With two feet of snow on the ground, it meant that snowshoes became the preferred method of transport for this hunt, and while bird hunting is hard enough alone, placing snowshoes in the equation adds a whole new dimension to the addiction we call grouse hunting. The last time I used snowshoes I ended up on the ground several times as I remember it, and when you're holding on to a shotgun, there's nothing to break your fall when you inevitably go down.
Did I mention the temperature? Seven degrees above zero with no wind made it tolerable yesterday, but still the coldest temps for hunting that I've had. Monty and Bode came along for this final trip of the season and worked hard in our two hours out there. Grouse tend to flock up when it's cold, and we saw this prove itself out a couple of times yesterday.
While the action was sporadic, it was pretty good several times. The first flurry was when Monty and Bode started flushing birds from a relatively open area beside the trail we walked in on. Birds started flying, and I counted three separate flushes in my approach, and they all flew down hill, in to a thick spruce / fir swamp. No shots on these birds, as I found out again that it's tough to keep up with dogs when you're on snowshoes. In our pursuit in the swamp, we flushed a couple more of the birds from high in trees, but no good chances there. We found many grouse / deer / moose / snowshoe hare tracks in this area, which was exciting, but that would be all in this section.
The dogs showed interest in a couple of other areas, but we didn't see birds there, until our way back to the truck. Once again, right off the trail, in a brushy section with several blow downs, grouse started flying to get away from Monty and Bode. The same lesson I learned on the first group of grouse happened again: too far back for a good shot, but I saluted the last one with a couple of far flung efforts anyway.
No luck, and these four escaped to be seed birds for the 2014 batch of grouse. All in all, 2013 was a good year - solid amounts of birds, with one day that was a notable exception (55-60 grouse and woodcock flushed on a nasty day in late October), and a few days where we were wishing for more. Perhaps 2014 will provide a better crop of birds, and it will certainly give us many beautiful days in the grouse woods.
Here's to good spring weather and a healthy batch of birds - cheers and Happy New Year!
This year's weather conditions were quite different from what we've had traditionally, as this coastal area had its first "sticking snow" of the year on the night we got in to town. While several inches of snow may signal misplaced footsteps and snow sliding down your back, it has it's good points as well. Snow means a much stealthier approach to extremely wary grouse, and perhaps helps hold those grouse a bit tighter than they normally would.
I have read that the first snow is particularly alarming for young grouse, as they have never seen this natural phenomenon before, and don't really know what to do with it. This effect has proved itself to be true in some of my hunts in northern NH and Vermont (usually that sticking snow happens in late October though), as several of my best days ever have been under these circumstances.
Our first morning of hunting was good, as we moved 11 grouse in around three hours, and one grouse made the mistake of taking a low dash right-to-left across an opening in front of me. With one in the bag, and feeling quite full of myself, I had to shoot at a few others that were either out of range or simply succeeded in placing a tree between us. Yes, some good Maine timber suffered the scars of my errant shooting eye that day ...
Day two brought better conditions, with temps in the upper thirties, but the snow still hanging on the mountain and while we moved 5 grouse in the morning, the afternoon hunt saw more action. We had 7 grouse fly before us that afternoon: whether off the ground or out of trees, but the common denominator is that they were absolute rockets. Paul made two nice shots on fleeing grouse on day two, and Jo-Ann's veteran of the grouse woods, Bonnie, helped locate and bring them back. One of the more amazing aspects of hunting with Jo-Ann is her uncanny ability to predict the locations of grouse in her coverts, as well as their likely escape routes, making it seem as though she is the master of her coverts and the habits of the birds inhabiting them.
My reflexes were too slow this day, though one of them should have been mine. The millisecond of a chance that he gave me just wasn't enough time!
We just went through a few days of nasty weather - high winds and rain were common - so I hoped that birds would be on the move to get in on the good weather. While that was my hope, we actually found all of the birds today in mostly thick cover, characterized by a good mix of evergreens and hardwood tangles. Sometimes birds will sit tight in cover like this, as they generally feel more secure, but in all things "grouse hunting", that's not always the case.
Of the first two birds that we encountered, Rudy pointed one, and Bode flushed the other, and they didn't waste any time in getting away from us. After a long hike through some beautiful high country, Rudy pointed several times on a running grouse that finally flushed close by. Unfortunately, it was so thick that I could only hear the flush, never seeing the bird.
When Monty got his turn we simply walked a logging road, working the thick edges where birds sometimes like to sit and gravel early and late in the day. He made a couple of beautiful points on the two grouse that we moved, and while one offered nearly an impossible shot, the other made a mistake, and flew in to my shot pattern. We only moved five grouse in three hours, but four of them were pointed birds, and the one that wasn't was flushed up by Bode - a pretty good afternoon in the grouse woods.
Saturday was a day to run Rudy and little "brother" Bode, to help him along in his quest to become a bird dog. Rudy performed well, pointing a couple of grouse that escaped, and Bode did his best to keep up - actually, he's doing very well at that, and seems to be showing signs that he may know why we're out there. While I didn't take any grouse for Bode that day (my shooting is worse than normal it seems), the most exciting moment was when Bode had his first point of any kind, and it was on a grouse that flushed about ten feet in front of him. Lots of praise came his way, needless to say, and Bode was pretty excited about that.
