Tall Timber Lodge

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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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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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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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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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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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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NH & VT Grouse Hunting Update: 11/5

Lou holds a mature grouse from our hunt last Tuesday
The grouse woods of northern New Hampshire are simply beautiful at this time of the season - their starkness has laid bare the secrets of many of the coverts where we look for birds. Early on in the hunting season, these places are thick and at times unpenetrable, making it much easier for the birds to elude our efforts at finding them. Now, it's the opposite, as we can see some of their escape routes, but it still doesn't make it that much easier.

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.

Emma points a grouse
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.
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NH & VT Grouse Hunting Update: 10/30

The closest we get to a grouse at times!
We've had a great weekend of bird hunting and dog work in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, and hopefully it continues on as we enter the "home stretch" of our guiding season.

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 …
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The woodcock are still here ... for now

Bode points a very tired woodcock
That's our Bode, with yet another woodcock (inside the circle) that he pointed yesterday. As my client had already reached his bag limit for the day, we proceeded to take a lot of pictures of that timberdoodle, before finally flushing him and wishing him luck on his journey south this fall.

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.

How much longer will they be around?
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!

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NH Grouse Hunting Update: 10/25



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.

Peter and Bode made quite a team
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 …
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NH Grouse Hunting Update: 10/21

Hunting ruffed grouse takes us to beautiful places.
The grouse hunting season starts in earnest now in northern New Hampshire - the leaves have nearly all dropped, and we should have more flights of woodcock pushed in to our area from the north. As the weather gets colder (which it will tonight!), the grouse will have to feed much more to keep their engines running, which should lead to some better chances for hunters in pursuit of them.

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.

Paul congratulates Monty on a job well done
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.

monty-point-oct-21
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.

Ginger honors - she'll be a good one
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 …
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NH Grouse Hunting Update: 10/14

Monty (left) points a woodcock as Chotsie and Chris move in


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.

Frank & Chris, ready to roll in the grouse woods again
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.
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NH Grouse Hunting Update: 10/9

Monty with one of his many woodcock points from Friday
"It's grouse hunting, not grouse shooting." That's one of the phrases I utter to my clients when the birds are either not cooperating or are succeeding in evading us and the dogs.

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.

Simply put, Monty's been a machine this season
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.
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Bird dogs as a conservation tool

Bode retrieves our first grouse of today
Most hunters reading this blog might already use bird dogs to help them in their pursuit of upland birds. Not only is using a dog esthetically pleasing (i.e. the classic bird dog scene, where a faithful canine companion is coursing back and forth, in search of game in front of you), but taking upland game birds with a dog that you have trained over several years is immensely rewarding. Nevermind the countless numbers of birds that you'll find with a good dog working the cover thorougly, compared to the lone hunter on foot without a dog, or a group of hunters without a dog.

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.

We wouldn't have recovered this grouse without Bode's great nose!
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!
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NH Grouse Hunting Update: 10/2

Monty, with a grouse that he pointed and then retrieved from thick cover
The grouse and woodcock hunting seasons are underway here in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, and we've had a great start to our season. In two and a half days of hunting, we have moved/disturbed the daily habits of about 35 grouse and 35 woodcock - pretty solid numbers, especially considering that we haven't seen any flights of woodcock yet (they usually start coming through in a couple more weeks).

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.
An example of great dog work: Polly (l) honors Monty (c) as Randy moves in from the right
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.

Mike and Sue, proud of their Blue
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!
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Vermont Opener (for us)

hansen-grouse
Great day in Vermont's grouse woods today as my first client of the season Randy and I enjoyed some excellent bird work from our German Shorthaired Pointers. Randy's five year old GSP Polly got the call for the morning hunt and she had a great time pointing grouse and woodcock … all morning long.

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.
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Anticipation ...

Monty is ready for the season - he had a grouse pointed today here.
If you're like me, you probably have already been through all of your gear, made sure to repair various tears in your clothing, and have put several coats of Sno Seal on your boots. You've made sure that your GPS unit has new batteries and charged the $1000 worth of dog collars that you'll come to depend on this season.

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.
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A Grouse Season Tease

Friend, author and avid grouse hunter Jerry Allen sent me a link to get the grouse hunting juices flowing again. As you know, we're nearly a full month from the last time we were allowed out in the woods, shotgun in hand, following a hard working dog in search of birds.

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"
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December 13 Grouse Hunting Report

Sunday morning in New Hampshire's uplands - spectacular.
Simply spectacular weather today in the uplands of Pittsburg New Hampshire - mid 40's, sunny and little to no wind. We have been spoiled this fall with some glorious late season weather, allowing us to pursue and harass ruffed grouse in to the middle of December (usually by this point the dogs are enjoying some well earned couch time, and I'm getting the shovel warmed up and watching football).

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.

A healthy pile of grouse droppings was as close as we got to one of them yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon, we hunted an area that we had hit just two days before and had done very well in (we had moved many grouse, but had not shot any of them). Bode did a nice job of patterning and hunted hard, but pointed three grouse (a single and a pair) and bumped another, none of which offered themselves up for a shot from my client. In total, we moved somewhere around 16 grouse yesterday, but none of them were brought to the vest, and not one shot was taken.

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.

Rudy's hard earned grouse from this morning.
Over the years I have been fortunate to witness hundreds of points, from many different dogs. It is the most exciting aspect of grouse hunting for me, and something that leaves me in wonder every time it happens. One of the pairs that Rudy pointed in one of those hillside cuts produced a fast flushing grouse that decided to fly out and down the logging trail in front of me, for some reason. It was another illustration that we harvest grouse when they make a mistake - if they made the right choice every time they make an escape, we probably would kill very few birds. This one made a mistake …

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 …

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Late Season Grouse Hunting

Dawkins, my client's red setter, had a couple of good days of finding grouse and holding staunchly on his points
Amazing weather lately here in northern New Hampshire, and all over the northeast - very mild, and perfect for grouse hunting. While our winter snowmobiling enthusiasts are justifiably worried about the start of the season for riding Pittsburg's trails (officially open on 12/15), we have been able to get out there this week to chase birds and the long range forecast looks favorable for doing so for at least the next week.

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 …

Dawkins with one of his best grouse points from yesterday.
We've had some very good dog work these last few days. My client from the first two days had two good setters that worked ahead of us - an english setter named Maggie and a red setter named Dawkins. Both gave maximum effort and each had great points on our north country grouse, none of which fell to my client's gun. Monty also had a very good afternoon on Wednesday, where he pointed all four grouse that he encountered.

Monty's typical pose when he hunts - he's a good one and seems to be getting better.
Today was the warmest day of the week (nearly 50 degrees), and we found a fair amount of birds in the morning with the help of Monty. We moved nine grouse early on, and he pointed four of them - none of which offered great chances unfortunately. They're in the thick stuff after all, and the sight lines are mighty tough. The afternoon was slower for Bode, but he gave everything he had and managed to point two of the three grouse that we encountered. One of them was especially staunch, but the grouse gave us the slip, as we have come to expect at times this season.

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 …
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Dispatch from Maine

Anne with a Frye Mountain grouse
Yes, even I get to hunt sometimes! After getting snowed out last year, we went back to central Maine to hunt with Jo-Ann Moody and her fine springer spaniels this year. As usual, we have been assaulting the grouse population of Frye Mountain, a state forest that is managed in cooperation with the Ruffed Grouse Society. With a combination of cover of a variety of ages, as well as "strips" that dissect oodles of wild apple and crabapple trees, it is managed exclusively for the benefit of grouse, as well as a variety of other animals (the whitetail deer hunting must be pretty good here, as we have seen many good buck scrapes).

