Tag Archives: autumn migration

Butter fingers makes for the luckiest woodcock in the Ottawa Valley

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American woodcock

I got out with Hera yesterday afternoon for an impromptu grouse and woodcock hunt in the Marlborough Forest. Our destination was the patch of cover newly christened “Schäfer’s Wood,” the same patch of cover in which we started the season last Sunday. I opted for this patch of cover as there is a beaver pond nearby: a spot where Hera could cool off after hunting hard in the cover. We were on the road shortly before 4:00 pm and thankfully, traffic was light. I noted with enthusiasm mallards and wood ducks resting on pools of swamp water in the forest next to Roger Stevens Drive. I look forward to getting out for some duck hunting over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Nice to see there are ducks in the region. It was sunny, warm and the wind was light. The wind died down as evening set in. We arrived at Schäfer’s Wood shortly before 5:00 pm. This gave us just over two hours of hunting until the end of legal shooting time at approximately 7:20 pm. It was a brief, but very memorable hunt.

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Cock up!

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Grouse and woodcock taken over Hera’s points on Opening Day of Woodcock season 2016.

Cock up! This is the cry that goes out during a driven grouse shoot in England when the beaters flush a woodcock. This was in the back of my mind as I got out with Hera this morning for the opening of woodcock season 2016 hoping we would turn up some birds. We were on the road shortly after 0700 bound for the Marlborough Forest. The weather was near perfect for upland gunning: sunny, cool (hovering near 0 degrees C) and virtually no wind. This was my first hunt with the new Franchi Instinct SL o/u in 20 gauge I acquired in August. I have it choked with skeet and skeet tubes as most shots at grouse and woodcock are at close range. I stopped for a coffee and apple fritter en route and remembered as we drove along Prince of Wales Drive I forgot to bring water for us to drink. I stopped at an Ultramar station and bought a bottle. I expected the forest would be drier than I would like, given the drought we endured over the summer months. We had some rainfall in the weeks leading up to our hunt this morning and I tried to remain optimistic, but feared the lowland bogs that hold woodcock would be dry. As we neared the forest, my fears were justified. Two of the streams that cross Roger Stevens Road were dry. A patch of swampland at the edge of the forest still held water, but it was much lower than usual. Undaunted, I pressed on and as it turned out, Hera and I had a good morning in the field.

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Frankly, my deer, I do give a damn

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An apple tree laden with fruit that was barren the past few seasons.

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Six point buck caught on camera by Jay’s deer stand.

Jason and I got out with our dogs to the farm near Spencerville to check on our deer stands and the trail cameras over the Labour Day Weekend. We picked up a sack of corn and a gallon of molasses en route at the Old Co-op in North Gower. The corn and molasses was to replenish the bait piles we set out in the spring. As we neared the farm what struck me was how dry the area is. There is a lot of swampland adjacent to the farm and the surrounding areas. One patch of swampland we pass on the way to the farm was completely dried out. The drought we experienced over July and August took its toll. It only got worse. Jay’s deer stand is situated at the edge of the swamp that borders the farmland we hunt. We count on the swamp, its cool, fresh water, for our dogs to cool off in after a vigorous run through the meadows and woodlots in search of grouse and woodcock. The swamp was dry as a bone. This does not bode well for the woodcock season that opens September 25th. I sure hope we get some torrential rainfall between now and then else it promises to be a dismal woodcock season.

Fortune smiled on us, however, in that the apple tree (a landmark in our stand placements) is laden with fruit for the first time in many years. Moreover, it looks as though deer are feeding on the apples and browsing the lower foliage on the tree. We checked the trail cameras we set out last year (watching the trails at Jay’s, his wife Fran’s and my stands) and found lots of photos of deer and one bear, going back months. Jay and I will return to the farm on the 24th, bringing another sack of corn and the container of molasses, and check the cameras once more before archery season opens October 1st. I hope to bag a deer with my crossbow this season. We will watch the weather and sit with crossbows if the temperature is cool enough that should we can kill a deer, we can dress it, then take the carcass to the butcher before the meat spoils. Otherwise, we will wait for the two week rifle season that opens in November. We will see what fortune brings us this deer season and based on what we found I am feeling optimistic.

I documented our expedition to the farm on the video that follows.

Posted by Geoffrey

Every cloud has a silver lining indeed

Promising patch of grouse cover I stumbled upon in the Marlborough Forest.

Promising patch of grouse cover I stumbled upon in the Marlborough Forest.

