I made my first kill of the 2018 woodcock season late this morning. I was hunting in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. I shot a woodcock over Hera’s point. I downed the bird with the second barrel of my Franchi Instinct SL in 20 gauge. We are two weeks into the 2018 Fall hunting seasons, and the weather is much improved. Still, conditions in my preferred hunting grounds are the driest I ever saw in all my years of hunting. I hope we get significant rainfall before mid-October. It took a lot of walking this morning, but Hera and I got into birds. I enjoy watching Hera working the covers we hunt for birds; watching her work the covers leaves me wondering at times if I trained her as a hunting dog or if it is she who taught me as a hunting dog owner. Continue reading
It is so easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about the whereabouts of your hunting buddies when a game bird flushes and offers you a shot. I am strict about hunter etiquette and safety in the field, and my perfect record on hunter safety is a testament to my adherence to hunter etiquette and safety. The fact that carelessness is an issue in hunting came to mind on a weekend grouse and woodcock hunt with Hera, my six-year-old Brittany. My hunting buddy Nick and his ten-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, Cocotte, accompanied Hera and me on our weekend grouse and woodcock hunt. We got into birds: four woodcock and several grouse, but succeeded in spectacularly missing when we got shots away at flushing birds. Continue reading
William McClure was a friend and mentor to me starting when I first spoke to him in 1987 until his death in 2013. Bill was a Brittany enthusiast and former breeder of the breed. He helped me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first dog, Christie, and shared his experience in training Brittanies for hunting with me when I trained Brittanies of my own. As this hunting season progresses and I take to the field with Hera, my fourth Brittany, I hear Bill’s voice, his warning against taking my dogs to hunting preserves to shoot pen raised chukar and pheasant. Bill warned me that pen raised birds are often not strong fliers and easy for the dog to catch. This, he warned, gives them the idea that they can catch wild birds too which is the last thing you want. I chose not to heed his warning at the time as I knew that hunters commonly visit hunting preserves with their dogs without issue. I took my first three Brittanies, Christie, Maggie and Juno to hunting preserves and never had a problem. In fact the photo at the head of this blog features me with my beloved Juno at the end of her first hunt on a preserve. Still, I wonder now if I should have heeded his warning, given that Hera is breaking point on woodcock, bumping the birds rather than waiting for me to walk up the point. Continue reading
The heatwave continues as the small game and upland bird seasons get underway. It was Sunday morning, September 24, 2017, the day after the opening of duck season, and the temperature is expected to reach 40 C again. I arranged to meet with another of my new hunting buddies, Mike, who is training his first gun dog. He is the proud owner of a 17 month old German Shorthaired Pointer named Maggie Mae, Maggie being her working name. I met Mike last season while out running Hera and after chatting he and I became hunting buddies. Maggie was still a puppy last season, too young to join us in the field and not gun conditioned at that point. It was really too hot to stay out for very long with the dogs, but we thought we could at least introduce Maggie to Hera and let them get acquainted on a grouse hunt. Woodcock season opens on the 25th of September this season. The objective for this morning was to run the dogs together after grouse on the property near Spencerville where I also hunt deer with three friends. Mike is a seasoned deer hunter and I took the opportunity to show him the areas I hunt deer with my friends. We had a good, albeit brief, morning afield with the dogs on this all too hot day.
In training my dogs I am loathe to use force. This is one of the reasons I hunt with Brittanies. When I researched the various breeds of gun dog I could choose from I found the Brittany best suited for the upland gunning I do here in Eastern Ontario and for my personality: I am a gentle man and a gentleman. I talked to Brittany breeders and read up on the breed and learned that Brittanies are renowned for their eagerness to please their masters and are easy to train. I also learned also they need a soft hand in training; that and there is never an excuse to beat or mistreat a dog. Hera is my fourth Brittany and by far the toughest of the four. As with the three Brittanies who came before her (Christie, Maggie and Juno) I always make certain Hera enjoys her time afield and that every outing ends on a positive note. This does not mean I never have to correct her, but in doing so I use force only as a last resort. True to the breed, Hera is eager to please her master and is happiest when she is in my good graces. When it comes to meting out discipline, usually scolding her in my sergeant-major voice is sufficient. She responds with contrition and I am careful to forgive her and assure her she is still my girl. Continue reading
“Be prepared,” is the motto of the Girl Guides. It is good advice, in my opinion, particularly when I set out on a duck hunting expedition with one or more of my hunting buddies. This morning, I set out with Akber, Omer and Ehtisham for some duck hunting on the Rideau River. I prepared for the hunt the night before, knowing from experience that there is always something waiting to go wrong. I learned the hard way that waiting till the morning of your planned duck hunt to prepare typically ends in frustration when things go wrong or crucial pieces of kit are left behind. Despite my foresight and determination to see that I was prepared well in advance of my departure for the marsh, no amount of preparation (at least in my experience) will stave off all that is waiting to go wrong. This time, however, it took the cake!
What was planned as a training session to get Hera staunch on point became a comedy of errors. I drove out to Banin Farms with the plan to work her on pigeons with the help of the proprietor Edmund Hassett. The appointment was at 9:00 am on October 23rd. I arrived and found Edmund had pheasants, four of them, ready for our training session. I appreciate Edmund is under a great deal of stress. His wife Vera is recovering from a stroke she suffered four weeks ago, so I did not mention the misunderstanding and we got on with the training session.
I put Hera on the 30′ check cord I made for her training and off we went. The plan was to let Hera find the birds and when she locked up on point, Edmund would take hold of the check cord and hold her on point while I walked up and walked around the bird before flushing it. Unfortunately, things went off the rails from the get go. The first bird jumped up, flushing wildly, before Hera got near it. I shot it and it went down in a glide into a wooded area. As we made our way to track the downed pheasant we walked up where the second bird was planted only to find this bird had already hightailed it. Hera did a great job tracking and retrieving the first bird, a lively cripple.
Moving onto the third bird, it flushed as Hera stumbled over it. I shot it and Hera Maggie made the retrieve. We moved onto the fourth bird and again, she stumbled across it, flushing it before she locked up on point. It was shot and retrieved also.
I asked Edmund if I could try pigeons, as was my original plan, and he retrieved three pigeons for me. He could not help me with Hera’s training with the pigeons, but showed me how to plant them. I planted the pigeons and let Hera go after them on the check cord. Things went from bad to worse. I quickly found Hera does not recognize pigeons as game birds. She ran through the field where the birds were planted, eventually stumbling across them and treating them as she does other non-game species, such as mice and voles, as something to pick up. I rescued the pigeons (keeping Hera from devouring them), setting them free so they could return to the loft.
On the way home I took Hera to Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest for a quick sweep. She flash pointed a few old scents, but no birds were found. My hopes of starting her on the road to being staunch on point today were dashed, but the effort will continue.