We moved operations to Vermont for yesterday, and I had the good fortune to hunt with Todd, Dave and Bruce again, who I had guided a couple of years before. They are a laugh a minute, and seem to love grouse hunting for many of the same reasons that I do. The birds, the dogs, the scenery, and some of the interesting things we see out there. They're all in good physical shape, so I was able to do something with them I had never done before - grab Monty, pack a backpack with lunch and water for the day, and head out on a six hour odyssey of the Vermont grouse woods.
Among the events from yesterday's action: grouse tracks in the snow (which was followed by a grouse that somehow took us all by surprise - missed), a large black bear quickly crossing the logging road about 70 yards up the road in the direction we were heading, big beech trees with evidence of fresh bear activity, and the miracle of several solid grouse points. Monty did very well yesterday, hunting reasonably close, and establishing some rock solid opportunities for the guys. Unfortunately, the birds also have to make a mistake when they're getting away, and none of them did.
There's always next year, and we'll get out there to explore new areas again!
While the bird hunting was definitely challenging yesterday, we got in to some birds along road edges today as the birds were probably anxious to resume their daily routines. Once again, spruce clumps and tangles of blowdowns seemed to hold most of the grouse, where they were trying to stay out of the cold wind.
Matt Sisk, Jim MacWalter and I were fortunate to get out there to enjoy the birds and the work of our dogs - Jim's two gordon setters and my two shorthairs. They all worked hard, and seemed to have their greatest success when we were hunting in to the wind, naturally. Monty in particular excelled with some staunch points on grouse - some of them held and provided Matt and Jim with good opportunities, but quite a few of them ran away to fly another day.
It's still exciting whether we have shooting chances or not - I never get tired of watching a dog doing what it was bred to do!
Saturday brought a constant barrage of rainy weather throughout the day, and it was also pretty cold too, but the positive was that it made the woods pretty quiet for us to sneak upon unsuspecting grouse. While we had some excellent work out of Monty in particular, pointing several grouse and a couple of woodcock at very close range, the birds never seemed to fly the "right way" for my clients. Also, when the weather is that bad, we're naturally hunting thicker areas of spruce and fir, giving the grouse a distinct advantage when the make their getaway. In the end, we would move right around 20 grouse and 2 woodcock (can't believe that we were still seeing them in the uplands) for the day on Saturday, but nothing in the bag.
Sunday brought some very cold weather (about 15 degrees to start), and the first sticking snow of the year, as we received two or three inches the night before. The snow stuck around for the most part on Sunday in the areas that we hunted as the temp peaked at 32 degrees with a healthy wind out of the north. We worked hard to see a total of 9 grouse for the day, most of which we found in thick spruce cover. Monty did a nice job, pointing 5 of the 8 grouse he was responsible for, and Rudy and Bode got some time in as well.
Craig Stucchi made a nice shot on Monty's first point of the morning, harvesting a beautiful male grouse with his opportunity. There weren't many chances for Art and Craig however, or when there were chances the grouse would often fly directly at or over the other hunter, making for a dangerous shot - no bird is worth that!
We were fortunate to move around 12 grouse and 10 woodcock on Friday, and while we definitely had to work for our flushes, there were birds to be found in certain spots, especially the lower spruce and alder streamside runs. Rudy in particular had some excellent moments in the afternoon on Friday in these areas, making some solid points on the woodcock especially.
Saturday brought more of the same weather, with a fairly fierce south wind accompanied by blowing snow. Yes, it's grouse season here in the north country, and this was a perfect day to move some birds - and that's exactly what happened. I've never had a day of guiding like it, as we had nearly non stop action from the time we left the trucks in the morning until we called it a day at 4:00 PM. Monty ran all of Saturday, and was responsible for a large number of the 30 grouse and nearly as many woodcock that we moved. Yup, it was somewhere in the 55 - 60 bird number that we've all hoped for and rarely gotten.
Flights of woodcock had some excellent moonlit nights for their journey just prior to this, so it was not surprising when we started putting them up in bunches. To make it even better, we found grouse in nearly every different habitat type that we hunted - road edges, clearcuts, heavy spruces, alder runs - you name it, we found them there. Monty had many incredible points and excellent retrieves of cripples, as he had one of his most fruitful days in his young life.
The weather looks much the same this week, so get up here before deer season starts (this Saturday)!
After around an hour in the grouse woods this morning, Monty locked on point, and we moved in to try to catch an escaping grouse. Paul glimpsed the birds first, and took two shots at the first escape artist (the second grouse would get away before Paul could load his gun again), obliterating a sapling with his first attempt, and apparently missing with his second attempt. The bird flew high and far, and seemed none the worse for wear.
After taking a humorous picture of the sapling, we quickly moved on in the direction of the second grouse to get a follow up, and while Monty had another nice point on this grouse, it once again "got out of Dodge" before we could get in to position. We then resumed our search for new birds, in the best looking adjacent cover when Paul had a bird flush up in front of him, probably one hundred yards from Monty's original point on the pair of grouse. It flew on ahead of us, and we once again pursued.
