Tall Timber Lodge

Banner Crop

The lighter of the two crops - mostly green leaves, buds, and even a slug!
Last weekend's clients sent me the following pictures of the two crops from the grouse we harvested on Sunday, and the pictures are amazing. Grouse have been known to eat many different things, depending on their location. If they're near old apple orchards, you can expect apples to be a major food source at this time of year, and we all know that high bush cranberries, hawthorn berries and mountain ash berries are also highly sought after by feeding grouse.


This grouse really strapped the feed bag on, for the incoming bad weather!
But what if none of these food sources are readily present for some of those "deep woods" grouse? Well, their large menu selection just seems to get larger, as they also incorporate the green leaves of raspberry plants and fern tips (what is termed "salad" by grouse hunters), mushrooms, and the buds and seeds of many different types of trees (yellow and white birch, maple, and beech are most prevalent in northern New Hampshire and Vermont). As you can see, these birds had plenty of salad, but the one bird with the "all you can eat buffet" crop also had lots of those maple seeds (whirligigs) - it was undoubtedly loading up for the weather that we had last night and are currently experiencing today.

There have been no hard frosts as of yet, so there is still plenty of salad out there in the woods - if you're hunting in the next week or so up here, you might want to pay attention to some of those thicker "green" areas. There might just be a grouse in there getting its next meal.
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NH Grouse & Woodcock Hunting Update: 10/29

Monty's tough on grouse, and Art and Craig have seen it firsthand.
Sometimes, it all comes together. Good conditions for us and the dogs, clients with unending (well, nearly unending) energy and solid shooting ability, and more than a few grouse and woodcock that hold and occasionally fly the wrong way for them. That's how the last two days went with long time clients of mine, Art and Craig, as we moved 49 birds (22 grouse, 27 woodcock) over this weekend.

All three dogs
(Monty, Bode, and Rosie) worked well this weekend, providing Art and Craig with chance after chance on unsuspecting grouse and woodcock. Monty got the morning duties the last two days, and he didn't disappoint. He pointed and held close the majority of the birds that he saw (9 grouse and 8 woodcock in his two sessions of work) and he really seems to have hit his stride as a grouse dog. He attacks the cover with a mix of energy and patience, and everyone was spellbound at times as he seemed to slink in to his points, whether it was on a grouse or a woodcock - it was beautiful to watch.
Another grouse taken over one of Monty's beautiful points.


On both Saturday and Sunday, Rosie was the second dog out of the truck, as we tried to exploit some of the covers where woodcock are more prevalent. Rosie needs a few birds shot over her right now, and she's been a bit unlucky to be honest - some of her points have gone unrewarded lately. She did very well on Saturday, pointing four of the seven woodcock that she encountered
(she also bumped a grouse), but none of the woodcock were taken on her points. While she was a bit wild yesterday, she hunted closer for us today, pointing both of the woodcock that she encountered - one did not offer a shot, but the other was a clean miss. Better luck next time, Rosie.

Bode nailed a grouse on Saturday
The best work of both days may have been turned in by Bode, as he worked close and pointed a bundle of birds, especially on Sunday. We moved 8 grouse and 6 woodcock this afternoon, and Bode pointed 5 of the grouse and 4 of the woodcock. Some of his points were spectacular, and both Art and Craig had good chances on these birds. They took four grouse and four woodcock over their two days in the grouse woods, but we all know it could have been more - both of them will be seeing and hearing birds flush in their dreams I think. We had a great time and we're all looking forward to next year already …

Bode also pointed a bunch of grouse on Sunday as well.
Tomorrow appears to be a washout up here, but we'll be back at it on Tuesday in Vermont. One week left in our guiding season (two days left in New Hampshire and four days in Vermont), and it looks like Bode and Rosie may have to carry the load. We heard Monty yelp when returning to us on one of his casts, so he may get a couple days off this week. He looked okay tonight at feeding time, so hopefully it is nothing too serious.

