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.
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.
Over the past several years as the opening of a new hunting season drew near and anticipation grew in me and my dogs, I liked to go to Banin Upland Game Farm to gun for pen raised chukar and pheasant to whet our appetite for wild birds. The proprietors of Banin Upland Game Farm and Fionavar Kennels, Ed and Vera, breed Springer Spaniels for use as gun dogs. Banin Upland Game Farm is set up for dog training and I spent time training all of my dogs there. In fact, the header photo for the blog shows me posing with Juno, my third dog, after her first hunt at Banin Upland Game Farm. Juno was my third dog and sadly, I lost her in 2012. She was felled by cancer at four years of age, just as she was coming into her prime as a gun dog. Tragic as it was, life goes on and now as the 2016 season draws near, I thought it would be fun to take my current dog, Hera, to Banin Upland Game Farm in pursuit of some chukar. I called earlier this week and Vera answered the telephone. She recognized me right away and we chatted briefly, getting caught up on what is new for both of us. I asked if she had birds in stock and her reply took me by surprise.
She told me they had birds in the spring, but since then bears, yes multiple bears, turned up and broke into the pens to get at the feed for the birds. In fact, she told me bears are brazenly continuing to raid the pens and out buildings on the farm in search of food. She told me because of the problem of nuisance bears, they are not stocking chukar and pheasants for now. She added that she has hunters lined up to deal with the bears and once this is taken care of they will probably have birds again. I immediately thought of my hunting buddy Jason Quinn. He shot a bear during the spring season. I wondered if he might be interested in party hunting for bear at Banin Upland Game Farm with me in the fall season. I contacted him and raised the subject, but the demands of work and family life are too pronounced for him to take part this time. In addition, I must confess that bear hunting really does not interest me that much. Given the opportunity, I might give it a try, but I do not plan on going out of my way to take up bear hunting.
I hope the hunters Vera has lined up take care of the problem of nuisance bears on the property in short order and Banin Upland Game Farm will be up and running with chukar and pheasant in stock later this season. I really hope to take Hera to chase some chukar and pheasant later this season in continuing the tradition that started when I took my first dog, Christie, to Banin Game Farm back in the 1990s.
Posted by Geoffrey
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
It is April 17th 2016 and winter is finally behind us. Saturday evening I noticed a small crowd of people standing on the sidewalk in front of the house. I wondered what they were doing there and when Mika and I left to go out for supper I saw why. A barred owl saw fit to roost on a telephone wire across the street. I quickly retrieved my camera and got some nice photos of the bird.
This weekend Jason and I took the dogs out to the property near Spencerville to check on the trail cameras we set up along deer runs we are watching. Before setting out Sunday morning at 0700, however, I made the final payment for the john boat, trailer, outboard motor, gas can and oars I bought from Jason. Now I am the proud owner of two duck boats. The john boat is better suited for some of the rivers and marshes I gun for ducks and geese than my boat with the v-hull. Omer, another of my hunting buddies, will help me construct a blind frame so we can turn the john boat into a floating blind like my other boat.
We arrived at the property shortly after 0800 and found Peter, our host, at home. We stopped by to check in and let him know what we were up to. He was happy to see us and we set out with the dogs who were eager to get into the field. As we entered the thicket, Nos (Jason’s dog), turned up a woodcock almost immediately. We pressed on an moments later my three year old Brittany, Hera, pointed a woodcock in the thicket. I walked up her point and off went the bird. In all, five woodcock were found and flushed by the dogs this morning. In addition, one grouse was bumped and we heard two drumming in the wood.
We have trail cameras set up along deer trails watching for deer movement on the property throughout the year. Last season we put out corn and molasses in hopes of attracting deer during the muzzle loader season, but no deer showed. What we found on the trail cameras this morning confirmed what we surmised about deer movement during the rifle and muzzle loading seasons. The corn and molasses were left largely undisturbed until the end of the year. A few deer stopped by to feed in December, but only well after dark. Through the winter months several deer, mainly does but a six point buck also, came to feed. The deer are not stupid. They are adept at survival and know each year when hunters enter the area it is time to hide out in the swampy areas by day and come to feed after dark. We are happy the corn and molasses we left was consumed by the deer over the winter months when food is scarce. We will return at the end of the month to leave salt mineral blocks in place of the corn and molasses. With any luck this will attract deer through the spring and summer months and on into the fall hunting season. We shall see.
Posted by Geoffrey
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
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
Maggie was my second dog. She was a timid soul, more of a house pet than a gun dog, but I got a couple of good seasons afield with her. What follows is an entry from my hunting diary summarizing an upland hunt with Maggie in the Marlborough Forest on October 15, 2006.
Deadeye Dick was I this morning. This morning while hunting in the Marlborough Forest with Maggie, more than twenty woodcock were flushed. I put seven in the bag by morning’s end. In the first thirty minutes Maggie pointed three woodcock. Each bird was taken on the first shot and nicely retrieved by Maggie. I made a few spectacular misses thereafter, but was back in form by the time we completed our sweep of Lester’s Square. I had four birds in the bag by then. We moved on to Paden where a few more birds were found. I shot birds five and six over Maggie’s points and number seven I put up myself. All the birds were retrieved by Maggie, including some fine blind retrieves. Without Maggie I would not have found a couple of the birds. Maggie found a slaughtered deer too. It was tagged and eviscerated. I expect the hunter will have come back for the carcass a short time later. The day was cool, a mix of sun and clouds and a light wind. Maggie was in excellent form. She has blossomed into a keen and competent little huntress. No grouse were seen this morning.
If Love’s a Sweet Passion, why does it torment? Good question, Hera is now about 19 months old, which in dog years makes her a a young lady coming into her own at 20 years of age in human reckoning. She is a spirited young lady with quite a will at times. She has captured my heart in these months since I acquired her. The decision to purchase her and bring her home at the end of 2012 was difficult. I was reeling from the untimely death of my beloved Juno (shown with me in the header photo) who succumbed to cancer in August of 2012. She was four years old when she was taken from me; it was a devastating loss and initially I contemplated never having another dog. The pain I felt at her loss was overwhelming, but in the end I found I could not be without a dog.
Hera came into her own as a gun dog in her first season. She distinguished herself in her first season in pointing ruffed grouse and woodcock for me when she was just one year old. She is very much a huntress. She lives for the hunt and is fearless. She was not quite staunch on point during her first season, but the fact she was finding and pointing birds for me at all impressed me no end. This weekend, on one of her daily training runs, she locked up on point and held point while I walked around and took photographs of her. As it happened, the bird was long gone, but I was well pleased that she remained staunch. In her enthusiasm for the hunt, however, she is still learning she is hunting for me. When she is absorbed in her task, she can be disobedient, particularly when she is chasing squirrels in the dog park. This taxes my patience, but I understand it is the exuberance of youth. We will continue training over the spring and summer months and look forward to getting afield in the fall to chase ruffed grouse and woodcock together.
Posted by Geoffrey