The first major mast crop that you take notice of in August when you're out in the woods are choke cherries, and their garnet clusters seem to be everywhere out there this year. They are a favorite of many birds and animals, with black bears perhaps favoring them the most, and I'm sure that our grouse also get in on the action as well. They are an "early" food and are usually entirely gone from the scene when we're out there grouse hunting in October and November.
Wild apple trees remain the quintissential fall food for grouse, and they really become a staple wherever they are present following some hard frosts that drop the fruit to the ground. In a short time, they become mushy and easily digestible for the birds and are a guaranteed spot to check on for grouse. There are a few old apple orchards that have gotten in to our rotation of coverts over the years, and while they seem to usually have birds in them, that does not mean that they are always areas of hunter success. I have noticed many times that the birds that frequent the orchards are very skittish (even for grouse), as if they know that they are undertaking something of a commando mission to take the chance of feeding there. We usually hunt these spots as silently as possible (no bells, no beepers, no talking) to try to take the birds by surprise, but that still rarely works.
The best day in one of these old apple orchards came probably five or six years ago following the first sticking snowfall of the year (it was in mid-October and we had received 4"-5"). We bumbled in to 18 grouse that afternoon (yes, just the afternoon, in one covert), and it was undoubtedly because we were intercepting birds that had come in to feed with the cold weather. My clients harvested none. Old apple orchards also tend to be good areas for woodcock here and there - the soil composition is perfect for worm production, so timberdoodles can be sought in under the shade of an old apple tree too.
Another important food source are high bush cranberries, which linger perhaps the longest of all the food sources. They last well in to winter, and sometimes right through it. A couple of these natural food patches are on our roster of coverts as well, and they can be pretty dependable, particularly early in the morning or just before dark. The proof of how important high bush cranberries are to wildlife came a few years ago when I was driving through downtown Canaan, Vermont. There, in the middle of town, not fifty feet from someone's house, was a mature wild turkey in a high bush cranberry bush, hammering it for all it was worth. They must be good.
The last natural food source that's big with our ruffed grouse up here is the Mountain Ash (Sorbus Americana) - it also lasts well in to winter and is there for the grouse when other food sources have dried up. Some years, it seems like they're everywhere, and other years the crop doesn't seem too good and I'm not sure why. This year looks to be a fantastic one for production, as their bright red berry clusters are prevalent wherever I drive - can't miss them, and hopefully our grouse don't miss them either!
Naturally, our visiting tourists thought this was the worst weather possible for the start of the Labor Day weekend, but for those of us that run dogs and hunt grouse and woodcock, it was nearly perfect weather. No bugs, no sweating endlessly through a tangle of summer cover (don't worry, the woods are still plenty thick, but somehow didn't seem to be as bad when you're going through them at these temps), and great scenting conditions for the dogs.
We're officially in the homestretch now - less than a month left, and we have continued our scouting and training sessions several times a week in preparation for what is to come. Progress continues for all of the dogs, and each one has different objectives prior to the opener.
Monty doesn't need much bird work from what I have seen, but he could use more conditioning to get ready for the toils of grouse and woodcock hunting day in and day out. He's the "#1 dog", and showed it yesterday morning - sticking points on all four of the woodcock we discovered in the hour he was out there. Unfortunately, we didn't run in to any grouse in that spot to truly test him …
At 10 months old, we're trying to get Rosie in to as many birds as possible to reinforce the good work she has begun in pointing birds in the last two weeks. She had a good session yesterday - in just over an hour, she contacted three grouse and three woodcock, and did a good job pointing the majority of them (two of the grouse and two of the woodcock were on points), and she was very cooperative in hunting that covert. She also has plenty of energy as well and doesn't seem to waste it out there - she should be able to handle some of our larger, three and four hour hunts that my clients have to endure …
Bode is hunting very well - close and under control, and he needs almost no handling it seems. Still, when a dog hunts that close, the route through the cover that the handler takes is of the utmost importance, and we only contacted one woodcock (pointed) and one grouse (not pointed) in his hour of running yesterday. This cover is a reliable spot for double digit numbers of birds normally, so I'm not sure if it was my handling skills, Bode's bird finding skills, or the birds themselves that were to blame for our subpar session. It is a huge cover, and we only went through a snippet of it … so maybe they were there but we just didn't find them. Bode seems to have enjoyed his offseason too, so out of all the dogs, he's the one that requires more physical conditioning prior to the season.
Three hours, four grouse and eight woodcock, nine of which were on points. A good session, and undoubtedly the cool temperatures helped with that. Steady to wing and shot training continues for all of the dogs, and they did a great job yesterday maintaining their points through the flush and the firing of my .22 starters pistol (the blanks are actually quite loud and are the next best simulation for a shotgun blast). This training will continue through September - the greatest test will be next month when they spot a running grouse, high tailing it out of a point - that will be tough.
The leaves on a few trees are already changing, as you might expect with 35 - 45 degree nights, and it seems as though we'll be in peak foliage in no time. This is how it always begins, as our peak is generally around the tail end of September and beginning of October. One thing that would be great is if we have an early leaf drop this year - perhaps our shooting percentage will go up?
Yup, probably not.
Our training and scouting sessions actually began back in early July, but were derailed following an upper leg muscle pull for myself - a reminder of my advancing age and all that goes with it. I don't "bounce back" the way I used to, so my wife's advice of stretching before getting out there is probably warranted. This led to three more weeks of yard work for the dogs, which isn't entirely a bad thing - a little boring though.
We have managed to get out several times a week the last two weeks, and the results have varied, depending on the day. Some of our tried and true haunts have produced next to nothing, while we have had surprisingly good success in other areas. That's grouse scouting, and it's not that much different from what we usually find during the hunting season.
Still, preseason predictions, while anticipated, can sometimes be counterproductive. It's hard to gauge what we will find in two months from what we are observing right now - since the grouse broods are still together, we can walk a long way without seeing much and then suddenly discover a nice sized group of grouse. We'll just have to temper our expectations until we actually see what's there in another six weeks.
A Few Observations from the Last Year …
- We had an "average" grouse hunting season last year, going by the numbers. Our average numbers of birds (grouse and woodcock) flushed per hour was 3.16 - not as many as some years, but more than other seasons that we've had.
- We had a long, snowy (180" in Pittsburg) winter this year, and that amount of snow may have actually helped the grouse survive it better. The bitter cold that we usually endure really didn't manifest itself last winter, so maybe our grouse weren't exposed to predators when feeding as much as they are in a bitterly cold winter.
- I heard quite a few drumming grouse this spring while turkey hunting - another indicator of good adult grouse survival through the winter.
- June was one of our wettest, and perhaps one of our coldest as well - not good for chick survival when that happens.
- Small broods of turkeys were being seen in late June and July, as well as small broods of mallards on Back Lake. Needless to say, I could only assume the worst for our grouse. Yes, sadly, that's how my paranoid mind works when it comes to grouse …
So, this all leads us back to somehow predicting what this fall will be like. My observations over the last two weeks of scouting have given me some optimism - in three different coverts, we have run in to a different brood of grouse, with at least six birds in each (there may have been more, but they are hard to keep track of when they start popping off). Perhaps the grouse fared a bit better than their avian cousins, and we've been seeing some woodcock too.
In the end, does it really matter what the predictions are?
After all, are you going to rake leaves in your yard this fall rather than follow your bird dog through the woods in search of grouse and woodcock?
I didn't think so. Me neither.
The grouse hunting was pretty good this past week, with a few tight sitting birds at times and others that ran out of points before we could get there. They are still up to their old tricks, but due to the lack of foliage, we are sometimes able to see exactly what is happening instead of merely wondering what went wrong.
