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?
We had a little bit of snow out there this morning, just beginning to stick in the uplands, and the temp is supposed to drop to 20 degrees tonight. The rest of this week looks good however, as daytime temperatures will be 30 - 40 degrees most days - perfect for good dog work.
This is the final week of grouse hunting in Vermont before the rifle deer season begins next Saturday. The muzzleloader season began yesterday in New Hampshire, so please be careful (for you and your dog) out there if you’re going out in the next few weeks.
Here’s a quick list of the deer season dates in northern NH and Vermont:
NH Muzzleloader: right now - November 13
NH Rifle: November 14 - December 2
VT Rifle: November 10 - November 25
VT Muzzleloader: December 1 - December 9
Monty saw the action today, and while he had a rough start to his time out there, seemingly bumping everything to start, he settled in, particularly after we were able to turn in to the wind. He had many solid, grouse sticking points as the morning went on, but unfortunately my client didn’t get too many chances at good shots. Sure, he missed a couple of birds, but there were also quite a few that walked (or ran) away from points, eventually flushing a distance away, as well as those that flushed within range, but quickly put a tree between us and them.
They utilized all of their tricks of escape today, to great effect. That’s why I love grouse hunting, as it is anything but predictable.
Today we were in two of the better woodcock holding covers that we’ve hunted over the last several years. We only moved five woodcock in probably 3 hours in these areas, which was surprising. We saw lots of chalk in one of the areas, but not many birds, perhaps signalling that the birds had already moved on. There was another good frost last night, so maybe the woodcock “got out of Dodge.” These are upland covers, so if you specifically target woodcock, you might want to hunt the low lying stream beds more over the next week or so. Bad weather’s coming this weekend, so maybe that will prevent any others that are already here from leaving.
Monty did a very good job today on his healing wheel - he had his boot on from last week’s injury, and thankfully it didn’t affect his nose at all. He was a pointing machine for a while today, racking up solid holding points on several of the grouse we encountered and four of the five woodcock as well. Unfortunately, his brace mate Rudy is down for a couple of weeks while his injured foot heals from an infection caused by a grass awn in all probability. Monty will be “the man” for a while, so we’ll try to keep him healthy for the remainder of the season.
In all honesty, I’ve skied and snowshoed extensively in the areas that we were in today, so I had plenty of knowledge of the areas that we were checking, and some of the likely grouse hiding spots. We had action almost immediately, as Rudy made a solid point on a young grouse that took its time getting away from the edge of the road. Surprisingly, I made a good shot, and a mere ten minutes later, I connected on another grouse that Rudy made a great find on. After my shot, the bird set its wings and sailed about seventy yards down the road in front of us, without us seeing it’s ultimate landing spot. A few minutes later, Rudy pointed the dead bird off the road’s edge, and we had recovered our second grouse of the day.
That would be it for lucky shots for me, but Rudy kept right on pointing - in fact, he had five more memorable points on grouse this afternoon. Either the bird would get out well out of range of my gun, my shot would be errant, or the bird simply would put a tree between itself and me. That’s ok - we had a great day and felt fortunate to connect on two birds in the first place. We ended up moving 12 grouse and 3 woodcock for the afternoon, so it was well worth going in to the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge.
What was the difference in our three days together? The weather probably had the biggest impact, as our first day was a little rainy and cold, allowing good scenting conditions for the dogs, and us to be much quieter as we approached pointed birds. The last two days were sunny, sometimes warm, and the leaf cover was getting crunchy again - this all meant tougher working conditions for the dogs (water your dogs!) and us, and the birds usually were running out ahead on points.
Rudy got the majority of the work over the last two days. Some of this was because Monty had gotten the bulk of the work, and birds, over the first two weeks of the season, and it seemed as though Rudy had been left out a little. So, he got us off on the right foot the last two days, moving nearly 20 birds Wednesday morning (several nice points on grouse, and he pointed all of the woodcock that day), and many solid points on grouse and woodcock throughout the course of the day yesterday.
The other reason is because Monty went down with a foot injury Wednesday afternoon - he drove a small stick about an inch in to the flesh between two toes when he was bombing around the woods. Epsom Salts, washing and cleaning of the wound, and disinfecting seems to have helped Monty out a lot - he’s putting weight on it now and looks like he’ll be able to get in the woods again next week with a boot on.
This all meant that Greta came out of retirement yesterday - briefly - to hunt a quick food cover with Paul and I. Now, Greta’s not your typical retiree - she has been going hunting with me once or twice a week so far this season, and while she’s slow and arthritic at times, she still points very well and fights her way through cover. Since she doesn’t range too far, we don’t put a bell or beeper on her, so we’re quiet out there and can often surprise birds when they’re not expecting it. This cover called for Greta’s unique talents, and in only 45 minutes she was able to put up 4 grouse (one pointed) and 1 woodcock (also pointed). Paul made a nice shot on one of the grouse, and Greta proved again that the old girl still has it - it was a perfect ending for our hunts together.
The weather will be unsettled this weekend, which might not be all bad. Also, we are on our way to a waxing moon this coming week, so we may have some good woodcock flights migrating through the area.
Today I had friend and long time client Paul O’Neill along with me, and he had a great week of hunting with me last year in Vermont, but we are hunting New Hampshire this week, so I hoped for similar results. The action this morning was pretty hot, as Monty kept a good range and was pointing with some regularity. We started contacting birds immediately out of the truck and at certain times it seemed that we were at the epicenter of grouse activity in this cover.
