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

More than an armed run

A grouse and two woodcock taken over Hera.

A grouse and two woodcock taken over Hera.

Often in the early season when I get out with my hunting buddies and our dogs game is scarce so the hunt is more an “armed run” with the dogs. While we enjoy time afield with our dogs whether we turn up game or not, it is that much nicer for us when the dogs get into birds. This weekend I enjoyed upland gunning with birds a plenty. I set out Saturday morning, shortly after 7:00 am, with Hera to pick up my hunting buddy Omer and Ehtisham, a new friend of his, for grouse and woodcock hunt the Marlborough Forest. I got to Omer’s house at about 7:30 am and we were on our way. We went by way of Manotick, so we could hit the Tim Hortons on the way. On the drive into the forest we very nearly ran over a grouse standing on the trail. I braked in time and it took its leave in a hurry. We let it go and moved on. We arrived at the patch of cover I call “Lester’s Square” at 8:45 am. It was cool and sunny out (6 degrees C) and a brisk north wind was blowing, a little gustier than forecast to my dismay, but undaunted we set off hunting. Continue reading

First miss of the season

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Took to the Marlborough this morning with Hera. It was cool first thing, about 6 degrees Celsius. I passed by two hunters driving out on my way in to Lester’s Square. I started the hunt at about 8:30 am with my trusty Winchester 20 gauge side-by-side. Woodcock covers are dry still. Hera pointed a woodcock in the cedars on the ridge that leads to the meadow and edges we hunted next. I walked up the point and the woodcock flushed. I darted to get in position for a shot, but fired just as the woodcock dropped from view. My first miss of the season, but on a staunch point. Hera pointed once more in the middle hedgerow in the meadow, but there was no bird. I think it might have been a running grouse. She was staunch on point again. On the drive to Cowan’s Corner, I came across the hunters I passed on the way in. They had an English pointer, full male, and were European. They reported putting up two woodcock this morning. They commented on the dryness in the woodcock covers too. We need a good rainfall in the next week to moisten the covers for migrating woodcock.

I took a drive up the trail at the E7 entrance into the Marlborough, hoping to find another patch of cover showing promise for grouse and woodcock. I saw people on trail bikes and all terrain vehicles on the trail, something to be mindful of when you are hunting with a dog. I stopped and parked on the trail at a spot that looked very promising. An edge habitat consisting of hedgerows with hardwoods, shrubs and a few cedars near the trail. I got out and took Hera, intending to sweep the hedgerows. However, as I reached the end of the first hedgerow, I found a gate with a sign reading “private property keep out.” To my credit, the spot where I entered the area is not posted; it was an honest mistake. We beat a hasty retreat, nonetheless.

I drove further along the trail, but found most of the forest in the area is dense cedar and pine. It is not the best habitat for upland gunning. I turned back and parked along the trail that runs parallel to the old quarry where people used to go for target practice. There is a nice edge along this trail that often holds a grouse or two and the trail leads to the marshy end of the Ducks Unlimited pond situated along the E7 trail. I hoped we might turn up a Wilson’s snipe or woodcock in the boggy earth at the marshy end. Also, the temperature rose steadily as the morning wore on. By 11:00 am it was about 20 degrees Celsius. When we reached the marshy end of the pond, Hera could cool off in the water. As we made our way along the trail there were no points of flushes. I spied a spend 20 gauge shotgun shell on the trail and Hera found the remains of a hare someone shot and dressed on the spot.

We reached the marshy end of the pond and sure enough, the ground was boggy. There was water for Hera to cool off in too. We made a sweep of the loosely scattered cedars and shrubs hoping to find a bird, but turned up nothing. We made our way back to the car, it was 12:15 when we got back. I gave Hera a drink of water once she was back on board and had a drink myself before we called it a day and headed home. It is early in the season yet and I sure hope the forest gets a good, drenching rain before Thanksgiving Weekend.

First kill of the season, what a steel.