Banded grouse from Frye Mountain

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.

Paul & Jo-Ann Moody with a 2015 grouse

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.

Pepper takes a break

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.



The antenna on an unfortunate grouse - the antenna helps biologists track their movements.
You may have noticed the band on my grouse pictured above, as well as the pictures of an antenna and transmitter that was on a grouse shot yesterday by another hunter on the mountain. The Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department does a lot of research on their grouse population here on the mountain, tracking movements of birds to gain a better understanding of their cover needs.

That brown sack near the grouse's chest is the GPS unit that tells biologists where the bird has been and where he might be headed.
It seems to be working, as there were good numbers of birds this year, but be advised about these birds - they are the wariest, wiliest, and most challenging birds that I've ever hunted. They flush unexpectedly, in all directions and they often go out way (80 yards) ahead of us. In short, they're tough birds and holding one in your hand is somewhat of a trophy - I love it.

We have some bad weather moving in tonight and continuing tomorrow - we'll be out in it, along with those grouse.
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November 7 Bird Hunting Report

Monty and Spencer, enjoying the end of another great day in the uplands.
After two days of extraordinarily warm weather on Thursday and Friday, it began to cool off on Saturday, and with the NH muzzleloader season for deer in full swing, we shifted to some of our favorite coverts in Vermont.

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.

Now that's a grouse hunt!
Monty got the call for the afternoon cover, and he seemed to pick up where Rocky left off. Lots of points, and relocating points on moving grouse, and the fellas had quite an afternoon, taking three grouse and two woodcock (Spencer took his first grouse and woodcock). Two of the grouse and one of the woodcock were taken over points from Monty - the others made the fatal mistake of not getting away fast enough in front of Parker and Spencer.

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 …
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"Et tu, Brute?"

Matt connected on a nice grouse shot today - thanks, Monty!
It's pretty good when everything works out as scripted, and we were fortunate to have that exact situation happen this morning while grouse hunting in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.

  • 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.
Another of Monty's great days in the grouse woods
Working methodically and slowly (maybe he's finally wearing out this season), he pinned several of the birds, and two of them gave Matt excellent chances (he connected on one).

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 …
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Some Friendly Advice

Being aware of your surroundings helps in grouse hunting. Seeing this pile of grouse droppings may trigger you to get your gun ready for some action ...
In my eight years of guiding clients for upland birds, I have been fortunate to observe various hunting styles in the pursuit of grouse and woodcock. My observations have led me to draw some conclusions on which methods are most effective in bringing grouse and woodcock to our game vests. With still two thirds of the season left to go, you can improve your chances of successful days afield if you heed my friendly advice.

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 …
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Rainy Day Grouse Hunting

The weather took a turn for the worse today, with some rain showers moving through Pittsburg, NH. We were fortunate however to have mostly clear skies for most of our hunt, and the moist conditions, along with the cooler temps and windy conditions, provided excellent scenting for both dogs.

Monty points a grouse that offered Matt no chance at a shot
Monty had a good morning, pointing two woodcock and several grouse. Only one woodcock ended up in the game vest, and the chances on the grouse were tough ones. They have an excellent ability to flush in a direction that offers little or no chance to make a good shot on them - that's grouse hunting, and that's what makes it a great challenge. We moved 6 grouse and 2 woodcock in the morning, and had put on quite a few miles in doing so …

Bode had his best day locating and pointing grouse today
Bode got the call in the afternoon and had a great one. He provided my client with many opportunities on grouse and woodcock, and had his best session on grouse this season. Trying to use the wind direction to our advantage, Bode pointed 7 grouse (all separate points) and 1 woodcock, and most of the birds went up very close. Unfortunately, only one woodcock ended up in Matt's vest, as the grouse employed their best evasive tactics to great effect. The education of Bode continues, but he is making great strides right now every day that we're out.

Bode's final grouse point of the day - it went out low and offered no shot
We moved 17 grouse and 6 woodcock today in the blustery conditions, and perhaps the wet leaves allowed us to get a bit closer than usual. The excellent dog work that we had also played a big part in this too.

More updates to come later this week!
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Educating Bode ...

Bode had what looked like a solid point, but nothing was there. Probably a grouse that saw us coming and wandered away.
It was a cold one today for grouse hunting in northern Vermont - mid 20's at the start (peaked out in the mid 30's), with a brisk wind. Bode was first up, which has been a rarity this year. Most of the time, Monty or Rudy lead off our days of hunting, but Bode deserved a shot at fresh bird scent in cold conditions. He had done so well on woodcock earlier this week, and we were hopeful that he could bring his new found knowledge to the world of grouse.

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.

The makings of a great morning: hot coffee, zucchini bread, and a ruffed grouse!
Monty took us home in the afternoon and had a solid, but unfulfilling session. In three hours of hunting, he would find three grouse and a woodcock, but all eluded my clients. Monty had spectacular points on two of the grouse as well as the woodcock, but there's a reason why this is called "upland bird hunting" and not "shooting" - grouse and woodcock are truly wild, and they make us earn every one of them.
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October 22 Bird Hunting Report

A bird in the hand is worth ...
More good work from the dogs over the past two days, but we have been working for our grouse and woodcock sightings, that is for sure. Yesterday, the grouse woods were pretty noisy, like we were walking on corn flakes - no, we weren't sneaking up on any birds. Still, we had some close sightings and a few chances here and there on grouse, but the dogs definitely struggled with the birds.


This cover looked great, but we never located birds - they are rarely where they should be!
A few theories on this: it was warmer and a bit more breezy than we've had lately, making for tougher scenting conditions for the dogs. We also never know how much attention from other hunters an area has had that we hunt - we may see tracks and empty shot shells here and there. Of course, the sure tip off is seeing feathers from a careless hunter - never dress your birds where you hunt, as you're advertising to others that it's a spot worthy of their energy …


This woodcock posed for us, and wasn't harmed


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.



Rudy had a day to remember in the grouse covers. At nine, he's a proven grouse hunter.


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!
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October 20 Bird Hunting Report

Monty on woodcock point on 10/20. This one was about five feet from him.
Changing weather conditions for grouse and woodcock hunting these past two days of the bird hunting season. Though both days were quite different from each other, they were both good days for hunting with a good amount of action.

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.

That's Bode in that mess, pointing the walking woodcock
The afternoon saw a lot of contact with woodcock (7 of them to be exact), and Bode did a good job in pointing three of them. He also bumped a couple too, but maybe that lightbulb in his head is flickering in to the "on" position. The most humorous moment on one of his points was when we witnessed a woodcock calmly walking away from the danger (yes, woodcock do it too at times!) and flushing behind a screen of thick evergreens - he got away.

Monty with a styish grouse point. This one went out well ahead of us.
This morning in New Hampshire was one of the best of our season, and while Monty at times appeared to need some remedial training (bumping a few grouse), he also showed that he can be pretty good at times too. He had quite a few grouse points (8??), as well as three rock solid woodcock points. While most of the grouse were singles, Monty pointed a pair, and then we got in to a group of six birds, that flushed out one at a time - exciting stuff.