Stay safe everybody, and more updates to come!
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Helpful Advice and Other Things

monty-grouse-pt-oct-25
A day of rest today, as the sky really has opened up with some much needed rain over the last couple of days. It poured pretty much all day today, and although I spent a couple of unproductive hours out in some heavy spruce cover in northern Vermont (we didn't move a single bird), it was still good to get the rain. Tomorrow looks like perfect weather for grouse and woodcock hunting (sunny, high of 50 degrees) - I know where I'll be …

Received an email from
Linehan Outfitters in Montana yesterday - if you're ever in Montana, particularly in the northwest part of the state, and are looking for an excellent time out hunting (upland birds, big game) or fishing (flyfishing trips on the Yaak, Kootenai, Missouri, and Clark Fork, among other rivers) - look them up. Tim and Joanne run a first class guide service and have been recognized for several awards, among them Montana Outfitter of the Year - needless to say, you better book early!

Anyway, the following grouse hunting tips were in the newsletter from Tim Linehan, and are worth a read, especially if you like to use the "skirmish line" tactic that many of us use when we have a group going through the woods or working a road edge. Safety and organization should be the top priorities when employing this technique, so read carefully and try to put it into practice. Thanks to Tim for letting me share this with all of you.

Grouse Hunting - Holding The Line

Here are three strategies to help you and your hunting partners stay in line and stay safe on your next outing.

1. Choose a quarterback for your hunt. Have a look at the area you intend to hunt on a map or gps and assign one person to take charge and choreograph the effort. By allowing one person the take charge on an agreed upon hunt strategy, you minimize the possibility of someone going rogue and ending up in front of the guns.

2. Regardless of whether you’re the quarterback or not, communicate vocally and frequently with your hunting partners. Every minute or two everyone in the party should call out to the person immediately next to them to assure everyone is still on line. If you have several people in your party, it’s best to call out to the person next to you and then have everyone else call out down the line as well. There’s no such thing as too much communication in a thick grouse cover.

3. Be aware of the different paces each of you employ while traveling through the cover. Experience and physical health certainly influence your partners’ pace. Size up the group dynamic in the first two or three hundred yards and have everyone adjust accordingly. Be decisive and thoughtful about accommodating your partners’ abilities.

4. Use a fixed point to help you stay on line. Topography or vegetation obstructions are the number one reason the line breaks down while grouse hunting. One small hill, or one patch of blowdown that someone encounters can send them inadvertently right in front of other guns. Every one hundred yards or so and based on your quarterback’s direction, choose a tree, a stump, anything, and head straight for that point. Look up occasionally, maintain good and true direction, and do not deviate. When grouse hunting compasses and GPS help to this end but it’s far easier to look up occasionally and maintain a bearing on a big, lone pine tree than it is to constantly have to check something hanging around your neck or in your pocket. I learned very early from an old New Hampshire grouse hunter to go through obstructions whenever possible, and not around them provided you weren’t compromising any safety rules.

5. If the line breaks down and someone is lagging behind or you notice someone out in front, stop the hunt and any shooting immediately. Regardless of what’s going on, and even if you’re into the mother lode of ruffed grouse and your dog is locked up on point or flushing birds from underfoot, this is obviously one of the worst case scenarios and make no exceptions to this rule. It’s only a little bird...and hunting is definitely not bigger than life.

Staying in line while hunting grouse is an absolute. By keeping these five common sense approaches and strategies in mind while hunting dense grouse covers, you will find it easier to maintain direction and heading which will make for a better and much safer hunt in the end.
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NH Grouse & Woodcock Hunting Update: 10/24

Keep walking - they're out there somewhere
Two more warm days in the woods on Monday and Tuesday … and it seems like there's some woodcock making their way down from Canada. We have moved 39 woodcock in the last two days of hunting, in areas where we normally see some woodcock, but not that many. We have also been fortunate to have truly excellent dog work on the woodcock as well - Monty has pinned many of them resulting in good chances for my clients, and Chotsie, Chris Ramel's brittany has had several woodcock points as well.

