While we've been seeing decent numbers of grouse all winter, it was particularly nice to see some of our woodcock returning from warmer climes this week. The timberdoodles are definitely back now, and we were fortunate to run in to eight of them this morning, along with four grouse, in a little over two hours of scouting. We also saw a good amount of them a couple of mornings ago too, so we'll hope that we have a dry and warm nesting season for all of our feathered friends.
Rudy and Monty did a great job as usual and seem to be in mid-season form already - check them out on this video.
Running Rudy and Monty, both dogs made the most of their chances out there today, as they repeatedly contacted, and then pointed grouse. Some provided good chances for shots, while most did not, but we were fortunate to connect on our chances with two of the grouse. The first was a bird that Monty pointed, tracked following the shot, and then retrieved to hand, and the second was out of a group of four birds that both dogs pointed. Once again, another track and a great find by the dogs on this one as well.
In all, the dogs contacted forty-one grouse - that's "4" and "1". Singles, many pairs, several triples, the group of four that I mentioned above, and an astonishing group of five that were nestled down in scrubby raspberry cover near the end of the day, probably soaking up the last of the sun's energy before a chilly night tonight. For me, that's a new record for grouse contacted in a day, and we were only out there for four and a half hours! We also moved a group of three moose on a high hilltop cut, and got pictures of what I believe were genuine (and quite fresh) bobcat tracks.
If you are thinking about making a trip north this weekend for a final grouse hunt this season, it would be well worth it. There are almost no bird hunters up here, snowmobiling doesn't open until Saturday, but there's not enough snow for that anyway. In the middle part of Pittsburg, where we were today, we were dealing with only 2" of snow, but there is probably more in the northern part of town (Second Conn. Lake and points north), while there is definitely less than that south of Pittsburg village.
Unfortunately, this might be the last weekend to get out there too - snow, perhaps heavy, may be coming on Sunday and Monday, so don't put the gun or the dog away yet.
If you need a place to stay, we have lots of cabins at very reasonable rates available, and the Rainbow Grille is serving up its customary fare each night this weekend ...
As I've noted before, Jo-Ann has her dogs excellently trained, almost exclusively with hand signals only, and they are very repsonsive to her every whim when we're out there. We hunt grouse quietly when we're there, and those of you that have been out with me know by now that I have adopted several of Jo-Ann's techniques and strategies in the hunting that we do up here in northern New Hampshire and Vermont. The one aspect of hunting with Jo-Ann that is sometimes hard to get used to is being able to consistently read the flushing dogs as they work, instead of the pointers that I'm used to. While it is different, there are similarities in that there usually is some kind of a slowing in pace from a flusher just prior to the acceleration of tracking, and then flushing, a grouse. If you see it enough, you begin to be able to identify these actions by the dogs, allowing some time to get in position.
Of course, the birds have to cooperate too, which is rarely the case from these cagey grouse - the birds near Jo-Ann are true survivors, and therefore don't tolerate much pressure from dogs or hunters before they make an escape. In fact, it dawned on me that for either of us to actually take a bird, the grouse would have to make a critical mistake, and fortunately for us, it happened a couple of times in two days of hunting. I took a close flushing bird that had waited a bit too long to make an escape on our first morning, and Paul took a bird on the second day that made an unusual boomerang flight back at him, when it seemingly could have just flown straight away.
We also had our share of misses too, most of which were long shots where we were hoping to connect, but all in all it was a successful two days over there. The weather was chilly, but sunny for the most part, which helped us to stay warm. Jo-Ann and her dogs did their best, and we'll be back next year chasing those grouse all over again I suppose.
What of the grouse hunting in the north country, you may ask? Winter has reared it's ugly head a little early this year, so we have 4" - 5" of snow on the ground near the lodge, so there's probably more in the woods. A slight warm up is predicted next week, so that may put us back in business for a little while yet. What's even better is that the deer hunting season ends this weekend in NH, and the Vermont muzzleloader season goes for another ten days or so.
More updates on the way hopefully!
- Grouse are unpredictable - the dog may do his job to perfection, but if the bird runs away on the point before the hunters get there, all is for not ...
- Dogs are unpredictable - they don't always have a solid point, or end up busting the bird ahead of schedule.
- Hunters are unpredictable - we miss quite often, so filming the point / flush / shot of a grouse hunt where everything goes as it should is rare.
- The director / cameraman falls down - nothing needs to be said here.
Anyway, here is my feeble attempt at filming a grouse hunt last week in Vermont. This is actually a conglomeration of four hunts, three of which were on the same day. All involved the same dog, Monty, my two year old GSP. He had some great moments last week, but unfortunately, the cameraman (me) missed some of those moments. Enjoy ...
Wednesday was a very cold day, starting at around 20 when we started, and never climbing over 30 degrees. Add to that a little wind, and we were continually looking for hills to climb to help us stay warm. We ended up moving 21 grouse that day, and Monty had some nice points, but Art and Craig never had what I consider to be “good” chances on birds.
Thursday was still blustery, but not as cold as the day before, so we were quite a bit more comfortable in the woods. Monty had one of the best days of his young life, as he nailed bird after bird - sometimes groups of birds. Many offered good opportunities for Art and Craig, and they made up for the day before, each taking two grouse. Art especially made a fantastic quartering away shot to his left on a grouse that Monty had pointed in a clump of spruce (these places were their preferred hideouts this week with the cold weather), and Monty actually retrieved that one, completing his job. We ended up moving 30 grouse on Thursday, more than making up for the driving snow we ate our lunch in that day (the first time I haven’t sat at the table for lunch!)
Friday was the nicest of our three days - a fresh snow had fallen the night before, so it slowly melted as we hunted yesterday. Art commented on the beauty of the scene around us - the woods yesterday morning looked like sparkling diamonds with the snow firmly attached to the trees. While Monty was doing his best, pointing three birds in a group that got away unscathed, and a couple of other singles, the morning was generally slow - we only moved 8 grouse in the morning session.
The afternoon brought some excitement, with Art making a remarkably tough shot on a grouse that Monty pointed downhill, pinning the bird between him and us. When it finally took off, Craig took a shot and missed and the bird was seemingly getting away when Art took the long shot. The bird dropped like a stone in to heavy cover, and it took a little while for us to find it, but the bird was recovered. We moved a few more birds in the afternoon, but our total bird contacts for the day was somewhere around 15 grouse - one of my tougher days this year.
Did I say how unpredictable grouse hunting can be?