The grouse hunting was pretty good this past week, with a few tight sitting birds at times and others that ran out of points before we could get there. They are still up to their old tricks, but due to the lack of foliage, we are sometimes able to see exactly what is happening instead of merely wondering what went wrong.
Here is a list of how last week went, and the birds taken in our sessions:
- Monday, 10/31 (AM only): 10 grouse & 3 woodcock (1 grouse & 2 woodcock taken)
- Tuesday, 11/1 (full day): 9 grouse & 5 woodcock (3 grouse taken)
- Wednesday, 11/2 (PM only): 8 grouse & 1 woodcock (1 grouse taken)
- Thursday, 11/3 (AM only): 6 grouse & 4 woodcock (1 woodcock taken)
- Friday, 11/4 (full day): 21 grouse & 1 woodcock (lots of action, but we took the bagel)
The first four days were spent in New Hampshire, in a few areas where we have hunted several times this year. Some of the birds were cooperative, but most were not, perhaps reflecting some of the pressure that the grouse have been under in these areas.
Our New Hampshire days were highlighted by some great "sticking" points on grouse and woodcock by Monty and Bode, as well as some great work by my client Lou's young GSP named Emma. In limited action, she pointed two grouse for Lou, and Lou was happy to take one of them over her.
Our day in Vermont (last Friday) yielded a lot of grouse contacts behind the solid work of Monty (at least 21, and it may have been a few more than that), and chances at shooting a few of them for each of my three clients. Unfortunately, none of the shots connected with the birds, and we had to tip our hats to the amazing difficulty that these birds sometimes present. We hunted a couple of new spots that day, and based on the numbers of birds we saw in these places, they will become a part of the Vermont "rotation" going forward.
Our guiding season is nearly at an end, as our last client for this year will be on Wednesday in Vermont - the dogs are charging up for that day, but I have seen them wear down some as this guiding season has gone on, so a little break will be good for them. The deer hunting rifle season in New Hampshire starts on Wednesday, with the Vermont rifle deer season kicking off this coming Saturday - that will spell plenty of time off for the pups.
The list of reasons is long, and undoubtedly there are some that I am forgetting, but the last one is probably the real reason.
- It's too warm
- The sun was in my eyes
- It's too cold
- There's not enough wind
- It's too breezy
- The birds are running
- I almost stepped on that grouse
- I slipped on an old log
- That tree got in the way
- The cover was so tight that I couldn't swing my gun
- I rushed my shot
- I didn't hear that one flush
- The leaves are too crunchy
- Too much foliage
- Not enough foliage - they're seeing us from a great distance and getting out
- My reflexes are getting slower as I grow older …
Many clients that have hunted with me over the years have heard (probably more than once) the time a few years back how I cooked a woodcock recipe for my soon-to-be-wife and how it took a turn for the worse. Conversely, my hard working German Shorthaired Pointers, unlike my betrothed, appreciated my efforts at preparing a dinner focusing on timberdoodles - yes, they ate well that night.
This recipe comes to us from Mark Ramel, a client of mine, who visits the north country to hunt grouse and woodcock, along with his father and a good family friend. This year, their group took quite a few woodcock, so Mark brought their livery goodness home with him, to be excellently prepared by a friend who just so happens to be a professional chef in New York City - yes, just as in life, it helps to know the right people …
6 woodcock (12 breasts), served with a side of sauerkraut. Sausage, needless to say, is a must whenever sauerkraut is in the picture.
Liberally salt and pepper
the woodcock. This could be the most
important step in the recipe.
Don't be shy and don't mention
this step to your doctor:
use lots of butter.
Dredge the woodcock breasts in
flour and/or corn starch.
Pan fry the woodcock until they are seared on the outside, and not a moment more.
Make sure you do not overcook the woodcock - rare to medium on the inside is what you're shooting for!
Prepare your sides of sauerkraut and spaghetti squash. Chef Kendall uses white wine and seasonings to sautee the squash in.
Birds removed. Leftover juices and butter used to cook down apples and garlic, finished with a Sherry demiglaze.
Mostly cooked birds.