Several highlights today were when Monty pointed a group of three woodcock
(none taken) and then a pair of tight holding woodcock shortly after that (none taken). Near the end of our morning session today both Monty and Chotsie disappeared over the edge of a small birm - there was a lonely woodcock, sitting in front of the two of them and it offered no chance for Jim to take it unfortunately.

What about the grouse? We have moved 14 grouse the last two days, with a few points from Monty on these birds, but in general they are getting out in front of us and launching well before we can get there. It was been warm (68 - 72 degrees in the afternoon), and very windy today. Wind is the arch enemy of the grouse hunter, as it generally makes a nervous bird even more skittish, and we found that out to some degree today. With the weather change coming, I anticipate much better scenting conditions, dog work, and hunting overall on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow looks like it could be a washout, but we badly need the inches of rain that are coming.
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A Little Catching Up to Do ...

Rosie locates a dead woodcock
Well, it's been a long time since I have been able to post anything about the grouse and woodcock seasons in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, but I have a valid excuse. My computer decided that it had enough a couple of weeks ago, and it has taken some time to get the new one in and get it up and running - that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. From now on, you can expect more frequent updates … I promise.

The season to this point has been a strange one, and a bit underwhelming at times. Unfortunately, the weather has played the role of
"turd in the punch bowl", as it has generally been much warmer than normal all over the northeast, and it has been no exception up here as well. Warm temperatures mean much more difficult scenting conditions for our four-legged friends and the number of days so far this season where I really felt that we had good conditions I could count on one hand. When the weather has been good - some moisture and temps in the 50's - we have had good days for the most part.

The unusually warm weather has also meant that
the foliage has remained on the trees longer (it's coming down, but not fast enough for us) and the woodcock migration seems to have been stalled to some degree. Some of our tried and true flight covers have not produced to the degree that they usually do, but our weather is due to change for the better (or the worse, if you like bluebird days) with colder temps and lots of rain coming midweek.

Bode has had several nice finds this year - this one was from October 22
If you want me to get down to specifics, our best day of moving grouse came on October 10 (the day following heavy rain on 10/9), where we moved 22 grouse and 9 woodcock as well. Our worst day was a mere 9 grouse and 1 woodcock encountered on October 12 - c'est la vie, and that is, unfortunately, grouse hunting. The big difference seems to be the moisture of the leaf litter - when it's wet, we can get close to grouse and have good work from the dogs to boot. When it's dry in the woods, we're making a lot of noise, it's more difficult for the dogs to get good whiffs of bird scent, and the birds tend to be jumpy and don't hang around for long.

Client Guy Minor took Rosie's first woodcock for her.
As far as the dogs go, Monty (8 years) seems to be in his prime as he has really locked down many grouse and woodcock thus far - he has provided us with our best opportunities to knock down birds. Bode (4 years) has performed well but the conditions and grouse behavior have gotten the better of him at times - still, he has looked good on woodcock that he has encountered, and has made several impressive retrieves of downed grouse. Rosie (1 year) has generally done very well in her first season, though she has had a few moments of wildness. Her highlight was a morning session where she pointed four woodcock and a couple of grouse as well - my client limited out on woodcock, and Rosie did a nice job of pointing them dead. We were able to recover them, which is all that I'm really concerned with - the style points will come later.

