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
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