Combined with apples & garlic and cooked until medium - medium well. I assume that this step could be to the reader's taste.
Enjoy! The object of our affections plated, with a recipe truly fit for one of our greatest gamebirds, the American Woodcock.
Thanks to Chef Kendall for his creation and Mark Ramel for documenting it. That's Kendall with Mark's son (and presumable sous chef).
You may ask how my weak attempt at cooking woodcock a few years ago for my bride-to-be affected our relationship going forward. Well, she became my wife, so I must have gotten an "A" for effort.
Since then, she has come to appreciate and love my grouse dinners …
Yesterday was spent in New Hampshire, as we hunted some low elevation coverts, in the hopes of catching some of our late departing woodcock as they migrate south. We had a good morning behind Bode, even in the (at times) pouring rain. He pointed several woodcock and had a nice point on an escaping grouse, and my clients managed to scratch down a grouse and a woodcock.
The afternoon was spent hunting with Monty, and he was simply great yesterday, as he began pointing lots of woodcock in one of our upland coverts. The rain on Friday got rid of most of the snow that was paralyzing us in these areas, so we were able to get back in there. While Monty provided lots of opportunities on the woodcock, only one paid the price. Later on, he would point four or five grouse, and one of them hung around just a bit too long and my client bagged him before escaping.
Yesterday was probably our best day of the year in New Hampshire, as we encountered 15 grouse and 16 woodcock over the course of our travels.
Today was spent in Vermont, in an effort to avoid deer hunters (it's muzzleloading deer season in NH) and explore some new territory as well. The action started right off this morning, with Monty systematically pointing three woodcock and a grouse, and one of the woodcock ended up in the back of my client's vest. We did a lot of walking today, in a walk-in only area, and while it was frustrating at times (yes, even these grouse were acting typically "grousey") as we had trouble getting close to some of them, Monty still managed to point quite a few of them.
Not all of them gave us good chances, but they were there, and so were we - that's grouse hunting at times. He managed to point four or five grouse this morning, and by our lunch break we had moved 13 grouse and 4 woodcock.
Bode did the afternoon duties, and he started out hot right away, making a nice point on a woodcock that my client took. He also had a couple of grouse points and a couple more woodcock points in his time out there, working tirelessly and thoroughly. Unfortunately, none of the grouse were taken, but one more of the woodcock fell to my client's shotgun. We moved 8 grouse and 5 woodcock this afternoon behind Bode, for a day's total of somewhere around 30 birds moved for the day.
That's not bad, and along with yesterday's 31 birds moved, we had quite a weekend. Hopefully our hot streak continues through this week, and it looks as though our weather will not be a hindrance in this. More updates to come …
We had our best day in a while yesterday, as we hunted mostly lower elevation cover in Pittsburg, NH again, trying to stay out of the snow that is plaguing the upland higher elevation coverts that we usually hunt.
The snow is great news for the muzzleloader deer hunters that will stream in to northern New Hampshire this weekend, but it is tough on bird dogs and bird hunters alike. We have more weather coming in tonight, and we'll hope for more rain than snow to make things easier next week.
Back to the hunting. Monty had the first turn out of the truck and he led us through the cover all morning. We would encounter eight grouse and eight woodcock behind his excellent nose, with a couple of highlights - first, when Monty pointed a grouse and woodcock in close proximity to each other (no shot for my client), and then near the end of our morning hunt when he pointed a pair of downhill escaping grouse that almost gave Peter enough time to get in position and get a shot off.
We had points on four of the grouse and seven of Monty's eight woodcock, and Peter took two timberdoodles in the morning.
Bode did a great job in the afternoon, thoroughly scouring the cover, and even bringing Peter to comment that Bode's nickname should be "Mr. Clean" for his work in the grouse woods. He certainly gives it his all out there and leaves no brushy spot unturned in his pursuit of birds.
It didn't take too long for Peter to fill his woodcock limit of three over a point from Bode and then we had some more action on grouse. Peter took his first of the day on a fast flushing grouse that came from our left, following Bode's close tracking (maybe a little too close - this one wasn't pointed). Peter's quick reflexes and knowledge of bird dog body language took that grouse, and I'm sure that his experiences hunting quail in southern California and Arizona were a big reason why.