Matt and Parker had a great day with Bode and Monty
In addition to the good work from the dogs, we have also been fortunate to see a young hunter, and one that we hope will be, develop a love for birds, dogs, and the outdoors. First, we witnessed 15-year old Dante Verona score his first bird on the wing, a woodcock, under one of Monty's excellent points. We were also able to guide Matt Brewster and his 8-year old son Parker behind Monty and Bode. Parker seemed to have a great time out there, and marvelled at his father plowing through a box of shells in the morning of our hunt, to no avail. The highlight of that hunt was when Parker earnestly implored his dad that his chances at scoring a bird would improve if he just "aimed better". Needless to say, we were rolling at his perceptive comment. Yes, Matt finally connected on a grouse in the afternoon …

We also witnessed some poor behavior from fellow hunters as well - alarming in fact, and the first time that something like this has happened to me. It happened this morning in our first cover. We were the first truck parked at a locked gate with foot access only and were about thirty minutes in when Monty went on point on his fourth bird of the morning (two grouse and two woodcock), about twenty or thirty yards in the cover. Matt and I moved in to check on Monty and his point while Parker remained on the road. When the woodcock flew without offering a shot for Matt (a matter of a minute or two), we returned to Parker and the road, only to be told by Parker that there were other hunters that just walked by him down the road … the road that we were going to hunt. To my astonishment, he was right and there were the hunters, quickly going down the road out of sight. Suddenly, we had to find a new cover to hunt, and while I should thank those hunters for getting us to go to a new cover (where we ended up finding a grouse and 11 woodcock), it was disappointing to say the least. When we got back to the parking area, I noticed that the intruder's truck was from a mid-Atlantic state not to be mentioned. If that's how they hunt down there, they should stay down there …

Let's hope the hunting and behavior gets better.
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Vermont or New Hampshire?

Which state is better for grouse hunting - Vermont or New Hampshire?

I get asked that question a lot, and to be honest with you, both states have been good to me in the past. I've also had tough days in both states as well, so neither has been consistently dependable either.

While I have never kept track of my time in the two states separately, I will try to do it this year so that there can be a baseline going forward. The "tote board" in the sidebar on the right will have info on what we have found in Vermont and New Hampshire and I'll do my best to keep up with it.

And no, I have no stats on Maine grouse and woodcock!

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Rosie had a good morning for the most part today on opening day in Vermont - we moved 10 grouse in just 2.5 hours, and she did a nice job pointing a pair of birds in a softwood thicket. We also moved two other pairs as well as four singles. That pair was her only point however, as she bumped a few grouse as did I - one of which nearly gave me a heart attack as it went out just about fifteen feet from me. Yes, my gun was not in the "ready position" - no shot.

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The Dog Days

We're definitely in the home stretch now, with the grouse season in Vermont opening in 11 days and the New Hampshire opener just 12 days away, and while there are unmistakable signs of fall taking place in the north country, it sure doesn't feel like fall lately. The foliage seems to be changing rapidly and even falling in some places, but with temperatures in the 70's and low 80's, it feels much more like August than September, and this has led to abbreviated training sessions over the last week.

In most cases, our work is over by 10 AM, as it has simply been too hot for the dogs to work comfortably and safely. We have still been seeing our share of birds out there, but grouse and woodcock don't have to move around much to search for food when it's this warm out. Needless to say, if the birds aren't moving around, they are also not laying down much bird scent either, and with the non-existent air currents
(nearly none) of the last two mornings, many of our contacts were extremely close. Hopefully our temperatures change quickly once the season finally gets here.

The woods are bone dry in the upland areas, and we have been able to find some moisture, and woodcock, in some of the low areas. We haven't had good soaking rain in nearly two weeks now and the forecast doesn't look promising for wet weather coming our way either. We have come across some grouse in areas that are extremely thick and shady - cooler for the birds to hang out in - yes it would be a good plan to me as well.

As far as the dogs go, Rosie has continued to see most of the work to try to get her prepared for the season, and we've had some steps forward and backward. Yesterday she had a nice point on a grouse in extremely thick cover
(never saw it flush) and a point on a woodcock as well, but … she also ran through three other woodcock and a grouse early on in the session. The points came later on, perhaps indicating that she is a bit amped up coming out of the truck, as young dogs are apt to be. Today was more of the same, with her enthusiastically bumping three seperate grouse that we encountered within 15 minutes from the truck. Later on, she was very birdy in a low spot in the woods, but took one step too many and up went an escaping woodcock. Yes, our work goes on …

Bode had a nice session yesterday morning, pointing all three of the woodcock that he encountered. He quartered well and hunted thoroughly, and he has become a pleasure to venture in to the grouse woods with. Monty will get a little more work before the season begins, but we're hoping to preserve what little tred he has left on his tires, if you know what I mean.