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.
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Snowy Sunday Grouse Hunting

snowy-sunday-hunting
Cold one today grouse hunting in northern Pittsburg, NH. Looking for grouse in this weather seems pretty straight forward - get in to the thick stuff (pictured), like evergreens, and they should be there …

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.
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October 17 Bird Hunting Report

One grouse and three woodcock from New Hampshire's uplands
In just a week, our grouse hunting season in northern New Hampshire has gone from the early season in to it's mid-season, when the scenting conditions are at their finest and the shooting is much improved too. The reason is that we lost a lot of leaves this week that were clogging our vision of fleeing grouse and woodcock, and now, it seems that we actually have a chance at hitting something out there.

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.

This grouse fell to Chris's 28 gauge
We then hunted our old apple orchard covers in the afternoon with Bode, and he seemed to really struggle with the incredibly wary grouse that inhabit these covers. In three spots, we moved fourteen fast moving grouse, all of which managed to escape my client's gun. Sometimes they flushed on their own, and at other times Bode was in the midst of them, watching them fly merrily away. The education of this young bird dog continues …

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 …
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October 14 Bird Hunting Report

Monty nails a woodcock on Tuesday
What a variety of weather that we have had for prowling the grouse woods this week! Monday was the hottest day of the season, and at 75 degrees and sunny, it felt like a better day to chase the white ball around a golf course than chase grouse through the woods.

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?
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One More Time


greta-bird-2015
Took Greta out for the first time this season, just for a short jaunt on our resident grouse in Vermont. Greta is now 13 years old, and hasn't been part of the guiding operation for several years, but I wanted to see her hunt again. While her nose is still very good, her hearing is nearly gone, as are her legs - she has advanced arthritis, so she struggles to get around. She's no longer the graceful hunter that she once was - in fact, she doesn't run at all anymore. It's much more of a "waddle" that she uses, so the cover would have to be correspondingly short and sweet, to accommodate her physical condition.

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.
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October 2 Bird Hunting Report


monty-woodcock-pt-oct2
So, what's been happening up here in northern New Hampshire these first two days of our grouse and woodcock hunting season? For one thing, we have had great weather - starting out in the 30's early, and topping out in the low 50's during the day - great hunting conditions for us and the dogs, considering how warm it was last week.

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.

monty-opening-day-point
Today was even more lopsided - we moved eight grouse and anywhere from twenty-one to twenty-five woodcock throughout the day. Most of the woodcock were found this morning, in just one cover, and some of the woodcock were acting pretty funny … as in flying very short distances … like they were very tired … from migrating!


oct2-beautiful-view
Seems early to me, but maybe the cold front from Canada is pushing some down to us already. In any event, they were amazingly adept at putting screening vegetation between themselves and my hunters, allowing them to escape. We even moved a few grouse in this cover, and Monty had quite a morning. We would go on to move four grouse and a lone woodcock in the afternoon, working roadsides. Rudy had a nice point on one of the grouse, and Bode his best effort today - a beautifully staunch point on a grouse in heavy cover … alas, no shot.

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Observations ...


early-foliage-2015
Just a hint of color up here at the moment, as our foliage has been unusually slow starting in the north country. Too warm and dry over the past month, but … there's a change underway, and it looks like the good weather is coming tonight. Lots of rain forecasted over night, and more to come this weekend, but the most important part of the change will be in the temperatures: ranging from 30's in the morning to mid 50's during the day. In other words, perfect weather for hunting grouse and woodcock.

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 …
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Really the End of the Season

monty-dec-29-grouse-blog
The grouse season has sadly come to an end for another year. While it left a lot to be desired at times as far as grouse numbers go, it was still worth it to experience the wonders of grouse, the woods, and our dogs that pursue them. Hopefully next year brings a better crop of young birds - lots of snow this winter for protective roosting for our seed birds, and a nice dry spring for the hatch should help things.

Early on in December, it looked like our season was coming to a speedy conclusion as the snow began to pile up and the temperatures dropped. Grouse hunting in a little bit of snow (four inches or under) is still fun in the opinion of most grouse hunters, but when it becomes a drudgery of trudging through deep snow, even grouse hunting can lose its luster. Time to hang up the shotgun and let the dog enjoy some couch time …

We were dangerously close to the latter a few weeks ago, but then warm weather and pouring rain on Christmas Eve and Christmas day changed all of that. With the chaos of the holidays nearly past, it was time to get the dogs out one more time before the season concluded, so we managed to get in to some Vermont covers that I hadn't seen since early October. Even lacking the brilliant colors of autumn grouse hunting, the woods are still startlingly beautiful at this time of the season - very quiet with the occasional thunder from a flushing grouse.

Not much snow in most places, but lots of ice, so we had to be careful navigating through the cover. Monty hunted hard in his time out there, finding five grouse, but pointing only one of them - it was breezy on Monday, and chilly (around 20 degrees), so I'll cut him some slack. He made a nice retrieve on the one grouse that fell to my gun, making another memory to store away in the memory bank until next year. Bode gave it his all in the afternoon, but came up with the goose egg - that's how winter time grouse hunting can be
(actually, that's how it is most of the time) - all or nothing.
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End of the Season?

Monty, Rudy and Bode all got to run today - very busy indeed!
After a few weeks off to rest and let the deer hunters have the woods, we were able to get out in to the grouse woods a couple of times this week. This is the final phase of the grouse hunting season - the dreaded period where there's only grouse to hunt here in New Hampshire's north woods (the woodcock are long gone), and they're usually pretty smart by this time as well, as they have become true survivors of the hunting season. A serious and substantial winter storm is predicted to arrive the middle of this week, so our grouse hunting season may be nearing a speedy conclusion in northern New Hampshire, unfortunately - it goes so fast.

Last Monday, December 1, was our first outing, and Monty did a great job in his nearly three hours of hunting. His patterning was excellent and methodic, and he picked right up where he left off in pointing six of the eight grouse that we encountered that day. The conditions were perfect - not much snow, with temperatures in the upper 30's and a steady breeze, so we had everything in our favor.

It became apparent after the first few birds that he pointed that these grouse had become content during the deer season, holding very well for Monty's points. A couple of them held so well that I had decent chances for shots on them, but you know how that story goes … yup, there will be seed birds for next year's crop. Six of the eight grouse were in pairs, but there were a couple of singles in there as well.

This morning brought much different conditions - it snowed a few more inches yesterday, and was 11 degrees when we got out there this morning. Don't forget the steady wind out of the north, and you may get the picture that skis may have been a better choice today instead. I did my best
Jerry Allen imitation today and ran all three dogs to get them some work before the season ends.

Grouse tracks that were probably from yesterday - we never caught up with this bird
Rudy, Monty and Bode all did their thing to the best of their ability in the tough conditions, but we only moved a couple of birds, hunkered down in tangled spruce blow downs, avoiding the winter weather the best they could. No shots, but that was fine with me - it was great anyway to be out there in the crisp air, watching the dogs work with the stillness of inevitable winter approaching. Too bad if this is the end of the season, and while it wasn't the best we've had (probably not even a good one!), I'd rather be out in the woods in the fall chasing grouse than doing almost anything else …
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 11/11

Todd enjoys his first grouse, hopefully of many more to come
Final trips of the guiding season for grouse were this week, and while the action wasn't as hot and heavy as we would have liked it, we still were able to move some grouse in northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Weather conditions last weekend were what you would expect for early November: cold and windy, while today was a fantastic sunny day in the low 50s.

