For Stella’s sake

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Grouse and woodcock shot in the last minutes of the hunt.

I took Hera and Stella hunting in the Marlborough Forest this morning. We started our hunt at about 8:50 am at the cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. The last time I hunted Schäfer’s Wood earlier in the season–with Hera alone–I noticed that Hera showed little enthusiasm. I let Hera and Stella out of the Jeep and off we went in pursuit of grouse and woodcock. Hera quickly lost interest, and in short order, we were back at the Jeep. I do not know what to make of her antipathy to hunting at Schäfer’s Wood. My best guess is that her bird dog’s intuition informed her that the cover is not worth her time. “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” goes the adage. I put the dogs back on board and drove them to the cover I call Lester’s Square. When I arrived a Lester’s Square a short time later, I heard shots in the distance. “Ah,” I thought, “we have company–even on a Monday morning.” No matter, there is room enough for everyone.

As this was Stella’s second hunt, I decided to take the girls on the full tour of Lester’s Square. We walked a short distance from where I parked the Jeep to a trail that leads deeper into the cover. I took care this time not to stray from the well-defined path I formed over many seasons of hunting in the cover. The last time out with Hera at Lester’s Square, I strayed off course and had to find my way out of the cover a goodly distance from where I parked. With some relief, I recognized the familiar landmarks along the course I set. The ground was dry, dryer than I hoped–given the recent rainfall. When the ground is wet, with puddles in the lowland bogs, you get into woodcock. Both Hera and Stella hunt close; I listen intently to the ringing of their cowbells. Each cowbell has a slightly different tone. There were no points as we swept the first patch of cover.

We moved on into a transitory patch of the cover–a stand of mature cedar and pine–on our way to the next pocket of brush and deciduous trees. While I slogged through the cedars and pines, I heard the sound of a dog’s beeper collar and the dog’s owner shouting at the dog in the distance. I hoped they left some birds for my dogs and me.

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Stella on her second hunt.

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Hera surveying the terrain on a morning hunt at Lester’s Square.

Our sweep of the edge habitat that runs next to a meadow maintained by deer hunters turned up nothing. In seasons past, I often got into grouse when hunting this spot. I paused to take a photo as we approached a stand of cover that almost always holds woodcock. The cover is a stand of aspen, birch and conifer. Still, the ground was dry, but I tried to remain optimistic as we pressed on. My woodcock hotspot did not let me down. Hera locked up on point at the spot where earlier in the season, she caught the woodcock as it flushed. The hapless bird got snagged in brush long enough that Hera snatched it out of the air. I can only surmise that it was the memory of that event that caused Hera to break point before I could walk up the point. I watched, helplessly, as the bird made good its escape, flushing well out of range.

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One of my more productive woodcock covers.

Smarting from Hera’s failure to remain staunch, I moved on. I noticed that the dogs looked like they could use a cooling off. We paused while they took a breather. The dry ground deprives the dogs of the pools and puddles of water that usually collect in the hollows in the cover. Also, the beaver pond I could always rely on for the dogs to cool off is now a meadow. As we circled back through the patch of cover, I hoped we would find some puddles that formed after the rain that fell last week. Thankfully, there was a little water left, and the dogs refreshed themselves. We continued the sweep of the cover from the side opposite to where made our first pass. I got some shooting in when two woodcock flushed wildly. I missed spectacularly but found that Stella is indeed not gun shy. The rest of the sweep of Lester’s Square brought us full circle, back to where I parked my Jeep. There were no more points or wild flushes along the way. It was after 11:00 am when I put the dogs on board.

The hunt was not over as I wanted Stella to have as full an outing as possible. I drove to the patch of cover I call Cowan’s Corner–to a spot we left untouched the day before on our Sunday morning hunt. I chose the spot as it is next to a beaver pond managed by Ducks Unlimited Canada. The temperature rose to the mid-teens by then, and I knew the dogs would appreciate the chance to cool off in the pond. We made a good sweep of the area, finding it distressingly dry. Yet again, there were no points or flushes. At this point, it was after noon, and I considered calling it a hunt. I thought it over and decided why not give the small pocket of cover we will pass on the drive out of the forest a quick sweep. The pocket of cover at Cowan’s Corner also holds grouse and woodcock, depending on the vagaries of fortune. Fortune smiled on us this afternoon as it was in the last minutes of our hunt that I shot a grouse and a woodcock over Hera on point in the small pocket of cover.

Hera locked up on point in the corner of the pocket near the remains of an old fence. I walked up to her point, and she moved forward into the thicket. A grouse flushed, and this time I saw it as it quartered away at about thirty yards. I swung my shotgun and fired. The bird collapsed in a puff of feathers. Hera made the retrieve, and I took possession of a nice grouse. What a shame that I forgot to turn on my GoPro for the event. While basking in the success of bagging my first grouse this season, Hera locked up on point. She stood, staunch, facing a tangled clump of shrubbery. I knew it would be a challenge to walk up to her point. I made my way into the tangle of branches and twigs, trying to approach Hera head-on. Hera edged forward as I moved in, and a woodcock flushed. I shot it at a very close range. I think the shot was more fluke than skill, but a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” On that exciting note, I called it a hunt.

I am happy I decided to make the sweep of the small pocket of cover. Hera made two staunch points on birds–both of which I shot. Her staunch points came as welcome relief after she broke her point on the woodcock earlier in the day. Yes, it is essential when you hunt over gun dogs that you always end on a positive note. It was a good day in the field, despite the dry conditions in the covers. Stella saw me shoot two birds over Hera on point. She kept up with us and enjoyed her day in the field.

Posted by Geoffrey



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