Guiding Availability Update:
I have recently taken a cancellation for
Sunday, October 1 - if you're looking to get out there for some opening day hunting, please send along an email for more information - thanks!

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Hunt Where the Food Is

One thing that has been nearly impossible to miss this summer and fall is all of the natural food sources out there. Apparently, all of this rain was good for something, as we've had banner production with all of our mast crops that grouse favor here in northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

The first major mast crop that you take notice of in August when you're out in the woods are
choke cherries, and their garnet clusters seem to be everywhere out there this year. They are a favorite of many birds and animals, with black bears perhaps favoring them the most, and I'm sure that our grouse also get in on the action as well. They are an "early" food and are usually entirely gone from the scene when we're out there grouse hunting in October and November.

Wild apple trees remain the quintissential fall food for grouse, and they really become a staple wherever they are present following some hard frosts that drop the fruit to the ground. In a short time, they become mushy and easily digestible for the birds and are a guaranteed spot to check on for grouse. There are a few old apple orchards that have gotten in to our rotation of coverts over the years, and while they seem to usually have birds in them, that does not mean that they are always areas of hunter success. I have noticed many times that the birds that frequent the orchards are very skittish (even for grouse), as if they know that they are undertaking something of a commando mission to take the chance of feeding there. We usually hunt these spots as silently as possible (no bells, no beepers, no talking) to try to take the birds by surprise, but that still rarely works.

The best day in one of these old apple orchards came probably five or six years ago following the first sticking snowfall of the year
(it was in mid-October and we had received 4"-5"). We bumbled in to 18 grouse that afternoon (yes, just the afternoon, in one covert), and it was undoubtedly because we were intercepting birds that had come in to feed with the cold weather. My clients harvested none. Old apple orchards also tend to be good areas for woodcock here and there - the soil composition is perfect for worm production, so timberdoodles can be sought in under the shade of an old apple tree too.

Another important food source are
high bush cranberries, which linger perhaps the longest of all the food sources. They last well in to winter, and sometimes right through it. A couple of these natural food patches are on our roster of coverts as well, and they can be pretty dependable, particularly early in the morning or just before dark. The proof of how important high bush cranberries are to wildlife came a few years ago when I was driving through downtown Canaan, Vermont. There, in the middle of town, not fifty feet from someone's house, was a mature wild turkey in a high bush cranberry bush, hammering it for all it was worth. They must be good.

The last natural food source that's big with our ruffed grouse up here is the
Mountain Ash (Sorbus Americana) - it also lasts well in to winter and is there for the grouse when other food sources have dried up. Some years, it seems like they're everywhere, and other years the crop doesn't seem too good and I'm not sure why. This year looks to be a fantastic one for production, as their bright red berry clusters are prevalent wherever I drive - can't miss them, and hopefully our grouse don't miss them either!
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A Taste of What is to Come

Yesterday (September 1) was what you might call "brisk" - at 44 degrees at 8 AM, it not only felt like it could have been October 1, but it could have easily passed for mid-October or even early November. That temperature, with a healthy wind from the north, made it feel a bit more chilly, leaving me to wonder where my gloves were - yes, they were at home, right where they should have been at this stage of late summer.

Naturally, our visiting tourists thought this was the worst weather possible for the start of the Labor Day weekend, but
for those of us that run dogs and hunt grouse and woodcock, it was nearly perfect weather. No bugs, no sweating endlessly through a tangle of summer cover (don't worry, the woods are still plenty thick, but somehow didn't seem to be as bad when you're going through them at these temps), and great scenting conditions for the dogs.

