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
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
“Good luck in all weathers” the message the author Shirley E. Woods Jr. wrote in my copy of his book Gunning for upland birds and wildfowl. This book is a memoir of the author detailing his evolution as a hunter from his experiences gunning marshes on the Ottawa River and gunning for upland game birds in the Ottawa Valley. I had the pleasure of meeting him at his home in Rockliffe Park on afternoon when I was seventeen years old. Sunday morning, October 20th was cool and blustery. Omer was supposed to join me in the field for some upland gunning, but texted me early in the morning, bowing out as he was not feeling well. I was tempted to stay in bed, hearing the wind outside my bedroom window, but “Good luck in all weathers” sprang to mind. That and the need to get out with Hera as it is her first season and she needs every chance to get into the field. So I got out of bed and off we went for a morning grouse and woodcock hunt. Continue reading
Jason and his brother Maurice arrived at my house for a morning Canada goose hunt on time at 4:30 am, Saturday morning, October 12th. As is all so often the case with my waterfowling expeditions there was confusion which caused momentary delays. Jason forgot the keys to the trailer stored in my driveway for the time being. The ball on my trailer hitch is not the same size as the ball on Jason’s trailer hitch. This required a couple of return trips to Jason’s house to sort out. We were about 15 minutes late departing, not too bad. A fog had descended on the area we were hunting which made finding our bearings in the harvested bean field difficult. I navigated as best I could and we set up the five layout blinds. I found a mouse perched on the top of the head rest of my blind. I left him unharmed.
We were in position in time for the start of legal shooting time at about 6:45 am. Before long a lone Canada goose responded to my calling, decoyed and Jason killed it cleanly with his second shot. Nos made the retrieve. Next a small flock made a pass and one bird landed in the decoys. These were local birds who have been shot at since the beginning of September so they were very wary. Still there were a few, like the one that landed in the decoys, that were sufficiently habituated to humans they failed to appreciate the peril they faced in decoying. I was concerned that the migration of northern birds did not seem underway that we would have few opportunities. Sure enough, we had several flocks approach, then flare before they came into range. We heard several salvos of shotgun fire in the distance. We cannot be certain, but our impression was that it was yahoos standing in a hedgerow or cornstalks, blazing away at passing geese well out of range. They were hoping if they filled the air with shot they might scratch down a bird or two.
After several flocks approached and flared, we took stock of our situation. We had five layout blinds in a row in a bean field. It is hard to conceal layout blinds in a bean field even when there is plenty of chaff. We decided to move the blinds 20 yards away from the decoy spread and adjusted the decoys, a mix of goose shells and full-bodied decoys. Sure enough, once that was done, we had a few more flocks decoy and pass within range. The fact remained the geese were not especially interested in the field we were gunning. It had been harvested the day before and there was plenty of waste beans for the geese to eat, but they had long since found fields in the area they could hang out without getting shot at. By the end of the morning flight we had eleven birds down. The eleventh bird was taken by Jason after we had gotten out of our layout blinds and I was walking back to get the car. I heard a shot, turned around, fearing someone had forgotten to eject a cartridge from his breech, but saw Jason grinning and a goose on the ground. The hapless yearling Canada goose, likely hatched in the suburbs surrounding Ottawa, decoyed without hesitation, with hunters standing in the open and was killed cleanly.
Posted by Geoffrey
Woodcock season opened the 25th of September this year, the day Mika and I returned from our holiday in England. The next day, the 26th of September, I took Hera on her first hunt. She is almost one year old and been in training up to this date. My hunting buddy Jason Quinn and his dog Nos, a German Wirehaired Pointer, joined us for Hera’s first hunt. We left Ottawa after work for the Marlborough Forest, driving to a patch of cover I call Lester’s Square. This is a spot in the forest that can be counted on to attract woodcock during their Autumn migration, especially when the terrain is nice and wet. We arrived at about 4:00 pm and set out. On the drive out I noticed the water levels in the marshes and beaver ponds along the way were higher, which I found encouraging. Sure enough, the cover at Lester’s Square was nice and boggy. It should make for a good season.
Hera and Nos run well together, they quarter through the cover with enthusiasm. We made our way anticipating points and flushes, but woodcock proved scarce. We had two ruffed grouse flush wildly and unseen in thick brush. Ruffed grouse in the Marlborough Forest have adapted to being hunted every Autumn, making them very challenging game. As we were well into our sweep of the cover, Nos pointed a woodcock. Nos remained steady to wing and shot and the bird was dumped cleanly in view of Hera by Jason, using his new Beretta over and under. We let Hera examine the downed woodcock and continued the hunt, though no more birds were seen. The woodcock migration likely has not started yet. We will return to hunt Lester’s Square as the season progresses in hopes of intercepting some of the migrants. It was a good first hunt for Hera and I look forward to taking to the field with her anew very soon.
Posted by Geoffrey