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.
As a new hunting season approaches I look forward to setting out on grouse and woodcock hunts with my dog Hera. As I look to the season ahead I remember the first grouse I shot 41 years ago in Limerick Forest. I was out with my dad and as we drove along one of the forest roads a grouse ran out in front of us. We stopped and got out of the white Volkswagen van he drove in those days. I was carrying my first shotgun, a Savage hammerless 16 gauge single shot with a 28 in. barrel and full choke. The grouse ran off the road and escaped, but my dad and I found there was a covey of birds. As we swept the cover there were multiple flushes with the birds flushing unseen. This was both exciting and frustrating for me, but my chance came when finally a grouse flushed and offered me a shot in a gap between a couple of fir trees. I mounted my gun and fired, a snap shot just like I read in the CIL guide to upland gunning. My dad heard the shot and asked if it was me. I replied it was me and walked up to the gap between the trees and there on the ground was my grouse. I sure was excited and cried out repeatedly “Dad, I got a grouse!” What I remember most about shooting my first grouse was the feeling of triumph and touch of sorrow I experienced when I retrieved the dead bird. Continue reading
Hera is my fourth Brittany. She turned two years old earlier this month. I am reminded as this current hunting season progresses that you cannot expect too much too soon with a young gun dog in training. Hera was my little prodigy in her first season; she pointed and retrieved ruffed grouse and woodcock for me as a one year old puppy. None of the three dogs before her were doing this at her age. I was so impressed and happy, I expected more of the same in this season. However, for whatever reason, Hera is finding and pointing birds, mostly woodcock, locking up on point, then breaking point and pouncing as I make my way to walk up her point. She pounces when I am several yards from her and the bird. This ensures the bird flushes without the chance for a shot, which defeats the purpose of Hera and I out hunting together. She does not understand she is hunting for me.
The past three days, in the latter part of the woodcock season–migrating woodcock are generally found in this part of eastern Ontario through October–we are getting into birds, only to have this frustrating pattern of point, break point and flush, play itself out again and again. This is so frustrating. What am I to do about this situation? How can I remedy it? I am going to schedule training sessions for Hera and myself at a pheasant hunting preserve I used with the previous dogs in their training. It is Banin Upland Game Farm, about an hour’s drive from where I live. The owners of the preserve took a hiatus from their upland game bird hunting enterprise a couple of years ago, but are happily back in business in the present. I will spend some time with Hera, working her on a check cord with pigeons to get her to remain staunch on point.
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
Opening day of duck season 2014 was unseasonably warm as the hot, humid weather Jason and I experienced on our recent grouse and woodcock hunt continued. I was up at 4:00 am, having breakfast before putting my shotgun, shells and cameras in the car and heading to meet Jason and his brother Maurice at Jason’s house. I stopped to have my thermos filled with Tim Horton’s coffee on the way and arrived 20 minutes early. We were on the road to the farm near Russell, Ontario, with Nos on board, planning to pass shoot ducks on the Castor River, by 5:00 am. It took us 30 minutes to drive there from Jason’s house. This was the first time since he and his wife Fran bought the house earlier in the year. It is good to know how long the drive is for future hunts.
We carried our shotguns and gear down to the spot at the river’s edge we set up to watch for the morning flight. Nos was champing at the bit. We had a little trouble getting our bearings at first. The walk to the river’s edge takes us through a corn field. The stalks are very tall this year. We found the spot soon enough and I set up the camcorders, so we could catch the action on video. As it happened, there was very little action. There were a few passing wood ducks early on and then nothing. We sat and watched the sunrise and observed the skies that were filled with Canada geese. We heard volleys of shots in the distance, so other groups of hunters were seeing action, presumably shooting at Canada geese heading to harvested bean and wheat fields. I shot at a couple of passing wood ducks, missing spectacularly. Jason and Maurice shot at a trio of passing ducks, missing spectacularly; that was the extent of our action for the morning.
It certainly was not the best opening day we experience, but we took it in stride. You will not get any ducks sitting at home and there is no guarantee when you take to the field that you bag any birds. We called it a hunt 2 hours into shooting time and packed up the gear. We stopped to chat with our host, Eric, before leaving. He told us the soybeans will not be harvested for another 2-3 weeks. We hope the harvest is completed sooner than later as we are eager to come back and gun for the abundant Canada geese.
As I got home earlier than I anticipated I thought I might as well take Hera out to the Marlborough Forest for a sweep of the cover at Lester’s Square. The fact that the temperature was 32 degrees C with the humidity was not lost on me; it is not the best weather, nor the time of day–late in the morning–to be taking a dog into the field. However, Hera was wound up as she was left at home when I went duck hunting, so off we went. On the drive into the forest I saw a turkey on the trail in front of us. The turkey hightailed it into the woods. We got to Lester’s Square and had it to ourselves. Before long as we made our way through the coverts, I was reminded of the popular song by Noël Coward with its refrain of “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” It was frightfully hot and humid. I made sure to bring Hera to the wetlands in the coverts so she could cool off. We completed the sweep by 1:00 pm. She bumped one woodcock in a patch of cover I expected to find birds. It was just too hot to be out.