Within about an hour and a half, Paul had two grouse in the bag (one was an excellent point from Monty), and several other misses on woodcock as well. When Monty started ranging out a bit too far, I put him up and brought out Rudy for some close work. He did a good job too and found a couple more grouse and several more woodcock, but none of them offered good chances for Paul.
We moved to our afternoon cover around 1:30 today, and gave Monty a second chance to redeem himself. He did that and more, as he pointed several grouse back to back, made a nice retrieve on one bird that Paul winged, and an awesome find of another downed bird that Paul thought he had hit, which sailed off after his initial shot. It was great for sure, and Paul is my first hunter ever to have limited out on grouse - by 2:30 PM!
Monty pointed another grouse on the way back to the truck for good measure too ...
The good news is that it didn’t seem to dampen the grouse and woodcock hunting this weekend. After a morning pursuing some pheasants for my clients’ springer spaniels, we turned to some more traditional covers in pursuit of our native birds on Friday afternoon. We weren’t disappointed, as we moved around 13 grouse and 10 woodcock in the afternoon, with some excellent work from Krystal’s springer Phoenix and Jo-Ann’s springer Bonnie. These are close working bird dogs that literally scour the woods in search of bird scent, and it appeared that they don’t often miss a bird.
On Saturday, we hit several covers in search of grouse and woodcock, as we employed two, and sometimes three dogs (either Phoenix, Bonnie, or Krystal’s springer Levi, and Monty), with good results. The dogs all worked the woods independent of each other, which was great to see. Our morning went very well as the flushers kicked some grouse up in range, and Monty had a nice point on a pair of running grouse (lots of runners right now) that got away. Things slowed down a bit until our last cover of the day, where we put up 4 more grouse and 5 or 6 woodcock. Alas, none fell to the guns, but you can’t hit birds if you don’t shoot, and both Krystal and Jo-Ann were shooting often.
We had a great time and it’s probably safe to say that everyone, dogs included, were tired and satisfied with the weekend’s efforts.
Today was also very windy, so that was something new for us this season and usually means skittish grouse. That was partially true, as about half of the grouse that we enountered often were off like a flash when they saw us or heard the tinkle of Monty’s bell. However, there were also some that held pretty well for points, and all of the woodcock that we saw this morning were pointed by Monty. I had grouse hunting veteran Peter Connell with me this morning, and while it may have been cold for us to start our day, within minutes we were both warmed up sufficiently as we hiked over hill and dale in search of grouse and woodcock.
The birds were pretty much everywhere this morning, in a variety of cover, so it’s difficult to pinpoint what they preferred today. Some were in hardwood thickets, while others were hanging out on the edge of evergreen cover, but it was usually thick wherever they were. Monty had another outstanding morning (12 grouse and 6 woodcock pointed / contacted), as he worked generally close and under good control. He has definitely shown some progression in his quest to become a grouse dog, the highest point any of our four legged friends can aspire to.
The afternoon was some time to get some work for Greta and Rudy. Yes, Greta was out again, for approximately 40 minutes, and in that time she pointed one grouse (no shot), one woodcock (that one did not get away), and we moved two other grouse. Pretty amazing, and while her points aren’t technically “classic” anymore, they are priceless and I never get tired of watching her work. Rudy also found three grouse in his time out in the woods, so he was happy to get some work in and get in on all of the fun.
It’s tiring trying to keep up with three bird dogs!
While Monty had some beautiful points on grouse, he also went back to school a few times too, and I wonder if the sheer amount of birds we ran in to in the morning made Monty momentarily come unhinged. In three hours of hunting in the morning, we contacted approximately 15 grouse and 12 woodcock. Most days, that’s usually what we hope to put up, but this was a great start. Meanwhile the weather was typical northern N.H. - rain one moment, sunny the next, and then sleet.
After lunch, my client and I headed to another spot. Tom has had lots of grouse hunting experience in Michigan, but by the end of the day he would tell me that this is the most birds he’s ever seen in a day of grouse hunting. We brought out Rudy for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and while he made a couple of productive points on grouse, we just didn’t encounter the same numbers of birds. My thought was that birds would be coming out to the roads as the sun came out for the first time in several days up here - I turned out to be partially wrong.
We then brought Monty out for another go up a logging road, ending in a perfectly aged logging cut, and that turned out to be quite amazing. In one and a half hours, we encountered 11 grouse and a woodcock, and Tom made a nice shot on a grouse fleeing from a brood of five birds. As it turned out, that would be the end of the action and the end of our day, but not before we moved forty birds for the day (and it may have been a few more than that). We hope to have more days like that this season!
The other big problem has been that there’s still lots of foliage out there on our trees, so as beautiful as our colors may be, it has made shooting extremely difficult thus far. While I never root for bad weather to come our way, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few windy days come our way to clear the trees (and shooting lanes) a bit.
Randy Kinne and Leighton Hunter were my victims the last two days, and while they had one of their better years recently up here, it still was very difficult for them to shoot, never mind connect on, grouse and woodcock. As noted, there was good work by the dogs, especially Monty yesterday, and from Randy’s pointer Cocoa today. In the rain and fog Cocoa managed to point at least three grouse this morning, but only one presented a realistic opportunity, and Randy connected.
The forecast calls for a cold front to move in early next week and stay throughout the week, so we may have some good migratory woodcock action if it’s cold in Canada. Hopefully we also lose a few of those colorful leaves too ...