New RGS Chapter for NH?

Just wanted to pass on this nugget to any local (NH, VT, MA) readers that we might have out there that there is an informational meeting on March 27 in Campton, NH on possibly forming a NH RGS chapter. There used to be one long ago, but there hasn't been one in the state in quite a while and there is a desire to get one up and running.

Anything that helps grouse and woodcock flourish again where they used be is good to me. Check it out if you can.



Winter Ramble

Grouse hunting season has been over for a little over a month now, and I miss it. It ended abruptly for me, as we had lots of snow and snowmobilers when I returned from a trip to San Diego in mid-December. The lodge got busy, and then I got sick for a couple of weeks, and the season was over. This morning was our first snowshoe excursion in to the grouse woods, sad to say. A combination of bitterly cold weather at times as well as icy conditions without much snow cover has delayed venturing forth in search of birds, not to mention the normal and not-so-normal work obligations (trade shows, computer melt downs, etc. - it's been a fun five weeks). But, this morning we have a few inches of new snow in the woods and the temps were pretty good.

Monty and Rosie ran giddily through the grouse woods this morning, finding a couple of tracks from long departed grouse and the usual tracks from what seemed like a million snowshoe hares. Eventually, they found two grouse themselves, with one sailing off downhill in to thicker cover and the other pointed beautifully later on by Monty, with a nice honor from Rosie after a "whoa" from me. It was spectacular to witness, and anytime, winter included, is a good time to get out in the woods and reinforce the commands that you'll be using all spring, summer and fall. We'll be doing this a lot over the next two months, as long as the weather cooperates.

Other Thoughts …

My nearly 12- year old GSP, Rudy, has had a littany of health problems over the last year (GI problems, seizures, and weight loss have plagued the old boy) and it got so bad on Wednesday that on the way to the vet I was contemplating that things might be coming to an end for my "Old Man". I get wistful at times like this and so many memories of Rudy as a pup and our first hunts together with his old running mate Greta come to mind. He hunted in Montana for pheasants and sharptails (he really excelled on the sharptails and made some amazing retrieves on wounded ringnecks) at only one year old and has been a constant companion when I take trips to the river for fishing (he seems to scare off prospective interlopers that would like to intrude on the water I'm fishing … little do they know that he is actually very friendly and can easily be bribed to betray his master).

All of this led me to look at some old posts on the blog of Rudy's time in the grouse woods, and his status as a good grouse dog was confirmed after reading some of those posts. He was quite a grouse hunter in his day and the foundation of the guiding business early on. Greta was a great one too, but often didn't have the stamina to go out day after day - that was Rudy's job, and he held up his end of our arrangement.

But, there was another thing that I noticed when reading the entries from 7 or 8 years ago … we seemed to be running in to a lot more grouse than we have in the last couple of years. I don't think this is simply because I'm hunting subpar areas compared to before - I actually pride myself on finding several good areas every year so that the covers don't get stale, and I think I've done a good job of it, especially lately, of changing up our "rotation". Spring and early summer hatch weather is always a concern for grouse hunters, and it has not been what I generally consider as being "good" the last couple of years. Still, it seems as though we've had some poor springs before and rebounded just fine in the fall.

There is still a decent amount of logging going on in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, but certainly not to the degree that we had decades ago in the hay day of grouse hunting. The landscape is changing and maturing and that could be having an impact on grouse numbers in some of our covers. Some of the productive food covers
(old apple trees, pasture edges from long gone farms) are simply not as productive as they used to be. Rumors that avian flu could also be responsible for the decline in bird numbers are rampant as well. There are many different factors that affect grouse - literally a mosaic of conditions can have an impact on the birds we love to pursue every fall, so who can say for sure what is happening.

Personally, my opinion is that our constantly changing weather, with its assorted highs and lows and severe rain events and
(at times) drought conditions is impacting our birds more than anything. Global warming may be affecting our birds in ways we can't even be sure of, but grouse are birds of the northern forest and cold climates. The more the northern hemisphere warms and results in changes to tree composition in our northern forests, the more we'll see changes to grouse populations and other northern forest loving species. Sorry for the ramble … just my thoughts on how our sport may be changing.

Oh, and Rudy has seemingly recovered and is feeling much better today - I know you all wanted to know how he is doing.

Lastly …

Check out the
Project Upland website to get your fix on upland hunting, dogs, training, and short videos this winter. There are other people out there as crazy as us - this is the proof!


Final Point?

Monty points and Rosie (upper right) honors.
A couple more grouse hunting excursions last week for the pups and myself, with good results for Rosie on Thursday, and for both Rosie and Monty last Friday. Unfortunately, I neglected to hold up my end of the bargain either day, and there was at least one grouse on Thursday that should have been coming home with us. No excuses, just a flat out miss after a staunch point from Rosie. The grouse held surprisingly well for Rosie, but it perhaps had settled in to some sense of security after probably not being bothered too much through the deer hunting season. A little later on that session Rosie once again went on point on another tight holding grouse. This one was standing there under a spruce tree looking at me, and a less cultivated hunter may have been tempted to ground swat it, but I chose to move in and when it flushed I succeeded in reducing a maple sapling to ribbons. The bird sailed away, unharmed by his brush with us, and unappreciative of my lack of marksmanship.

On Friday, we spent two hours in one of our autumn haunts, hitting all of the thicker spruce cover in the hopes of catching up to some grouse. It took a while, but Rosie established point off the edge of the logging road we were working and Monty whoaed to a stop at the edge of a bunch of blowdowns. The grouse rocketed out of the patch of cover before I could get there unfortunately. A little later on, Monty's beeper started going off in another patch of small spruces, and this time Rosie whoaed to a stop. Instead of focusing on the bird, I decided to first take a picture of Monty's staunch point for posterity
(you never know, that could be our last point of the season!). Just as I was taking the picture, the grouse flushed out and it would have offered a good chance. At least I didn't have the opportunity to miss that one.

