Two birds with one stone

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Jason posing with a grouse he took on our morning hunt with Hera and Nos.

Got out today for an upland hunt with my friend Jason for the first time since his daughter Rose was born three years ago. I find my hunting buddies often have far less time for hunting once they become family men so it was great to get back in the field with Jason. I asked Jason the evening before if he would join me on a hunt for grouse and woodcock at the farm near Spencerville. He told me he had to be back by 1:00 pm as his wife Fran had plans. I reminded him that the it generally takes about two hours to sweep the grouse and woodcock cover on the farm so if we were in the field by 8:00 am we should have ample time for a morning hunt and get back to Ottawa in time. It is about an hour’s drive from Ottawa to the farm. Jason agreed to the plan and added that he wanted to bring the sacks of corn and mineral salt blocks along to set out by our deer stands and scout out a new location for his wife Fran’s ladder stand. We hunt deer on the farm during rifle season in November. This meant taking out his ATV so we could carry the sacks of corn and mineral salt blocks back into where our ladder stands are located. It was an ambitious agenda, but feasible if we timed it right. Continue reading

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Someone didn’t have her Wheaties this morning

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Hera at the end of a full morning of hunting grouse and woodcock.

Got out for the second time this week with Hera to chase some grouse and woodcock. This time it was a solo hunt, just Hera and me on our own. I set out for the farm near Spencerville shortly after 7:00 am, but had to double back when I realized I left my phone at home. After retrieving my phone we were on our way and arrived at the farm at about 8:30 am. The temperature was 5 C and there was no wind. It looked like a good day in the field was in store for us. My enthusiasm soared when seconds into the hunt Hera locked up on point. It was at the edge of a trail in a dense stand of aspen and evergreens. I searched for a way through the cover to approach Hera head on, thinking it might be a grouse. I pushed through the cover and a woodcock flushed, climbing through the brush to the right of me very close. I turned as quickly as I could and got off a shot, missing spectacularly. It was a challenging shot so I took it in stride, buoyed by the fact that Hera found and pointed a bird so quickly. However, what followed left me bewildered and a little dismayed.

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Welcome, Maggie Mae, to the thrill of grouse and woodcock hunting

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Mike and his German Shorthaired Pointer Maggie Mae on her first hunt of the 2017 season.

The heatwave continues as the small game and upland bird seasons get underway. It was Sunday morning, September 24, 2017, the day after the opening of duck season, and the temperature is expected to reach 40 C again. I arranged to meet with another of my new hunting buddies, Mike, who is training his first gun dog. He is the proud owner of a 17 month old German Shorthaired Pointer named Maggie Mae, Maggie being her working name. I met Mike last season while out running Hera and after chatting he and I became hunting buddies. Maggie was still a puppy last season, too young to join us in the field and not gun conditioned at that point. It was really too hot to stay out for very long with the dogs, but we thought we could at least introduce Maggie to Hera and let them get acquainted on a grouse hunt. Woodcock season opens on the 25th of September this season. The objective for this morning was to run the dogs together after grouse on the property near Spencerville where I also hunt deer with three friends. Mike is a seasoned deer hunter and I took the opportunity to show him the areas I hunt deer with my friends. We had a good, albeit brief, morning afield with the dogs on this all too hot day.

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The best laid plans.

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View of the Castor River on opening day 2017.

September 23, 2017 was the first opening day of duck season I experienced in which a heat warning was in effect with the temperature expected to reach 40 C by the afternoon. I had mixed feelings about getting out this morning because of the unseasonably warm temperatures for this late in September. Still, I was up at 3:00 am, dressed, ready and on my way to pick up Thomas, my newest hunting buddy, at his house for 4:00 am. Shooting time started at 6:20 am. It was warm enough at that hour that I did not need layers of clothing and I was more concerned  about being too hot in the field. I picked up Thomas and we made our way to the farm outside Russell, Ontario where we planned to sit on the Castor River and watch for mallard and wood ducks. It was the first time for Thomas, his first opening day of duck season, and I was hopeful we would get into birds. We arrived in good time (shortly before 5:00 am), but despite my best laid plans, we were confronted with a number of pitfalls. Continue reading

Spare the rod, spoil the dog?

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It is never okay to beat or mistreat a dog.

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Hera stalking a rabbit on her afternoon run.

In training my dogs I am loathe to use force. This is one of the reasons I hunt with Brittanies. When I researched the various breeds of  gun dog I could choose from I found the Brittany best suited for the upland gunning I do here in Eastern Ontario and for my personality: I am a gentle man and a gentleman. I talked to Brittany breeders and read up on the breed and learned that Brittanies are renowned for their eagerness to please their masters and are easy to train. I also learned also they need a soft hand in training; that and there is never an excuse to beat or mistreat a dog. Hera is my fourth Brittany and by far the toughest of the four. As with the three Brittanies who came before her (Christie, Maggie and Juno) I always make certain Hera enjoys her time afield and that every outing ends on a positive note. This does not mean I never have to correct her, but in doing so I use force only as a last resort. True to the breed, Hera is eager to please her master and is happiest when she is in my good graces. When it comes to meting out discipline, usually scolding her in my sergeant-major voice is sufficient. She responds with contrition and I am careful to forgive her and assure her she is still my girl. Continue reading

Remembering Peter Hobkirk, a yeoman Yorkshireman and friend of mine.

