“Hunt the edges,” wrote Shirley E. Woods Jr. in his memoir Gunning for upland birds and wildfowl. This is sound advice if you want to get into grouse and woodcock while out hunting. In fact, I learned over the many seasons I hunted grouse and woodcock it is the premise on which successful upland gunning is founded. An edge is where two different types of wildlife habitat meet. Where three or more types of wildlife habitat meet is called a corner. These are the areas to hunt when you want to get into birds whether you hunt over a dog or not. I had this thought in mind Sunday morning, November 6th, the day before the opening of deer season, when I drove to pick up Akber, one of my newer hunting buddies, and his son Abbas who is ten years old. One of the pleasures of hunting for me is mentoring new hunters, sharing with them what I learned over the years and most importantly, guiding them to becoming safe and ethical hunters. Akber and I became hunting buddies three seasons ago if memory serves and this year his son Abbas expressed interest in coming along. I accompanied my father and uncle in the field when I was nine years old and enjoyed myself so I welcomed the opportunity to introduce Abbas to join us in the field. Continue reading
It is November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night in England, and I spent a good part of the day out with Hera in the Marlborough Forest. I hoped we would turn up some woodcock, stragglers left from the Autumn migration. I left Ottawa with Hera on board shortly before 8:00 am. I stopped at a Tim Hortons to grab a coffee and chocolate glazed doughnut en route and arrived at Cowan’s Corner shortly after 9:00 am. It was sunny this morning and there was virtually no wind in the forest, which suits me fine. The ground is still nice and boggy and Hera was raring to go. From the get go, Hera found old scent left by birds that were long gone. I walked up a number of points only to find there was no bird. I wonder if this contributed to me watching in dismay as Hera bumped the first two birds she pointed before I could walk up her points. We turned up nine woodcock and two hares in the five hours we spent in the field. I shot at one of the hares, missing spectacularly, and three of the woodcock, also missing. Most of the woodcock flushed were found in the densest, most impenetrable cover and flushed unseen. Continue reading
What behooves me to write this entry in my hunting diary about a day afield with Hera where no birds were pointed or flushed is the trio of events that put me slightly on edge, but to my relief ended happily. I got out Sunday morning with Hera, a little later than usual. We were on the road at 8:30 am, starting the hunt at the new patch of cover I found the week before at 9:30 am. It was chilly this morning and there was frost on the ground. The chill in the air and the snow flurries that came later in the morning gave me the tingle I usually experience as Christmas draws near. We gave the cover a thorough sweep hoping to turn up some grouse, but all we saw was another hunter in the distance riding an ATV.
Undaunted we moved to Lester’s Square hoping to find woodcock. We made our way along a stand of cedars surrounding alder runs. The ground is boggy and we turned up woodcock in this cover in hunts the previous week. Hera made a couple of flash points on old scents, but the birds were long gone. We pressed through the cover to a trail left by hunters over the seasons that leads to another stand of cover that often holds woodcock. As we made our way along the trail I spied several people on horseback approaching. The stand of cover to which I headed with Hera took us away from the approaching riders. I heard one of them point out “there’s a hunter.” I turned, tipped my hat and bid them “good morning.” Hera barked once when she noticed the riders, but otherwise ignored them. I was a little concerned when I saw the horses as Hera has never been in close proximity to horses. Thankfully, she took no notice of them; she is focused on game birds.
We swept the cover and though we turned up no birds, my hopes were raised momentarily when I spied the telltale droppings–splashes of white dung about the size of a loonie–on the forest floor that show woodcock were in the area recently.
We came full circle to where we started the hunt at Lester’s Square and to my surprise a deer was standing at the edge of the forest road, next to a cedar hedge. At first I was not sure it was a deer, thinking it might be the trunk of a cedar, but as Hera drew near the deer (a doe) raised its head. Hera noticed the doe when she raised her head and watched as the doe bounded off into the forest. To my relief Hera did not go tearing after the doe. The memory of my first dog, Christie, who took off after a deer on her first training run sprang to mind. She was four months old and went missing for a few hours leaving me beside myself with worry until I finally tracked her down and brought her home safe and sound. I swear sometimes my dogs will be the death of me. In a final yet futile effort to get into birds at Lester’s Square, we made our way through the cedar bog where I got turned around the week before. This time I am happy to report I found my way through the bog without getting lost and not having to employ either my compass or the maps app on my cellphone.
We took our leave of Lester’s Square and made our way to Cowan’s Corner. I held out hope there might be a bird or two in the cedars and hardwoods around the beaver pond at the far end of the cover. My hopes were dashed when I found the ground dry as a bone. No birds were found, but as I made my way along the trail while Hera quartered through a stand of tamarack a hare ran across the trail in front of me. It was gone before I had time to react, but I was pleased to see it, the first one I saw this season. As we continued along the trail, things quickly got tense and I narrowly avoided disaster when Hera sniffed out a porcupine hiding in a culvert. Fortunately, the porcupine was well inside the culvert and not looking for a confrontation with Hera. I moved a stone to partially block the mouth of the culvert and ordered Hera away. The last thing I wanted was my dog to end up with a face full of porcupine quills. We will avoid the area for the rest of the season. It was about 1:30 pm when we got back to the car and I called it a day. Though we turned up no birds on this hunt it was a good day in the field nonetheless.
Posted by Geoffrey
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.
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.
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