It is November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night in England, and I spent a good part of the day out with Hera in the Marlborough Forest. I hoped we would turn up some woodcock, stragglers left from the Autumn migration. I left Ottawa with Hera on board shortly before 8:00 am. I stopped at a Tim Hortons to grab a coffee and chocolate glazed doughnut en route and arrived at Cowan’s Corner shortly after 9:00 am. It was sunny this morning and there was virtually no wind in the forest, which suits me fine. The ground is still nice and boggy and Hera was raring to go. From the get go, Hera found old scent left by birds that were long gone. I walked up a number of points only to find there was no bird. I wonder if this contributed to me watching in dismay as Hera bumped the first two birds she pointed before I could walk up her points. We turned up nine woodcock and two hares in the five hours we spent in the field. I shot at one of the hares, missing spectacularly, and three of the woodcock, also missing. Most of the woodcock flushed were found in the densest, most impenetrable cover and flushed unseen. Continue reading
It is the end of October and the 2016 woodcock season is winding down. The forecast was for light rain, but virtually no wind this morning when I set out with Hera for the Marlborough Forest. We got away a little later than usual as I slept in a bit. We arrived at Cowan’s Corner close to 9:00 am. I hoped there might still be a few birds in the cover, left over from the great shoot we had the previous Monday afternoon. It snowed on Thursday and there were remnants of this on the ground as we approached the forest. It was overcast, but not raining when I set out with Hera at Cowan’s Corner for what turned out not her best day in the field. She locked up on point very quickly only to jump the gun and bump the bird before I could walk up her point. I bumped a second bird in short order, it flushed unseen. Hera was back in form when she pointed the third bird we found at Cowan’s Corner. It was in thick cover so I was well pleased when I flushed it over her point and got it with my second barrel. Hera made a good retrieve and we moved on.
The last two days saw high winds with higher gusts blowing intermittently. This is really not good weather for upland gunning. Still, I offered to take Mike, my newest hunting buddy, woodcock hunting on Sunday, the 23rd of October. It did not help that I woke up early Sunday morning reeling from a shocking headache and waves of nausea. “That’s what Advil and Pepto-Bismol are for,” I said to myself as I made ready to go meet Mike for our planned woodcock hunt. Despite the poor weather conditions and my personal malaise, I was on my way to meet Mike shortly after 7:00 am. Mike lives in Osgoode, a village not far from where I gun for grouse and woodcock in the Marlborough Forest. A lot of rain fell toward the end of the previous week and I hoped this would improve conditions in the woodcock covers. If so, I was confident we would get into some late season birds passing through and dropping in on the Marlborough Forest. I arrived at Mike’s house a little late (I texted, advising him I was running late) and he was ready to go. He opted to follow me in his vehicle. Off we went, bound for Schäfer’s Wood. Continue reading
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.
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
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.
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