We're officially in the homestretch now - less than a month left, and we have continued our scouting and training sessions several times a week in preparation for what is to come. Progress continues for all of the dogs, and each one has different objectives prior to the opener.

Monty doesn't need much bird work from what I have seen, but he could use more conditioning to get ready for the toils of grouse and woodcock hunting day in and day out. He's the "#1 dog", and showed it yesterday morning - sticking points on all four of the woodcock we discovered in the hour he was out there. Unfortunately, we didn't run in to any grouse in that spot to truly test him …

At 10 months old,
we're trying to get Rosie in to as many birds as possible to reinforce the good work she has begun in pointing birds in the last two weeks. She had a good session yesterday - in just over an hour, she contacted three grouse and three woodcock, and did a good job pointing the majority of them (two of the grouse and two of the woodcock were on points), and she was very cooperative in hunting that covert. She also has plenty of energy as well and doesn't seem to waste it out there - she should be able to handle some of our larger, three and four hour hunts that my clients have to endure …

Bode is hunting very well - close and under control, and he needs almost no handling it seems. Still, when a dog hunts that close, the route through the cover that the handler takes is of the utmost importance, and we only contacted one woodcock (pointed) and one grouse (not pointed) in his hour of running yesterday. This cover is a reliable spot for double digit numbers of birds normally, so I'm not sure if it was my handling skills, Bode's bird finding skills, or the birds themselves that were to blame for our subpar session. It is a huge cover, and we only went through a snippet of it … so maybe they were there but we just didn't find them. Bode seems to have enjoyed his offseason too, so out of all the dogs, he's the one that requires more physical conditioning prior to the season.

Three hours, four grouse and eight woodcock, nine of which were on points. A good session, and undoubtedly the cool temperatures helped with that. Steady to wing and shot training continues for all of the dogs, and they did a great job yesterday maintaining their points through the flush and the firing of my .22 starters pistol (the blanks are actually quite loud and are the next best simulation for a shotgun blast). This training will continue through September - the greatest test will be next month when they spot a running grouse, high tailing it out of a point - that will be tough.

The leaves on a few trees are already changing, as you might expect with 35 - 45 degree nights, and it seems as though we'll be in peak foliage in no time. This is how it always begins, as our peak is generally around the tail end of September and beginning of October.
One thing that would be great is if we have an early leaf drop this year - perhaps our shooting percentage will go up?

Yup, probably not.
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Get Fired Up!

Here's a little primer to get us all motivated for the upcoming grouse and woodcock hunting seasons - only five weeks away now!

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The Ever Elusive Poplar

A stand of poplars - a pretty special thing when you come upon them out there deep in the grouse woods. This is the kind of cover we all look for when we're pursuing grouse and woodcock, as it is known to be particularly desirable by those species. Poplar, as it is properly known, goes by a couple of other names too - aspen (in the west and midwestern U.S.), or popple (this is a slang term that we often use here in the north country). Whatever you wish to call it, the poplar might be the most important tree species for grouse that we have, so familiarity with it is a good idea for us grouse hunters.

For grouse, it is said that the leaves of a poplar are unusually nutritious, and they must be pretty tasty too, as it seems that grouse really seek out mature poplars for feeding. Stands of young poplar whips also serve as great cover for broods of grouse as well, as hens seek out the thickest cover from avian predators to raise their chicks. I've also had good luck finding woodcock in these areas as well, and I wonder if it could be because of the soil composition. As you all know, if there are no worms in an area, there won't be any woodcock either, so there must be something with stands of poplar in this regard.

Unfortunately in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, we don't have an abundance of poplar stands like they have in the midwest
(out there, they're usually called "Aspen"), so it is something like finding buried treasure when you find a stand of them. For me, these places are GPS-worthy, but they often automatically find their way in to my memory bank of grouse coverts. When we're hunting these spots, those poplars will definitely be part of the plan going forward.