Here is a list of how last week went, and the birds taken in our sessions:
- Monday, 10/31 (AM only): 10 grouse & 3 woodcock (1 grouse & 2 woodcock taken)
- Tuesday, 11/1 (full day): 9 grouse & 5 woodcock (3 grouse taken)
- Wednesday, 11/2 (PM only): 8 grouse & 1 woodcock (1 grouse taken)
- Thursday, 11/3 (AM only): 6 grouse & 4 woodcock (1 woodcock taken)
- Friday, 11/4 (full day): 21 grouse & 1 woodcock (lots of action, but we took the bagel)
The first four days were spent in New Hampshire, in a few areas where we have hunted several times this year. Some of the birds were cooperative, but most were not, perhaps reflecting some of the pressure that the grouse have been under in these areas.
Our New Hampshire days were highlighted by some great "sticking" points on grouse and woodcock by Monty and Bode, as well as some great work by my client Lou's young GSP named Emma. In limited action, she pointed two grouse for Lou, and Lou was happy to take one of them over her.
Our day in Vermont (last Friday) yielded a lot of grouse contacts behind the solid work of Monty (at least 21, and it may have been a few more than that), and chances at shooting a few of them for each of my three clients. Unfortunately, none of the shots connected with the birds, and we had to tip our hats to the amazing difficulty that these birds sometimes present. We hunted a couple of new spots that day, and based on the numbers of birds we saw in these places, they will become a part of the Vermont "rotation" going forward.
Our guiding season is nearly at an end, as our last client for this year will be on Wednesday in Vermont - the dogs are charging up for that day, but I have seen them wear down some as this guiding season has gone on, so a little break will be good for them. The deer hunting rifle season in New Hampshire starts on Wednesday, with the Vermont rifle deer season kicking off this coming Saturday - that will spell plenty of time off for the pups.
Yesterday was spent in New Hampshire, as we hunted some low elevation coverts, in the hopes of catching some of our late departing woodcock as they migrate south. We had a good morning behind Bode, even in the (at times) pouring rain. He pointed several woodcock and had a nice point on an escaping grouse, and my clients managed to scratch down a grouse and a woodcock.
The afternoon was spent hunting with Monty, and he was simply great yesterday, as he began pointing lots of woodcock in one of our upland coverts. The rain on Friday got rid of most of the snow that was paralyzing us in these areas, so we were able to get back in there. While Monty provided lots of opportunities on the woodcock, only one paid the price. Later on, he would point four or five grouse, and one of them hung around just a bit too long and my client bagged him before escaping.
Yesterday was probably our best day of the year in New Hampshire, as we encountered 15 grouse and 16 woodcock over the course of our travels.
Today was spent in Vermont, in an effort to avoid deer hunters (it's muzzleloading deer season in NH) and explore some new territory as well. The action started right off this morning, with Monty systematically pointing three woodcock and a grouse, and one of the woodcock ended up in the back of my client's vest. We did a lot of walking today, in a walk-in only area, and while it was frustrating at times (yes, even these grouse were acting typically "grousey") as we had trouble getting close to some of them, Monty still managed to point quite a few of them.
Not all of them gave us good chances, but they were there, and so were we - that's grouse hunting at times. He managed to point four or five grouse this morning, and by our lunch break we had moved 13 grouse and 4 woodcock.
Bode did the afternoon duties, and he started out hot right away, making a nice point on a woodcock that my client took. He also had a couple of grouse points and a couple more woodcock points in his time out there, working tirelessly and thoroughly. Unfortunately, none of the grouse were taken, but one more of the woodcock fell to my client's shotgun. We moved 8 grouse and 5 woodcock this afternoon behind Bode, for a day's total of somewhere around 30 birds moved for the day.
That's not bad, and along with yesterday's 31 birds moved, we had quite a weekend. Hopefully our hot streak continues through this week, and it looks as though our weather will not be a hindrance in this. More updates to come …
We had our best day in a while yesterday, as we hunted mostly lower elevation cover in Pittsburg, NH again, trying to stay out of the snow that is plaguing the upland higher elevation coverts that we usually hunt.
The snow is great news for the muzzleloader deer hunters that will stream in to northern New Hampshire this weekend, but it is tough on bird dogs and bird hunters alike. We have more weather coming in tonight, and we'll hope for more rain than snow to make things easier next week.
Back to the hunting. Monty had the first turn out of the truck and he led us through the cover all morning. We would encounter eight grouse and eight woodcock behind his excellent nose, with a couple of highlights - first, when Monty pointed a grouse and woodcock in close proximity to each other (no shot for my client), and then near the end of our morning hunt when he pointed a pair of downhill escaping grouse that almost gave Peter enough time to get in position and get a shot off.
We had points on four of the grouse and seven of Monty's eight woodcock, and Peter took two timberdoodles in the morning.
Bode did a great job in the afternoon, thoroughly scouring the cover, and even bringing Peter to comment that Bode's nickname should be "Mr. Clean" for his work in the grouse woods. He certainly gives it his all out there and leaves no brushy spot unturned in his pursuit of birds.
It didn't take too long for Peter to fill his woodcock limit of three over a point from Bode and then we had some more action on grouse. Peter took his first of the day on a fast flushing grouse that came from our left, following Bode's close tracking (maybe a little too close - this one wasn't pointed). Peter's quick reflexes and knowledge of bird dog body language took that grouse, and I'm sure that his experiences hunting quail in southern California and Arizona were a big reason why.
On our long trek back to the truck, Bode established a staunch point on the edge of the cover to our left. When we went in to flush the bird, nothing happened, so Peter stayed on the road and I released Bode from his point. Bode bounded in to some thick spruce further in on the left and a grouse rocketed out of there toward the road. One shot later, Peter had his second grouse of the day, and a few moments afterward Bode pointed his final bird of the day, the woodcock in the picture at right - how much longer will they be here before they're gone for good?
Our total for yesterday was twelve grouse and twelve woodcock contacted, which sounds modest but is pretty good for us this year - it's been a strange one!
Things have really taken a turn up here this week in New Hampshire's north country - several days of low to mid 30's with continual snow has sent us from fall grouse hunting conditions to winter grouse hunting conditions in less than a week. By this I mean that most of the grouse and woodcock that remain in the uplands are seeking shelter under heavy evergreen cover where there is snow elsewhere in the cover.
This morning we began in one such cover that has been a good area in the past when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and it seemed as though we might be in luck when we moved a couple of grouse in the first half hour or so. But as we climbed out of the softwood draw of a stream bottom to the upland edge of a logging cut, the 6+" of fresh snow that we trudged through gave us other ideas. The birds simply were not in the uplands where the evergreen cover was not readily present - they were in the lower elevations with plenty of spruce around.
In the afternoon, we took refuge in lower elevations, with little to no snow cover, and this seemed to make the difference. Bode did a great job hunting close and hard, and he pointed quite a few woodcock which my client made good shots on. Peter has never hunted woodcock (there aren't too many timberdoodles in southern California), and he received a good indoctrination in pursuing them.
As usual, it was thick and wet, but Bode provided many opportunities to take birds. He also moved some grouse, and Peter hooked up on one of his shots. All four birds that Peter took were retrieved by Bode - he was really on his game today.
We'll try to stay low again tomorrow and see if the woodcock are still around - it might not be too long before they're gone …
We had some good days this week and some slower ones as well. Wednesday was our best as far as numbers go - 13 grouse and 11 woodcock contacted that day, but the actual chances at shooting a grouse were way down.
Paul had a couple of chances early on that day, when the leaves were still a bit wet from the night before, but once the woods dried out, the grouse started playing tricks on us. A few times, Monty established point and then would relocate on moving grouse, only for them to go up thirty yards away in a heavy screen of cover. That's grouse hunting and that's one of the reasons that we love it, but it can be hard on the soul at times.