Sunday was spent roaming the grouse country of the North East Kingdom of Vermont with returning clients of mine, and while we had not previously had much success, we've had a good time nonetheless. Monty was first out of the truck and did very well, pointing a couple of different grouse as well as a late leaving woodcock. Unfortunately, none of them ended up in the back of our game vests, but Todd, Dave and Zander all took shots as the birds escaped. That's how it goes sometimes in grouse hunting: the dog can do it's job, we can position ourselves in what appears to be the ideal shooting lanes, but the bird still needs to make a mistake sometimes for us to get a "good" chance at them.

In the afternoon that day, we worked some good spruce cover - think thick, but not too thick, with some good lanes for shooting, and we started moving birds. First Rudy had a good roadside point on an escaping grouse, and then Bode and Monty moved a couple of stragglers. Every now and then though, walking through the woods without the aid of a dog can work as well, and that is what happened for Todd, as a bird went up out of a stand of spruce in front of him. He made a nice shot, and had his first grouse ever in hand. We would move a few more for a total of 10 grouse and 1 woodcock that day.

This is as close as we would get to birds on Monday - not close enough!
New Hampshire was next on Monday and Tuesday with returning clients Matt and Jon, and we had a brutal morning on Monday trudging through several inches of snow in Pittsburg. We didn't move a single bird that morning, the first time that has happened in this season of low grouse numbers. We did have a couple of promising points from Monty that morning, but apparently the birds had gotten away before we could get to him - one of which had clear grouse tracks in the area where Monty was pointing.

We ended up moving to lower elevation covers and food covers in the afternoon, and ended up moving around 8 grouse in the afternoon, but none of them offered any realistic shots for
Jon admires his early morning grouse, courtesy of Rudy
Matt and Jon. This morning brought brilliant sunshine, rare for a day in November. Rudy got the call first and had a great trailside point early on, and this grouse made a big mistake in flying out over the trail in front of Jon. He connected with a nice shot, and there would be a few more good chances for the guys this morning, but no others made it in to the vest.

Unfortunately, it looks like the vast majority of the woodcock have passed through our area, but there may still be a few stragglers out there. We're down to the nitty gritty now with grouse only, and the ones that are here are true survivors - they seem to be smart and have no problem putting a tree between us and them - just like usual. The rifle season for deer starts tomorrow in New Hampshire and on Saturday in Vermont, so the grouse hunting will be sporadic and "week day only" for me and my pack.
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 11/2

Art and Craig enjoyed some fine dog work today - this one was courtesy of Monty
It was a cold one today in the Pittsburg, New Hampshire uplands and lowlands! Topped out at about 32 degrees, with a very healthy wind blowing from the north, but there were a few birds around and Art, Craig and I enjoyed some great dog work in the cold temperatures.

First out of the truck was Bode, and he made the most of his time out there, pointing two separate grouse and tracking and flushing another, as well as busting a couple of woodcock (for some reason, Bode has a better nose for grouse than woodcock - go figure!). He did make a nice point dead on a woodcock that Craig shot, which we probably wouldn't have found otherwise. Once again, he had good range and responded well to commands and is progressing nicely in his journey to becoming a grouse dog.

Rudy took the next turn and only had one bird contact for the day - fortunately, it was a beautiful point on three grouse that ended up eluding Art and Craig, but it was great to see nonetheless. He worked hard in his time and patterned well in hunting some beautiful evergreen cover out of the wind that wasn't as productive as we all thought it should have been.

Monty was the anchorman for the day, and after an uneventful period of searching, we started to get in to some grouse. He had two points on separate grouse, with the second bird having made a big mistake by hanging around the area where we were searching. It went up, and Art made a nice wing shot on the grouse - wing shot because it was only winged - it ran off downhill ahead of us, but Monty found it inside of a tree root and was quick to pull it out for us. Another case where a good bird dog is worth his weight in gold in finding cripples.

Art's beautiful male grouse
We worked for the birds today - 11 grouse and 4 woodcock moved in our time out there, but we saw some excellent work from each of the dogs. I was fortunate to witness grouse points by each of my dogs in the northern New Hampshire woods today - pretty special if you ask me!
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 11/1

Monty, pointing a pair of grouse that ran out, and yes, got away
A tale of two different days these last two days of the grouse hunting season. Yesterday was a tremendous fall day - upper 40s, sunny and little wind, and the birds were cooperating. We moved 37 birds yesterday - 18 grouse and 19 woodcock in New Hampshire's uplands, with many moments of great dog work.

Monty had a great morning session, moving 24 birds in his time in the field. While the majority (16) were woodcock (with many solid points), he also had some nice points on grouse as well. Within a short amount of time, Art and Craig Stucchi had taken three woodcock over staunch points by Monty, but then the birds started heading for the hills unexpectedly, and the shooting became much tougher.

Bode took the field for the afternoon session and had a couple of quick points on woodcock, a really impressive point on a grouse that ended up getting away unscathed, and also a
beautiful find and retrieve of a grouse that Craig had hit moments before. While Bode is still a work in progress, he is a close hunting companion in the grouse woods, and they will rue the day when he finally puts it all together - yes, he has the makings of a good one ...

Today could not have been more different - mid 30s with occasional snow flurries and a bit of north wind too. Rudy got the call for the morning cover, a small area that had a flight of woodcock in it last year at this time, and it became very apparent that the birds were here again ... or had been.
Lots of fresh chalk was all over this cover, but no timberdoodles to be found. That's how woodcock hunting this late in the season goes: here today, gone tomorrow.

Our persistance paid off however, as we started moving some grouse - Rudy had a point on one, and Monty probably pointed around eight grouse today, and Art and Craig took two of them. We ended the day moving 15 grouse and 1 woodcock - not bad, but a far cry from yesterday's efforts. It was noticeably colder today, and snowing steadily as we left the uplands today - the
woodcock may be more concentrated in the lowlands after this weather, and hopefully the flights aren't over yet. The grouse, thankfully, seem to be settling in to normal habits (edges, roadsides, thick cover) with this colder weather and maybe we'll have a couple more good weeks of hunting to come.

By the way, the
NH muzzleloading deer season began today, so make sure you put orange vests on your dogs if you're getting out there, and don't forget some for yourself either - no bird is worth getting shot over.
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/26

Dan moves in on one of Monty's woodcock points.
We finally had a nice day yesterday to pursue grouse and woodcock in northern New Hampshire - sunny and in the 50's is a far cry from what the weather had been just a day before (and for most of last week). This would seem to indicate that the birds would be "out and about", happily enjoying the sunshine after a week of rain, right? As we have learned over years of grouse hunting, what we think and what the birds actually do are often not the same, and sometimes not even close.

My client Dan Patenaude and I started off in typically good grouse cover - an area regenerating from a cut from perhaps 10 - 15 years ago. It had everything you could want - loads of wrist sized maple, beech, and yellow birch, along with a smattering of evergreens for protection. It had everything, except for what is most important ...
GROUSE! Why, I have no idea, except that perhaps the birds had been pushed hard in this area and had decided to pitch their tents somewhere else.

Millie, honoring one of Monty's points on woodcock
While the grouse were hard to come by, the woodcock were fully participating in the hunting events, and Monty had quite a morning. Along with Monty, we also ran Dan's four year old GSP Millie to shadow him. Millie did a great job of working the grouse woods, and was nearly flawless in honoring Monty's many woodcock points, and by the end of their time in the woods together, they had encountered a couple of grouse and around 9 woodcock.