In the fall, the leaves of a poplar turn a golden yellow and I've found that they stay on a bit longer than some of the other hard woods, making them easy to pick out from the landscape. God take pity on clients of mine if a stand of golden leaved poplars are spotted from some high ridge across a valley! This exact occurence took place a number of years ago in mid-October. A solid but unspectacular morning with my clients Mike and Lou had me wondering what to do next … when I spotted a clump of sparkling golden coins across a valley on a ridge that didn't seem that far away. Of course, we had to climb down from the ridge we were on and cross the valley, then cross a stream, and up the other side. All turned out well when we entered this little slice of grouse habitat nirvana. It was a bit of work getting there, but we got in to a few grouse and several woodcock as well, and I briefly looked like I knew what I was doing …

While I've never personally hunted in the Midwest for grouse, there are supposedly tremendous concentrations of poplar, and perhaps that is why Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are considered the epicenter of grouse hunting in North America. Here in the east, we have to be content with smaller pockets of poplars, mixed with our maple, birch, beech and assorted soft woods. Together, our combination of tree species makes a nice mosaic of habitat for our birds, and we'll just have to be content with that.

The picture above was taken this morning in Pittsburg, NH - we had the good fortune of finding two grouse and three woodcock nearby. Perhaps that proves my point!
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The Upcoming Season

Preparations for the upcoming grouse and woodcock hunting seasons are underway. While running the dogs through a green hell of foliage in summer temperatures may not sound especially appealing, it's good to be in the woods again and builds anticipation for what is to come. Brilliant autumn days spent following a bird dog in search of the ultimate prize - nothing is better than that, and my pack of GSP's are dreaming much the same.

Our training and scouting sessions actually began back in early July, but were derailed following an upper leg muscle pull for myself - a reminder of my advancing age and all that goes with it. I don't
"bounce back" the way I used to, so my wife's advice of stretching before getting out there is probably warranted. This led to three more weeks of yard work for the dogs, which isn't entirely a bad thing - a little boring though.

We have managed to get out several times a week the last two weeks, and the results have varied, depending on the day. Some of our tried and true haunts have produced next to nothing, while we have had surprisingly good success in other areas. That's grouse scouting, and it's not that much different from what we usually find during the hunting season.

Still, preseason predictions, while anticipated, can sometimes be counterproductive. It's hard to gauge what we will find in two months from what we are observing right now - since the grouse broods are still together, we can walk a long way without seeing much and then suddenly discover a nice sized group of grouse. We'll just have to temper our expectations until we actually see what's there in another six weeks.

A Few Observations from the Last Year …


  • We had an "average" grouse hunting season last year, going by the numbers. Our average numbers of birds (grouse and woodcock) flushed per hour was 3.16 - not as many as some years, but more than other seasons that we've had.

  • We had a long, snowy (180" in Pittsburg) winter this year, and that amount of snow may have actually helped the grouse survive it better. The bitter cold that we usually endure really didn't manifest itself last winter, so maybe our grouse weren't exposed to predators when feeding as much as they are in a bitterly cold winter.

  • I heard quite a few drumming grouse this spring while turkey hunting - another indicator of good adult grouse survival through the winter.

  • June was one of our wettest, and perhaps one of our coldest as well - not good for chick survival when that happens.

  • Small broods of turkeys were being seen in late June and July, as well as small broods of mallards on Back Lake. Needless to say, I could only assume the worst for our grouse. Yes, sadly, that's how my paranoid mind works when it comes to grouse …

So, this all leads us back to somehow predicting what this fall will be like.
My observations over the last two weeks of scouting have given me some optimism - in three different coverts, we have run in to a different brood of grouse, with at least six birds in each (there may have been more, but they are hard to keep track of when they start popping off). Perhaps the grouse fared a bit better than their avian cousins, and we've been seeing some woodcock too.

In the end, does it really matter what the predictions are?

After all, are you going to rake leaves in your yard this fall rather than follow your bird dog through the woods in search of grouse and woodcock?

I didn't think so. Me neither.