We saw fewer birds on Thursday (9 grouse, 2 woodcock) working mostly road edges in Pittsburg, and while one of the roads was disturbingly slow, a couple of others were better, especially those that had not gotten much vehicular traffic. We walked a long way that day, but it paid off when Paul shot three grouse, two of which were tough road crossing shots. It looked like both of those birds would make it, but Paul swung through them at the last moment and made his shots count.
One of those birds sailed down off a ravine after being hit (we both looked at each other and decided that he had probably hit it - one of the legs dropped. Always follow up on birds that you think you may have hit!) and we went down to look for it. After some searching probably 80 yards from the road, Paul found a breast feather and Monty came in to sniff around. A few moments later, we had our quarry in hand, courtesy of Monty.
Yesterday was an abbreviated day of hunting due to some warm temperatures (let's hope this weekend is the end of those) and impending rain. Randy, Leighton and I hunted the beautiful covert that we hunted on Monday, and it was good again (8 grouse, 2 woodcock). Monty and Randy's young pointer Ginger hit it yesterday and within a few minutes we had our first grouse point (of several) from Monty. Randy and I watched that bird high tail it out of there like a roadrunner and within moments he was gone. Less civilized hunters would have ended that grouse's run there, but we are more refined that that.
We hunted in to the early afternoon in that special place and while the shots were few and far between, the scenery was spectacular. Ginger also kept progressing in her development as a bird dog, as she had a staunch honor on one of Monty's points. Randy has a good hunting companion in her, as she hunts close and is very responsive to his directives. With that, we bid "Adieu" and we are already thinking about our hunts together next fall.
The weather turns much colder tonight and tomorrow and we're hoping for a great week ahead. The dogs are ready for sure - Rudy got out a few times in limited action this week, Bode will be back after his mouth puncture has healed, and Monty will resume his excellent season. My knees, ankles and legs are not quite ready - the hot tub will see extended action and thanks for Ben Gay …
Yesterday was spent with Randy and Leighton in New Hampshire, checking out a covert that they found a couple of years back. They must feel sorry for me to let me in on this gem of a grouse covert, and simply put, it has everything that makes a good place to hang for grouse and woodcock. Not only are there a number of openings and thick spots for the grouse to come out and feed and escape to if necessary, but there is a great variety of cover and food types. It has everything and is at a good age as well.
We used Randy's two year old pointer Ginger again and Rudy got his first real action of the year. At ten years old, Rudy doesn't quite attack the cover the way he used to, but he still does his best and managed to have three solid points on woodcock that would eventually escape Leighton's gun. We ended up contacting 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in about three hours in decent weather conditions (upper 50's and windy). This is certainly an area worthy of further exploration in the future.
Today, I was out again with friend and client Paul, and we checked out a new cover that I have been putting some time in to this season. Unfortunately, it did not surrender the amount of birds that I thought we might see, so there's still some work to do there.
Monty did a solid job in tough conditions (upper 50's/low 60's with gusty and swirling winds), as he pointed 5 of the 10 grouse that we contacted today. Some of them held pretty well for his points and Paul had some good chances on the birds, managing to connect on two of his shots.
The highlight was when Monty pointed and two grouse flushed as Paul shot at one of them. It looked like he may have hit it, but we weren't sure - within seconds, Monty came back with the grouse in his mouth, and we congratulated him on a job well done. He seems to have taken the next step in being a great grouse and woodcock dog - he not only staunchly points birds, but retrieves them reliably when they go down.
Monty will get the bulk of the work over the next few days as Bode recovers from an infected puncture wound to his mouth that he sustained late last week - we hope to have him back in action this weekend. Rudy will get some work in the meantime and maybe he can recover some of his touch with the grouse.
We tested the maxim that "you see a grouse for every mile walked, shoot at one every three miles walked and harvest one every ten miles walked."
We walked ten miles today and saw ten grouse, but Paul shot two - he's a good grouse shot.
Oh what a difference a week makes! We worked hard to find grouse and woodcock, with some limited results, even in our traditional honey holes.
- Monday: 10 grouse, 8 woodcock contacted for full day
- Tuesday: 6 grouse, 14 woodcock contacted for full day
- Wednesday: 6 grouse, 12 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to heat)
- Thursday: 4 grouse, 4 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to rain)
- Friday: 5 grouse, 4 woodcock contacted for full day
While the results weren't terrible by any means, the bird sightings just were not happening nearly as frequently as they should be, but we had a few factors working against us.
- The daytime temperatures for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday rose to the mid 60's, making for some tough scenting conditions for the dogs - dogs have a hard time bringing in bird scent if they are panting hard, not to mention that the bird scent dissipates quickly when it's warm out.
- The grouse woods were as dry as I've ever seen - needless to say, it sounded as if we were walking on cornflakes as we approached dogs on point this week. The woods were way too loud to get close to many grouse and we had quite a few points from Monty where he was staunch but we couldn't find a bird when we got there - probably a running grouse that had already made its escape.
- We worked mostly road edges this week, in an effort to conserve the energy of my clients, and I expect that quite a few of these edge birds have encountered hunters so far this season. Their daily patterns have been disturbed, but it was curious that we didn't encounter more birds yesterday when it was cold. Perhaps it will take them a few days to fall back in to some kind of a pattern involving roads again.
Still, my clients Chris, Frank and Mark did a good job getting in on points and getting shots on woodcock and a few fleeing grouse. We were also able to get Chris's two year old Brittany spaniel Chotsie in the grouse woods for the first time and she acquitted herself well, hunting with boldness and gusto in our time out there. She patterned well and covered the grouse woods with the thoroughness of a vacuum cleaner - she'll make a good grouse hunting companion in the future.
As for the shooting, Chris and Frank had a built-in excuse for most of this week, as there was still plenty of foliage on the trees for their shots to contend with. All of that screen provided excellent opportunities to escape, for the grouse especially.
Chris and Frank have been going out with me since the beginning, and they enjoy the grouse woods no matter what kind of luck we have, and we had a week of beautiful sights and vistas to soften the blow.
Frank is the most veteran of my clients - at 80 years old he's still walking the roads and guarding for any bird that tries to escape the easy way. Chris was often roaming the woods with me, so Chris would get shots at the birds heading for heavier cover and Frank would get chances on the birds that were road bound. This strategy worked well on the woodcock, but the grouse proved to be much tougher.
Mark joined us the last couple days of this week and he hasn't been grouse hunting in six years and gets to shoot rarely due to his young family. While he was a bit rusty, he definitely put a scare in to a couple of grouse and several woodcock, especially two that Bode pointed for him yesterday.
The good news is that things are changing - the weather turned colder yesterday, never hitting 50 degrees and we should have beautiful weather for today's hunt. We also received some rain Thursday night, softening the leaf litter a little, which helped us get a little closer to the few grouse that we encountered yesterday. More rain is coming throughout this week, so the hunting should get better.
As for the dogs, Monty was on fire again this week and Bode had a good session yesterday afternoon, pointing a grouse and two woodcock.
After the first few days of the season, where we seemed to catch some of the grouse by surprise (resulting in some good opportunities), the birds seem to have caught on that they are being hunted, and have provided fewer chances at realistic shots. They are running and are using the multitude of foliage still on the trees (abnormal for this time of year) as an excellent screen to get away from danger. In what seems like a millisecond, the grouse are safely away from us, leaving with only a whirr of wings, and sometimes leaves.
The woodcock haven't been much easier to shoot, though we have taken some of them this week. We have been seeing excellent numbers of timberdoodles - in the last four mornings, we have moved 8, 4, 17 and finally 10 yesterday. While maybe not all of these birds are residents, I think the vast majority are, as the weather has generally not been cold enough to push them down from Canada (it was really warm up here this past week). We should see even heavier action with the woodcock in the next couple of weeks.
Monty has been on top of his game so far this season, pointing the vast majority of the birds that we have contacted with him in our sessions - Friday morning, he contacted 3 grouse (2 were pointed) and somewhere around 17 woodcock (15 were pointed). He had a similar day yesterday, even under the less than favorable scenting conditions and at 6 years old, he is in his prime as a grouse hunter.