At least once every hunting season I suffer a misadventure, usually nothing major, but inconvenient for sure. This season’s misadventure was getting turned around in a patch of cedars I sweep for woodcock every season. I always make a point of taking a compass bearing before leaving forest roads and trails so I know which direction takes me back to the road or trail. While out with Hera Friday morning gunning for grouse and woodcock I took her into the familiar patch of cedars, secure in the knowledge we swept this patch of cover many times before without incident. It was mid-morning as we made our way; I was hopeful she would find and point woodcock hidden in the cedar bog. No birds were found and as we pressed on through the cedars we did not come to the landmark (a trail blazed by hunters many seasons past) I rely on to get us back to the forest road from which we entered the cover. No matter, I thought, I’ll find and follow the bearing with my compass that takes us back to the forest road. Continue reading

Third time’s the charm

Woodcock shot over Hera's point October 14, 2015.

Woodcock shot over Hera’s point October 14, 2015.

This is Hera’s third season in the field and she is coming along nicely in her training as a gun dog. I documented the difficulties I had last season in the diary entry The terrible twos. In her second season, Hera manifested the symptoms of the “terrible twos” in breaking point and bumping birds before I walked up the point. She experienced a couple relapses of this behaviour at the start of this season, but today she made three staunch points on woodcock. I walked up each point and she held as we got the birds in a squeeze play. I got a shot away at the first bird she pointed and missed spectacularly. The second bird flushed under a tall cedar tree and did not offer a shot. Hera pointed the the third bird close to where the second bird was found in a mix of aspen, cedar and alder. This time I dumped it cleanly with my first barrel.

What I look for in woodcock cover in the Marlborough Forest.

What I look for in woodcock cover in the Marlborough Forest.

Conditions in the woodcock coverts this season are not the best. Though the ground is not dry and hard; neither is it damp enough for the woodcock to easily probe for earthworms. I am not seeing the telltale splotches of woodcock droppings in the coverts. Hera finds and points many old scents each day we are hunting, which tells me woodcock are moving in, but not staying long. This is what I find in the Marlborough Forest and on the property I hunt near Spencerville. We are getting into birds most days afield, but not in numbers I experience when conditions are better. However, the birds we found this season were exactly where I expected they would be. She is getting the experience she needs to develop as a gun dog and I am patient with her, though it is frustrating when she stumbles onto birds, bumping them before she scents and points them. I remember this happening on occasion with the three dogs I hunted before Hera. It is an occupational hazard for pointing dogs.

Hera hunting in the Marlborough Forest October 14, 2015.

Hera hunting in the Marlborough Forest October 14, 2015.

We will take to the field each day the rest of this week and with any luck will get into more birds. There is one spot in the Marlborough Forest I hunted in seasons past, but it is now part of the Rideau Trail. As I drive past the spot on my way to another part of the forest I remember hunting a particular patch of cedars there with my first two dogs. These days I leave the area to the non-hunting users of the forest, e.g., the bird watchers, hikers and cross country runners who frequent the area. Hunters are not the only ones using the Marlborough Forest and it is important that we extend courtesy to the non-hunting users of the forest. There is another patch of cover I want to explore as we head into the field tomorrow morning. I am hopeful we will turn up more birds, but whether we do or not, Hera and I will enjoy our morning afield.

Posted by Geoffrey

Goose egg? Nah!

8 Canada geese and 2 wood ducks taken on an October morning.

8 Canada geese and 2 wood ducks taken on an October morning.

It is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. We celebrate Thanksgiving in October up here and it is not as big an event as in the United States. More often than not Thanksgiving weekend coincides with the harvest of soybeans in Eastern Ontario and the arrival of the  northern flight of migrating Canada geese. We got word from the land owner that his soybean fields were scheduled for harvest a couple of days before the holiday weekend. Just to be sure, I asked my hunting buddy Omer to take a drive out the Thursday before to see if the harvest was carried out. He went to see and reported, yes, the fields were harvested. With this established I made plans with another hunting buddy, Jason, to get out for a Canada goose hunt the coming Saturday morning. Omer and his new friend Ehtisham completed our hunting party. This was Sean’s first Canada goose hunt so we were hopeful we would get into some geese on the freshly harvested fields.

I took Thursday and Friday off to get out hunting with my Brittany Hera. We got out to the Marlborough Forest in pursuit of grouse and woodcock. What I saw, or did not see, while we were chasing grouse and woodcock was high flying flocks of migrating Canada geese. This is usually what you expect to see at this time of year. It is an indication that the northern flight is moving into the region. I was a little concerned we might find geese scarce come Saturday morning as a result, but did not let this dampen my enthusiasm for the hunt.