On our long trek back to the truck, Bode established a staunch point on the edge of the cover to our left. When we went in to flush the bird, nothing happened, so Peter stayed on the road and I released Bode from his point. Bode bounded in to some thick spruce further in on the left and a grouse rocketed out of there toward the road. One shot later, Peter had his second grouse of the day, and a few moments afterward Bode pointed his final bird of the day, the woodcock in the picture at right - how much longer will they be here before they're gone for good?
Our total for yesterday was twelve grouse and twelve woodcock contacted, which sounds modest but is pretty good for us this year - it's been a strange one!
Things have really taken a turn up here this week in New Hampshire's north country - several days of low to mid 30's with continual snow has sent us from fall grouse hunting conditions to winter grouse hunting conditions in less than a week. By this I mean that most of the grouse and woodcock that remain in the uplands are seeking shelter under heavy evergreen cover where there is snow elsewhere in the cover.
This morning we began in one such cover that has been a good area in the past when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and it seemed as though we might be in luck when we moved a couple of grouse in the first half hour or so. But as we climbed out of the softwood draw of a stream bottom to the upland edge of a logging cut, the 6+" of fresh snow that we trudged through gave us other ideas. The birds simply were not in the uplands where the evergreen cover was not readily present - they were in the lower elevations with plenty of spruce around.
In the afternoon, we took refuge in lower elevations, with little to no snow cover, and this seemed to make the difference. Bode did a great job hunting close and hard, and he pointed quite a few woodcock which my client made good shots on. Peter has never hunted woodcock (there aren't too many timberdoodles in southern California), and he received a good indoctrination in pursuing them.
As usual, it was thick and wet, but Bode provided many opportunities to take birds. He also moved some grouse, and Peter hooked up on one of his shots. All four birds that Peter took were retrieved by Bode - he was really on his game today.
We'll try to stay low again tomorrow and see if the woodcock are still around - it might not be too long before they're gone …
We had some good days this week and some slower ones as well. Wednesday was our best as far as numbers go - 13 grouse and 11 woodcock contacted that day, but the actual chances at shooting a grouse were way down.
Paul had a couple of chances early on that day, when the leaves were still a bit wet from the night before, but once the woods dried out, the grouse started playing tricks on us. A few times, Monty established point and then would relocate on moving grouse, only for them to go up thirty yards away in a heavy screen of cover. That's grouse hunting and that's one of the reasons that we love it, but it can be hard on the soul at times.
We saw fewer birds on Thursday (9 grouse, 2 woodcock) working mostly road edges in Pittsburg, and while one of the roads was disturbingly slow, a couple of others were better, especially those that had not gotten much vehicular traffic. We walked a long way that day, but it paid off when Paul shot three grouse, two of which were tough road crossing shots. It looked like both of those birds would make it, but Paul swung through them at the last moment and made his shots count.
One of those birds sailed down off a ravine after being hit (we both looked at each other and decided that he had probably hit it - one of the legs dropped. Always follow up on birds that you think you may have hit!) and we went down to look for it. After some searching probably 80 yards from the road, Paul found a breast feather and Monty came in to sniff around. A few moments later, we had our quarry in hand, courtesy of Monty.
Yesterday was an abbreviated day of hunting due to some warm temperatures (let's hope this weekend is the end of those) and impending rain. Randy, Leighton and I hunted the beautiful covert that we hunted on Monday, and it was good again (8 grouse, 2 woodcock). Monty and Randy's young pointer Ginger hit it yesterday and within a few minutes we had our first grouse point (of several) from Monty. Randy and I watched that bird high tail it out of there like a roadrunner and within moments he was gone. Less civilized hunters would have ended that grouse's run there, but we are more refined that that.
We hunted in to the early afternoon in that special place and while the shots were few and far between, the scenery was spectacular. Ginger also kept progressing in her development as a bird dog, as she had a staunch honor on one of Monty's points. Randy has a good hunting companion in her, as she hunts close and is very responsive to his directives. With that, we bid "Adieu" and we are already thinking about our hunts together next fall.