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Peter Hobkirk posing with a Tavor in 2011.

I learned this morning that Peter Hobkirk passed away last week after a brief battle with leukemia. His son Paul informed me that on Wednesday June 14,  Peter “died courageously and peacefully with myself, my dear mum, and my lovely sister by his side.” Peter was a Yorkshireman, English through and through. With his loving wife Valerie, he moved his young family, their son Paul and their daughter Sally, to Canada to seek their fortune, but kept his ties to his homeland. He enjoyed watching football matches (soccer to North Americans) on television while sipping a pint. Peter and his family made regular trips back to Yorkshire. Here in Canada, he worked in the dairy business in the production and marketing of milk. Peter and I shared an interest in agriculture. I grew up in the country and worked on dairy farms as a teenager. I remember fondly an afternoon we spent together discussing his career in the dairy business and our favourite breeds of livestock.

Peter was a kind, generous and gregarious man. I met him and his wife Valerie through my friendship with their son Paul. Peter and Valerie made their home on an acreage outside Spencerville and graciously allowed me and my hunting buddies access to the property for hunting. Over the years I had great upland and big game hunting opportunities on their property. Peter was not a hunter himself, but he had a deep love of the natural world and understood the realities of life in the wild. The fish pond in their garden is home to frogs and other pond creatures. The bird feeders they maintain attract a myriad of songbird species. The property holds a variety of game and non-game species. I had a great time sharing news of sightings, particularly of the swans that frequent the area, with Peter and Val. I shot my first deer on the property in 2012. Peter was ever ready to bring his tractor out into the field to help recover a downed deer.

Peter and Val were a great help to me when I developed my English accent for the stage. I am an amateur actor and I was cast in roles where it was required that I perform using an English accent. They assured me my stage English accent was convincing, something I very much appreciate. Peter and Val never failed to offer hospitality. My hunting buddies and I were always welcomed into their home before and after a hunt. He and Val always offered refreshment and were interested in hearing about our adventures. My hunting buddies and I are happily mentoring Peter’s grandson, Adam, as he joins the hunting fraternity. We will see he becomes an ethical and safety conscious sportsman.

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My hunting buddy Jason Quinn posing with Peter’s grandson Adam after a winter coyote hunt.

Peter Hobkirk was a good and decent man, the salt of the earth. I am blessed that I knew him and will cherish the memories I have of the time I had with him. May he rest in peace.

Posted by Geoffrey

The things that make you late for work

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Hera with the hapless black squirrel she caught in the garden this morning.

I was late for work this morning. I was running late from the moment I woke up shortly before 6:00 am and let Hera out into the garden through the kitchen door. I had a quick breakfast, Weetabix with fresh blueberries, milk and a little brown sugar. When I finished my breakfast I went to the kitchen door to see if Hera wanted in and to my surprise saw a black squirrel sitting atop a fence post overlooking the garden. The squirrel seemed to be taunting Hera, scurrying around the top of the fence post and short distances across the fence as Hera calmly watched as she reclined on the porch. “Oh, you foolish squirrel,” I thought, “you really should not underestimate my Hera. She is no house pet, rather a keen little huntress who views you as prey.” I left Hera to her hunt and continued getting ready to leave for work.

It took me about twenty five minutes to shave, shower, floss, brush my teeth and dress. It was almost 6:30 am when I came downstairs, grabbed my lunch from the fridge, put it in my backpack and went to let Hera in. I had ten minutes to make my way quickly to the bus stop to catch the 6:40 bus to work. When I got to the kitchen door to let Hera in, there was no sign of her. Usually, she waits on the porch for me to let her in. “I hope she did not find a way out of the garden in chasing the squirrel,” I thought. I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and called her. There was no response so I walked down the steps off the porch to look into the back of the garden. It was then I saw Hera standing proudly over the carcass of the squirrel that foolishly taunted her a short time ago. As soon as she saw me, she picked up the squirrel and bounded up the steps, across the porch, through the open kitchen door and up the stairs to the second floor.

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Hera proudly displays her kill at the top of the stairs.

“Okay,” I sighed, “I’ll catch the 7:00 am bus to work.” Hera was very pleased with herself, but followed my lead as I brought her outside to the garden. Once outside, she grudgingly gave up her prize when I told her “give.” I put the hapless squirrel in the green bin and rewarded Hera with a cookie back in the kitchen. As I made my way to the bus stop I thought about how much enjoyment I get from having Hera as my gun dog despite the minor inconvenience of being a little late for work.

Posted by Geoffrey