In the afternoon, Millie worked with Rudy in a couple of roadside covers, and while we flushed a grouse wild in the first cover, Millie did a great job of pointing a woodcock of her own in the second cover, with Rudy honoring this time. It was great to see, and Dan looked pretty proud of his girl. Unfortunately, this was the last of our action for the day, and brought our total to 3 grouse and 10 woodcock for the day.

Bode got his shot for a morning hunt in Vermont with me this morning, and he did an admirable job in his time out there. After moving one grouse out of some roadside evergreens that he had sniffed out and tracked, he then had an exciting point on a pair of grouse on the edge of a cut. Unfortunately, when I gave him the
"WHOA" command, he must have thought that I said "GO" instead. After five seconds of holding his point, he broke and flushed the birds, and they're probably still flying now.

Oh well, the education of this bird dog continues ...
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/23

Monty, with a staunch woodcock point
"Unsettled" is one of the words we could use for this week's weather patterns, with the many periods of showers, heavy rain and clear skies that we've had. It's been coming and going, and seemed to affect the grouse and woodcock hunting this week.

My victim, one again, was Paul O'Neill for three days and we hunted hard in our time together, hitting many different areas in our quest to find birds. We ended up settling on covers that featured desirable food sources, with apple trees and high bush cranberries as the common denominators, in the belief that the grouse would be feeding heavily prior to the bad weather rolling in. It took us a while to figure this out though, so our first two days were on the slow side - 6 grouse and 2 woodcock moved on Tuesday, and 5 grouse and 11 woodcock moved on Wednesday. There was good work from each of the dogs, particularly on the woodcock, but those are some of the lowest numbers that we've had in a while.

Paul moves in on a point by Monty (left, central part of the picture)
Today was different, however. We ended up in more of the "food covers" this morning, and found 12 grouse and 2 woodcock in around two hours to start this morning. It all culminated in a group of six grouse that Monty tracked then flushed (he was a little wild today!), with several of them flying over the trail in front of Paul and I. Paul saluted them with two of his "6's", and the grouse were free to fly again on another day.

Yup, we're always going uphill in grouse hunting ...
We ended up moving 14 grouse and 5 woodcock for the day, better than we had been doing previously, and not bad considering we left the woods early once the Nor'Easter really came in. It was probably a good day if you were duck hunting, but not so much for grouse hunting.
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/17

Wet weather gear was needed for Dottie's (lower right) woodcock points
A better day in New Hampshire's uplands yesterday as our weather finally has become more seasonable (and reasonable!) for hunting grouse and woodcock. It took a while for it to cool off and clear out however. Lots of drenching rain eventually led to clearing skies in the afternoon, as well as a noticeable crispness to the air. That trend will continue this week, as it is really going to cool off - highs in the 40s, with a healthy amount of moisture, which should mean good things for us hunters and our dogs.

Dottie, on one of her beautiful points on a woodcock
Yesterday morning, Chris's setter Dottie got another shot as the uplands were hit with soaking rains, and she had quite a morning. Not only did she point and hold at least five woodcock, but she also had points on two grouse as well, and nearly all of them were hunkered down in heavy softwoods, escaping from the weather. While the grouse escaped by employing their usual methods (i.e. you pick one side of the evergreens to go in on and they pick the other side to get out), some of the woodcock held well and provided opportunities for Chris and Frank. They connected on three of them, but the others got away to continue their journey south (expect heavy action on woodcock this week with the weather that is coming).

Dottie showed real style in pointing, then relocating on her birds, eventually pinning down their location for the hunters - all traits that any true grouse and woodcock dog aspires to.
Betsy then got her shot at the next cover, and though she showed tremendous energy and drive, she only contacted a pair of grouse in her time in the woods. The birds in this cover had been recently pursued, as we found at least a dozen empty shot hulls along the road that we walked in on. While we found evidence of only one grouse that was actually taken, the remainder of the birds were probably just farther off in the woods, taking a momentary break in their daily routines. As grouse hunters, we are far more successful in disturbing the routines of grouse than actually taking them - years of hunting them has proven this fact to me.

The final cover of the day brought
Rudy out of the truck for an hour. This cover, filled with wild apple trees and high bush cranberries required a dog of his particular talents - close working, under control, requiring very little in the way of verbal communication. He is my "stealth hunter" of all of the dogs - no bell needed, thank you. I have found that birds in covers like this near the end of the day are going in to feed quickly and get out to resume their night time pattern. For this reason, these birds seem to be even more wary than others we might meet at other times of the day.

A little celebration after a good day in the uplands is warranted!
Immediately upon entering the section loaded with apple trees, Rudy moved an escaping grouse that flew the right way for him - no visuals, and no shots for Frank and Chris. We eventually made our way to a couple more apple trees and high bush cranberries in the upper part of the cover, slowly walking in on a mossy forest floor - perfect for a quiet approach. I've seen birds almost every time I've come here over the years, and it happened again. First, a grouse took off high out of a cranberry bush - no chance for Frank. Then Rudy looped to our right and drove a low flying grouse out of a thick spruce and straight at Frank's head. Quick reflexes brought the grouse's flight to an end, less than five feet from Frank, and it was an amazingly accurate head shot with the 28 gauge.

Who knew that a grouse flying at your head could be more dangerous than startling a slumbering bull moose deep in the woods?
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/15

Brian, with his first grouse of the morning, tracked and retrieved by Bode
Changing conditions for grouse and woodcock hunting here in New Hampshire's north country lately, making it hard sometimes to figure out where they're at. We have still been moving our share of birds, but there's been some work involved for sure.

Last weekend was cool and crisp which is always welcome, as my client and I disturbed 22 grouse and 2 woodcock with the help of Bode, Monty and Rudy on Saturday. Bode was first out of the truck that day, and while he had a few points on grouse, he also had his share of mistakes as well - he's still learning, after all. He did make a nice find on a downed woodcock as well as an excellent track and retrieve of a wounded grouse, and helped find over half of our birds for the day in the morning. Rudy would move five more grouse in the afternoon, and Monty chipped in with an excellent point on one of the two grouse that he located.

Conditions began to change on Monday as some warmer weather moved in to our area. The birds were a little hard to come by that day, but Bode did a nice job in locating some grouse and provided a couple of shooting opportunities. We also had a bit of a scare when we bumped a young bull moose, apparently lounging after some amorous activities the night before. He steered clear of us, which is good - a moose on the run is a bad thing during the rut, and we would have been in trouble had he turned our way.

Monty was already tired when he went on this point yesterday
Daytime temperatures have continued to soar the last two days - pushing 70 degrees each day, so we brought extra water for ourselves and the dogs, and limited the hunts to 1.5 hours per dog. Naturally, the best scenting has been early on in the day, and then has gotten progressively tougher as the days go on. We still succeeded in moving 6 grouse and 8 woodcock yesterday, with three of the woodcock falling to Chris and Frank's 28 gauges. Chris's setter Dottie did a nice job on those woodcock yesterday morning, and Monty had a great point on a pair of grouse that Frank saluted with a load of 8's as they got out of Dodge.