The weather turns much colder tonight and tomorrow and we're hoping for a great week ahead. The dogs are ready for sure - Rudy got out a few times in limited action this week, Bode will be back after his mouth puncture has healed, and Monty will resume his excellent season. My knees, ankles and legs are not quite ready - the hot tub will see extended action and thanks for Ben Gay …
Yesterday was spent with Randy and Leighton in New Hampshire, checking out a covert that they found a couple of years back. They must feel sorry for me to let me in on this gem of a grouse covert, and simply put, it has everything that makes a good place to hang for grouse and woodcock. Not only are there a number of openings and thick spots for the grouse to come out and feed and escape to if necessary, but there is a great variety of cover and food types. It has everything and is at a good age as well.
We used Randy's two year old pointer Ginger again and Rudy got his first real action of the year. At ten years old, Rudy doesn't quite attack the cover the way he used to, but he still does his best and managed to have three solid points on woodcock that would eventually escape Leighton's gun. We ended up contacting 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in about three hours in decent weather conditions (upper 50's and windy). This is certainly an area worthy of further exploration in the future.
Today, I was out again with friend and client Paul, and we checked out a new cover that I have been putting some time in to this season. Unfortunately, it did not surrender the amount of birds that I thought we might see, so there's still some work to do there.
Monty did a solid job in tough conditions (upper 50's/low 60's with gusty and swirling winds), as he pointed 5 of the 10 grouse that we contacted today. Some of them held pretty well for his points and Paul had some good chances on the birds, managing to connect on two of his shots.
The highlight was when Monty pointed and two grouse flushed as Paul shot at one of them. It looked like he may have hit it, but we weren't sure - within seconds, Monty came back with the grouse in his mouth, and we congratulated him on a job well done. He seems to have taken the next step in being a great grouse and woodcock dog - he not only staunchly points birds, but retrieves them reliably when they go down.
Monty will get the bulk of the work over the next few days as Bode recovers from an infected puncture wound to his mouth that he sustained late last week - we hope to have him back in action this weekend. Rudy will get some work in the meantime and maybe he can recover some of his touch with the grouse.
We tested the maxim that "you see a grouse for every mile walked, shoot at one every three miles walked and harvest one every ten miles walked."
We walked ten miles today and saw ten grouse, but Paul shot two - he's a good grouse shot.
While Monty's time out there was very eventful, the highlight of our day came when Randy's 16-month old pointer Ginger had her first wild bird point - in fact, she nailed down two woodcock as well! Wish I had gotten the camera out for that moment!
Enjoy - and by the way, no woodcock were harmed in the making of this video …
Oh what a difference a week makes! We worked hard to find grouse and woodcock, with some limited results, even in our traditional honey holes.
- Monday: 10 grouse, 8 woodcock contacted for full day
- Tuesday: 6 grouse, 14 woodcock contacted for full day
- Wednesday: 6 grouse, 12 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to heat)
- Thursday: 4 grouse, 4 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to rain)
- Friday: 5 grouse, 4 woodcock contacted for full day
While the results weren't terrible by any means, the bird sightings just were not happening nearly as frequently as they should be, but we had a few factors working against us.
- The daytime temperatures for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday rose to the mid 60's, making for some tough scenting conditions for the dogs - dogs have a hard time bringing in bird scent if they are panting hard, not to mention that the bird scent dissipates quickly when it's warm out.
- The grouse woods were as dry as I've ever seen - needless to say, it sounded as if we were walking on cornflakes as we approached dogs on point this week. The woods were way too loud to get close to many grouse and we had quite a few points from Monty where he was staunch but we couldn't find a bird when we got there - probably a running grouse that had already made its escape.
- We worked mostly road edges this week, in an effort to conserve the energy of my clients, and I expect that quite a few of these edge birds have encountered hunters so far this season. Their daily patterns have been disturbed, but it was curious that we didn't encounter more birds yesterday when it was cold. Perhaps it will take them a few days to fall back in to some kind of a pattern involving roads again.
