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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For day four of the rifle season for deer, November 6, 2014, Omer and I opted for a duck hunt on the Tay River. I saw goldeneyes on the Rideau River while running my dog Hera earlier in the week and hoped we would find some on the Tay, a goldeneye hotspot for us in seasons past. I was up at 3:00 am, having breakfast and loading my cameras, shotgun and shells–the last items I load in my SUV before setting out–and made my way to the garage where I store my boat and trailer. I arrived there in good time, the plan was for Omer to meet me there at 4:00 am and we would make our way together to the Tay River, which is about one hour’s drive from the city. Omer was running late, so we met up en route and continued on to the edge of the Tay River, shortly after 5:00 am, still in good time. Legal shooting time started at 6:20 am. This allowed us time to make our way to our site and set out the decoys with time to spare. So far so good it was, but what followed is a hunt that will live on in ignominy. Continue reading
Hera is my fourth Brittany. She turned two years old earlier this month. I am reminded as this current hunting season progresses that you cannot expect too much too soon with a young gun dog in training. Hera was my little prodigy in her first season; she pointed and retrieved ruffed grouse and woodcock for me as a one year old puppy. None of the three dogs before her were doing this at her age. I was so impressed and happy, I expected more of the same in this season. However, for whatever reason, Hera is finding and pointing birds, mostly woodcock, locking up on point, then breaking point and pouncing as I make my way to walk up her point. She pounces when I am several yards from her and the bird. This ensures the bird flushes without the chance for a shot, which defeats the purpose of Hera and I out hunting together. She does not understand she is hunting for me.
The past three days, in the latter part of the woodcock season–migrating woodcock are generally found in this part of eastern Ontario through October–we are getting into birds, only to have this frustrating pattern of point, break point and flush, play itself out again and again. This is so frustrating. What am I to do about this situation? How can I remedy it? I am going to schedule training sessions for Hera and myself at a pheasant hunting preserve I used with the previous dogs in their training. It is Banin Upland Game Farm, about an hour’s drive from where I live. The owners of the preserve took a hiatus from their upland game bird hunting enterprise a couple of years ago, but are happily back in business in the present. I will spend some time with Hera, working her on a check cord with pigeons to get her to remain staunch on point.
Got out with Hera today to the Marlborough Forest. It was cool, about 5 degrees C and a little windy. We started the hunt at Lester’s Square at 8:40 am. I brought my Browning 12 gauge over and under this morning as my Winchester 20 gauge side by side has a small piece of the butt stock chipped. I have no idea how that happened. The over and under has 26 in. barrels and is choked skeet and skeet. I bought this gun in a private sale when I was sixteen and it is a fine upland gun. We made our way through a patch of cover that often holds grouse and in minutes Hera flash pointed a running grouse in a stand of cedars. The bird flushed wildly, unseen, not a bad start to the morning. Continue reading
Thursday, October 2nd I got out to the Marlborough Forest with Hera in hopes of intercepting some migrating woodcock. We arrived at Lester’s Square, my preferred cover for woodcock, shortly after 8:00 am. A coyote ran across the forest road as we drove in. It was much cooler this morning than the previous Saturday when the heat and humidity was stifling. We had the cover to ourselves, also. We made our way through the cover, checking areas that I consistently found woodcock over the years, but we turned up up none in the first two. Finally, Hera locked up on point in a stand of birch and poplar. I walked up the point, but the bird made good its escape, putting a tree between me and itself. No shot was fired.
Moving on to a stand of mature hardwood where a grouse or two can be found, there was a wild flush. I heard the grouse take off, followed by the “putt, putt, putt” sound of a clucking grouse. Backtracking to the cover where Hera pointed the woodcock, she bumped a woodcock, possibly the same one she pointed earlier. It made good its escape. We gave the cover a thorough sweep and no more birds were found. Although, I saw a grouse at the edge of the forest road as we were driving out to Roger Stevens Road. The grouse scurried into a woodlot that was posted “no trespassing” so I let it be.
As the morning wore on the temperature rose, but I decided to try another patch of cover, Cowan’s Corner, in hopes of turning up birds. It was late in the morning when we set out at Cowan’s Corner and it was at the entrance of the forest road I first noticed the sign with an illustration of a hunter aiming a gun with a line crossed through it. I stopped to read the print under the sign and it states that there is a ban on the discharge of firearms in the Marlborough Forest, except for lawful hunting. There are a couple of sand pits in the forest I know of where people go to sight in their rifles and to shoot clay targets. One of these sand pits is strewn with litter left behind. I think this is what the regulation is intended to address; however, I cannot help wondering if this is just an incremental step toward banning hunting in the Marlborough Forest altogether.
The sweep of Cowan’s Corner turned up two woodcock, one of which Hera pointed. I fired haphazardly and missed most spectacularly. At 1:00 pm it was uncomfortably warm so I called it a day and we headed home. I hope we turn up more birds as the season progresses.