Rudy was first out of the truck this morning, and he took advantage of the early morning conditions in pointing a group of four grouse near a road edge. Several of them made the mistake of flying out towards the road, one of which paid the ultimate price. The others made it away, apparently no worse for the wear. Dottie then got another chance and she moved a total of four grouse, two of which she had pointed staunchly in a thick spruce stand. The birds were definitely interested in keeping cool the last couple of days, so we looked for thick edge cover where the sun's rays had difficulty penetrating and that seemed to work for us. Monty then gave it his all in the final covert, but managed to only move two more grouse, neither of which were pointed. Scenting had gotten so difficult by then that he couldn't be faulted for bumbling in to them.

We'll have a fair amount of rain the next two days, and then the cool down will begin. Looks like we'll have excellent conditions for hunting starting Sunday right through next week, so hopefully we'll get back to normal numbers of birds. For those wondering about
woodcock flights moving through our area, there may be a few birds coming down from up north as of right now, but we should have more migratory action coming next week and the week after, depending on the weather in Canada. It just hasn't been cold enough yet!

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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/10

Monty pointing a woodcock - this one would make it's escape
After a couple of less than stellar days of hunting, that coincidentally had less than stellar weather (showers coming and going, with a fair share of wind too), we finally had a good one today in northern Vermont. Along for the ride today were two veterans of the grouse woods, Randy and Leighton, who have hunted with me many times before.

We've been through good days and bad, and after a lot of walking yesterday, with little to show for it, they were quick to remind me of our slog through a northern Vermont bog last year in the same cover we started in this morning. Determined to keep all of us out of this area, Monty was first out of the box today. He performed very well, as we moved 9 woodcock and 1 grouse for our morning session in windy conditions.

While the grouse and most of the woodcock were pointed by Monty, there were several woodcock that he bumped as well, perhaps a product of the swirling winds that he had to deal with. Randy made a nice shot on one of the woodcock and Leighton took the grouse, as Monty pinned it between us and him, but there were several birds that flew away with warning shots only from the guys.

After lunch, Bode got his turn, and he did well in his time out there, pointing one grouse and tracking and getting a little too close to a couple of others that didn't like his proximity. Once again, his pattern and range were close and thorough and he responded well to my commands - he's coming along very well now, and appears to be on his way to becoming a grouse dog. In his three hours out there, he helped move a dozen grouse and two more woodcock, for a grand total of 13 grouse and 11 woodcock on the day.

Our operations move to New Hampshire tomorrow, so hopefully our good luck streak continues on some granite state grouse and woodcock.
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Upland Bird Hunting Update: 10/6

Bode's first bird, and he even retrieved it as well!
One week down, with quite a few more to go, and it's been a strange start to the upland bird hunting season for me and my pack. While we've been seeing or hearing birds in all of the familiar places during our summertime training excursions, suddenly the birds have become hard to find at times in this opening week.

We have been seeing birds, just not as many as I had hoped. There may be several reasons for this however:

Weather. It was too darn hot the first three days of the season - grouse don't move much when they don't need to keep their engines running. Colder weather gets birds on the move in their search for sustenance.

Too early for broods to have broken up? While the first few days we saw mostly singles, today we observed two different broods that had not yet broken up, indicating that you might walk a long ways and then suddenly get in to a group of birds. Once the birds separate from their family groups, we can expect more consistent action as the birds will be more evenly distributed in the cover.

Wind. It was very windy last weekend, which always ends up making the birds very skittish and much tougher on us and the dogs. We observed several false points each day, which can only be attributed to running grouse.

As for the dog work, it's been pretty good, considering the conditions that we've been having. Rudy and Monty have both been solid, pointing their share of grouse, and Bode has even gotten a good start, flash pointing and then retrieving two grouse that fell to my 28 gauge today (Lucky shots? You're darned right!). He has plenty more work to go, but maybe the lightbulb is more of a strobe light these days.

This week will be spent mostly in Vermont hunting some of our favorite coverts, so hopefully there will be a report later this week. Keep walking, you're bound to get in to some birds at some point!
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Almost Ready

Bode, with his first
The first true "frosty" conditions of the season this morning - around 23 degrees, with a healthy frost out there. All three dogs made their way in to the grouse woods of northern Vermont this morning, and they all had some positive results.

Bode was first out of the truck, trying to get him up to speed before the upland bird hunting season starts next Saturday in Vermont. He handles beautifully out in the woods - runs hard, charges through the cover (yes, literally), patterns well, and generally hunts close. He has also learned to "whoa" on command and takes hand signals very well from me. In short, he's doing many good things for such a young dog, but his pointing ability has left something to be desired, as he has busted his birds for the most part.

This morning was different however, as Bode finally achieved and maintained a solid point on a grouse that was probably fifty feet or so out in front of him. It never flushed when I walked past the dog, but when I let Bode off of his point, he charged a little farther ahead and the grouse flushed on up ahead. We then went through a period of the
"old Bode" - first scenting and flushing four woodcock in a row, and then he capped it off with an impressive track and then flush of a wary grouse. Yes, he still has far to go, but the foundation is there.

As we headed back to the truck, he had a great point on a woodcock in some heavy cover - it was classic - leaning in to the point, nearly horizontal, with his nose leading the way. Just to make sure I didn't get too giddy,
"old Bode" then tracked and bumped a group of three grouse - a few steps too close apparently. That made 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in nearly two hours, and he was "top dog" for the morning.

Rudy and Monty went out in a brace, as I could tell that the uplands were warming up quickly with the high bright sun. I don't normally do this while guiding, but I like running them in a brace later in the season when daylight is limited. After twenty minutes of general mayhem, they settled down to hunt, and Monty established a nice point on a tight holding woodcock. We then made our way uphill through some tough cover that looked good but yielded no bird contacts.

At the top of the hill, bordering a nice downhill ten year old cut, first Rudy and then Monty pointed a single grouse - it was beautiful to see, and that bird had probably been undisturbed (at least by humans) for quite a while I figured. There is nothing better than seeing two bird dogs lock up on the King of the Uplands, and it is the highest pinnacle for a bird dog to attain, in my opinion.

It was the one time this morning that I really wished I had a shotgun in my hands, but that day is coming, now only eight days away ...
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Autumn is Upon Us

The
Over the last two days, it finally feels like autumn up here in the north country of New Hampshire and Vermont, just after we experienced some of the warmest and most humid weather of the season. With the grouse opener in NH under three weeks away, and the Vermont grouse season opening in exactly two weeks from now, it is "crunch time" for the dogs and myself.

We spent most of yesterday in New Hampshire, looking for grouse and woodcock in some new coverts, and the boys didn't disappoint. Rudy, with his seniority, was first out of the truck in a brand new location in Pittsburg, and he appears to be drinking from the fountain of youth lately. Trim and fit, he's been bounding through the woods like he did a few years ago. Perhaps he sees the paw prints on the wall of his replacement Bode, but I doubt that Rudy's mind works like that - he just genuinely loves hunting grouse.

Rudy, pointing one of the singles yesterday
In around 1.5 hours of hunting, he located and pointed a brood of around five grouse, and then pointed two more singles to round out his work. While our leaves are beginning to change, and even a few have begun to drop, there's still 99% of leaf coverage out there, meaning that you have to count flushes by hearing the birds sometimes. The cover was your typical 7 - 10 year old logging cut, populated by a mix of young maple, birch and poplar, with some softwoods thrown in as well. Remember to "hunt the cover", because birds will be there!

