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
Took to the Marlborough this morning with Hera. It was cool first thing, about 6 degrees Celsius. I passed by two hunters driving out on my way in to Lester’s Square. I started the hunt at about 8:30 am with my trusty Winchester 20 gauge side-by-side. Woodcock covers are dry still. Hera pointed a woodcock in the cedars on the ridge that leads to the meadow and edges we hunted next. I walked up the point and the woodcock flushed. I darted to get in position for a shot, but fired just as the woodcock dropped from view. My first miss of the season, but on a staunch point. Hera pointed once more in the middle hedgerow in the meadow, but there was no bird. I think it might have been a running grouse. She was staunch on point again. On the drive to Cowan’s Corner, I came across the hunters I passed on the way in. They had an English pointer, full male, and were European. They reported putting up two woodcock this morning. They commented on the dryness in the woodcock covers too. We need a good rainfall in the next week to moisten the covers for migrating woodcock.
I took a drive up the trail at the E7 entrance into the Marlborough, hoping to find another patch of cover showing promise for grouse and woodcock. I saw people on trail bikes and all terrain vehicles on the trail, something to be mindful of when you are hunting with a dog. I stopped and parked on the trail at a spot that looked very promising. An edge habitat consisting of hedgerows with hardwoods, shrubs and a few cedars near the trail. I got out and took Hera, intending to sweep the hedgerows. However, as I reached the end of the first hedgerow, I found a gate with a sign reading “private property keep out.” To my credit, the spot where I entered the area is not posted; it was an honest mistake. We beat a hasty retreat, nonetheless.
I drove further along the trail, but found most of the forest in the area is dense cedar and pine. It is not the best habitat for upland gunning. I turned back and parked along the trail that runs parallel to the old quarry where people used to go for target practice. There is a nice edge along this trail that often holds a grouse or two and the trail leads to the marshy end of the Ducks Unlimited pond situated along the E7 trail. I hoped we might turn up a Wilson’s snipe or woodcock in the boggy earth at the marshy end. Also, the temperature rose steadily as the morning wore on. By 11:00 am it was about 20 degrees Celsius. When we reached the marshy end of the pond, Hera could cool off in the water. As we made our way along the trail there were no points of flushes. I spied a spend 20 gauge shotgun shell on the trail and Hera found the remains of a hare someone shot and dressed on the spot.
We reached the marshy end of the pond and sure enough, the ground was boggy. There was water for Hera to cool off in too. We made a sweep of the loosely scattered cedars and shrubs hoping to find a bird, but turned up nothing. We made our way back to the car, it was 12:15 when we got back. I gave Hera a drink of water once she was back on board and had a drink myself before we called it a day and headed home. It is early in the season yet and I sure hope the forest gets a good, drenching rain before Thanksgiving Weekend.
Got out with Hera today to the Marlborough Forest. It was cool, about 5 degrees C and a little windy. We started the hunt at Lester’s Square at 8:40 am. I brought my Browning 12 gauge over and under this morning as my Winchester 20 gauge side by side has a small piece of the butt stock chipped. I have no idea how that happened. The over and under has 26 in. barrels and is choked skeet and skeet. I bought this gun in a private sale when I was sixteen and it is a fine upland gun. We made our way through a patch of cover that often holds grouse and in minutes Hera flash pointed a running grouse in a stand of cedars. The bird flushed wildly, unseen, not a bad start to the morning. Continue reading
Thursday, October 2nd I got out to the Marlborough Forest with Hera in hopes of intercepting some migrating woodcock. We arrived at Lester’s Square, my preferred cover for woodcock, shortly after 8:00 am. A coyote ran across the forest road as we drove in. It was much cooler this morning than the previous Saturday when the heat and humidity was stifling. We had the cover to ourselves, also. We made our way through the cover, checking areas that I consistently found woodcock over the years, but we turned up up none in the first two. Finally, Hera locked up on point in a stand of birch and poplar. I walked up the point, but the bird made good its escape, putting a tree between me and itself. No shot was fired.
Moving on to a stand of mature hardwood where a grouse or two can be found, there was a wild flush. I heard the grouse take off, followed by the “putt, putt, putt” sound of a clucking grouse. Backtracking to the cover where Hera pointed the woodcock, she bumped a woodcock, possibly the same one she pointed earlier. It made good its escape. We gave the cover a thorough sweep and no more birds were found. Although, I saw a grouse at the edge of the forest road as we were driving out to Roger Stevens Road. The grouse scurried into a woodlot that was posted “no trespassing” so I let it be.
As the morning wore on the temperature rose, but I decided to try another patch of cover, Cowan’s Corner, in hopes of turning up birds. It was late in the morning when we set out at Cowan’s Corner and it was at the entrance of the forest road I first noticed the sign with an illustration of a hunter aiming a gun with a line crossed through it. I stopped to read the print under the sign and it states that there is a ban on the discharge of firearms in the Marlborough Forest, except for lawful hunting. There are a couple of sand pits in the forest I know of where people go to sight in their rifles and to shoot clay targets. One of these sand pits is strewn with litter left behind. I think this is what the regulation is intended to address; however, I cannot help wondering if this is just an incremental step toward banning hunting in the Marlborough Forest altogether.
The sweep of Cowan’s Corner turned up two woodcock, one of which Hera pointed. I fired haphazardly and missed most spectacularly. At 1:00 pm it was uncomfortably warm so I called it a day and we headed home. I hope we turn up more birds as the season progresses.
Maggie was my second dog. She was a timid soul, more of a house pet than a gun dog, but I got a couple of good seasons afield with her. What follows is an entry from my hunting diary summarizing an upland hunt with Maggie in the Marlborough Forest on October 15, 2006.
Deadeye Dick was I this morning. This morning while hunting in the Marlborough Forest with Maggie, more than twenty woodcock were flushed. I put seven in the bag by morning’s end. In the first thirty minutes Maggie pointed three woodcock. Each bird was taken on the first shot and nicely retrieved by Maggie. I made a few spectacular misses thereafter, but was back in form by the time we completed our sweep of Lester’s Square. I had four birds in the bag by then. We moved on to Paden where a few more birds were found. I shot birds five and six over Maggie’s points and number seven I put up myself. All the birds were retrieved by Maggie, including some fine blind retrieves. Without Maggie I would not have found a couple of the birds. Maggie found a slaughtered deer too. It was tagged and eviscerated. I expect the hunter will have come back for the carcass a short time later. The day was cool, a mix of sun and clouds and a light wind. Maggie was in excellent form. She has blossomed into a keen and competent little huntress. No grouse were seen this morning.