It is so easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about the whereabouts of your hunting buddies when a game bird flushes and offers you a shot. I am strict about hunter etiquette and safety in the field, and my perfect record on hunter safety is a testament to my adherence to hunter etiquette and safety. The fact that carelessness is an issue in hunting came to mind on a weekend grouse and woodcock hunt with Hera, my six-year-old Brittany. My hunting buddy Nick and his ten-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, Cocotte, accompanied Hera and me on our weekend grouse and woodcock hunt. We got into birds: four woodcock and several grouse, but succeeded in spectacularly missing when we got shots away at flushing birds.
Nick and I started hunting together in 2008. I met him at a downtown dog park here in Ottawa when I took my new Brittany puppy, Juno, to the dog park to start her training as a hunting dog. I found Nick there with his new puppy, Cocotte, a German Shorthaired Pointer. I asked Nick if he intended to hunt Cocotte and he said yes. I learned that Cocotte was his first effort at training a hunting dog so I offered to assist in her training. Juno was my third Brittany, so I had some experience in training hunting dogs. Nick accepted my offer to help in training Cocotte, and we trained our puppies together. Sadly, I lost Juno in 2012 when cancer claimed her as she entered her prime as a hunting dog. Though my time with Juno was tragically cut short, I started a new era when I acquired Hera at Christmas 2012. Nick and I hunt together over Hera and Cocotte who is now a mature dog but still loves taking to the field with us.
I asked Nick to meet me at my house at 7:00 am, Saturday morning. We took my Jeep with the dogs on board out to the farm near Spencerville where I hunt grouse, woodcock and deer in the Fall seasons. We were later than usual getting to the farm as the lineup at the Tim Horton’s in Kemptville was unusually long. I have to have my morning cup of joe! We set out with the dogs at the farm at about 8:30 am. It did not take long at all before Hera locked up on point. She had that determined look she gets when she finds and points a bird. I walked up the point, but there was no flush. “Must be an old scent,” I thought; however, Hera moved a few paces then locked up on point once more. This time a woodcock flushed. The woodcock offered me a decent shot, but somehow I missed spectacularly with both barrels. Still, this was a good start to the morning.
Hera knows her way around the farm very well and together with Cocotte she quartered through the cover. When we reached a stand of cedars, Hera locked up on point once more. This time Nick walked up her point, and a woodcock flushed from under a cedar. The bird did not offer Nick a shot but flew past me against the open sky. Once more I missed cleanly with both barrels. This time buck fever got the better of me, and I forgot how to shoot with a shotgun. As Nick and I moved forward along the edge of the cedar stand, a woodcock flushed wildly. Nick saw it and deferred to me as the bird flew past at treetop level. Unfortunately, I failed to notice the bird, and it made good its escape. Seconds later, another woodcock flushed wildly. This time the bird offered Nick a clear shot straight away. I watched as Nick fired twice at the fleeing woodcock and missed. I thought he had the bird in the bag, but it was not meant to be. Four woodcock flushed in twenty minutes was not a bad start to the day.
We completed our sweep of the grouse and woodcock cover on the farm by 10:00 am. No more birds were found. I proposed that we try another of my hunting spots; this one in the Marlborough Forest. I call the place Cowan’s Corner. We arrived at Cowan’s Corner at about 10:30 am. The dogs were ready to go. Despite recent rainfall, the terrain at Cowan’s Corner was still drier than I would like. A sweep of a patch of cover that typically holds woodcock when the ground is wet turned up nothing.
We walked a trail that often holds grouse, and in short order, a grouse flushed. I reminded Nick to keep his shotgun ready. When a grouse flushes, it is not uncommon for a second or third bird to flush. Nick walked ahead of me toward the spot where the grouse flushed. Sure enough, a second grouse flushed. This time the bird perched in a tree fleetingly before taking flight once more. The bird flew at treetop level between me and where and where Nick stood on the trail in front of me. I found myself caught up in the moment and shot at the fleeing grouse. I missed cleanly. I shot well behind the bird. To my horror, I realized afterward that I shot at a grouse with Nick standing in front of me. Though the bird was high enough and flying in a direction away from where Nick stood, I should not have shot at the bird with Nick standing in front of me. Nick generously did not point this out, but I made a point of noting the incident and offering Nick an apology for my carelessness.
I could not help but think of the incident where Dick Cheney shot a hunting buddy while quail hunting. It was an accident, of course, but I remember the spin put on the incident intimated that it was somehow Cheney’s hunting buddy who was to blame for getting shot. To his credit, Dick Cheney took responsibility for the accident. Luckily, Nick was not harmed, but this was a sobering experience for me. I pride myself on my dedication to hunter etiquette and safety. What bothers me is if I am capable of forgetting myself this way while hunting; is it any wonder there are hunting accidents from time-to-time. I will have to be all the more vigilant in future hunts. Nick and I will return to the field the first chance we get though I will remain chagrined over my carelessness on this weekend’s hunt.
Posted by Geoffrey