Yesterday I took delivery of my 2017 Jeep Patriot High Altitude. I traded in my aging Tucson for the newer vehicle. Just before I left to pick up the new vehicle I checked Facebook and found a message from one of my hunting buddies, Nick, whom I had not seen for three years as he was posted to the Canadian Consulate in New York City all this time. He is back in Ottawa now and contacted me, asking if we could go hunting this morning. I was happy to hear he still has his dog, Cocotte, a German Shorthaired Pointer who is nine years old now. I met Nick at a dog park when Cocotte was a puppy, the same age as my beloved Juno. Cocotte is Nick’s first hunting dog while Juno was my third so I offered to help with her training. We trained our puppies together and hunted them successfully as they grew into young gun dogs until my Juno was felled by cancer at four years old. I happily agreed to take them hunting, they were the first passengers in my new wheels.
I took Hera into the field this morning. We started out in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Lester’s Square. It was cool this morning, just a few degrees above 0 C and there was a light wind, lighter than was forecast, though it gusted at times. I noticed puddles on the forest road as I drove in, a welcome sign. The recent rainfall was heavy enough to leave puddles and I hoped the woodcock covers would be damper than they were at the start of the season. We had the cover to ourselves for the first time in a long time. This was often the case in years gone by when I hunted there with my first dog, Christie, back in the late 1990s. I know my way around Lester’s Square very well these days as I hunted there many seasons before. Still, I am always careful to take a bearing with my compass so I know which way is out. Even in the Marlborough Forest where civilization is half a block away, it is all too easy to get turned around and find yourself walking in circles in the brush. I arrived a little later than usual, closer to 9:00 AM, and set out with Hera to see what fortune would bring us this morning.
What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, I got home from a disappointing morning hunting Hera and felt my enthusiasm for going out the next day evaporate. She pointed woodcock and jumped the gun yet again. I planned on going duck hunting with my hunting buddy Omer, but the threat of inclement weather made him lose interest and he cancelled. My hunting buddy Jason wanted to go out to the farm near Spencerville the next day to add more corn to the bait piles in anticipation of deer season next month and I agreed to accompany him. I suggested we bring our dogs and take them upland gunning before we tended to the bait piles. I wanted to see if there was any change in Hera, whether she would remain staunch on point this time. Jason accepted my suggestion even though the weather forecast called for high winds and light rain. Jason is off to moose camp next weekend and this is our last chance to tend the bait piles before the opening of deer season. I met Jason at his house at 8:00 AM on the Ides of October and off we went to see what fortune would bring.
Set out this morning the day after Friday the 13th with Hera for a solo grouse and woodcock hunt. The farm near Spencerville where my hunting buddies and I also deer hunt was the destination. I noted in previous hunts this season the conditions in the uplands are very good for woodcock. That and we got into birds, both grouse and woodcock on prior hunts. The weather was better than forecast: 15 C, very light rain, more drizzle, and no wind. These are good, not great conditions for upland gunning. We arrived shortly after 8:00 am and set out. Go off to a rocky start when Hera bumped a woodcock early on. Somehow she failed to scent it and stumbled over it. It flushed wildly a short distance ahead. I was hopeful that Hera was back in form. She made a staunch point on a woodcock the weekend before for Mike, one of my hunting buddies, in the Marlborough Forest. Given what we found this morning, I think I should have taken her out for Friday the 13th.
Imagine my dismay this morning when I saw the weather forecast this morning after I got up to take Hera out after grouse and woodcock. Rain and high winds with even higher gusts and unseasonably warm temperatures were forecast for this Sunday morning. This is not good weather upland gunning. I arranged to go hunting with Mike and his eighteen month German Shorthaired Pointer Maggie this morning. I half expected Mike to text and cancel, but he was there waiting at our meeting place, the Old Co-op in North Gower, at 7:40 AM when I drove up. It rained heavily as I put Hera in the car and loaded my gear, but by the time I met up with Mike the rain stopped. The high and gusting winds continued unabated and I knew this would be an issue. High winds make grouse skittish and also make it difficult to keep track of your dog. The sound of the gusting wind drowns out the sound of the cowbell on the dog’s collar. I anticipated this hunt would be more of an armed run than anything else you never know what fortune brings.
William McClure was a friend and mentor to me starting when I first spoke to him in 1987 until his death in 2013. Bill was a Brittany enthusiast and former breeder of the breed. He helped me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first dog, Christie, and shared his experience in training Brittanies for hunting with me when I trained Brittanies of my own. As this hunting season progresses and I take to the field with Hera, my fourth Brittany, I hear Bill’s voice, his warning against taking my dogs to hunting preserves to shoot pen raised chukar and pheasant. Bill warned me that pen raised birds are often not strong fliers and easy for the dog to catch. This, he warned, gives them the idea that they can catch wild birds too which is the last thing you want. I chose not to heed his warning at the time as I knew that hunters commonly visit hunting preserves with their dogs without issue. I took my first three Brittanies, Christie, Maggie and Juno to hunting preserves and never had a problem. In fact the photo at the head of this blog features me with my beloved Juno at the end of her first hunt on a preserve. Still, I wonder now if I should have heeded his warning, given that Hera is breaking point on woodcock, bumping the birds rather than waiting for me to walk up the point. Continue reading
Hera turns five next month and by and large is a seasoned hunting dog in her prime. I remember how impressed I was with her when she pointed grouse and woodcock in her first season in 2013 when she was barely a year old. The other three Brittanies who came before her did not make their first points on wild birds until they were in their second seasons and closer to two years old. Hera started her career as a hunting dog on a firm foundation, but in her second season she took to breaking point and bumping birds before I could walk them up. This proved frustrating for me, but I was patient with her and over time I got her back to remaining staunch on point. She was fine in her third season and her performance last season was superb. She remains staunch on point on woodcock she finds in the fields I run her every day through the year. Typically, she finds woodcock in these fields early in spring. They are migrants returning from their wintering grounds. Imagine my dismay that now, in her fifth season, she experienced a relapse and took to breaking point again.