Just ten days until the grouse and woodcock opener in New Hampshire (Vermont gets a head start by opening the grouse hunting season this Saturday, September 26), so we're in crunch time getting ready. The dogs are looking good for the most part, after an exceptionally lazy summer.
The weather has not been cooperative lately, with temps at nearly 80 degrees last week, and nearly 70 this week. Needless to say, there hasn't been much change yet in the foliage either - it's still mostly green out there, with just a hint of some dull reds and russets. Hopefully, more will be happening in this area in a couple of weeks!
We welcomed our coldest morning of the fall today (upper 30's in Pittsburg), so it was a good one for exploring some of our favorite coverts. Each dog had their moments, but Bode spent the most time out there today - 1.5 hours - to get him ready for the rigors of grouse and woodcock hunting. After a mostly fruitless search for birds in his first hour and twenty minutes (this is actually common at this time of year, as many of the broods are still together, thus the birds may not be as spread out as they will be in another month), he had a nice point on a brood of 4 - 5 grouse that were sneaking on up ahead of us. A quick relocation and another point gave me the chance to move in, flush the birds, and shoot the training pistol, all done while Bode held steady. It was a good job and he's showing some good aptitude in the grouse woods.
Monty closed out today's session before it became too hot, and within five minutes of the truck he had a beautifully solid point on a woodcock. Point - flight - hold - training pistol shot - hold. Hopefully we see more of that this fall. Looks like we'll have some more good mornings for our scouting / training runs this week and then we'll get out in Vermont on Saturday. We may not see them all (foliage), but maybe we'll be able to at least hear them!
Predictions for this season? I have heard a wide range of opinions, and experienced the spectrum of scouting days this summer. In other words, some good, some bad - don't set your expectations too high and you may just be pleasantly surprised …
Tuesday, 9/22 Update:
Scouted in northern Vermont with Rudy for 1.5 hours this morning - 3 grouse, 2 woodcock located. Two of the grouse and one of the woodcock were pointed, so overall it was a good job by him. Then Bode moved 5 grouse in 1.5 hours later in the morning. Unfortunately, none were pointed and all were extremely close flushes. Three of them were singles, and one pair flushed together. The cover was extremely thick!
Monty got out there first this morning and had a couple of nice points on two woodcock that he contacted, but had trouble with the grouse. A small brood of two or three got away as he got a little too close. In fact, the two "broods" that we encountered today were both small (2 or 3 each), but that has been balanced by a couple of large broods that we saw last week, so who knows how the season will be.
Bode was next and worked very hard and under control - he had a beautiful point his one woodcock, but while he was birdy just prior to breaking in to a grouse brood, he just couldn't stop himself. Scenting conditions weren't great, but we always hope for better when we're out there.
Some of the early berries (raspberries and choke cherries) are out now, so there are many more food sources out there for the grouse. More to come soon.
We checked out some of our favorite haunts in Vermont and were rewarded with a few birds. Bode was first up on Wednesday morning and he managed to stop to flush on a couple of single grouse and a wild flushing woodcock, then he bumbled in to a brood of grouse later on. The brood was large I would say - 7 to 8 birds. After the first two flew, he received a quick "whoa", and he held his ground as the others flew off as I made my way to him. A couple of them came mighty close to hitting him in the head, but he remained rock solid. Good exposure for him in nearly two hours of running - about 10 or 11 birds.
Rudy ran for about 1.5 hours on Thursday morning, and he picked up where he left off last year. First, he pointed, relocated, and then pointed again a running grouse that ended up flushing downhill from us. Then he stuck a grouse beautifully in a patch of shady evergreens - really nice work. He finished his run off with a point on a brood of grouse (different from the day before), with the hen pulling the broken wing routine. I came in calmly and led him out by his collar so that he would not further disturb this family unit.
What do bird numbers look like for this fall? After last year, I have decided to take myself out of the prediction game. Bird seasons are what we make of them - seeing more birds usually means more effort needs to be made. More research and scouting for new covers, more training of our dogs and ourselves, and more boots on the ground. I believe that the latest predictions from Upland Almanac for New Hampshire and Vermont are for "fair to good grouse hunting" up here for the 2015 autumn.
We shall see … and I can't wait.
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.