The object of our autumnal desires - too bad my camera wouldn't focus!
Monty got his turn next, and while he seemed to be inconsistent at times with yesterday's blustery winds, he still did a nice job when he pointed a large brood from a distance of easily 30 yards away. It reminded me of hunting sharptails in Montana, as they made their escape at first in bunches (three grouse popped off with one of my ill timed steps), and then one at a time. I believe there were around eight grouse, but there could have been more. That seemed to settle him down and he pointed two more grouse and a woodcock with the remainder of his time (about 2 hours) out there. Remarkably, we found a lot of wild turkey sign out there as well, which was surprising with how far out in the woods we were.

You never know what you'll find in the woods, like this old dug well from generations ago
Bode brought up the rear, and while he hunted hard, the cover wasn't as good as the first two spots, and we failed to move any birds. Parts of the cover looked like it could hold birds, but we never saw any or any sign either - obviously, I wasn't quite in the "right cover" I guess. There's a lot of cover out there, much more than we could hunt in a season, so the possibilities seem endless at times.

With our tempartures turning for the colder (and better), we'll have some more mornings of discovery ahead before the season begins for real.
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Plodding Towards the Season

Rudy found a nice big brood of grouse on this day
Our training runs have continued over the last two weeks, with generally good results in dog work from Rudy and Monty, and the amount of birds seen or heard. In general, we're only able to get out there for two to three hours in the morning, due to the rising midday temperatures.

Most days, we'll see anywhere from 7 or 8 birds to a lot more than that at times - a few days ago in Vermont was particularly good, as we moved around 16 grouse in two hours (15 of those were found in two broods that Rudy found and pointed - the picture above). Two days ago, Bode and I checked out one of our favorite hunting spots in New Hampshire, to only move two grouse and one woodcock in around two and a half hours. That's hunting I guess!

Bode's progress continues ... slowly. He has pointed a couple of woodcock in the last week, but the grouse, as you might expect, are not too impressed with this training thing. While he seems to be scenting them just fine, he continues to get a little too close, and they aren't standing for it. Hopefully, he learns his lesson soon.
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Fun In The Summertime

bode-training-run
While we have been poking around the local "haunts" over the last week or so, our real training will begin shortly with runs through our existing coverts in August and September.

This season can't get here soon enough for me or the dogs though. We're seeing enough birds to give us some solid expectations of a good fall ahead, and the hint of 50 degree mornings lately has given us just a taste of autumn.

Today was Bode's turn, as he has some learning to do before the season begins - merely 82 days away now from the New Hampshire opener, but who's counting? He ran into his fair share today - two single grouse, one brood of grouse of five or six birds, and one single woodcock. While he didn't point them, he did stop to flush (when given the whoa command) and held solidly for all of them. That's a marked improvement from where little Bode was just a month ago, so he's improving.

By the way, we ran in to another brood of young grouse in Vermont as we walked back to my house at the end of the session - looking good indeed!
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December 31 NH Upland Bird Hunting Report

dec-31-bode
Sadly, the grouse hunting season has come to an end here in New Hampshire (and Vermont), but yesterday we were able to get in one last session to cap off our season. It was my first time hunting in several weeks as the holidays and work have made it tough to get out there lately.

With two feet of snow on the ground, it meant that snowshoes became the preferred method of transport for this hunt, and while bird hunting is hard enough alone, placing snowshoes in the equation adds a whole new dimension to the addiction we call grouse hunting. The last time I used snowshoes I ended up on the ground several times as I remember it, and when you're holding on to a shotgun, there's nothing to break your fall when you inevitably go down.

Did I mention the temperature? Seven degrees above zero with no wind made it tolerable yesterday, but still the coldest temps for hunting that I've had. Monty and Bode came along for this final trip of the season and worked hard in our two hours out there. Grouse tend to flock up when it's cold, and we saw this prove itself out a couple of times yesterday.

While the action was sporadic, it was pretty good several times. The first flurry was when Monty and Bode started flushing birds from a relatively open area beside the trail we walked in on. Birds started flying, and I counted three separate flushes in my approach, and they all flew down hill, in to a thick spruce / fir swamp. No shots on these birds, as I found out again that it's tough to keep up with dogs when you're on snowshoes. In our pursuit in the swamp, we flushed a couple more of the birds from high in trees, but no good chances there. We found many grouse / deer / moose / snowshoe hare tracks in this area, which was exciting, but that would be all in this section.

The dogs showed interest in a couple of other areas, but we didn't see birds there, until our way back to the truck. Once again, right off the trail, in a brushy section with several blow downs, grouse started flying to get away from Monty and Bode. The same lesson I learned on the first group of grouse happened again: too far back for a good shot, but I saluted the last one with a couple of far flung efforts anyway.

No luck, and these four escaped to be seed birds for the 2014 batch of grouse. All in all, 2013 was a good year - solid amounts of birds, with one day that was a notable exception (55-60 grouse and woodcock flushed on a nasty day in late October), and a few days where we were wishing for more. Perhaps 2014 will provide a better crop of birds, and it will certainly give us many beautiful days in the grouse woods.

Here's to good spring weather and a healthy batch of birds - cheers and Happy New Year!
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The Annual Trip "Out East"

joann-moody
It was that time of the year again, my annual hunting adventure with Jo-Ann Moody and her excellently trained springer spaniels in Belfast, Maine, and it certainly did not disappoint. Along with me again was client and friend Paul O'Neill, who invited me on this excursion for the first time six years ago, and the trip to Belfast is eagerly anticipated by us each season.

This year's weather conditions were quite different from what we've had traditionally, as this coastal area had its first "sticking snow" of the year on the night we got in to town. While several inches of snow may signal misplaced footsteps and snow sliding down your back, it has it's good points as well. Snow means a much stealthier approach to extremely wary grouse, and perhaps helps hold those grouse a bit tighter than they normally would.

I have read that the first snow is particularly alarming for young grouse, as they have never seen this natural phenomenon before, and don't really know what to do with it. This effect has proved itself to be true in some of my hunts in northern NH and Vermont (usually that sticking snow happens in late October though), as several of my best days ever have been under these circumstances.

frye-mtn-grouse-with-anne
Our first morning of hunting was good, as we moved 11 grouse in around three hours, and one grouse made the mistake of taking a low dash right-to-left across an opening in front of me. With one in the bag, and feeling quite full of myself, I had to shoot at a few others that were either out of range or simply succeeded in placing a tree between us. Yes, some good Maine timber suffered the scars of my errant shooting eye that day ...

Day two brought better conditions, with temps in the upper thirties, but the snow still hanging on the mountain and while we moved 5 grouse in the morning, the afternoon hunt saw more action. We had 7 grouse fly before us that afternoon: whether off the ground or out of trees, but the common denominator is that they were absolute rockets. Paul made two nice shots on fleeing grouse on day two, and Jo-Ann's veteran of the grouse woods, Bonnie, helped locate and bring them back. One of the more amazing aspects of hunting with Jo-Ann is her uncanny ability to predict the locations of grouse in her coverts, as well as their likely escape routes, making it seem as though she is the master of her coverts and the habits of the birds inhabiting them.

My reflexes were too slow this day, though one of them should have been mine. The millisecond of a chance that he gave me just wasn't enough time!