Suddenly, Monty's beeper collar started sounding off again up ahead of us, in cover that, to be kind, no respectable grouse would ever let itself be caught in. He was staunch, even when we came in and walked around him. Thinking nothing there, we took a peak at the cover past the dog (a forbidding spruce/cedar swamp), and when I let Monty off his point, he fervently resumed his search. A few moments later, with Paul and I talking about our options regarding the swamp, Monty reappeared with the beautiful grouse in his mouth. He succeeded in retrieving a bird that we didn't think Paul had hit at least two hundred yards and fifteen minutes before.
He's had some good retrieves in his three plus years of experience in the grouse woods, but this one may take the prize, and proves what a tool of conservation a good dog can be when we go hunting.
Though the conditions grew tougher today (windy, blustery, temps in the 40s, and raining steadily at times), the hunting was actually very good while we were out there. We moved / pointed / harassed approximately 23 grouse and 5 woodcock in our long trek (most of which were hunkered down in the heavy spruce cover), and though few of them offered good opportunities, we had some good work from Monty and Rudy.
However, the most exciting moment was when Paul shot a grouse fleeing from Rudy and his hunting partner Bode, making for the youngster's first score on a wild bird. He has lots to learn on grouse and hunting in general, but he's showing some good form and seems to be learning from his uncle Rudy.
More updates to come soon!!
However, the last two days we saw more wind and slightly colder temperatures, and this led to a ten grouse / eight woodcock day on Thursday, and a fifteen grouse / twelve woodcock day today. Better scenting conditions for sure, but maybe the nip in the air has also led to some migrating woodcock and grouse on the move, in search of the nearest food source.
We've had some excellent work from the dogs this week - Monty and Rudy, as well as Chris Ramel's setter Dottie have provided plenty of heart racing moments. While some of the woodcock have been accommodating for a staunch point, the grouse have been running on us quite often, and the chances have been few and far between for Chris and Chip Ramel on the gray ghosts.
Even more good news is that it is supposed to get colder next week (snow in the forecast), so the action could get better for us in this lean year of grouse hunting. Expect plenty of woodcock moving through our area next week too, as our first taste of winter gets the timberdoodles moving south.
The numbers of birds moved each day seems to be the same - a little down compared to last year's action, but still fine nonetheless. The interesting thing to take away from the past week of hunting is where we've been finding most of our grouse - near road edges that have thick evergreen cover. This was certainly appropriate for today, where we had a steady misting of rain (sometimes more than that) all day, but it also worked well for us when it was positively too warm for grouse late last week and over the weekend. Grouse prefer areas like this to stay cool as well, and sometimes it seemed that there was a ten degree difference when we went in to the thick evergreens.
Still, just because we find them, it doesn't mean that we bag them - the grouse have been pulling out all of the stops so far this year - running out of points, disappearing like ghosts, and even gliding away nearly unheard. Check out this video from today's action and you'll get an idea of the grouse hunter's plight, even when we know exactly where they are!
Yesterday in Pittsburg, NH was warm and windy for the most part, as a massive front started moving through our area. It was tough on the dogs for scenting purposes, as the swirling wind made it very hard for Rudy and Monty to lock on to the grouse and woodcock. As usual, the windy conditions also meant very skittish grouse - they don't like the wind, as it makes it much harder for them to be aware of predators, so they tend to be pretty jumpy on those windy days.
Fortunately for us, the woodcock were sitting a little tighter than the grouse, and Monty had some nice points. Unfortunately for us, the birds never seem to fly the way that we want them to, and they eluded our shot pattern. Monty also had some great points on grouse, but they also didn't present much of a chance when flushed. That's the way it goes sometimes in grouse hunting - you and the dog can do everything correctly, but the bird still has to make a mistake and fly the wrong way (for him) to get a good shot.
Today in Vermont, the wind was very gusty but the tempertures were much cooler, and Monty was a machine for a while, nailing four straight woodcock with great points. He also had a couple of points on grouse that got away for another day. Rudy then got a chance and he did admirably, moving two grouse and two woodcock in his time out there. Leighton and Randy had their shooting boots on apparently too, as they took two woodcock and one grouse. The afternoon belonged to Randy's pointer Axel, and he had a lot of fun romping in the grouse woods. At only eight months old, he has a lot to learn about grouse and woodcock, but he'll get there with repeated exposure to the grouse woods.
"It's been hot"
"The bird hunting?"
"No, the weather ..."
There have been some birds out there - we moved 12 grouse and woodcock in about five hours of hunting on Wednesday, and 11 more in about four hours on Thursday. We had a little rain last night, which helped some, and we put up 9 grouse and 2 woodcock in around two and a half hours this morning in Vermont. On a positive note, there was also some very good dog work from Rudy as he pointed the woodcock and several of the grouse. The other grouse were off like a shot, as they could definitely hear us coming through the crunching of the leaves under foot.
Better days are on the way - we're only one week in to a three month long season!
More updates to come ...