What is a grouse doing on the railing of my deck, you may ask? That is what I was wondering as well, and this actually happened late last October when I had returned from a day of guiding.
While I was busy unpacking the truck and getting the dogs fed after our travails that day, my wife secretly was taking a picture from inside of my abode of this grouse seemingly taunting us from the safety of the deck.
Knowing the angst that it would cause me, Karen had the good sense to not actually show me the picture however, until after my guiding season was done. Thanks, honey.
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.
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.
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 …
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 …
The weather was really cold yesterday morning (20 degrees at the start, and we don't think it ever made it up to 30 degrees), so we were anxious to get moving, in part to stay as warm as possible. We were hunting with Jo-Ann's springer Anne, and she did a fine job of hunting hard and close and finding birds. We were in to some birds relatively quickly and one of the grouse made the mistake of flying in to my shot pattern (further reinforcing my belief that most birds are killed because they make a mistake, not because of my shooting ability). Anne tracked it down and retrieved it to Jo-Ann, making my trip east a success almost immediately.
We hunted the mountain for the remainder of the morning, moving eight grouse total. Moving to one of Jo-Ann's private covers, we found at least as many grouse in the afternoon. The cover was mostly thick, but Anne gave it her all and ended up flushing a low escaping grouse that Paul connected with - a nice shot that ended up being our final bird contacted for the day.
Today's hunting turned out much differently - fewer grouse seen, but several more heard, at times distantly heard, so they knew what the game was. At least it was a bit warmer today, and much more comfortable for hunting. Jo-Ann's springer Pepper gave great effort as well and got in to some birds, but they were on the run and out of sight for much of the day.
We have some bad weather moving in tonight and continuing tomorrow - we'll be out in it, along with those grouse.
Hunting with my client Parker and his excellent Brittany Rocky, as well as Parker's brother Spencer (who is new to grouse hunting), we were hoping that the cooler weather would get the birds moving a bit. Having grown up in Iowa, both Parker and Spencer have lots of upland bird hunting experience, and it was apparent early on that Rocky is a natural to the grouse woods. Not only is he very responsive to Parker's commands, but he quarters beautifully and hunts at gun range.
The best was yet to come however, as he began to find, and staunchly point, grouse after grouse. We found most of our birds on the evergreen edge of a cedar swamp (perhaps the birds were still staying cool from the day before), and the action was pretty hot for a while. Unfortunately, grouse don't offer themselves up for decent shots in such cover, and only one fell to one of my client's guns. In four hours, we contacted somewhere around 14 grouse and a woodcock, and quite a few were pointed by Rocky.
We hunted until the end of the day to take advantage of as much of the vanishing sunlight as we could. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 grouse and 3 woodcock contacted, it was one of our best days of the season, and we get to do it again today before taking some time off from the woods for the NH and Vermont deer hunting seasons. Hopefully we don't get too much snow too soon this year …
- 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.
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 …
My thoughts are given below, in list form, illustrating the most common reasons why our hunts are unsuccessful. Names have been omitted, and remember that this post is written only as a helpful reminder …
The Top 5 Reasons Upland Birds Escape Our Grasp
1. You're Not Watching the Dog
There is probably no other form of upland bird hunting that relies on the olfactory abilities of a dog more than grouse and woodcock hunting. They are the stars of the show, and without them, our day in the woods is inevitably an exercise in futility. Keeping at least one of your eyes on a hard working canine is important to harvesting a bird, as an experienced grouse hunting dog will give some signs that he's on game and these clues can help us get ready for the expected flush. When the dog looks like he's on to something, follow him - he knows what he's doing!
Of course, this is where the advice of a guide ("I think he's getting birdy …") comes in handy, which in turn leads to #2 on our list …
2. You're Not Carrying Your Shotgun in a "Ready" Position
I can tell after ten minutes in the woods if we stand a chance of harvesting a grouse when observing the carry of a hunter's firearm. If the gun is not at port arms when grouse hunting (held upright, two hands, across one's body), and instead is carried one handed, either down or slung over a shoulder, there is a high likelihood that we will not be successful that day in taking a grouse. Grouse are wild birds - they usually do not sit tight for points, and they often flush wildly when we get close to them. The average hunter thinks that he can snap off a shot from one of those lazy gun positions when a grouse wildly flushes - it's simply impossible for it to be done, and I have seen many a grouse fly away unscathed when a shot could have been taken from a ready position. Remember that your first chance on a grouse is your best chance, and you might not get another one all day!
