mike and I and our dogs will make the best of the grouse and woodcock seasons.
Posted by Geoffrey