Bode has also done well this week, but has usually been running second in the lineup, so he's out there when the temps are warmest, making for some challenging conditions. Still, he had a fine point on a grouse on Thursday (it was a runner, and flushed well out of range of the gun), and then had an excellent point and relocation on a woodcock yesterday (missed). He has hunted thoroughly and resembles something like a vacuum cleaner in the grouse woods - scouring everything in his path. With his biddable nature and ease of handling he has been a pleasure to hunt with.
A few observations so far this season:
- The woods are abnormally dry - look for grouse and woodcock in shady sections of the forest that hold moisture longer in the day. That's where we found them this week.
- It's mighty thick out there, as our foliage stubbornly holds on. We have colder weather coming in this week, so that combined with some wind would help with shooting birds, we hope.
- When the dog goes on point, walk boldly past the dog, with your eyes up where a bird might fly. I see hunters looking on the ground for birds all of the time during a point - it is very rare to actually see a bird on the ground before it flies, and when it does your eyes will still be on the ground and it will be too late to locate, aim, and shoot the bird.
- Always walk through the woods thinking that a grouse could go up at any time. Carry your shotgun in the "ready" position and you might just be quick enough to shoot a grouse. If your gun is carried low or slung over your shoulder, you will have no chance of killing a bird. That's one of the reasons we hunt, right?
- Walk through the grouse woods with escape routes for birds and your sight lines in mind. This is a tough one, and while it's not always possible, you have to try to give yourself a chance to mount and swing your gun as often as you can on escaping grouse. Survey the woods to figure out which way a bird might fly.
- If you're running your own dogs, bring lots of water for them - there is almost no ground water for them to cool themselves, unless you're hunting close to a pond or river.
Another important point worth noting is how dogs help us recover birds that would undoubtedly be lost if not for their noses, thus bringing me to the conclusion that a well trained bird dog serves as a conservation tool, helping us recover wounded game that would be lost without their exemplary canine olfactory powers.
I had just such an occurrence today, as I winged a fast flying grouse that hurtled down the trail in front of me. It went down with the shot, but then I saw it scampering back in to the woods on my right. When Bode came in to search for it, he also seemingly lost its track and we searched aimlessly for fifteen minutes or so.
I was resigned to a lost bird, which is beyond excruciating for me, but then Bode bounded in to the cover on our left, and lo and behold … came happily out of the cover with the grouse in his mouth. He pranced, proud as a peacock, for a few minutes with that grouse in his mouth, circling me, and I praised him wholeheartedly. Apparently the grouse had run across the trail while we were in on the other side.
I never would have found that bird on my own, there is no doubt about that, and Bode made a lousy situation a great one with his fantastic nose.
Think of all of the grouse and woodcock that are needlessly lost without the help of a good bird dog!
Thursday, as has already been documented, was a good day, as we moved 9 grouse and 22 woodcock in Vermont. We followed that with a morning session on Friday of 10 grouse and 1 woodcock, 2 of which were taken by my client. Randy's 5-year old GSP had worked so well on Thursday that we decided to run Polly together with my 6-year old Monty, and they preformed like they had been working together for years. They covered ground thoroughly, without being competitive and we even had a couple of points that were honored by the other dog - great to see, and I wished that Randy lived closer. They were quite a team.
Saturday was the opener in New Hampshire, and I went out once again with Mike and Sue and their nearly 3-year old setter Blue. Blue roamed the grouse woods like a true veteran, as she displayed patience in working the cover and pointed many of the 28 birds (16 grouse, 12 woodcock) that we contacted yesterday. While Blue performed beautifully, the birds gave Mike and Sue limited chances - the woods are still mighty thick, and the birds seem to escape behind vegetation almost instantly.
The highlight of yesterday was when Blue went on a staunch point … and then four grouse broke loose. Mike made a nice shot on the fleeing grouse to our right, while the other three birds headed toward the road, where Sue was waiting. She dropped one of them and put the fear of God in another. That was Sue's first grouse taken on the wing, which was really great to see, and after watching Blue work yesterday, there will probably be quite a few more in Sue and Mike's future.
We have had excellent dog work these first three days, not only by Monty but from my clients' dogs as well. Hopefully this trend continues, and Bode and Rudy should see some work this week as well. More updates to come.
Guiding Update: I have the following dates available - 10/4, 10/5, 10/22, 10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3
Send me a message if you want to get out in the woods!
The dogs have been run, and in some cases, probably corrected a time or two. In short, you're as ready as you'll ever be for the coming grouse and woodcock hunting season. Sure, you could have done a few more miles on the treadmill, but nothing can truly replicate hiking through the grouse woods, trying to follow a hard charging hunting dog …
The woods are changing a bit here in the north country this week - the leaves are turning, and a few of them are even carpeting the forest floor in places. The smell of decaying leaf litter that only a hunter can truly appreciate is wafting through the air as well - it is one of the rights of fall, and a harbinger of the approaching grouse season. We have had some cool mornings lately, but it tends to warm up by noon the last few days. We are all hoping for cooler weather to get here soon, and stay for good.
Our grouse guiding season begins tomorrow in Vermont and on Saturday in New Hampshire. It's almost here and we can't wait.
That bird was the beginning of a particularly fruitful session with Monty, as he located 3 grouse and perhaps 7 or 8 woodcock, the vast majority of which went pointed. Monty has done some good work lately, so he has been taking it easy this week, in preparation for the Vermont grouse hunting opener on Saturday. Temps look good for this weekend, so we should be able to get out there for a couple of hours each morning.
All of the dogs have had good moments this past week, though Bode worked hard but had little for results in some of the new covers that we were scouting. We did have a bit of success, walking a good distance in to an area that I have only dreamed about, thanks to some Google Earth research. Well, we finally got in there and it was worth it as we moved 4 grouse at the edge of a gigantic cut. It was an arduous trek to get in there, so the cover may not be the best for some of my clients, but could be nirvana to those that aren't afraid to have callouses on their feet.
Rudy, at ten years of age now, also had a great morning last week when we were scouting one of our tried and true areas. He had a field day with the woodcock, as I believe that we moved 8 woodcock in that cover - most were pointed by Rudy, sometimes two at a time. He also pointed 2 grouse in this cover, the last one of which held surprisingly well, and had me wishing that I had a client with me. Of course, I probably would have told them to approach from the wrong direction - grouse always make you look bad.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, Bode started out hot, pointing a pair of grouse, then a solo woodcock and finally a lone grouse in heavy cover - he was at his best in the cool early morning conditions. But then it warmed up a bit, and he began bumping a few birds as the temps climbed … we would end up contacting 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in nearly three hours, which was pretty good considering the conditions.
Today in Vermont, Monty did very well as he had points on two solo woodcock and then pointed a group of three grouse, a couple of which would have made nice targets. He then bumped a solitary grouse to close out his 1.5 hours in the woods. Once again, the canine performance was best when the temperature was coolest. By the time we left the woods, it was getting warm again, well on its way to hitting 75 degrees today.
As you can see from Bode's picture, the woods are mighty thick right now, and that might not change too much over the next few weeks. Usually the cover is beginning to come down by mid October, and usually everything is down by late October. Good grouse cover is thick however, so we just have to learn to deal with it - after all, if you're not picking up your hat when you're going through the cover, your probably not in good grouse cover!
By the way, last year's clients can attest to my struggle with certain technology (beeper collars!) that we rely on out in the woods. I had been using TriTronics beeper collars over the years with dependable results. Since I run the dogs with silent beepers until they point, it is really important that my beeper collars work dependably, when they're supposed to.