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A Cornucopia of Topics

Monty's been on a vigorous workout regimen this winter
So, it's been a long time since my last post … sorry about that. This one will be a ramble of various thoughts and topics, and I apologize in advance if you find that you need a GPS to follow along with this one.

"How was the bird hunting last season?"

This has been a common question for me from Tall Timber guests and bird hunters alike. My response has been that we seemed to have two different seasons last fall. The
first one wasn't great - it was warm, with lots of foliage on the trees for the first couple weeks of October. Not that the bird hunting was bad … in fact, we had a few phenomenal days on grouse, and the woodcock seemed to be everywhere at times. But it was mighty tough getting a good view (and shot) on those birds, due to the screen of foliage we had to try to shoot through.

The
"second season" last year was very good for my clients and I. This seemed to occur right after Columbus Day, as colder and more blustery weather blew in and took many of the leaves down. The colder weather got the grouse moving in search of food sources, and the leaf drop made the shooting chances better. This resulted in our second best year of harvesting birds in my nine years of guiding, and it would have been even better if the snow didn't come so early. Unfortunately, my season was totally over by Thanksgiving, as the snow depths in some of my favorite places made navigating them nearly impossible, and no, I'm not a big fan of wearing snowshoes while hunting.

The
best aspect of last hunting season for me (and a few of my clients) was discovering some new covers - I think there are four new additions to our lineup. Some are in New Hampshire and some are in Vermont, but they all have what is needed for grouse and woodcock. All of them will require more investigation, which is my favorite part of getting ready for a new season - we can't wait.

The development of the dogs was great to see as well. Monty was his usual steady self, working closer as he gets older (7 years old), and pointing birds seemingly like a machine at times. Bode (3 years old) really came along well as the season progressed, and he was at his best as the weather turned colder - out of all of the dogs, he's most dependent on good conditions for a good day of bird finding. Both dogs got a lot of work last year, as well as lots of practice retrieving birds (my hunters had a good season of shooting as well), and they both have become adept at making sure no birds go to waste out there.

Rosie's the newest addition, and we have our work cut out for us!
Rudy (10 years old) has settled in to semi-retirement, but we're keeping him in good shape just in case he needs to strap the vest on again. He did hunt four or five times last fall, and while he's definitely slowing down some, he still shows great desire when we hit the woods. Rosie (now 4 months old) is the newest addition to the lineup, and we're hoping she'll be on her way this fall. She has typical intelligence for a female (she's bright, almost scary at times), and great lineage - she's Bode's daughter, and her mother is Dixie, another great grouse hunter, so hopefully she doesn't fall too far from the mountain ash. Guiding will be in her future, but maybe not this year - stay tuned …

We have been seeing a few grouse around our neighborhood this winter - one day after a fresh snowfall, I counted four different tracks at various points along the trail as we were snowshoeing. It has not been a terribly cold winter, but it has been snowy. Hopefully this spring's weather is good for them. I have heard recently from a contact of mine in central New Hampshire that there's a couple of woodcock already back down there - early returners with all of last week's warm weather I suppose. Hopefully they stay down there for a little while, as we still have plenty of snow in the north. When they come back, we'll be anxious to get the puppy out for her first experience with timberdoodles.

The last tidbit that I have is an
advisory issued in Maine for sporting dog owners passed on to me by Rich Johnson. For those that use the Garmin Alpha or Astro GPS systems to know what's happening out there with their dogs while hunting (I'm one of them), they recommend that you check the channel that the collar is set on to communicate with your dog. It appears as though the collars use the same MURS (Multi Use Radio Service) frequencies as those of truckers and loggers, unless you manually change the frequency channel of the collars. It might be a good idea to check the frequency that your dog's collar is set at and change it to MURS channel 5 (this one is not used by truckers or loggers), as an additional safeguard for all of those involved. If they're doing it in Maine, we might as well do it here too - there is still active logging operations ongoing here in the north country. It's easy to do and instructions can be found on … where else? Google!
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