Days two, three and five of my hunting holiday over the Thanksgiving Weekend and the week that followed with my new hunting buddy, Nick Schäfer, were taken up with grouse and woodcock hunts in the Marlborough forest and on a farm near Spencerville with Hera, my Brittany. Nick is from Germany, he is here in Canada studying at Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I met him when he posted a request on the Facebook Group Ontario Hunters Unite, asking if he might accompany a hunter here in Canada on a hunt. I responded to his request, inviting him to Ottawa for some upland bird and wildfowl hunting. He accepted my invitation and I introduced him to the pleasures of grouse and woodcock hunting in Eastern Ontario. Each day we set out at 7:00 am bound either for Schäfer’s Wood and Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest or a farm near Spencerville it was a cool, sunny morning with a light wind blowing. We grabbed coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way and timed it so we arrived just after 8:00 am to take to 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
“Curse you, Red Baron!” This is what Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, said following a dogfight with the Red Baron. This though flashed through my mind this afternoon while out with Hera and Nos for a run. Hera is my three year old Brittany and Nos is my friend Jason’s six year old German Wirehaired Pointer. Jason, his wife Fran and their daughter Rose are away for the weekend and I am helping mind Nos in their absence. Both Hera and Nos are friendly, well-socialized dogs, though Nos, as an unfixed male, needs a firm hand at times to stay out of trouble. Don’t get me wrong, Nos does not look for trouble, but if another dog comes looking to make trouble, Nos does not back down. Hera is by far tougher than the three Brittanies I owned before her. That said, however, she backs down if another dog is looking for trouble. I hope most of the dogs we come across on our daily runs are friendly and well-socialized too, but you cannot count on this always being the case.
This afternoon the run went fine as we made our way along the familiar route. Jason and I run our dogs on a patch of parkland along the Rideau River in the south end of the city. Nos had fun playing ball and both dogs cooled off in the river. Toward the end of the run we made our way to the ruin of an old wharf where Nos likes to jump into the river after his ball. Unfortunately, there was a young couple there already with two dogs: one, a black and tan mixed breed, the other a Rottweiler. The black and tan mixed breed was not friendly and confronted Nos, growling and baring its teeth. Nos knows the route and got to the wharf ahead of me. When I arrived, the young man and woman had their hostile mixed breed under control, trying to calm it. I stepped in calmly and ordered Nos away from the scene. Hera bounded up, looking to meet the new dogs, but I ordered her away from the scene also. I was not taking any chances. To their credit, the young couple stayed calm, I think they know their dog has issues, and handled the situation commendably. It took them a few moments to get both their dogs on leash and head home with them. I smiled at them as they went on their way.
I was fortunate this time that a dog fight did not erupt and that the owners of the problem dog were reasonable people. The outcome of this scene might have been very ugly otherwise. This is one of the realities when you are a dog owner, whether your dog is a working gun dog like Hera and Nos, or a house pet. I hope my good fortune continues and I never have to deal with an all out dog fight and dog owners with a disposition worse than their dog’s.
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
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