On the drive out there was an incident. As I neared the end of the forest road where it meets Roger Stevens Drive, the road I take to get home, 3 people on trail bikes (a man, woman and child) came racing around a bend in the forest road. I braked and came to a stop so they could adjust their speed and pass, safely. Unfortunately, they were driving too fast, so when the man, who was in the lead, stopped, the child could not stop soon enough and rode into the side of the man’s trail bike, causing them both to fall over. The man got up and glared angrily at me, like it was my fault, then grabbed the child roughly. While the child was comforted by the woman, he picked up the downed trail bikes and gestured to me to move on. I continued on my way. I was afraid for a moment this situation would get uglier, but I kept calm and expressionless throughout. The forest is used by non-hunters as well as hunters, something that is not lost on me. When I am driving the forest roads I drive at 20 30 km/hour with my own safety and that of others in mind.
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.
Here are some entries from my hunting diary written down during the 2008 season. These entries show that hunting is easy.
The weekend of November 15-16th 2008 was taken up with waterfowling and gundog training. I was up at 0300 Saturday morning making ready for waterfowling on the Tay River with Omer. I was ready and waiting with my boat at 0400, the time we were to meet, only to be kept waiting 30 minutes for Omer to show up. Despite this late start, we arrived at the Tay, launched and set up at the western tip of the marshy island in time for shooting time. There was a great flurry of ducks early on, a mix of goldeneyes and puddle ducks. Omer shot a passing black duck right away, quickly followed up with a drake goldeneye. I missed spectaculary on several occasions, but managed to down three drake goldeneyes, one of which was a lively cripple we thought was lost, but tracked down, shot and retrieved on our way back to the launch site. I was able to lure in a few flights of mallards with my calling, but they stopped short of decoying. We had several flights of goldeneyes and singles come to my decoys. Kudos to Barry Cowan who carved the goldeneye decoys for me. They are so life-like that I mistook a cripple for one of the decoys. The temperature was in the double digits, which is unusual for mid-November, and I was sweating under my warm clothing. There was a light rain which held off until we picked up at about 0900.
Got out with Juno, Nicolas and his German Shorthaired Pointer Cocotte, to the Larose Forest Sunday morning. We started at Ridges, the girls had a good run together. No grouse were flushed. Moved on to Grouse Central, again no grouse were flushed. I am well pleased that Juno took to hunting with Cocotte with no hesitation. She heard pistol shots from the range at the edge of the forest too and was not bothered. It looks as though she is well on her way to becoming a fine gundog.
Monday, November 10th 2008
I made it out to the Tay River on Monday, but navigating the river proved to be as frustrating as ever. I made it out to the spot I selected with a little less trouble than the previous outing, but still had a hard time making my way through the shallow water and muddy sand bars. I put out my goldeneye decoys and five puddlers in a good spot, just beyond the marshy island. I was set just in time for the start of legal shooting time. A flock of several mallards landed by the opposite shore across from the goldeneye decoys, well out of range, right off the bat. I saw and heard lots of goldeneyes flying high over head as the the morning progressed. I made some spectacular misses on a couple of decoying singles, not goldeneyes, then killed a decoying mallard cleanly. I missed spectacularly on a pair of passing Canada geese. Forgot how to shoot a station 8 shot.
I was daydreaming and failed to notice a flock of goldeneyes had come swimming into the left side of the decoy spread. Just as I finally noticed a swimming muskrat spooked them. They got away cleanly as I did not shoot at them. Morning flight was slower than in other seasons. I picked up the decoys at about 0930. I had noted where the downed mallard was. He was just off the tip of the marshy island. He had gone down in a long glide, bounced off the water once, then fell dead on the water. He drifted to the opposite shore. To my dismay I found the water to shallow to navigate and too deep and mucky to wade, so I was unable to retrieve the bird. Then as I was busy picking up the goldeneye decoys a flock of live goldeneyes deigned to drop in next to them. Typical. Getting back to the launch point proved to be a struggle. I really need to learn how to operate the outboard motor in shallow and weed infested waters before next season.
This is a difficult post to write in that it requires that I draw on boyhood memories I spend most of my time trying not to recall. What prompted me to write this post is learning that Adam the 16 year old son of two friends of mine, Paul and William, made his first kill with the air rifle his grandparents gave him for Christmas. His dads posted on Facebook that Adam had shot a sparrow with his air rifle. I have been grooming Adam, teaching him hunting skills, hunting ethics and conservation preparing him to join us in the field this coming season. Adam is just starting out as a hunter and like every other hunter before him, I expect he will experience the five stages of a hunter. Continue reading
Sunday morning, October 27th, 2013, was clear skies and a very light west wind blowing. I picked up Akber Hussain shortly after 7:00 am as planned. We had planned on getting out hunting together last season, but were unable to because of problems with competing schedules, but finally this morning we got out together. We arrived in the field at Lester’s Square shortly after 8:00 am. I noticed on the drive in the competition was there ahead of us. I could hear the bell of their dog in the distance when we parked and got out of the care. No matter, we were careful to keep our distance from them and were underway, walking the trail toward a familiar pocket of cover. Hera made a flash point on a woodcock in a thick patch of the cover. The bird flushed as I was walking up her point and I dumped it cleanly with a single shot. I showed the downed bird to Akber who had never seen one up close before. Continue reading
“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