Before the Storm ...

It’s pretty blustery outside tonight as I write this. Our nor’easter blew in last night and intensified this morning, leading to a big rainout of a day for our bird hunters. We did have some great autumn days this week however, and I was fortunate to spend a couple of those days hunting with Mike Scarks and Lou Wood, both veteran bird hunters, but new to the woods of Pittsburg. Lou brought along his two year old setter Tessa, and we also hunted with Greta and Rudy, with Monty mopping up on our last afternoon.

We had some good work from the dogs, and Tessa got plenty of work in over the two days. Tessa in particular excelled on many woodcock, and Rudy and Greta had some good work on the grouse. Monty tried hard but was unable to find any birds in his time in the woods. Mike and Lou were both good shots, as they harvested a total of six grouse and five woodcock over our two days together - pretty good, considering that we moved close to forty birds in two days.

The weather is supposed to slowly get better this week, with temps staying on the cold side - perfect weather for more flights of woodcock!

What Is "Great" Grouse Cover?

That is the question that most runs through my mind, no matter what time of year. Having a feeling for where grouse might be helps us form a plan that might turn an ordinary day of upland hunting in to one of those memory-making “great” days. However, if you hunt grouse, you know that the query above is not easily answered because grouse are, well, grouse! They can be unpredictable most times and you’ll often find them in areas that may have seemed unlikely.

Over the years, I’ve changed some of the areas that I look for grouse and now tend to focus on certain characteristics of the cover in question. Firstly, areas of regenerating trees where logging has taken place, especially in cuts 5 - 15 years old, are spots that are of interest to me. Young poplar, maple, birch and beech that are anywhere from 10 to 20 feet high provide not only thick ground structure but overhead canopy protection from raptors as well. Look for trees that are “thick as your wrist” and you may be in the right kind of regenerating cover. Almost every one of these areas I’ve seen at least a couple of grouse, and sometimes there’s a lot more than that. Hunt the edges and make a few middle passes if the cover looks thick enough. Hunt the “islands” of cover in and around the cuts which provide protection for the birds. Preseason scouting occasionally works to find these areas, but I utilize Google Earth often to find the cuts and age them through historical data.

As the season changes and the weather grows colder and snowier, I usually change my focus to areas with thicker cover, especially with spruce and fir trees. While these areas can be located through scouting as well (often while hunting a cut area, I’ll see softwoods that could be grouse cover when the weather deteriorates), I like to find smaller brook bottoms where grouse can safely hang out and get water well in to winter. Almost every brook has cover like this, as a buffer is required from logging activity - you guessed it, that buffer usually is spruce, fir, or other thick cover that grouse like (alders, for instance).

Check these areas out when you’re hunting next time and maybe you’ll be surprised. As we all know however, great grouse cover is wherever you find grouse!

Flight Plan: Woodcock Are In

Greetings from the north country, where the grouse and woodcock play. It seems like a pretty good start so far to this year’s hunt. Grouse numbers appear to be the same, and maybe even a bit better than last year. It also looks like our resident woodcock fared very well this spring and summer, but the early flights have begun up here as well, so things are really cooking.

I had Art and Craig Stucchi with me the last few days, and while we had quite a few bird contacts our first day (13 grouse, 9 woodcock), we endured a tough day two (9 grouse flushed) in very windy conditions. This made for some jumpy grouse that didn’t want to play “the game”.

Our third day out saw near perfect conditions - high 50’s, sunny and light winds - and the birds were very cooperative. The conditions greatly helped the dog work - Greta (at left) was nothing short of amazing, pointing somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 - 25 woodcock and making excellent points on two of the three grouse that she encountered (one was in a tree!).

Rudy (at right) followed suit in the afternoon, with a couple of woodcock points, but he really excelled at finding and pinning several grouse that offered good chances for Art and Craig. They concluded their day with 1 grouse and 3 woodcock bagged for each of them, with nearly all of the birds being pointed by Rudy and Greta. We moved around 14 grouse and 25 woodcock on this amazing day.

It reminded me of some of the times I went bird hunting with my brother Chuck back in the 80’s - the hay day of upland hunting up here, and I heard several of our weekend guests say the same. Don’t worry, even I know that this is the exception and not the norm ...