Well, I started having problems with my old TriTronics beepers early last season, and I opted to replace them with beeper units made by Garmin, which, truth be told, seem to be the same technology as the TriTronics collars (Garmin bought out TriTronics a few years ago and continued the beeper units). Unfortunately, I found that the new Garmin beepers were not as dependable as the TriTronics units were - not sure why, but I had quite a few instances where the beepers were going off at inopportune times, and it affected my hunts as a result.
Taking the recommendation of another guide friend of mine, I purchased the Dogtra 2500 beeper/trainer unit this summer, and it has been a revelation. The dogs have adapted seemlessly to this unit, and it has been dependable for us this summer as we run it on silent until the point is established. There is a small delay in the beeper going off (a few seconds), but then the beeper goes off every two seconds and having the training function on the same unit is indispensible to ensure that the point is held through the flush (still working on through the shot).
For $300 approximately, the Dogtra collar is a good value if you also need a training unit as well - I recommend it highly.
I have been able to get the dogs out in the woods several times a week lately in both New Hampshire and Vermont, as we ramp up for the season opener in a few weeks. Some mornings are pretty good, such as two days ago when I had Bode out for about one and a half hours. After a slow first 45 minutes, Bode then pointed two woodcock beautifully, one of which was at a good distance (30 feet or so), and later I was able to "whoa" him when the first of a brood of four grouse flushed up ahead. He understands "whoa" very well now, so I was able to walk up and flush the other birds. He also had a great point on a grouse last week, the only one that we would see that morning. He's coming along nicely.
We have also had some slow mornings as well, mostly in some new areas that I have been checking out. Yesterday we checked one particular spot in New Hampshire, where the cover looks ideal, and only found a smattering of woodcock chalk and one grouse that I bumbled in to and Monty missed entirely. C'est la vie!
Two points that have been constant in our scouting. The dogs have been working hard and are progressing toward the opener. It looks like it will be mostly Monty and Bode this fall who will be out on our guide trips. Rudy still has the desire, but at the ripe old age of 10 his stamina is not the same. He can still do the job in small covers or places that require a delicate dog, but his days of the 2 - 3 hour covers are probably gone.
The second point is more about the conditions lately - insanely hot and humid this past week, and I hope this weather pattern ends soon! Yesterday, we got a bit of a late start in the woods - at 8:45 it was 67 degrees when Bode and I left the truck. When we came back at 10:00, it was up to 73 degrees. Too hot, but the prediction is for a warmer than normal October, so carry lots of water for your dogs, and dunk them in ponds or lakes when you're out there. Hopefully it won't be as dire as that.
We look forward to another good grouse hunting season, in just 275 days from now, give or take a few - we hope you have a good 2016 ahead pursuing our feathered friends too!
Perhaps the best thing about grouse hunting is how different the hunting can be from day to day, leading to great challenges (as if we need any more challenges to hunting grouse). Yesterday had its moments of hot action - Monty had two grouse pointed within ten minutes of leaving the truck, and pointed several others through the course of our three hours of hunting after that. But, he also blundered in to a sizable covey of birds (anywhere from 4 - 7 grouse - there were a lot of flushes) near the edge of an evergreen swamp, and creeped on a couple of birds as well. I'm not sure if it is the lack of snow or that the birds have been pressured more than normal in this area, but most of them were not holding well for points, even when Monty did his job correctly.
Yesterday afternoon, we hunted an area that we had hit just two days before and had done very well in (we had moved many grouse, but had not shot any of them). Bode did a nice job of patterning and hunted hard, but pointed three grouse (a single and a pair) and bumped another, none of which offered themselves up for a shot from my client. In total, we moved somewhere around 16 grouse yesterday, but none of them were brought to the vest, and not one shot was taken.
Today turned out to be a little different. Rudy was first out of the truck and the old man (Rudy is now 9, and while he doesn't have the same stamina or style he once did, his nose is still very good) did pretty well. We moved approximately 8 grouse in two hours of hunting (three pairs and at least two singles), and Rudy was responsible for pointing five of them. He moves slowly now and hunts probably twenty to thirty yards ahead, allowing me to view when he's settling in to a point. We were in challenging cover this morning - a series of hillside cuts that always seem to produce grouse. It takes some effort to get there, which explains why it usually holds birds.
Over the years I have been fortunate to witness hundreds of points, from many different dogs. It is the most exciting aspect of grouse hunting for me, and something that leaves me in wonder every time it happens. One of the pairs that Rudy pointed in one of those hillside cuts produced a fast flushing grouse that decided to fly out and down the logging trail in front of me, for some reason. It was another illustration that we harvest grouse when they make a mistake - if they made the right choice every time they make an escape, we probably would kill very few birds. This one made a mistake …
Bode did well in another cut this morning, pointing one grouse that I just couldn't get close enough to, and then we jumped two others a little while later. We moved 11 grouse that we know of this morning, and got a shot at a few of them, quite different from yesterday.
Looks like we have rain the next two days and then finally some snow coming in on Friday - the end of the season is upon us, and my hips and knees are probably thankful …
There is a smattering of snow in the higher elevations in Pittsburg, but really not too much (maybe 2" - 3"). We have been hunting lower elevations over the past three days and have seen little to no snow, but a fair amount of grouse. It is really not too much different from what we found earlier in the season - some of the birds have been holding well for points, while some have been running on us and getting out and away as fast as they can. In other words, it's grouse hunting …
While we have seen some of the birds in the same haunts where we found them earlier this season, there have been a couple of differences in these late season birds. We have been finding more birds in thicker spruce cover in general, as they have mostly been avoiding the exclusive hardwood areas. We have also been seeing multiple birds as well - groups of two, three and four birds together have been common, with the high point being a cluster of six grouse that Monty and I discovered last weekend. Sorry that this is not earth shattering information - just make sure you're ready if you blunder in to one bird, because there just might be another one behind it …
We've had some very good dog work these last few days. My client from the first two days had two good setters that worked ahead of us - an english setter named Maggie and a red setter named Dawkins. Both gave maximum effort and each had great points on our north country grouse, none of which fell to my client's gun. Monty also had a very good afternoon on Wednesday, where he pointed all four grouse that he encountered.
Today was the warmest day of the week (nearly 50 degrees), and we found a fair amount of birds in the morning with the help of Monty. We moved nine grouse early on, and he pointed four of them - none of which offered great chances unfortunately. They're in the thick stuff after all, and the sight lines are mighty tough. The afternoon was slower for Bode, but he gave everything he had and managed to point two of the three grouse that we encountered. One of them was especially staunch, but the grouse gave us the slip, as we have come to expect at times this season.
Our guiding season ends tomorrow, but it's been a great season for us with lots of excitement - we have a bit over ten months until it all starts again …
- We had a great point not too far ahead of us by Monty;
- My client was able to get to the dog and in to shooting position quickly;
- The grouse held unusually well for the point;
- When the bird went up, Matt made a nice shot to bring the bird down.
We had a great morning of grouse hunting, and in just two hours we contacted eight grouse, at least six of which were pointed by Monty. Working methodically and slowly (maybe he's finally wearing out this season), he pinned several of the birds, and two of them gave Matt excellent chances (he connected on one).
While we didn't see any other bird hunters out there this morning, we have seen some muzzleloading deer hunters (or their vehicles) out there in the last few days. Make sure you and your dogs are wearing plenty of blaze orange right now and don't forget that the rifle deer season begins next week on Wednesday, 11/11 - it will be a good time to take a couple of weeks off from the grouse woods.
We concluded our morning by taking Matt's 7 month old pointer, Brutus, out for a training run in the grouse woods. Armed with the training pistol, we led Brutus through the cover, and he did a great job of boldly attacking some heavy cover for the first time. Brutus hunted with confidence, and even bumped a grouse that we saw at the last moment. He had no reaction to the firing of the starter's pistol, and then went back to searching for birds.
