The dogs have been run, and in some cases, probably corrected a time or two. In short, you're as ready as you'll ever be for the coming grouse and woodcock hunting season. Sure, you could have done a few more miles on the treadmill, but nothing can truly replicate hiking through the grouse woods, trying to follow a hard charging hunting dog …
The woods are changing a bit here in the north country this week - the leaves are turning, and a few of them are even carpeting the forest floor in places. The smell of decaying leaf litter that only a hunter can truly appreciate is wafting through the air as well - it is one of the rights of fall, and a harbinger of the approaching grouse season. We have had some cool mornings lately, but it tends to warm up by noon the last few days. We are all hoping for cooler weather to get here soon, and stay for good.
Our grouse guiding season begins tomorrow in Vermont and on Saturday in New Hampshire. It's almost here and we can't wait.
That bird was the beginning of a particularly fruitful session with Monty, as he located 3 grouse and perhaps 7 or 8 woodcock, the vast majority of which went pointed. Monty has done some good work lately, so he has been taking it easy this week, in preparation for the Vermont grouse hunting opener on Saturday. Temps look good for this weekend, so we should be able to get out there for a couple of hours each morning.
All of the dogs have had good moments this past week, though Bode worked hard but had little for results in some of the new covers that we were scouting. We did have a bit of success, walking a good distance in to an area that I have only dreamed about, thanks to some Google Earth research. Well, we finally got in there and it was worth it as we moved 4 grouse at the edge of a gigantic cut. It was an arduous trek to get in there, so the cover may not be the best for some of my clients, but could be nirvana to those that aren't afraid to have callouses on their feet.
Rudy, at ten years of age now, also had a great morning last week when we were scouting one of our tried and true areas. He had a field day with the woodcock, as I believe that we moved 8 woodcock in that cover - most were pointed by Rudy, sometimes two at a time. He also pointed 2 grouse in this cover, the last one of which held surprisingly well, and had me wishing that I had a client with me. Of course, I probably would have told them to approach from the wrong direction - grouse always make you look bad.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, Bode started out hot, pointing a pair of grouse, then a solo woodcock and finally a lone grouse in heavy cover - he was at his best in the cool early morning conditions. But then it warmed up a bit, and he began bumping a few birds as the temps climbed … we would end up contacting 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in nearly three hours, which was pretty good considering the conditions.
Today in Vermont, Monty did very well as he had points on two solo woodcock and then pointed a group of three grouse, a couple of which would have made nice targets. He then bumped a solitary grouse to close out his 1.5 hours in the woods. Once again, the canine performance was best when the temperature was coolest. By the time we left the woods, it was getting warm again, well on its way to hitting 75 degrees today.
As you can see from Bode's picture, the woods are mighty thick right now, and that might not change too much over the next few weeks. Usually the cover is beginning to come down by mid October, and usually everything is down by late October. Good grouse cover is thick however, so we just have to learn to deal with it - after all, if you're not picking up your hat when you're going through the cover, your probably not in good grouse cover!
By the way, last year's clients can attest to my struggle with certain technology (beeper collars!) that we rely on out in the woods. I had been using TriTronics beeper collars over the years with dependable results. Since I run the dogs with silent beepers until they point, it is really important that my beeper collars work dependably, when they're supposed to.
Well, I started having problems with my old TriTronics beepers early last season, and I opted to replace them with beeper units made by Garmin, which, truth be told, seem to be the same technology as the TriTronics collars (Garmin bought out TriTronics a few years ago and continued the beeper units). Unfortunately, I found that the new Garmin beepers were not as dependable as the TriTronics units were - not sure why, but I had quite a few instances where the beepers were going off at inopportune times, and it affected my hunts as a result.
Taking the recommendation of another guide friend of mine, I purchased the Dogtra 2500 beeper/trainer unit this summer, and it has been a revelation. The dogs have adapted seemlessly to this unit, and it has been dependable for us this summer as we run it on silent until the point is established. There is a small delay in the beeper going off (a few seconds), but then the beeper goes off every two seconds and having the training function on the same unit is indispensible to ensure that the point is held through the flush (still working on through the shot).
For $300 approximately, the Dogtra collar is a good value if you also need a training unit as well - I recommend it highly.
I have been able to get the dogs out in the woods several times a week lately in both New Hampshire and Vermont, as we ramp up for the season opener in a few weeks. Some mornings are pretty good, such as two days ago when I had Bode out for about one and a half hours. After a slow first 45 minutes, Bode then pointed two woodcock beautifully, one of which was at a good distance (30 feet or so), and later I was able to "whoa" him when the first of a brood of four grouse flushed up ahead. He understands "whoa" very well now, so I was able to walk up and flush the other birds. He also had a great point on a grouse last week, the only one that we would see that morning. He's coming along nicely.
