Almost Ready

Bode, with his first
The first true "frosty" conditions of the season this morning - around 23 degrees, with a healthy frost out there. All three dogs made their way in to the grouse woods of northern Vermont this morning, and they all had some positive results.

Bode was first out of the truck, trying to get him up to speed before the upland bird hunting season starts next Saturday in Vermont. He handles beautifully out in the woods - runs hard, charges through the cover (yes, literally), patterns well, and generally hunts close. He has also learned to "whoa" on command and takes hand signals very well from me. In short, he's doing many good things for such a young dog, but his pointing ability has left something to be desired, as he has busted his birds for the most part.

This morning was different however, as Bode finally achieved and maintained a solid point on a grouse that was probably fifty feet or so out in front of him. It never flushed when I walked past the dog, but when I let Bode off of his point, he charged a little farther ahead and the grouse flushed on up ahead. We then went through a period of the
"old Bode" - first scenting and flushing four woodcock in a row, and then he capped it off with an impressive track and then flush of a wary grouse. Yes, he still has far to go, but the foundation is there.

As we headed back to the truck, he had a great point on a woodcock in some heavy cover - it was classic - leaning in to the point, nearly horizontal, with his nose leading the way. Just to make sure I didn't get too giddy,
"old Bode" then tracked and bumped a group of three grouse - a few steps too close apparently. That made 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in nearly two hours, and he was "top dog" for the morning.

Rudy and Monty went out in a brace, as I could tell that the uplands were warming up quickly with the high bright sun. I don't normally do this while guiding, but I like running them in a brace later in the season when daylight is limited. After twenty minutes of general mayhem, they settled down to hunt, and Monty established a nice point on a tight holding woodcock. We then made our way uphill through some tough cover that looked good but yielded no bird contacts.

At the top of the hill, bordering a nice downhill ten year old cut, first Rudy and then Monty pointed a single grouse - it was beautiful to see, and that bird had probably been undisturbed (at least by humans) for quite a while I figured. There is nothing better than seeing two bird dogs lock up on the King of the Uplands, and it is the highest pinnacle for a bird dog to attain, in my opinion.

It was the one time this morning that I really wished I had a shotgun in my hands, but that day is coming, now only eight days away ...

Autumn is Upon Us

Over the last two days, it finally feels like autumn up here in the north country of New Hampshire and Vermont, just after we experienced some of the warmest and most humid weather of the season. With the grouse opener in NH under three weeks away, and the Vermont grouse season opening in exactly two weeks from now, it is "crunch time" for the dogs and myself.

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.

Rudy, pointing one of the singles yesterday
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!

The object of our autumnal desires - too bad my camera wouldn't focus!
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.

You never know what you'll find in the woods, like this old dug well from generations ago
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.

Plodding Towards the Season

Rudy found a nice big brood of grouse on this day
Our training runs have continued over the last two weeks, with generally good results in dog work from Rudy and Monty, and the amount of birds seen or heard. In general, we're only able to get out there for two to three hours in the morning, due to the rising midday temperatures.

Most days, we'll see anywhere from 7 or 8 birds to a lot more than that at times - a few days ago in Vermont was particularly good, as we moved around 16 grouse in two hours (15 of those were found in two broods that Rudy found and pointed - the picture above). Two days ago, Bode and I checked out one of our favorite hunting spots in New Hampshire, to only move two grouse and one woodcock in around two and a half hours. That's hunting I guess!

Bode's progress continues ... slowly. He has pointed a couple of woodcock in the last week, but the grouse, as you might expect, are not too impressed with this training thing. While he seems to be scenting them just fine, he continues to get a little too close, and they aren't standing for it. Hopefully, he learns his lesson soon.

Heat of the Summer

Thick ... hot ... muddy ... buggy. Those are some of the adjectives to describe trying to navigate the grouse woods at this time of year. Not very pleasureable at times, but well worth it when you start seeing numbers of grouse and woodcock, and bird dogs pointing them.

Rudy started yesterday morning off by finding seven grouse and one woodcock in a little over an hour's work. The first five grouse were in a brood, and Rudy did very well locking up solidly on point and holding as they slowly one-by-one made their escape. He then got in to a couple of other grouse shortly afterward and then bumped a woodcock to top off his time out there. For eight years old he's looking good, and we should have a good autumn ahead with the "old man".

Monty then took his turn for 45 minutes or so and managed to point a different brood of five or six grouse, and while he did a great job establishing his point, he did break for a couple of feet when the first bird flew off. An immediate "whoa!" brought him to a stop, and he managed to hold it as the remainder of the brood flew off.

Bode has gotten out two of the last three mornings, and while he has gotten in to a bundle of birds (11 in two hours of work Thursday morning, and 8 grouse this morning in an hour), he has yet to establish solid points. He is definitely birdy - the prey drive is definitely there, and he is very cooperative when we're out there, but he seems to be developing later than the other dogs did. Looks like we'll be planting some pigeons in launchers for the little guy this week to see if we can improve him.

All in all, bird numbers look solid for this hunting season, probably better than last year due to our drier spring hatching weather this year. Of course, it will still be hunting, so make sure you have some good comfortable boots when you come up!

Fun In The Summertime

While we have been poking around the local "haunts" over the last week or so, our real training will begin shortly with runs through our existing coverts in August and September.

This season can't get here soon enough for me or the dogs though. We're seeing enough birds to give us some solid expectations of a good fall ahead, and the hint of 50 degree mornings lately has given us just a taste of autumn.

Today was Bode's turn, as he has some learning to do before the season begins - merely 82 days away now from the New Hampshire opener, but who's counting? He ran into his fair share today - two single grouse, one brood of grouse of five or six birds, and one single woodcock. While he didn't point them, he did stop to flush (when given the whoa command) and held solidly for all of them. That's a marked improvement from where little Bode was just a month ago, so he's improving.

By the way, we ran in to another brood of young grouse in Vermont as we walked back to my house at the end of the session - looking good indeed!

Looking For Clues

When we check out new areas to possibly hunt in the near future, we're always looking for some evidence to support our beliefs.

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 from late last season

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.

Dreaming ...

Yes, this is that time of the year when all grouse hunters and dog owners are dreaming of the season coming only five months away. Not only are we thinking of birds and beautiful crisp autumn days that remind us of a kaleidoscopic postcard, but we're likely obsessing about the performances of our four legged friends, and probably ourselves too.

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.