I got into the field this morning with my new hunting buddy James for our third hunt together this season. I brought both Hera and Stella for the hunt. Stella is six months old and coming along nicely in her training as a gun dog. Still, I had a sobering reminder that she is still a puppy on the hunt I had with her and Hera last Friday. Stella got a hold of two of the woodcock I shot over Hera and ate them. My best guess is that she does not understand yet that downed birds are not carrion. Neither does she get, however, that she is hunting for me. I decided on our hunt today to keep Stella under control when we had a bird down. She will not learn anything if I leave her crated at home. I met James in North Gower at 8:30 am, and he followed me in his car as I drove to Cowan’s Corner in the Marlborough Forest. We arrived at about 9:00 am and set out to see what fortune would bring.
It rained heavily the day before, and it showed as we found the cover at the first pocket of Cowan’s Corner we hunted in top form. The lowland bogs were filled with water, and the surrounding earth was damp and soft. These are the conditions that woodcock need as they migrate to their winter ranges in the United States. Woodcock feed on earthworms, and they cannot probe the earth for their prey when the ground is dry and hard.
James and I swept through the area where he bagged his first woodcock on our opening hunt of the season back at the end of September. Though the conditions were optimal, Hera only locked up on point once. She remained on point as we looked for her. Somehow, we lost track of her. Eventually, the bird spooked and flushed wildly. We found Hera–we had searched for her in an area well away where she had locked up on point–and moved on to a more remote stretch of the cover. The remote patch of cover is usually overlooked by other hunters. The cover is thicker and the shots at woodcock challenging, but you have to go where the birds are. The cover is also where Stella devoured two of the woodcock I shot on her bad day.
The ground was wet–just what I hope to find in a woodcock cover. As we moved into the stand of mature cedar, I bumped a woodcock myself. I called out to James who was beside me on the other side of the tree where the bird flushed, “woodcock.” I heard James shoot once. I asked him if he got the bird and he said he did. James made the first kill of the morning. James kept Stella distracted as I took Hera to retrieve the downed bird. It was a challenging shot and James found the mark skillfully. We swept the rest of the cover, but no more birds were found. We worked our way back the way we came to where we parked the vehicles. From there we drove a short distance to another spot at Cowan’s Corner I like to hunt. We parked in the lot next to a beaver pond maintained by Ducks Unlimited Canada.
To my surprise, and dismay, we found the ground drier than I expected. Undaunted, we pressed on. Our sweep of the meadow with scattered pockets of aspen, cedar, hawthorn and apple trees turned up nothing. We backtracked and worked our way through the more dense cover on the other side of the road–the road we take getting in and out of this end of Cowan’s Corner. Fortune did not favour us with any birds, though the ground was wetter than in the meadow. Yes, the conditions were just right for the migrating woodcock, but as is often the case with woodcock, the hunter finds they are here today and gone tomorrow. James and I hunted on a day when the covers were empty–save for a few stragglers. Hera bumped one of the stragglers as James, and I walked along the road back to where the vehicles were parked. The bird flew straight away in front of us over the road. James downed it as it attempted its hasty departure. James made the retrieve himself.
I wanted James to have as full a day of hunting as I could offer him. It was midday when we put the dogs on board my Jeep. I asked James if he would like to try another patch of cover, one that is several miles away in another part of the forest. He agreed to give the next cover, the one I call “Lester’s Square,” a try. I led the way as we drove to Lester’s Square with James following in his car. On the way, we passed by a group of hunters in the vicinity of our destination. We came up behind some hunters driving in a pickup truck with a trailer in tow. The hunters headed in the same direction, so we followed. I noticed that they had sacks of grain and materials to construct a deer stand in their trailer. The hunters parked their truck and trailer a short distance from where James and I parked. James and I took the dogs into Lester’s Square on a trail that took us away from the other hunters.
As we made our way through Lester’s Square, I heard the sound of a beeper collar in the distance. There was another hunter or hunters out running a bird dog. Unusual, I thought, for a Monday, but no matter. There is room enough for everyone. Hera pointed a grouse at one point. The bird did not hold when James tried to walk up the point. The grouse flushed wildly and unseen, putting a tree between itself and James. We met up with the hunter and his dog. The hunter told us his dog was six months old–the same age as Stella–and that he and his dog had turned up some grouse and woodcock. James and I paused with Hera and Stella while the hunter left with his dog. We made a thorough sweep of Lester’s Square, finding it barren until Hera finally locked up on point. It was in the boggy meadow James and I covered as we made our way back to our cars.
I saw Hera locked on point with Stella looking on. It looked as though Stella honoured Hera’s point, but as I drew near, Stella strode in on the point, bumping the bird. I shot twice at the bird; it was at a distance of about thirty yards. I thought I missed, but to my dismay, saw that Stella found the downed bird. She bounded off with the bird in her mouth. I feared Stella would devour the bird as she had previously. I caught up with her in short order and found she had buried the dead bird. I retrieved the bird from its shallow grave and placed it in my game vest. James and I finished our hunt; we made a day of it as it was almost 2:00 pm, with three woodcock in the bag.
Before we parted company after the hunt, James showed me his M14 rifle. I knew a little about the M14 but cannot recall if I ever handled one before. James showed me how the M14 operates. It looks like it is a sturdy and reliable piece of machinery. James sure knows his guns.
In all, I think we had a good day in the field. I look forward to going hunting with James again before the 2019 hunting season wraps.
Posted by Geoffrey