I took Hera grouse and woodcock hunting solo in the MarlboroughForest this morning. It was mild, though on the warm side, at about 15 degrees C and the skies overcast. A light rain fell. I started at the cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. We started our hunt at 8:45 am. Minutes into the hunt, Hera pointed a woodcock. I walked up her point, and the bird flushed. I fired once, missing spectacularly. Hera looked as though she lacked enthusiasm for hunting. She was not as lively as I remember from past seasons. She turns seven next month; she is not that old, and she is in good shape. I wondered if it was a lack of enthusiasm or maybe that she is seasoned enough that she knows to pace herself. We spent an hour sweeping Schäfer’s Wood, and no more birds were found. What I noticed as we hunted the cover is that we, for the first time in a long time we had the grouse and woodcock covers to ourselves.
I put Hera on board and drove to Lester’s Square, the next stand of cover we hunted this morning. As was the case at Schäfer’s Wood, we had the cover to ourselves. By then, the rain fell a little heavier. I drove into a meadow, close to an edge that usually holds woodcock and grouse. I let Hera out and took care to take a compass bearing, so I knew which direction to follow to get back to the forest road. Though I hunted the cover for more than twenty years, I learned from experience how easily you could get turned around in the forest–even with the sounds of civilization all around you. Hera knows the area well, and together we moved toward a familiar stand of cover–a hedgerow that is a mix of aspen, birch, and fir trees. Before long Hera locked up on point, I walked up her point, and a woodcock flushed. The hapless bird got caught in some brush close to the ground, and before it could free itself, Hera had caught it. Hera gave up the bird when I told her to “give.” I worried that she might get the idea that she can catch the woodcock she pointed and break point.
We moved on, taking a route that took us past a beaver pond. I walked up the beaver pond only to find it completely dry. I gather the beavers have exhausted the supply of trees that provided them with food. The beaver pond is becoming a lush meadow.
We left the dried out beaver pond behind and wended our way to a stand of hardwood and cedar. Hera locked up on point in a dense patch of trees with their leaves still on. A woodcock flushed when I walked up her point. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the bird as it melted into the leafy canopy. It did not offer a shot. No matter, Hera and I pressed on, taking a route I thought I knew. Before long, I realized that I was completely off course. It was a good thing I remembered to take a bearing before setting out. I followed the bearing of 140 degrees and before long found a familiar trail that took us back to the forest road. I had not planned on going that far; we had quite a walk ahead of us to get back to my Jeep. Still, the walk back to the Jeep took us through another patch of cover I know and hunt. The cover consists of clearings surrounded by stands of cedar and shrubs. The earth is soft and sandy. We often turn up woodcock in the cedar stands. Sure enough, Hera locked up on point in a clump of brush and fir trees. To my great relief, Hera remained staunch on point. I walked up the point, and a woodcock flushed. I got a shot away and missed it.
As I walked across the sandy earth, I came upon the remains of a clutch of turtle eggs. I paused and took a photo of the sombre scene. I thought about the turtle who came to the spot, dug a hole in the soil to lay her eggs and bury them. After all her effort, a hungry predator came along, dug up and ate her eggs. It was a striking reminder that as living organisms, we are all but links in a food chain. Eat or be eaten is the harsh reality in any given ecosystem.
As Hera and I continued our roundabout route back to the Jeep, we worked another patch of cover, and this time a grouse flushed wildly. I caught a glimpse of the grouse as it made good its escape. Grouse in the Marlborough Forest are very skittish; they are not the fool hens you find in Northern Ontario. They often make a run for it rather hold for the dog and flush wildly out of range. Hunting them is challenging. As we continued the hunt, I looked for a familiar landmark: an old apple tree. Last season the apple tree did not bear any fruit. I wondered if the tree was nearing the end of its days. Happily, I found the apple tree laden with fruit. I picked a delicious apple from a limb and enjoyed a tasty snack.
A short distance beyond the apple tree, there is another edge–a nice stand of deciduous trees and shrubs next to the meadow. The stand of cover routinely holds woodcock, so I took Hera in for a sweep. Once more, Hera locked up on point, her fifth point of the morning. The cover was dense as the trees still had green leaves aplenty on their branches. I walked up the point, and a woodcock flushed. I mounted my shotgun and made a snap shot at the flushing woodcock. This time I found the mark. I stood where I made the shot and kept my eye on the spot I saw the bird fall. I carefully noted landmarks surrounding the area where I saw the woodcock fall. I know how difficult it is to find a woodcock on the floor of the forest–even with a dog to retrieve downed birds. As I walked up to look for the downed woodcock, Hera found it and retrieved it for me.
With our second woodcock in the bag, this time I got the bird, Hera had new-found enthusiasm for the hunt. We continued our sweep of the stand of cover, but no more birds were found. By the time we finished our sweep of the cover, it was almost noon hour. I decided to call it a hunt as my clothing was soaked from the rain, and I still had to take Stella (my five-month-old Brittany) for a run when I got home. It was nice that we had the forest to ourselves for our first hunt in Schäfer’s Wood and Lester’s Square this season. I daresay that when we take to the field later in the season, we will have company. Also, while I enjoy getting into the field with Hera, I appreciate it more when I have one or more of my hunting buddies with me to share in the experience.
Posted by Geoffrey