In a short time, Brutus definitely looked "birdy", and his gate slowed dramatically. When a grouse launched out of a nearby clump of short spruce trees, Matt was positively giddy with the realization that he may have a possible bird hunter and hunting buddy on his hands. We saw the light flicker in Brutus, and it was exciting to watch him encounter his first two grouse - we may have another member in our hunting party next year …
Monty had a good morning, pointing two woodcock and several grouse. Only one woodcock ended up in the game vest, and the chances on the grouse were tough ones. They have an excellent ability to flush in a direction that offers little or no chance to make a good shot on them - that's grouse hunting, and that's what makes it a great challenge. We moved 6 grouse and 2 woodcock in the morning, and had put on quite a few miles in doing so …
Bode got the call in the afternoon and had a great one. He provided my client with many opportunities on grouse and woodcock, and had his best session on grouse this season. Trying to use the wind direction to our advantage, Bode pointed 7 grouse (all separate points) and 1 woodcock, and most of the birds went up very close. Unfortunately, only one woodcock ended up in Matt's vest, as the grouse employed their best evasive tactics to great effect. The education of Bode continues, but he is making great strides right now every day that we're out.
We moved 17 grouse and 6 woodcock today in the blustery conditions, and perhaps the wet leaves allowed us to get a bit closer than usual. The excellent dog work that we had also played a big part in this too.
More updates to come later this week!
A few theories on this: it was warmer and a bit more breezy than we've had lately, making for tougher scenting conditions for the dogs. We also never know how much attention from other hunters an area has had that we hunt - we may see tracks and empty shot shells here and there. Of course, the sure tip off is seeing feathers from a careless hunter - never dress your birds where you hunt, as you're advertising to others that it's a spot worthy of their energy …
Today was better, though the morning was slow for us. We managed to only flush a wary grouse twice (we think) and Monty had two great points on woodcock, one of which allowed us to take a picture up close and personal.
The afternoon turned out to be much better, as Rudy was a machine in slowly working, and then pointing, grouse after grouse. We would move a total of fourteen this afternoon, and Rudy had a major part in six or seven of those. Two made it in to the back of my vest, thanks to Rudy and Paul's steady shooting.
Looks like good weather the next two days and some unsettled weather coming for us on Sunday - more updates to come!
Yesterday was pretty cold (right around 20 degrees when we started), reminding us of hunting in late November and December, but we went undeterred. The morning was good, and we had some close points from Rudy on woodcock, as well as some close contacts with grouse in Vermont coverts. Unfortunately, none of these birds offered much of a chance for my clients, but it certainly seemed as though the grouse were on the move in search of food because of the cold temperatures.
The afternoon saw a lot of contact with woodcock (7 of them to be exact), and Bode did a good job in pointing three of them. He also bumped a couple too, but maybe that lightbulb in his head is flickering in to the "on" position. The most humorous moment on one of his points was when we witnessed a woodcock calmly walking away from the danger (yes, woodcock do it too at times!) and flushing behind a screen of thick evergreens - he got away.
This morning in New Hampshire was one of the best of our season, and while Monty at times appeared to need some remedial training (bumping a few grouse), he also showed that he can be pretty good at times too. He had quite a few grouse points (8??), as well as three rock solid woodcock points. While most of the grouse were singles, Monty pointed a pair, and then we got in to a group of six birds, that flushed out one at a time - exciting stuff.
It was a lot slower in the afternoon (3 grouse, 1 woodcock moved, no shots), but that could have been attributed to the front coming in. It was very blustery and we expect some rain in the next two days. Temps have risen twenty degrees from yesterday, but scenting conditions are still good. Another cold front is coming this weekend, but not as cold as Sunday and Monday were thankfully.
Unfortunately, we didn't move any birds in two hours of hunting today, though Bode did his best looking for them. It was a taste of what comes with late season grouse hunting - lots of walking, but when you find birds, the action can get pretty hot.
Better weather coming this week and hopefully, we'll be moving some grouse and woodcock as a result.
We had our best day of the season on Thursday (36 birds moved), as the recent cold front started moving in. We were lucky to have sunny skies that day (after a day of rain on Wednesday), and colder temperatures, which seemed to get the grouse moving in search of food. We had a fantastic morning that day, moving a dozen grouse and as many woodcock in three action filled hours - Chris connected on a grouse and filled his woodcock limit by 11 AM. Monty did a nice job on the woodcock, and had at least three solid grouse points, but he also had trouble with some of the grouse too.
We then hunted our old apple orchard covers in the afternoon with Bode, and he seemed to really struggle with the incredibly wary grouse that inhabit these covers. In three spots, we moved fourteen fast moving grouse, all of which managed to escape my client's gun. Sometimes they flushed on their own, and at other times Bode was in the midst of them, watching them fly merrily away. The education of this young bird dog continues …
Today was cold and blustery, and was our first day with snow flurries - nothing accumulated, but it still stings when hitting your face. The great action that we had kept us warm though - Monty really did a fine job this morning, pointing three of the four grouse that he encountered, and eight or nine of the woodcock as well. His first point (5 minutes from the truck) was on what turned out to be a crippled woodcock, winged probably the day before. After recovering that bird, he pointed in to a thick stand of spruce - wth my client moving in one side, and Monty on the other, things looked pretty good for another bird in the vest, but it was not to be. Flying out low, the grouse escaped between myself and the dog, and Leighton had no shot. Great point nonetheless.
Bode worked admirably in the afternoon, but we didn't find anything, as the weather worsened. We'll be back out there all week, which should be a good one with woodcock flights presumably moving through and the grouse on the search for food and territories.
More updates to follow …
However tough it was for us, it was much harder for the dogs, and Monty, Rudy and Bode all ended up in a pond of some sort at some point that day - total submersion in cold water is the best way for a dog to cool off when it's really hot out. I also carried lots of water for the dogs, and we took frequent breaks to let them recover. Needless to say, it was a tough day for hunting grouse and woodcock, and there weren't many good opportunities for shooting at them either.
Tuesday brought a slight cool down, and cloud cover gave us a much needed break from the temperatures. While we had some great work by Rudy and Monty, in particular on some of the woodcock that we encountered, the grouse gave us very few chances to get a "good" shot off (which begs the question, "is there really such a thing as a good grouse shot?"). Bode came out smoking late in the afternoon, and his overexuberance wasn't thought too highly of by the five grouse he moved in the final hour of the hunt. The key word is "moved", not "pointed" - yes, he was pretty wild on Tuesday.
Hoping for redemption, Bode hunted in the rain Wednesday morning, and acquitted himself quite well. He hunted hard, but under control and had a nice point on a woodcock in heavy alders. This one would get away, but not the second one, and he managed to retrieve the timberdoodle to me, until spitting it out (apparently woodcock doesn't taste that great, even to a two year old German Shorthair).
We then hunted some of our traditional apple tree covers as the temperature plummeted. We moved six grouse in a couple of these "food covers", but none offered Chris any kind of a shot, except for one bird that decided a kamikaze attack was a better idea than flying away from us. While the shooter did everything right (let the bird go by you, reposition your feet and take your time aiming at the target), the bird still eluded us.
You've probably heard the saying that grouse hunters walk one mile for each grouse flushed, walk three miles for each grouse shot at, and walk ten miles for each grouse bagged - well, we've been putting this maxim to the test this season. So far, this has been a season where you want to have some really comfortable boots …
The grouse contacts haven't been as numerous this season as we've had in the past, and those that we have contacted seem awfully cagey. They have been under a lot of hunting pressure these first two weeks of the season, so perhaps they will settle down as the pressure subsides. Is this the bottom of grouse numbers? We hope so! Foliage continues to be somewhat of an issue - although we've had some of it drop in the last week, there's still too darn much of it. We have snow on the way this weekend, so we should lose some more of that leafy cover - that should help the shooting percentages, right?