We planned to meet on the selected bean field at 5:00 am Saturday morning. The evening before I helped Jason load his truck with my two dozen full-bodied Higdon Canada goose decoys, his two dozen Higdon shell decoys, his layout blinds and the crate to carry his dog, Nos. Back at my house, I loaded my layout blind, burlap to conceal the camcorders and several of my Carrylite Canada goose floaters. We use goose floaters in the decoy spread as they resemble geese resting on the field.  I set my alarm for 3:00 am and was promptly awakened in due course. I had a quick breakfast, loaded my shotgun, shells and cameras into the car and was on the road by 4:00 am. I stopped en route at a Tim Hortons to fill my thermos with black coffee and arrived at the field before everyone else at 4:30. I drove out onto the field searching for a suitable spot to set up, finding a decent looking spot in the middle of the field. There was plenty of chaff and waste beans on the field, plenty for hungry Canada geese to feed on.

Jason camouflaging his layout blind.

Jason camouflaging his layout blind.

Jason drove up just before 5:00 am with Omer and Ehtisham close behind. We got to work at once, unloading the decoys and layout blinds. We started with the layout blinds, placing them on the field and weaving chaff into the them to conceal them. If you want Canada geese to decoy, you have to make your blind look as though it is part of the field.  Once that was done we got to work putting the decoys on their stands and setting them out in what we wanted to look like a flock of Canada geese happily feeding and resting on the freshly cut bean field. Assembling the full-bodied and shell decoys took a little longer than we anticipated. Next time we get out goose hunting we will allow ourselves more time. We had the decoys set just in time for legal shooting time at 6:42 am. I was setting up one of the camcorders when minutes into shooting time a flock of wood ducks winged in, landing in the decoys. Jason, having just loaded his shotgun, flushed the ducks and doubled. Nos retrieved the downed wood ducks as I finished setting the camcorders, then we got into our blinds and waited for the geese to start their morning flight.

About one hour into shooting time a flock approached our decoy spread, they looked interested, but flared. The birds flew behind our blinds and one of their number saw fit to land in the decoys. We waited and watched, hoping more would follow suit, but they continued on their way. As I suspected, these were not newly arrived birds migrating from their northern range. We watched as the goose that landed took off and got away unharmed. These were local birds who experienced many decoy spreads and goose hunters trying to conceal themselves and long discovered fields where they can feed and rest without getting shot at. We realized that this morning shooting would be at passing flocks, pairs and singles that approached close enough for a shot. As the morning wore on we saw lots more geese, but most were on their way somewhere else, showing no interest in our field. However, Ehtisham got his first goose when a single approached the decoy spread from 12 o’clock well within range. Sean dumped the bird cleanly with one shot and Nos made the retrieve.

I racked up a spectacular miss on a passing flock, but Jason and Omer knocked down three birds. Later on Jason downed a single and one addled goose landed in the decoys only to be run down by Nos who gets credit for the kill. Later on I dumped another goose approaching the spread from 12 o’clock with one shot. It is my second kill using improved steel shot and I was duly impressed. We stayed on the field until 11:30 am and at about 11:20 am we heard the familiar honk of a lone goose behind us. I sent out a series of excited honks and clucks on my goose call and the bird came winging in, offering Omer and Jason a shot as it quartered in front of them. It was downed cleanly and on that note we called it a day. We had eight Canada geese and two wood ducks in the bag, including Ehtisham’s first goose. Given the fact we were gunning local birds wary of decoy spreads and blinds, we did very well.

Ehtisham on his first Canada goose hunt.

Ehtisham on his first Canada goose hunt.

Posted by Geoffrey

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Woodcock taken with my 20 gauge Winchester double.

Woodcock taken over Hera’s point with my 20 gauge Winchester side-by-side.

As a new hunting season approaches I look forward to setting out on  grouse and woodcock hunts with my dog Hera. As I look to the season ahead I remember the first grouse I shot 41 years ago in Limerick Forest. I was out with my dad and as we drove along one of the forest roads a grouse ran out in front of us. We stopped and got out of the white Volkswagen van he drove in those days. I was carrying my first shotgun, a Savage hammerless 16 gauge single shot with a 28 in. barrel and full choke. The grouse ran off the road and escaped, but my dad and I found there was a covey of birds. As we swept the cover there were multiple flushes with the birds flushing unseen. This was both exciting and frustrating for me, but my chance came when finally a grouse flushed and offered me a shot in a gap between a couple of fir trees. I mounted my gun and fired, a snap shot just like I read in the CIL guide to upland gunning. My dad heard the shot and asked if it was me. I replied it was me and walked up to the gap between the trees and there on the ground was my grouse. I sure was excited and cried out repeatedly “Dad, I got a grouse!” What I remember most about shooting my first grouse was the feeling of triumph and touch of sorrow I experienced when I retrieved the dead bird. Continue reading