Still, my clients Chris, Frank and Mark did a good job getting in on points and getting shots on woodcock and a few fleeing grouse. We were also able to get Chris's two year old Brittany spaniel Chotsie in the grouse woods for the first time and she acquitted herself well, hunting with boldness and gusto in our time out there. She patterned well and covered the grouse woods with the thoroughness of a vacuum cleaner - she'll make a good grouse hunting companion in the future.
As for the shooting, Chris and Frank had a built-in excuse for most of this week, as there was still plenty of foliage on the trees for their shots to contend with. All of that screen provided excellent opportunities to escape, for the grouse especially.
Chris and Frank have been going out with me since the beginning, and they enjoy the grouse woods no matter what kind of luck we have, and we had a week of beautiful sights and vistas to soften the blow.
Frank is the most veteran of my clients - at 80 years old he's still walking the roads and guarding for any bird that tries to escape the easy way. Chris was often roaming the woods with me, so Chris would get shots at the birds heading for heavier cover and Frank would get chances on the birds that were road bound. This strategy worked well on the woodcock, but the grouse proved to be much tougher.
Mark joined us the last couple days of this week and he hasn't been grouse hunting in six years and gets to shoot rarely due to his young family. While he was a bit rusty, he definitely put a scare in to a couple of grouse and several woodcock, especially two that Bode pointed for him yesterday.
The good news is that things are changing - the weather turned colder yesterday, never hitting 50 degrees and we should have beautiful weather for today's hunt. We also received some rain Thursday night, softening the leaf litter a little, which helped us get a little closer to the few grouse that we encountered yesterday. More rain is coming throughout this week, so the hunting should get better.
As for the dogs, Monty was on fire again this week and Bode had a good session yesterday afternoon, pointing a grouse and two woodcock.
After the first few days of the season, where we seemed to catch some of the grouse by surprise (resulting in some good opportunities), the birds seem to have caught on that they are being hunted, and have provided fewer chances at realistic shots. They are running and are using the multitude of foliage still on the trees (abnormal for this time of year) as an excellent screen to get away from danger. In what seems like a millisecond, the grouse are safely away from us, leaving with only a whirr of wings, and sometimes leaves.
The woodcock haven't been much easier to shoot, though we have taken some of them this week. We have been seeing excellent numbers of timberdoodles - in the last four mornings, we have moved 8, 4, 17 and finally 10 yesterday. While maybe not all of these birds are residents, I think the vast majority are, as the weather has generally not been cold enough to push them down from Canada (it was really warm up here this past week). We should see even heavier action with the woodcock in the next couple of weeks.
Monty has been on top of his game so far this season, pointing the vast majority of the birds that we have contacted with him in our sessions - Friday morning, he contacted 3 grouse (2 were pointed) and somewhere around 17 woodcock (15 were pointed). He had a similar day yesterday, even under the less than favorable scenting conditions and at 6 years old, he is in his prime as a grouse hunter.
Bode has also done well this week, but has usually been running second in the lineup, so he's out there when the temps are warmest, making for some challenging conditions. Still, he had a fine point on a grouse on Thursday (it was a runner, and flushed well out of range of the gun), and then had an excellent point and relocation on a woodcock yesterday (missed). He has hunted thoroughly and resembles something like a vacuum cleaner in the grouse woods - scouring everything in his path. With his biddable nature and ease of handling he has been a pleasure to hunt with.
A few observations so far this season:
- The woods are abnormally dry - look for grouse and woodcock in shady sections of the forest that hold moisture longer in the day. That's where we found them this week.
- It's mighty thick out there, as our foliage stubbornly holds on. We have colder weather coming in this week, so that combined with some wind would help with shooting birds, we hope.
- When the dog goes on point, walk boldly past the dog, with your eyes up where a bird might fly. I see hunters looking on the ground for birds all of the time during a point - it is very rare to actually see a bird on the ground before it flies, and when it does your eyes will still be on the ground and it will be too late to locate, aim, and shoot the bird.
- Always walk through the woods thinking that a grouse could go up at any time. Carry your shotgun in the "ready" position and you might just be quick enough to shoot a grouse. If your gun is carried low or slung over your shoulder, you will have no chance of killing a bird. That's one of the reasons we hunt, right?