Total, we were in the woods for about 5 hours those two afternoons, moving 7 grouse in our travels, and certainly working hard for the birds we contacted. There was about 3-4" of snow on the ground then, but we have gotten a few more inches of snow in the last few days.

Oh, and we're supposed to get 5-8" more tomorrow. Looks like snowshoes might be the only way to get after them now, and while it's still fun to be bird hunting, showshoes add another challenge to a sport that is difficult enough already. The NH and Vermont grouse seasons go until 12/31.

Winter in the Uplands

The winter woods still provide clues as to what's around - in this case, a buck that may have made it through hunting season.
After several weeks off from the grouse woods (my wife had knee replacement surgery, and yours truly played Florence Nightengale the last couple of weeks - not a good picture), we were able to get out in to the snowy Vermont uplands this morning, in pursuit of some of those crafty birds. We've had our share of the normally cold weather that we usually receive in November, which is a shock to the system after the mild temperatures of October. There's a few inches of snow on the mostly frozen ground, and the woods have transformed in to stark, unforgiving pockets of cover for all of the animals.

In other words, it is officially winter grouse hunting now, which is quite different from the hunting we do in early and then in late October. I have read that there are usually three different periods to the three-month grouse hunting season, and this depends upon the transformation of the cover due to changing weather. The "first season" is the early season, where the leaves are still on the trees, and the grouse are still enjoying the plethora of cover
(vertical) and food sources that are available. They can be found anywhere and everywhere in the first couple weeks of October, making some of the flushes that we get particularly surprising.

The "second season" usually begins as the leaves start dropping in earnest, and the vertical overhead cover and some food sources start drying up. Grouse are usually found in the thicker areas in the last couple weeks of October and the beginning of November, and evergreen stands become more important to grouse as well. As the vertical cover recedes, the horizontal cover is desired by the birds - thick stands of spruce, and blowdowns become favorite spots for grouse to hole up during bad weather. When the weather's good though, the grouse are often out and about looking for greens
(fern tips, raspberry leaves, etc.), if they're still available.

The "third season", or winter grouse hunting season, starts earlier up here than most places in New England, and you never know when it might rear its ugly head. Sometimes it's not until halfway through December, but most years, it is about the mid-point of November, as it is this year. Now the grouse are exclusively in the stands of spruce and evergreens, as all of the greens are either dead or buried under a blanket of snow, and their primary food source is buds and catkins from birch and poplar. Hunting at this time of year can be feast or famine - they aren't where they were even a month ago, so if you can identify the thickest spruce cover in the areas you like to hunt in October, it is likely to be holding grouse right now. Don't expect there to be grouse in
each thick, dark area though - you can walk for quite a time and see very little … and then come in to a veritable bonanza of birds.

I would have felt guilty shooting this one ...
While winter grouse hunting is not my favorite - the snow is hard to get through once you get to 4"-6" of snow depth, and the points and great dog work that you came to expect in October and early November is much harder to come by in the winter woods - it can still be fruitful occasionally. One of my best days was five years or so ago when I went out with Monty and walked a huge area - we put up at least 20 grouse that early December day, and two of them became my dinner guests as well. There was only an inch or two on the ground that day from what I can remember, but there was 3" or so on the ground today in Vermont. In an hour and a half, Bode and I moved 5 grouse, three of which were together in a stand of large spruces. Bode did have a point on a grouse that eventually flushed quite a way out from us and he also tracked another that I ended up spotting on the ground. When it finally flushed, it flew low and I took an ill timed shot. It flew in to a neighboring spruce tree, and after withstanding my picture taking and branch throwing activities, I had finally decided to let it go - it looked to be a female and perhaps some tame genes will be a good thing for the grouse gene pool up here.

A First for Rosie

A crisp, cold day in Vermont's uplands today - finally some good weather for pursuing those crafty ruffed grouse! Temps were in the low 30's, and there were even a few flakes of snow … a harbinger of what is coming later this week. It's supposed to get down and dirty cold this weekend - ideal if you're chasing deer around on the first weekend of the season.

Rosie posed just long enough to take this picture with her first grouse
Rosie got the call today, in my effort to put her on as many birds as possible and get some good work from her in the process. Things started off slowly, but Rosie was eventually getting in to the birds, and not pointing a majority of them, but then … her beeper started going off as she was intently and staunchly pointing in to a stand of small spruce beside the trail. The grouse exploded, and I nearly didn't get my safety off in time, but I did and it fell to the forest floor with Rosie in pursuit. Rosie's first grouse (she's had four woodcock taken by clients this season) and it was great. She looked justifiably proud, but I'm not sure that the momentous event had much of an effect on her - she just wanted to find more.

Well, we found more - 17 grouse to be exact in 4.5 hours of hunting, which is a good number considering this year's bird numbers. Another fell to my gun on a wild flush, and Rosie seemed to be excited about that, but not enough to retrieve it
(Rome wasn't built in a day, after all). While she probably pointed three birds today, she also had plenty of bumps, but I think she's on her way to becoming a bird dog, and hopefully she will be a grouse dog someday - in my opinion, the highest achievement for any gun dog.

It helped that it was a walk in only area that probably doesn't get a lot of attention from hunters, particularly as far off the road as we were, plus the cold temperature seemed to hunker the birds in the dense firs beside the road and trails. We had several pairs that we got in to, but the rermainder were singles. We are hoping to get out there a couple more days this week before the deer hunting season starts in Vermont, and hopefully Rosie can get a little more bird exposure.