Hera has me well-trained

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Hera cooling off in a beaver pond on a warm September morning.

I made my first kill of the 2018 woodcock season late this morning. I was hunting in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. I shot a woodcock over Hera’s point. I downed the bird with the second barrel of my Franchi Instinct SL in 20 gauge. We are two weeks into the 2018 Fall hunting seasons, and the weather is much improved. Still, conditions in my preferred hunting grounds are the driest I ever saw in all my years of hunting. I hope we get significant rainfall before mid-October. It took a lot of walking this morning, but Hera and I got into birds. I enjoy watching Hera working the covers we hunt for birds; watching her work the covers leaves me wondering at times if I trained her as a hunting dog or if it is she who taught me as a hunting dog owner.

Hera is six years old now and very seasoned as a hunting dog. She knows her way around the various stands of cover we hunt and remembers where birds are typically found. I park in the same spots at the farm and in the Marlborough Forest when I take Hera hunting. She recognizes the particular patch of cover we are hunting and knows her way around. Though she follows my lead in which direction we take in sweeping patches of cover she likes to follow her nose. At times I end up following Hera as she works a scent. We move through patches of cover in an erratic pattern, but we move through the cover thoroughly in the process. We get into birds too. I am Hera’s master, but I allow her some latitude when we are out hunting. I train my dogs with a soft hand and make sure they enjoy their time in the field. Hera is in her element in the field, and she understands she is hunting for me. Still, there are times when it feels as though it is Hera who has me well-trained, and it is I who is hunting for her. Either way, I enjoy my time in the field with her.

I caught the action on my GoPro when I bagged my first woodcock of the 2018 hunting season. Hera and I work very well together as a team in the field. Hera finds and points woodcock for me. Once in a while, I succeed in shooting the bird when I walk up Hera’s point and the bird flushes. Hera retrieves the downed bird for me. Woodcock shooting is challenging at the best of times.

The morning after I shot my first woodcock of the season Hera and I got back in the field. We started the day at the farm near Spencerville for a hunt with my hunting buddy Mike and Maggie, his dog. Maggie is a young dog still in training. Patience in training a hunting dog is paramount. Hera and Maggie get on well together–though I think Hera loses patience at times when Maggie is more interested in playing than in hunting. Mike and I understand that dogs mature at different rates, so we take Maggie’s youthful exuberance in stride and encourage her as she finds her way as a hunting dog.2018-09-29 001 2018-09-29 006


Mike posing with Maggie and Hera at the farm.


We found the recent rainfall improved conditions in the woodcock cover on the farm considerably. We found there is water in the swamp. There is water in the lowland bogs too. Still, the terrain is drier than it usually is at this time of year. I hope the rain forecast to fall this week does indeed come to pass. We turned up one woodcock in our sweep of the farm. The bird flushed wildly, and Mike got off a shot. He missed. We followed up the shot to be sure he missed. We found the deer stands in good order also as we continued our hunt.2018-09-29 001 2018-09-29 003


Posing by my deer stand with Hera and Maggie.

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The dogs cooled off in a pool we found freshly filled with water in the lowland bog.

Mike and I wrapped up the hunt in mid-morning. We decided to let the area lie fallow until next weekend. Hopefully, more rain will fall, and cooler temperatures north of Ottawa will send migrating woodcock our way by next weekend. Mike and Maggie headed home after our morning hunt at the farm as Mike had plans for the afternoon. I had time, so I took Hera back to the Marlborough Forest to Schäfer’s Wood in hopes we would get into more woodcock. Minutes into the hunt at Schäfer’s Wood, Hera pointed a woodcock. The bird flushed, offering me a good chance to make the shot. I was slow to mount my shotgun and make the shot. The bird made good its escape.

Hera and I did not turn up any more birds in our sweep of Schäfer’s Wood, but we came across an unusual scene featuring a group of men and a young English Pointer. The sound of a man blowing a whistle frantically and shouting alerted me to the presence of the other hunting party. I heard the sound of the Pointer’s cowbell in the distance; the ringing of the cowbell got louder as the dog drew nearer to Hera and me. The dog wandered out of the woodlot onto the forest trail Hera, and I walked. Hera and the Pointer checked one another out. I heard the owner shouting for his dog, so I called out to him that his dog was with my dog and me. The owner and his hunting buddies emerged from the woods, and we spoke briefly about the challenges of training hunting dogs. I did not say anything, but frankly, the Pointer was out of control. I think the owner’s continuous use of his whistle and shouting at the dog did not help. I feared he might beat or mistreat the dog, but he kept calm–at least in my presence.

When the men and the Pointer departed, I stopped to think about how Hera and I work together in the field. It may look as though Hera has me well-trained as a hunter, but in the end, Hera recognizes me as her master and follows my lead. I am not the strictest in my training methods in raising hunting dogs, but Hera does a great job finding and pointing grouse and woodcock for me and lives to go hunting. What more can one want in a hunting dog?

Posted by Geoffrey

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