Tag Archives: grouse

“Hunt the edges” — Shirley E. Woods Jr.

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Akber and his son Abbas at Schäfer’s Wood after a morning of upland gunning in the Marlborough Forest.

“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

Hera unleashed

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Hera at the end of a good day of upland hunting.

I woke up this morning later than planned, filled with enthusiasm for another day afield with Hera, my Brittany. These days I find my body lags behind my enthusiasm for getting up to go upland hunting. Usually, I am ready and on the road by 7:00 am hoping to start the the hunt by 8:00 am. This morning I woke up sometime after 8:00 am and undaunted, had breakfast, loaded my shotgun, hunting gear and Hera into the car and got underway. The objective for the hunt today was to check on the deer stands on the farm near Spencerville where some of my hunting buddies and I hunt whitetail-tailed deer in the rifle season. This year rifle season opens November 7th and runs two weeks. I grabbed a coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way to the farm and arrived shortly after 9:00 am. I noticed on the drive to the farm that the recent rainfall was sufficient to fill the swamps that were dried out when I first hunted the farm at the end of September. “Good,” I thought, “hopefully, the wetlands on and adjacent to the farm are holding water again.” Hera was raring to go when we got to the farm and off we went. Continue reading

Multiples of ten excite the young

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William Austin McClure (1928-2013)

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Hera on point

Bill McClure was a breeder and accomplished handler of Brittanies, bookseller and outdoor writer. He was a columnist for Gundog Magazine and Wildfowl Magazine for many years. I met him in 1989 when I was looking into buying a Brittany of my own. He became a friend and mentor to me, ultimately helping me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first Brittany in 1994. I enjoyed visiting the book shop he operated out of his home outside Manotick (a town outside of Ottawa) and bought a number of books on Brittanies, dog training and hunting from him over the years. He liked hearing me report on my hunting experiences too. He made the comment “multiples of ten excite the young,” in a column he penned for Gundog Magazine back in the early 1990s. The comment was a passing reference to an occasion when I reported on a woodcock hunt back in the days I hunted without a dog. I told him there were several woodcock flushes and I “had never seen so many.” Yes, in the many years I hunted woodcock without a dog, finding as many as 9 or 10 woodcock was a triumph. What made me think of this was my most recent grouse and woodcock hunt with Hera. Ten birds were flushed: 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in all. Continue reading

Oh deer! What can the matter be?

Hera in action in a cedar bog in the Marlborough Forest.

Hera in action in a cedar bog in the Marlborough Forest.

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.

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

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

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.

Mix of alder and cedar on boggy ground that usually holds woodcock.

Mix of alder and cedar on boggy ground that usually holds woodcock.

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.

Woodcock droppings on the forest floor are a sure sign birds are using the area.

Woodcock droppings on the forest floor are a sure sign birds are using the area.

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

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

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