The 2019 upland game, small game and woodcock seasons opened in Eastern Ontario this morning. The weather was near perfect for the opening day of these seasons. The sky was clear, the winds were minimal, and the temperature was hovering at about 10 degrees C. I set out for the farm near Spencerville with my new hunting buddy James and Hera, my Brittany, shortly before 7:00 am. It is about an hour’s drive from my house in Centretown Ottawa to the farm. James and I arranged to meet Mike, another of my hunting buddies, at the farm for 8:00 am. Though James is not new to hunting–having hunted small game with his buddies in Cornwall in previous seasons–this would be his first woodcock hunt. It would be his first hunt over a bird dog also. We stopped at a Tim Hortons on the way–I have to have my morning cup of Joe–and arrived at the farm in good time. Mike came with his dog, Maggie, a German Shorthaired Pointer, not long after James and I got there. We started our hunt not long after 8:00 am, eager to see what fortune would bring.
The plan was that the three of us would take turns walking up the points the dogs made. We decided that James should take the first point this morning as it was his maiden woodcock hunt. As it happened, fortune favoured us with a woodcock seconds into the hunt. We only just hit the first trail through the cover when a woodcock fluttered in view in front of us and lighted on the ground. I said to James “take it,” but he still had his shotgun (a Remington 870 Express in 12 gauge choked improved cylinder) slung over his shoulder. Before he could get his shotgun off his shoulder, the woodcock flushed. As I was in a position to make the shot, I fired my gun (a Franchi Instinct SL in 20 gauge choked skeet and skeet) and racked up the first spectacular miss of the season on a woodcock flying straight away. I am sure that I missed as I had Hera search the area where the woodcock would be had I found the mark. She turned up nothing.
We pressed on through the cover as Hera and Maggie quartered in front of us, searching for grouse and woodcock. I found the ground drier than I hoped though not as dry as the season before. Mike brought his dog Maggie in hopes that she would pick up on being an upland game gun dog. As the hunt continued, he found that she did not want to leave his side. I think she comes from a bloodline of German Shorthaired Pointing dogs that are bred for deer hunting. Mike found she is invaluable at his deer camp for tracking and running deer. Mike decided he will no longer bring Maggie with us on our upland game hunts. She is a lovely dog and does not hinder our upland game hunts, but Mike thinks her place is at deer camp.
James got his chance to bag his first woodcock as we worked the edge that leads to an apple tree where the deer are feeding on the windfalls. A woodcock flushed wildly as Hera worked the cover. James got off a shot at the bird; it was between 25-30 yards away. He missed cleanly. Woodcock shooting is a challenge. Still, it was great that we found birds on opening morning. When we reached the apple tree, we found signs that the deer are still bedding under the tree.
We had a close call a short time later as we made our way to check on my hunting buddy Jason’s deer stand. Jason’s deer stand sits in the most remote part of the farm at the edge of a patch of swampland. The grass in the meadows on the farm is high this season. Mike stepped into a hole in the ground–a hole in which yellow jackets built their nest. Mike lost his balance and fell flat on to the ground. It was a double blessing that he was not hurt and that he was not swarmed by angry yellow jackets. We brought with us a can of foam insecticide designed to destroy wasp nests. Mike took care of the nest while James and I kept the dogs at a safe distance from the action.
We resumed the hunt as we continued to check on Jason’s deer stand. Hera locked up on point, and I asked Mike to walk up and flush the bird. Mike walked up the point, and another woodcock flushed. Alas, when Mike fell, he somehow nudged the barrel selector of the safety catch on his shotgun (a Stevens o/u in 20 gauge) in between the o/u position. He slapped the trigger, and his gun did not fire. The woodcock made good its escape. O Fortuna, the line between good fortune and misfortune is razor-thin. We found Jason’s stand in order. While this is good, we found that a tree fell across the path. The path through the brush Jason takes getting to and from his stand. The downed tree is a formidable obstacle and will make dragging a deer out difficult. We will have to come back and clear the downed tree before deer season opens.
As we worked our way back to where we parked our vehicles, we took care of the wasp nest, Mike and I found the week before. Mike and I came out to the farm to adjust my deer stand the previous weekend. Mike spied what he thinks may become a scrape later on as the deer enter the rut. The potential scrape site sits in sight of Omer’s stand and in line with Fran’s stand. Here is hoping a nice buck is working the property.
James and Mike heard a grouse flush wildly in a stand of pine along the trail as they walked on ahead of Hera and me. I took an alternate path that brought me to where James and Mike waited for me. We wrapped up the hunt at the farm at about 10:30 am. In the two hours or so we hunted the property, we put up three woodcock and one grouse–not a bad start to the season at the farm. Mike decided to call it a hunt for Maggie and himself, and he took his leave.
I promised James we would try the Marlborough Forest after we hunted at the farm. With Hera and our gear on board, I drove us to a patch of cover in the Marlborough Forest I call Cowan’s Corner. I remained optimistic that Cowan’s Corner would hold woodcock for us. We arrived at Cowan’s Corner and found it drier than I hoped. Still, when I got out of the Jeep, I saw a leopard frog on the ground–a good sign that there must be water nearby. The temperature was higher as it neared midday. The wind blew a little stronger too. No matter, James and I set out with Hera into a familiar patch of cover. Minutes into our sweep of the cover, Hera locked up on point. I directed James to walk up the point. In went James with his shotgun at the ready. He walked up the point, and there was not a flush. Hera moved forward a short distance and locked up on point again. This time as James walked up the point a woodcock flushed. He fired his shotgun, swiftly worked the pump, then fired a second shot.
I asked him if he got the bird. He did not know, but Hera’s bell was not ringing, which usually means she found a downed bird. I asked James to stand fast and tell me where he last saw the woodcock when he shot at it. I walked through the dense thorns on the hedge to the spot and saw Hera pick up the downed woodcock. I called her and commanded her to give and took the bird from her. “You got it,” I called out to James. I made my way back through the thorns to hand James his first woodcock. James was thrilled. I must say I am impressed with his skill with his pump-action shotgun. I do not know of many people who can get a second shot away at a woodcock in flight with a pump-action shotgun.
We made a casual sweep of a small part of Cowan’s Corner as there was no water where Hera could cool off. Hera did not point any more birds for us. We did meet a man out with a young Brittany named Patti. We stopped to chat with the man; it is not often I find a fellow Brittany owner in the field. When James and I got back to the Jeep, I showed him how to dress the woodcock. James never ate woodcock before, so we will see how he likes it. It was between 12:00-1:00 pm when we left Cowan’s Corner and headed home. I am pleased that James saw some woodcock and put one in the bag on his first hunt.
I look forward to getting out with him again this season. With any luck, we will be in for a good flight of migrating woodcock through October; though I hope we get some torrential rainfall between now and October. In all, it was a good day in the field.
Posted by Geoffrey