We have also had some slow mornings as well, mostly in some new areas that I have been checking out. Yesterday we checked one particular spot in New Hampshire, where the cover looks ideal, and only found a smattering of woodcock chalk and one grouse that I bumbled in to and Monty missed entirely. C'est la vie!
Two points that have been constant in our scouting. The dogs have been working hard and are progressing toward the opener. It looks like it will be mostly Monty and Bode this fall who will be out on our guide trips. Rudy still has the desire, but at the ripe old age of 10 his stamina is not the same. He can still do the job in small covers or places that require a delicate dog, but his days of the 2 - 3 hour covers are probably gone.
The second point is more about the conditions lately - insanely hot and humid this past week, and I hope this weather pattern ends soon! Yesterday, we got a bit of a late start in the woods - at 8:45 it was 67 degrees when Bode and I left the truck. When we came back at 10:00, it was up to 73 degrees. Too hot, but the prediction is for a warmer than normal October, so carry lots of water for your dogs, and dunk them in ponds or lakes when you're out there. Hopefully it won't be as dire as that.
Just like the rest of the eastern U.S., we have had some great summer weather (70's and 80's, hot and humid), which is particularly difficult to walk the grouse woods in. It's hot, thick and nasty out there, and I for sure am paying the price for a slovenly winter and fishing way too much this summer. I'm not much for the treadmill generally, but it will become my best friend prior to October.
The woods are very dry right now up here (thankfully not as dry as down south), so looking for cool, damp places are where we're more likely to find birds. The season is a little over two months away and we're excited. Hopefully we're all ready for it.
Are you crazy? There's no way I'm going out on a limb to predict how we might fare this fall! I've taken too much guff in the past for leading readers astray … All I will say is that if you walk farther and work harder than most other grouse hunters, you'll probably put yourself in a good position to succeed - in other words, do the same things you do every year!
Perfect (though unseasonably chilly) weather for spring grouse and woodcock scouting. Temps have been in the twenties and thirties, and our woodcock have returned to our northern coverts, which is always a harbinger of spring.
This is also a great time to reinforce those commands ("WHOA!") that have become fuzzy in the canine memory over winter. While we are a bit limited in where we can go (many of the logging roads are closed to allow them to dry out from the snow and ice of winter), there's still plenty of spots that we can get in to.
The dogs have been doing well in their work. While Monty looks like he's ready for the season now (4 grouse and 3 woodcock contacted the other day in New Hampshire, and he had two staunch grouse points and a point on a pair of woodcock), Bode has some more work to do. Bode and I ran in to a lot of birds yesterday in Vermont - 8 grouse and 4 woodcock yesterday morning, and while part of the problem on at least half of the birds was wind direction (we were coming at the birds with the wind at our back - you can't always be on the right side of it unfortunately), he managed to bump most of the others.
His one bright spot was on his one grouse point (pictured) - guess you have to start somewhere!
Usually, our spring scouting in the north country takes place in April - by then, the snows of winter have mostly melted, enough for the dogs and I to get around the grouse woods without too much trouble. Well, spring came early this year (it seemed as though winter never really came), making for an extra couple of weeks of work for the dogs and escaping the winter doldrums for me.
Monty and Bode took me through a patch of woods in Vermont that we hadn't explored yet, so I had no idea of what to expect, nor expectations either. The "boys" were pretty fired up to be hitting the woods again, and running together to boot. Those of you that hunt with me know that I prefer to run one dog at a time - just too much to focus on when you have more than one dog on the ground, and today was a prefect example of that, at least early on.
Within five minutes from the truck, Bode, showing great energy at being in the woods, bounded in to some heavy cover on my left as I was watching Monty on my right. Shortly thereafter a great flapping of wings and clucking ensued - yes, Bode must have thought he had the grand daddy of all grouse in his sights. Three to four turkeys exploded in to the air in all directions, with Bode in hot pursuit. C'est la vie!
It got better fortunately, at least briefly. Monty and Bode had the point pictured above on a tight sitting grouse in heavy edge cover. The dogs held well, and so did the bird - long enough for me to walk up and flush it. It offered one of those tough but very makeable shots at tree height down the trail in front of me. My grouse hunter's eye dreamt of a bird fluttering down, hit by my shot string through the waning foliage of late October or early November. However, you know how dreams sometimes go …
Over the next 45 minutes, we would move seven more grouse, just walking along the snow and ice covered trail. There were two pairs, which both held surprisingly tight, and several more singles. All of the birds were located in the thick evergreen edge cover, and while the dogs were birdy on nearly all of them, they did not perform nearly as well as they did on that first one. Perhaps too many birds too soon? Maybe - they also had a competition going on (or at least Bode was trying to compete with Monty - fat chance), further confirming my belief that the dogs are best run alone.
In short, it's the worst time of the year!
Check this out and let me know what you think and, thanks Jerry …
"Because They're Wild"
We look forward to another good grouse hunting season, in just 275 days from now, give or take a few - we hope you have a good 2016 ahead pursuing our feathered friends too!