This advice does not necessarily apply to hunting woodcock, which are much more likely to sit tight for a point - they are the "gentleman's bird", unlike the wary grouse. Still, it's a good habit to carry one's shotgun the right way.
3. You're Not Physically Ready for a Day in the Uplands
It's a grind out there, believe me, and it helps for your body to be ready to enjoy successive days in the grouse woods. We do a lot of walking, and if you're trying to find those out of the way places for more hospitable grouse, you're going to be walking even more. A couple of months before the season, start doing some form of cardiovascular exercise to get yourself ready. While any form of exertion will help you, hiking is the best thing you can do to get ready to go over hill and dale in search of woodcock and grouse. As a guide, I love being able to pursue birds where I think we may see more of them - we will be greatly limited if we have to walk logging roads all day because the grouse woods are too tough!
4. You Don't Navigate the Woods Properly
Yes, it can be awfully thick out in the grouse woods, and just getting around is an art in itself, but there are ways that we can make it easier on ourselves and hopefully have a more successful hunt. If there's a lane or path through the cover, take it - it's a long day out there, so we might as well take the easiest path possible through the woods, not only to lessen our fatigue, but also to keep us in a shooting position should we have a wild flush. If you're constantly walking behind trees all day, you'll have no shot at an escaping grouse. At those times when we have a dog on point, try to get to the dog in as short a time as possible, and put yourself in a good position where your visibility will be best. In other words, don't stop in a part of the woods where you can't mount and swing your shotgun - it will be another grouse that has escaped your efforts.
5. You Haven't Shot Any Clays Prior to the Season
Practice makes perfect, and while nothing can properly get you ready to take shots at grouse and woodcock, shooting some clay pigeons can help. Practice shots from all angles, high and low, in order to simulate the variety of wing shots that grouse give us. If possible, shoot "low gun" in order to practice your gun mount - at a minimum, it will help you get your shotgun up in a timely manner, which can be the difference in a successful or frustrating day in the uplands. This one is my biggest bugaboo, and my most common excuse for missing birds and earning the neverending ire of my bird dogs and hunting partners!
There are other reasons that I haven't mentioned (improper footwear or gear, lack of observational skills while in the woods, making too much noise, etc.) out of fear of coming off as just another grouse hunting curmudgeon. Oh well …
Missing a couple of days in the woods at this time of year gives me the feeling that I'm starting all over again, and have a lot of catching up to do. Thankfully, this is what the dogs are for, and Monty did a fantastic job this morning of easing my mind by finding some birds. While he had several good grouse points, only one offered a really good chance, and was cleanly missed by my client.
Bode finished off our afternoon by moving 5 - 6 grouse and a woodcock in two hours of work. He once again hunted close and had a couple of short points on escaping grouse. He'll get many more chances to prove himself this season. We had a good day - somewhere around 13 - 14 grouse and just as many woodcock that we contacted - hopefully we can have some more days like this in the week ahead.
More updates to come later this week!
He didn't disappoint - too much. While Bode hunted with great enthusiam (yes, he has plenty of prey drive), and with nearly perfect patterning and range, he was unable to point any of the eight grouse we moved in the first two hours of the morning session. However, he did show "birdiness", or that knowledge that something was present. This alone prepared my clients to be ready for an imminent grouse flush, and Randy connected on one bird that made a bad mistake. Our work continues, and Bode is very close to being a good grouse pointer.
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.
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.
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?
I am fortunate to live in an area that I know very well, so I can pick and choose where to take Greta, and because we have limited time out there, the choice covert always involves birds that are close at hand, not far from the truck. We were lucky today, as we contacted a group of four grouse literally one hundred feet from the truck.
No, Greta didn't go on point, but her pace quickened, as did the speed of her wiggling tail, indicators that something was in the area. Just after recognizing this, a group of four grouse exploded in to the air, and my 28 gauge managed to bring down the last escaping grouse, on the second shot. We'll have a few more times out there this fall, but it was great to see her work again on a beautiful day like this.
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.
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 …