So, what's been happening up here in northern New Hampshire these first two days of our grouse and woodcock hunting season? For one thing, we have had great weather - starting out in the 30's early, and topping out in the low 50's during the day - great hunting conditions for us and the dogs, considering how warm it was last week.
Both of these first two days, we have moved more woodcock than grouse, in fact, many more. Yesterday, we had a great morning in contacting two grouse (one of which Monty pointed), and approximately ten woodcock (he pointed the vast majority of these birds). Yesterday afternoon saw Rudy (5 grouse points and 2 woodcock points) and Bode (1 woodcock point) contact nine grouse and five woodcock between them. Unfortunately for my hunters, most of the shots were very tough ones, as the birds were able to get in to thick screening foliage cover almost instantly - none made it to the game pouch. The day's total was eleven grouse and fifteen woodcock contacts - not bad for opening day.
Today was even more lopsided - we moved eight grouse and anywhere from twenty-one to twenty-five woodcock throughout the day. Most of the woodcock were found this morning, in just one cover, and some of the woodcock were acting pretty funny … as in flying very short distances … like they were very tired … from migrating!
Seems early to me, but maybe the cold front from Canada is pushing some down to us already. In any event, they were amazingly adept at putting screening vegetation between themselves and my hunters, allowing them to escape. We even moved a few grouse in this cover, and Monty had quite a morning. We would go on to move four grouse and a lone woodcock in the afternoon, working roadsides. Rudy had a nice point on one of the grouse, and Bode his best effort today - a beautifully staunch point on a grouse in heavy cover … alas, no shot.
Just a hint of color up here at the moment, as our foliage has been unusually slow starting in the north country. Too warm and dry over the past month, but … there's a change underway, and it looks like the good weather is coming tonight. Lots of rain forecasted over night, and more to come this weekend, but the most important part of the change will be in the temperatures: ranging from 30's in the morning to mid 50's during the day. In other words, perfect weather for hunting grouse and woodcock.
We got a head start on the grouse season by hunting in northern Vermont both mornings last weekend. As in New Hampshire, the foliage hasn't gone through much of a transformation there either, so our bird contacts were mostly relegated to hearing them, instead of actually glimpsing them.
While Bode seemingly did his best to prove to me that my training these last two years has been all for naught, he did manage to find quite a few birds on Saturday (2 grouse and 8 woodcock). The problem was that he had trouble in the all important "pointing" category - in all honesty, there was no breeze pushing the scent in his direction, and the temps were rising sharply by the time we left the woods. He did work hard and close however, so it wasn't complete failure by any means.
Monty did quite well on Sunday, but only managed to move 3 grouse in our time out there. One was pointed brilliantly in heavily shadowed cover - when I arrived on the scene, the bird flew out a good fifty yards downhill from me. Yes, they are already up to some of their tricks …
In the meantime, the boots are prepared, new socks have been purchased, and the GPS and collar are functioning properly. Some new coverts have been located (hopefully they produce!), and I have been gobbling down grouse and woodcock hunting literature ravenously (Frank Woolner may be the most informative and witty writer that I have read).
The season starts in New Hampshire on Thursday - it feels like the night before Christmas …
Bode was a bit ragged at times, showing his exuberance to be out on bare ground for the first time in a while, but he hunted hard and under control. Rudy was, like normal, the "old pro", pointing one grouse in our time out there. Unfortunately, we moved three grouse and a woodcock in total, so the dogs have some work ahead to pick up where they left off last season.
Last Monday, December 1, was our first outing, and Monty did a great job in his nearly three hours of hunting. His patterning was excellent and methodic, and he picked right up where he left off in pointing six of the eight grouse that we encountered that day. The conditions were perfect - not much snow, with temperatures in the upper 30's and a steady breeze, so we had everything in our favor.
It became apparent after the first few birds that he pointed that these grouse had become content during the deer season, holding very well for Monty's points. A couple of them held so well that I had decent chances for shots on them, but you know how that story goes … yup, there will be seed birds for next year's crop. Six of the eight grouse were in pairs, but there were a couple of singles in there as well.
This morning brought much different conditions - it snowed a few more inches yesterday, and was 11 degrees when we got out there this morning. Don't forget the steady wind out of the north, and you may get the picture that skis may have been a better choice today instead. I did my best Jerry Allen imitation today and ran all three dogs to get them some work before the season ends.
Rudy, Monty and Bode all did their thing to the best of their ability in the tough conditions, but we only moved a couple of birds, hunkered down in tangled spruce blow downs, avoiding the winter weather the best they could. No shots, but that was fine with me - it was great anyway to be out there in the crisp air, watching the dogs work with the stillness of inevitable winter approaching. Too bad if this is the end of the season, and while it wasn't the best we've had (probably not even a good one!), I'd rather be out in the woods in the fall chasing grouse than doing almost anything else …
Yesterday morning, Chris's setter Dottie got another shot as the uplands were hit with soaking rains, and she had quite a morning. Not only did she point and hold at least five woodcock, but she also had points on two grouse as well, and nearly all of them were hunkered down in heavy softwoods, escaping from the weather. While the grouse escaped by employing their usual methods (i.e. you pick one side of the evergreens to go in on and they pick the other side to get out), some of the woodcock held well and provided opportunities for Chris and Frank. They connected on three of them, but the others got away to continue their journey south (expect heavy action on woodcock this week with the weather that is coming).
Dottie showed real style in pointing, then relocating on her birds, eventually pinning down their location for the hunters - all traits that any true grouse and woodcock dog aspires to. Betsy then got her shot at the next cover, and though she showed tremendous energy and drive, she only contacted a pair of grouse in her time in the woods. The birds in this cover had been recently pursued, as we found at least a dozen empty shot hulls along the road that we walked in on. While we found evidence of only one grouse that was actually taken, the remainder of the birds were probably just farther off in the woods, taking a momentary break in their daily routines. As grouse hunters, we are far more successful in disturbing the routines of grouse than actually taking them - years of hunting them has proven this fact to me.
The final cover of the day brought Rudy out of the truck for an hour. This cover, filled with wild apple trees and high bush cranberries required a dog of his particular talents - close working, under control, requiring very little in the way of verbal communication. He is my "stealth hunter" of all of the dogs - no bell needed, thank you. I have found that birds in covers like this near the end of the day are going in to feed quickly and get out to resume their night time pattern. For this reason, these birds seem to be even more wary than others we might meet at other times of the day.
Immediately upon entering the section loaded with apple trees, Rudy moved an escaping grouse that flew the right way for him - no visuals, and no shots for Frank and Chris. We eventually made our way to a couple more apple trees and high bush cranberries in the upper part of the cover, slowly walking in on a mossy forest floor - perfect for a quiet approach. I've seen birds almost every time I've come here over the years, and it happened again. First, a grouse took off high out of a cranberry bush - no chance for Frank. Then Rudy looped to our right and drove a low flying grouse out of a thick spruce and straight at Frank's head. Quick reflexes brought the grouse's flight to an end, less than five feet from Frank, and it was an amazingly accurate head shot with the 28 gauge.
Who knew that a grouse flying at your head could be more dangerous than startling a slumbering bull moose deep in the woods?
Last weekend was cool and crisp which is always welcome, as my client and I disturbed 22 grouse and 2 woodcock with the help of Bode, Monty and Rudy on Saturday. Bode was first out of the truck that day, and while he had a few points on grouse, he also had his share of mistakes as well - he's still learning, after all. He did make a nice find on a downed woodcock as well as an excellent track and retrieve of a wounded grouse, and helped find over half of our birds for the day in the morning. Rudy would move five more grouse in the afternoon, and Monty chipped in with an excellent point on one of the two grouse that he located.
Conditions began to change on Monday as some warmer weather moved in to our area. The birds were a little hard to come by that day, but Bode did a nice job in locating some grouse and provided a couple of shooting opportunities. We also had a bit of a scare when we bumped a young bull moose, apparently lounging after some amorous activities the night before. He steered clear of us, which is good - a moose on the run is a bad thing during the rut, and we would have been in trouble had he turned our way.
