"How was the bird hunting last season?"
This has been a common question for me from Tall Timber guests and bird hunters alike. My response has been that we seemed to have two different seasons last fall. The first one wasn't great - it was warm, with lots of foliage on the trees for the first couple weeks of October. Not that the bird hunting was bad … in fact, we had a few phenomenal days on grouse, and the woodcock seemed to be everywhere at times. But it was mighty tough getting a good view (and shot) on those birds, due to the screen of foliage we had to try to shoot through.
The "second season" last year was very good for my clients and I. This seemed to occur right after Columbus Day, as colder and more blustery weather blew in and took many of the leaves down. The colder weather got the grouse moving in search of food sources, and the leaf drop made the shooting chances better. This resulted in our second best year of harvesting birds in my nine years of guiding, and it would have been even better if the snow didn't come so early. Unfortunately, my season was totally over by Thanksgiving, as the snow depths in some of my favorite places made navigating them nearly impossible, and no, I'm not a big fan of wearing snowshoes while hunting.
The best aspect of last hunting season for me (and a few of my clients) was discovering some new covers - I think there are four new additions to our lineup. Some are in New Hampshire and some are in Vermont, but they all have what is needed for grouse and woodcock. All of them will require more investigation, which is my favorite part of getting ready for a new season - we can't wait.
The development of the dogs was great to see as well. Monty was his usual steady self, working closer as he gets older (7 years old), and pointing birds seemingly like a machine at times. Bode (3 years old) really came along well as the season progressed, and he was at his best as the weather turned colder - out of all of the dogs, he's most dependent on good conditions for a good day of bird finding. Both dogs got a lot of work last year, as well as lots of practice retrieving birds (my hunters had a good season of shooting as well), and they both have become adept at making sure no birds go to waste out there.
Rudy (10 years old) has settled in to semi-retirement, but we're keeping him in good shape just in case he needs to strap the vest on again. He did hunt four or five times last fall, and while he's definitely slowing down some, he still shows great desire when we hit the woods. Rosie (now 4 months old) is the newest addition to the lineup, and we're hoping she'll be on her way this fall. She has typical intelligence for a female (she's bright, almost scary at times), and great lineage - she's Bode's daughter, and her mother is Dixie, another great grouse hunter, so hopefully she doesn't fall too far from the mountain ash. Guiding will be in her future, but maybe not this year - stay tuned …
We have been seeing a few grouse around our neighborhood this winter - one day after a fresh snowfall, I counted four different tracks at various points along the trail as we were snowshoeing. It has not been a terribly cold winter, but it has been snowy. Hopefully this spring's weather is good for them. I have heard recently from a contact of mine in central New Hampshire that there's a couple of woodcock already back down there - early returners with all of last week's warm weather I suppose. Hopefully they stay down there for a little while, as we still have plenty of snow in the north. When they come back, we'll be anxious to get the puppy out for her first experience with timberdoodles.
The last tidbit that I have is an advisory issued in Maine for sporting dog owners passed on to me by Rich Johnson. For those that use the Garmin Alpha or Astro GPS systems to know what's happening out there with their dogs while hunting (I'm one of them), they recommend that you check the channel that the collar is set on to communicate with your dog. It appears as though the collars use the same MURS (Multi Use Radio Service) frequencies as those of truckers and loggers, unless you manually change the frequency channel of the collars. It might be a good idea to check the frequency that your dog's collar is set at and change it to MURS channel 5 (this one is not used by truckers or loggers), as an additional safeguard for all of those involved. If they're doing it in Maine, we might as well do it here too - there is still active logging operations ongoing here in the north country. It's easy to do and instructions can be found on … where else? Google!