- Walk through the grouse woods with escape routes for birds and your sight lines in mind. This is a tough one, and while it's not always possible, you have to try to give yourself a chance to mount and swing your gun as often as you can on escaping grouse. Survey the woods to figure out which way a bird might fly.
- If you're running your own dogs, bring lots of water for them - there is almost no ground water for them to cool themselves, unless you're hunting close to a pond or river.
Another important point worth noting is how dogs help us recover birds that would undoubtedly be lost if not for their noses, thus bringing me to the conclusion that a well trained bird dog serves as a conservation tool, helping us recover wounded game that would be lost without their exemplary canine olfactory powers.
I had just such an occurrence today, as I winged a fast flying grouse that hurtled down the trail in front of me. It went down with the shot, but then I saw it scampering back in to the woods on my right. When Bode came in to search for it, he also seemingly lost its track and we searched aimlessly for fifteen minutes or so.
I was resigned to a lost bird, which is beyond excruciating for me, but then Bode bounded in to the cover on our left, and lo and behold … came happily out of the cover with the grouse in his mouth. He pranced, proud as a peacock, for a few minutes with that grouse in his mouth, circling me, and I praised him wholeheartedly. Apparently the grouse had run across the trail while we were in on the other side.
I never would have found that bird on my own, there is no doubt about that, and Bode made a lousy situation a great one with his fantastic nose.
Think of all of the grouse and woodcock that are needlessly lost without the help of a good bird dog!
Thursday, as has already been documented, was a good day, as we moved 9 grouse and 22 woodcock in Vermont. We followed that with a morning session on Friday of 10 grouse and 1 woodcock, 2 of which were taken by my client. Randy's 5-year old GSP had worked so well on Thursday that we decided to run Polly together with my 6-year old Monty, and they preformed like they had been working together for years. They covered ground thoroughly, without being competitive and we even had a couple of points that were honored by the other dog - great to see, and I wished that Randy lived closer. They were quite a team.
Saturday was the opener in New Hampshire, and I went out once again with Mike and Sue and their nearly 3-year old setter Blue. Blue roamed the grouse woods like a true veteran, as she displayed patience in working the cover and pointed many of the 28 birds (16 grouse, 12 woodcock) that we contacted yesterday. While Blue performed beautifully, the birds gave Mike and Sue limited chances - the woods are still mighty thick, and the birds seem to escape behind vegetation almost instantly.
The highlight of yesterday was when Blue went on a staunch point … and then four grouse broke loose. Mike made a nice shot on the fleeing grouse to our right, while the other three birds headed toward the road, where Sue was waiting. She dropped one of them and put the fear of God in another. That was Sue's first grouse taken on the wing, which was really great to see, and after watching Blue work yesterday, there will probably be quite a few more in Sue and Mike's future.
We have had excellent dog work these first three days, not only by Monty but from my clients' dogs as well. Hopefully this trend continues, and Bode and Rudy should see some work this week as well. More updates to come.
Guiding Update: I have the following dates available - 10/4, 10/5, 10/22, 10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3
Send me a message if you want to get out in the woods!
It all began literally 5 minutes from the trucks when she staunchly pointed a woodcock, and it continued from there, as she pointed a lot of birds - we figured that she contacted somewhere around 5 grouse and 13 woodcock (the vast majority of which were pointed) by the time we got back to the trucks for lunch. Randy made a heckuva shot on a fleeing grouse, and he had his first Vermont ruffed grouse in the back pocket of his vest.
You see, Randy has an enviable goal to hunt or fish in all 50 states, and this was his first time doing either in Vermont - I was glad that we could enhance his pursuit! Monty did the honors in the afternoon, and also had a solid hunt, as he contacted 4 grouse and 8 woodcock in his time out there. Unfortunately, woodcock season in Vermont doesn't start until October 1, so the timberdoodles went unscathed - there is no doubt that Randy would have had his limit on them if they were in season.
We finished up the afternoon getting Randy's 1 year old GSP Libby a shot in the grouse woods for a short time - she handled really well and managed to move a woodcock of her own. It was hot out there today and the woods are still plenty thick, but grouse season is here and it'll only get better from here.