Daytime temperatures have continued to soar the last two days - pushing 70 degrees each day, so we brought extra water for ourselves and the dogs, and limited the hunts to 1.5 hours per dog. Naturally, the best scenting has been early on in the day, and then has gotten progressively tougher as the days go on. We still succeeded in moving 6 grouse and 8 woodcock yesterday, with three of the woodcock falling to Chris and Frank's 28 gauges. Chris's setter Dottie did a nice job on those woodcock yesterday morning, and Monty had a great point on a pair of grouse that Frank saluted with a load of 8's as they got out of Dodge.
Rudy was first out of the truck this morning, and he took advantage of the early morning conditions in pointing a group of four grouse near a road edge. Several of them made the mistake of flying out towards the road, one of which paid the ultimate price. The others made it away, apparently no worse for the wear. Dottie then got another chance and she moved a total of four grouse, two of which she had pointed staunchly in a thick spruce stand. The birds were definitely interested in keeping cool the last couple of days, so we looked for thick edge cover where the sun's rays had difficulty penetrating and that seemed to work for us. Monty then gave it his all in the final covert, but managed to only move two more grouse, neither of which were pointed. Scenting had gotten so difficult by then that he couldn't be faulted for bumbling in to them.
We'll have a fair amount of rain the next two days, and then the cool down will begin. Looks like we'll have excellent conditions for hunting starting Sunday right through next week, so hopefully we'll get back to normal numbers of birds. For those wondering about woodcock flights moving through our area, there may be a few birds coming down from up north as of right now, but we should have more migratory action coming next week and the week after, depending on the weather in Canada. It just hasn't been cold enough yet!
We have been seeing birds, just not as many as I had hoped. There may be several reasons for this however:
Weather. It was too darn hot the first three days of the season - grouse don't move much when they don't need to keep their engines running. Colder weather gets birds on the move in their search for sustenance.
Too early for broods to have broken up? While the first few days we saw mostly singles, today we observed two different broods that had not yet broken up, indicating that you might walk a long ways and then suddenly get in to a group of birds. Once the birds separate from their family groups, we can expect more consistent action as the birds will be more evenly distributed in the cover.
Wind. It was very windy last weekend, which always ends up making the birds very skittish and much tougher on us and the dogs. We observed several false points each day, which can only be attributed to running grouse.
As for the dog work, it's been pretty good, considering the conditions that we've been having. Rudy and Monty have both been solid, pointing their share of grouse, and Bode has even gotten a good start, flash pointing and then retrieving two grouse that fell to my 28 gauge today (Lucky shots? You're darned right!). He has plenty more work to go, but maybe the lightbulb is more of a strobe light these days.
This week will be spent mostly in Vermont hunting some of our favorite coverts, so hopefully there will be a report later this week. Keep walking, you're bound to get in to some birds at some point!
We spent most of yesterday in New Hampshire, looking for grouse and woodcock in some new coverts, and the boys didn't disappoint. Rudy, with his seniority, was first out of the truck in a brand new location in Pittsburg, and he appears to be drinking from the fountain of youth lately. Trim and fit, he's been bounding through the woods like he did a few years ago. Perhaps he sees the paw prints on the wall of his replacement Bode, but I doubt that Rudy's mind works like that - he just genuinely loves hunting grouse.
In around 1.5 hours of hunting, he located and pointed a brood of around five grouse, and then pointed two more singles to round out his work. While our leaves are beginning to change, and even a few have begun to drop, there's still 99% of leaf coverage out there, meaning that you have to count flushes by hearing the birds sometimes. The cover was your typical 7 - 10 year old logging cut, populated by a mix of young maple, birch and poplar, with some softwoods thrown in as well. Remember to "hunt the cover", because birds will be there!
Monty got his turn next, and while he seemed to be inconsistent at times with yesterday's blustery winds, he still did a nice job when he pointed a large brood from a distance of easily 30 yards away. It reminded me of hunting sharptails in Montana, as they made their escape at first in bunches (three grouse popped off with one of my ill timed steps), and then one at a time. I believe there were around eight grouse, but there could have been more. That seemed to settle him down and he pointed two more grouse and a woodcock with the remainder of his time (about 2 hours) out there. Remarkably, we found a lot of wild turkey sign out there as well, which was surprising with how far out in the woods we were.
Bode brought up the rear, and while he hunted hard, the cover wasn't as good as the first two spots, and we failed to move any birds. Parts of the cover looked like it could hold birds, but we never saw any or any sign either - obviously, I wasn't quite in the "right cover" I guess. There's a lot of cover out there, much more than we could hunt in a season, so the possibilities seem endless at times.
With our tempartures turning for the colder (and better), we'll have some more mornings of discovery ahead before the season begins for real.
Over the last week of running the dogs, we've seen the three primary types of evidence that we're most likely to encounter while out there.
1. Guano. This one is pretty easy to find, as long as you're looking for it, and you've got your eyes on the ground occasionally. A dog working ground scent will often give this one away, and while woodcock "whitewash" is the easiest to spot on the drab forest floor, piles of grouse droppings can be a little more difficult to spot.
2. Tracks. This is very difficult to see on your own, unless there's some snow on the ground, in which case they show up pretty well. The picture at right was a rare one for me - spring woodcock tracks in an area of patchy snow where there was also some whitewash.
Grouse tracks are common when we hunt in November and December, and are always confirmation that we're in the right cover to support birds.
3. Shot shells. Pick up your evidence, folks, and that may keep other hunters from finding your hot spots. It's the easiest way to protect those areas that you've worked hard to find and learn how to hunt. Fortunately for me, I find a lot of this type of evidence while I'm out scouting, and this gets filed in to the memory bank for an area to check out again during the season.
This is the time of year when we should be training our dogs (and ourselves) for the rigors of what lies ahead. If it's an older dog, you're brushing up on what (hopefully) he or she already knows. If it's a pup, you've got your work cut out for you, but great days of discovery lie ahead. Fortunately, the last couple of weeks have seen a significant reduction in our snow pack and some decent days to be out in the field, which has made for some good training on our wild birds in the north country.
While still rusty, Rudy and Monty have enjoyed their time in the woods this spring, and have begun to exhibit that form that we remember from last fall. Yes, the boys enjoy their "down time" during the winter! Bode's doing a nice job learning and paying heed to my commands, though we still have lots of work to do on the "Whoa" command. He's getting in to birds too, and seems to be having a great time chasing them ... not so much on the pointing yet.
I just spoke with a friend and client of mine that just purchased a finished setter pup, and his exuberance for this fall was undeniable. Chris is literally chomping at the bit for this season and we should have a great fall with his two setters Dotty and Betsey.
We're only five months away now, and it can't come soon enough for me, but I have plenty of work to do on my conditioning and also to find a few more "hot spots" before the season starts.
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
We've been out scouting as often as possible over the last two months, and we had some better days this week. While we are still making contact with the occasional brood of grouse, there have been far more singles and doubles this week, so perhaps the fall shuffle has begun.
The woodcock that we've encountered have mostly been in close proximity of each other, in appropriate cover for them. Today I was able to take this picture of woodcock drillings in a freshly created woods road that was pretty muddy and hadn't set up much yet. Apparently they must have liked it, because there was lots of splash and a lot of these drillings around. And what of the woodcock, you may ask? We never saw one, so they must have only been using this area exclusively for feeding.
Yesterday morning we managed to point (and sometimes disturb) seven grouse and seven woodcock in about two hours of scouting, while today we only managed one grouse in two points, with one grouse sneaking out before I could get to Rudy. That's the way it has been - good to great in some of our sessions, while others have been just a great walk in the woods.
That's why it's hunting and I would have it no other way
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 ...