Tag Archives: Hunting dog

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

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Third time’s the charm

Woodcock shot over Hera's point October 14, 2015.

Woodcock shot over Hera’s point October 14, 2015.

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.

What I look for in woodcock cover in the Marlborough Forest.

What I look for in woodcock cover in the Marlborough Forest.

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.

Hera hunting in the Marlborough Forest October 14, 2015.

Hera hunting in the Marlborough Forest October 14, 2015.

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

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

The best laid plans of mice and men

What was planned as a training session to get Hera staunch on point became a comedy of errors. I drove out to Banin Farms with the plan to work her on pigeons with the help of the proprietor Edmund Hassett. The appointment was at 9:00 am on October 23rd. I arrived and found Edmund had pheasants, four of them, ready for our training session. I appreciate Edmund is under a great deal of stress. His wife Vera is recovering from a stroke she suffered four weeks ago, so I did not mention the misunderstanding and we got on with the training session.

I put Hera on the 30′ check cord I made for her training and off we went. The plan was to let Hera find the birds and when she locked up on point, Edmund would take hold of the check cord and hold her on point while I walked up and walked around the bird before flushing it. Unfortunately, things went off the rails from the get go. The first bird jumped up, flushing wildly, before Hera got near it. I shot it and it went down in a glide into a wooded area. As we made our way to track the downed pheasant we walked up where the second bird was planted only to find this bird had already hightailed it. Hera did a great job tracking and retrieving the first bird, a lively cripple.

Moving onto the third bird, it flushed as Hera stumbled over it. I shot it and Hera Maggie made the retrieve. We moved onto the fourth bird and again, she stumbled across it, flushing it before she locked up on point. It was shot and retrieved also.

I asked Edmund if I could try pigeons, as was my original plan, and he retrieved three pigeons for me. He could not help me with Hera’s training with the pigeons, but showed me how to plant them. I planted the pigeons and let Hera go after them on the check cord. Things went from bad to worse. I quickly found Hera does not recognize pigeons as game birds. She ran through the field where the birds were planted, eventually stumbling across them and treating them as she does other non-game species, such as mice and voles, as something to pick up. I rescued the pigeons (keeping Hera from devouring them), setting them free so they could return to the loft.

On the way home I took Hera to Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest for a quick sweep. She flash pointed a few old scents, but no birds were found. My hopes of starting her on the road to being staunch on point today were dashed, but the effort will continue.

The terrible twos

 

IMG_1508IMG_1504Hera 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.

Remembering Juno

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August 15, 2012, the day I lost Juno, my four year old Brittany. She developed a malignant tumor in her mouth and by the time it was detected there was nothing that could be done. I had her euthanized on this day, two years ago. I was with her till the end, doing my best to ensure the experience was as easy on her as possible. While I try not to dwell on the past, I make a point of remembering her as she lived and the time we had together. She was a dear little dog, very lady-like in temperament, but also a keen little huntress in the field. She was the third Brittany I owned and like the two who came before her, Christie and Maggie, remain in my fondest memories.

Hera, the Brittany I own in the present, named Hera in tribute to Juno (Hera is the Greek form of Juno) turns two years old this coming October. She will join me in the field for her second season this Fall. She had a great first season, pointing ruffed grouse and woodcock for me. I look forward to taking her into the field this season. While I harbour a touch of sorrow over the untimely loss of Juno, life goes on. In taking to the field with Hera, I honour the memory of Juno, Christie and Maggie, in carrying on the tradition of keeping a working hunting dog.

Posted by Geoffrey

If Love’s a Sweet Passion, why does it torment?

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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