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Got up this morning just before 4:00 am to get out for the opening of the 2015 waterfowl season. Shooting time started at 6:23 am so I got dressed, had a quick breakfast, packed my cameras, shotgun, shells and thermos and was underway at 4:30 am. The rest of the gear, my chest waders, inflatable kayak and paddle, bucket with flashlights, first aid kit, duck and goose calls, was loaded into my car the evening before. I opted not to use decoys on this hunt. The plan was to pass shoot ducks on a stretch of the Castor River outside Russell. I stopped at a Tim Hortons to fill my thermos with the dark roast blend (taken black) and headed east on the 417 to the spot on the Castor River. I was set to meet my friend and hunting buddy, Omer, at the spot. He wanted to meet at 5:00 am. I said I would try to be there between 5:00 and 5:30 am. I got there just after 5:00 am ahead of Omer and got to work setting up right away.

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I inflated the kayak, then got into my chest waders. I dragged the kayak down to the river’s edge, turning it over so the black underside was showing. Next I brought my cameras and bucket down to the river’s edge. Omer pulled up as I returned to the car and together we brought the rest of the gear and guns down to our spot. We sorted out where each of us sat and defined our arcs of fire. We settled in amid a tall stand of cattails. Omer faced up river and I faced the opposite direction. This was we could see birds approaching from either direction. We were in position 40 minutes before shooting time, so there was time for a piping hot cup of coffee as we waited.

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When legal shooting time started, I put three shells into my new Browning BPS. I purchased this gun last year. It has a 3 1/2 inch chamber; I bought it with the express purpose of shooting steel through it. Omer brought his Beretta Xtrema2 for this morning’s hunt. We sat, watching the sky and before long a couple of small flocks of wood ducks passed, too high for a shot, in front of us. A short time later a single mallard passed, also too high, followed not long after by another. A mourning dove flew past me, well within range, but I passed up the shot. 3 1/2 in steel shot in no. 2 is a tad excessive for doves. This brief flurry of wood ducks and mallards was the extent of the morning flight of ducks for us this morning.

Though ducks were scarce, the sky was filled with Canada geese. We watched and listened as flocks, singles, pairs and trios of Canada geese made their morning flight. We heard shooting in the distance, presumably goose hunters on harvested corn and bean fields lying in wait for the geese. While watching the geese, I glanced over my right shoulder and caught sight of a lone Canada goose flying our way. The goose was flying low enough and on a course that would bring him over our spot. I kept my head down and tried to watch without turning my head as he drew nearer. Finally, he quartered over the river right in front of me. I stood, found the mark and slapped the trigger. The goose folded and plummeted landing in the river at the edge of a bed of weeds about 25 yards away from me. Omer congratulated me enthusiastically and I was pleased as this was the first kill with my new BPS and the first kill with steel shot for me in more than a decade. I remember the transition from lead to non-toxic shot when the ban on the use of lead shot in waterfowling went into effect in 1999. I followed the instructions concerning the use of steel shot, e.g., recommended shot sizes and choke combinations, but found steel shot performed abysmally at the time. It was so bad I opted for the more expensive alternatives: bismuth, tungsten, hevishot, etc. and got the desired result: consistent clean kills on birds well with in range. My hunting buddies convinced me to try steel shot again, assuring me it is much improved in the present.

I was confident the goose was cleanly hit; I saw no movement on the spot it landed. However, when I waded out to retrieve the downed goose there was nothing there except one small feather. I was horrified, fearing the bird was crippled and lost. Omer joined in the search. We looked carefully in and around the area we saw it fall. We searched farther down river and when the bird was not found, I headed back to my spot in dismay. As I neared my spot, I heard a gunshot, then a second. Omer, bless him, persisted in the search and flushed the crippled bird out the weeds, finishing it as it tried to get away. It drifted out into deeper water so I used my kayak to retrieve it. Despite this close call, I am satisfied with the performance of the steel shell I used this morning to bag the goose. This experience reminds me of the utility of having a good retriever on hand when you are waterfowling. We sure could have used Nos, our friend Jason’s German Wirehaired Pointer, this morning. Unfortunately, Jason was called into work this morning and had to sit out opening day.

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We sat on the river until about 8:45 am. By then no more ducks were seen and while geese flew over our position, even at the closest, they were just out of range. We were hoping for a good flight of wood ducks, but that did not come to pass. Putting the Canada goose in the bag was a bonus and I enjoyed spending time with Omer, discussing our plans for the rest of the waterfowl season and the upcoming deer season.