Yesterday I took delivery of my 2017 Jeep Patriot High Altitude. I traded in my aging Tucson for the newer vehicle. Just before I left to pick up the new vehicle I checked Facebook and found a message from one of my hunting buddies, Nick, whom I had not seen for three years as he was posted to the Canadian Consulate in New York City all this time. He is back in Ottawa now and contacted me, asking if we could go hunting this morning. I was happy to hear he still has his dog, Cocotte, a German Shorthaired Pointer who is nine years old now. I met Nick at a dog park when Cocotte was a puppy, the same age as my beloved Juno. Cocotte is Nick’s first hunting dog while Juno was my third so I offered to help with her training. We trained our puppies together and hunted them successfully as they grew into young gun dogs until my Juno was felled by cancer at four years old. I happily agreed to take them hunting, they were the first passengers in my new wheels.
I took Hera into the field this morning. We started out in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Lester’s Square. It was cool this morning, just a few degrees above 0 C and there was a light wind, lighter than was forecast, though it gusted at times. I noticed puddles on the forest road as I drove in, a welcome sign. The recent rainfall was heavy enough to leave puddles and I hoped the woodcock covers would be damper than they were at the start of the season. We had the cover to ourselves for the first time in a long time. This was often the case in years gone by when I hunted there with my first dog, Christie, back in the late 1990s. I know my way around Lester’s Square very well these days as I hunted there many seasons before. Still, I am always careful to take a bearing with my compass so I know which way is out. Even in the Marlborough Forest where civilization is half a block away, it is all too easy to get turned around and find yourself walking in circles in the brush. I arrived a little later than usual, closer to 9:00 AM, and set out with Hera to see what fortune would bring us this morning.
Imagine my dismay this morning when I saw the weather forecast this morning after I got up to take Hera out after grouse and woodcock. Rain and high winds with even higher gusts and unseasonably warm temperatures were forecast for this Sunday morning. This is not good weather upland gunning. I arranged to go hunting with Mike and his eighteen month German Shorthaired Pointer Maggie this morning. I half expected Mike to text and cancel, but he was there waiting at our meeting place, the Old Co-op in North Gower, at 7:40 AM when I drove up. It rained heavily as I put Hera in the car and loaded my gear, but by the time I met up with Mike the rain stopped. The high and gusting winds continued unabated and I knew this would be an issue. High winds make grouse skittish and also make it difficult to keep track of your dog. The sound of the gusting wind drowns out the sound of the cowbell on the dog’s collar. I anticipated this hunt would be more of an armed run than anything else you never know what fortune brings.
Hera turns five next month and by and large is a seasoned hunting dog in her prime. I remember how impressed I was with her when she pointed grouse and woodcock in her first season in 2013 when she was barely a year old. The other three Brittanies who came before her did not make their first points on wild birds until they were in their second seasons and closer to two years old. Hera started her career as a hunting dog on a firm foundation, but in her second season she took to breaking point and bumping birds before I could walk them up. This proved frustrating for me, but I was patient with her and over time I got her back to remaining staunch on point. She was fine in her third season and her performance last season was superb. She remains staunch on point on woodcock she finds in the fields I run her every day through the year. Typically, she finds woodcock in these fields early in spring. They are migrants returning from their wintering grounds. Imagine my dismay that now, in her fifth season, she experienced a relapse and took to breaking point again.
“Hunt the edges,” wrote Shirley E. Woods Jr. in his memoir Gunning for upland birds and wildfowl. This is sound advice if you want to get into grouse and woodcock while out hunting. In fact, I learned over the many seasons I hunted grouse and woodcock it is the premise on which successful upland gunning is founded. An edge is where two different types of wildlife habitat meet. Where three or more types of wildlife habitat meet is called a corner. These are the areas to hunt when you want to get into birds whether you hunt over a dog or not. I had this thought in mind Sunday morning, November 6th, the day before the opening of deer season, when I drove to pick up Akber, one of my newer hunting buddies, and his son Abbas who is ten years old. One of the pleasures of hunting for me is mentoring new hunters, sharing with them what I learned over the years and most importantly, guiding them to becoming safe and ethical hunters. Akber and I became hunting buddies three seasons ago if memory serves and this year his son Abbas expressed interest in coming along. I accompanied my father and uncle in the field when I was nine years old and enjoyed myself so I welcomed the opportunity to introduce Abbas to join us in the field. 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