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November 20 NH Upland Bird Hunting Update

bode-nov-20
Finally, a beautiful day here in New Hampshire's north country. Still cold, but at least it was sunny, and good scenting conditions for the dogs. While it is technically deer hunting season, it's not too busy around here this week (we did see a few trucks parked on the side of logging roads), and we had no problem finding some open and safe areas in which to hunt.

We just went through a few days of nasty weather - high winds and rain were common - so I hoped that birds would be on the move to get in on the good weather. While that was my hope, we actually found all of the birds today in mostly thick cover, characterized by a good mix of evergreens and hardwood tangles. Sometimes birds will sit tight in cover like this, as they generally feel more secure, but in all things "grouse hunting", that's not always the case.

Of the first two birds that we encountered, Rudy pointed one, and Bode flushed the other, and they didn't waste any time in getting away from us. After a long hike through some beautiful high country, Rudy pointed several times on a running grouse that finally flushed close by. Unfortunately, it was so thick that I could only hear the flush, never seeing the bird.

montys-quarry
When Monty got his turn we simply walked a logging road, working the thick edges where birds sometimes like to sit and gravel early and late in the day. He made a couple of beautiful points on the two grouse that we moved, and while one offered nearly an impossible shot, the other made a mistake, and flew in to my shot pattern. We only moved five grouse in three hours, but four of them were pointed birds, and the one that wasn't was flushed up by Bode - a pretty good afternoon in the grouse woods.
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November 10 VT Upland Bird Hunting Update

vermont-november-hunt
More wild weather this weekend in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, with a few breaks in between, meant that we had our work cut out for us to find grouse.

Saturday was a day to run Rudy and little "brother" Bode, to help him along in his quest to become a bird dog. Rudy performed well, pointing a couple of grouse that escaped, and Bode did his best to keep up - actually, he's doing very well at that, and seems to be showing signs that he may know
why we're out there. While I didn't take any grouse for Bode that day (my shooting is worse than normal it seems), the most exciting moment was when Bode had his first point of any kind, and it was on a grouse that flushed about ten feet in front of him. Lots of praise came his way, needless to say, and Bode was pretty excited about that.

november-grouse-tracks
We moved operations to Vermont for yesterday, and I had the good fortune to hunt with Todd, Dave and Bruce again, who I had guided a couple of years before. They are a laugh a minute, and seem to love grouse hunting for many of the same reasons that I do. The birds, the dogs, the scenery, and some of the interesting things we see out there. They're all in good physical shape, so I was able to do something with them I had never done before - grab Monty, pack a backpack with lunch and water for the day, and head out on a six hour odyssey of the Vermont grouse woods.

november-bear-tracks
Among the events from yesterday's action: grouse tracks in the snow (which was followed by a grouse that somehow took us all by surprise - missed), a large black bear quickly crossing the logging road about 70 yards up the road in the direction we were heading, big beech trees with evidence of fresh bear activity, and the miracle of several solid grouse points. Monty did very well yesterday, hunting reasonably close, and establishing some rock solid opportunities for the guys. Unfortunately, the birds also have to make a mistake when they're getting away, and none of them did.

There's always next year, and we'll get out there to explore new areas again!
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November 8 NH Upland Bird Hunting Update

matt-sisk
Less than stellar weather conditions in Pittsburg, New Hampshire's grouse woods over the last two days. Yesterday was really tough - driving wind and rain in the morning, with gradual clearing by the afternoon, and the high for today was right around 32 degrees, but it felt much colder with the gusty northwest wind that we were hunting in to most of the day.

While the bird hunting was definitely challenging yesterday, we got in to some birds along road edges today as the birds were probably anxious to resume their daily routines. Once again, spruce clumps and tangles of blowdowns seemed to hold most of the grouse, where they were trying to stay out of the cold wind.

monty-nov-8-grouse-point
Matt Sisk, Jim MacWalter and I were fortunate to get out there to enjoy the birds and the work of our dogs - Jim's two gordon setters and my two shorthairs. They all worked hard, and seemed to have their greatest success when we were hunting in to the wind, naturally. Monty in particular excelled with some staunch points on grouse - some of them held and provided Matt and Jim with good opportunities, but quite a few of them ran away to fly another day.

It's still exciting whether we have shooting chances or not - I never get tired of watching a dog doing what it was bred to do!
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November 4 VT Upland Bird Hunting Update

craig-stucchi-male-grouse
More time in the grouse woods of the North East Kingdom of Vermont this past weekend, with varying results on the upland hunting.

Saturday brought a constant barrage of rainy weather throughout the day, and it was also pretty cold too, but the positive was that it made the woods pretty quiet for us to sneak upon unsuspecting grouse. While we had some excellent work out of Monty in particular, pointing several grouse and a couple of woodcock at very close range, the birds never seemed to fly the "right way" for my clients. Also, when the weather is that bad, we're naturally hunting thicker areas of spruce and fir, giving the grouse a distinct advantage when the make their getaway. In the end, we would move right around 20 grouse and 2 woodcock (can't believe that we were still seeing them in the uplands) for the day on Saturday, but nothing in the bag.

Sunday brought some very cold weather (about 15 degrees to start), and the first sticking snow of the year, as we received two or three inches the night before. The snow stuck around for the most part on Sunday in the areas that we hunted as the temp peaked at 32 degrees with a healthy wind out of the north. We worked hard to see a total of 9 grouse for the day, most of which we found in thick spruce cover. Monty did a nice job, pointing 5 of the 8 grouse he was responsible for, and Rudy and Bode got some time in as well.

craigs-trophy
Craig Stucchi made a nice shot on Monty's first point of the morning, harvesting a beautiful male grouse with his opportunity. There weren't many chances for Art and Craig however, or when there were chances the grouse would often fly directly at or over the other hunter, making for a dangerous shot - no bird is worth that!

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October 27 NH Upland Bird Hunting Update

scenery
The weather remained cold in northern NH this weekend, which seemed to fuel the flights of migrating woodcock and the feeding patterns of our resident ruffed grouse. What helped even more is that over the last few days there has been a steady wind from the south, perhaps holding some of those woodcock in our area for longer than they would like.

We were fortunate to move around 12 grouse and 10 woodcock on Friday, and while we definitely had to work for our flushes, there were birds to be found in certain spots, especially the lower spruce and alder streamside runs. Rudy in particular had some excellent moments in the afternoon on Friday in these areas, making some solid points on the woodcock especially.

Saturday brought more of the same weather, with a fairly fierce south wind accompanied by blowing snow. Yes, it's grouse season here in the north country, and this was a perfect day to move some birds - and that's exactly what happened. I've never had a day of guiding like it, as we had nearly non stop action from the time we left the trucks in the morning until we called it a day at 4:00 PM. Monty ran all of Saturday, and was responsible for a large number of the 30 grouse and nearly as many woodcock that we moved. Yup, it was somewhere in the 55 - 60 bird number that we've all hoped for and rarely gotten.

Flights of woodcock had some excellent moonlit nights for their journey just prior to this, so it was not surprising when we started putting them up in bunches. To make it even better, we found grouse in nearly every different habitat type that we hunted - road edges, clearcuts, heavy spruces, alder runs - you name it, we found them there. Monty had many incredible points and excellent retrieves of cripples, as he had one of his most fruitful days in his young life.

The weather looks much the same this week, so get up here before deer season starts (this Saturday)!
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October 24 Upland Bird Hunting Update

paul-miracle-grouse
Sometimes we must sit back and realize what we witness out there in the grouse woods. Sometimes we have to take a little time out of the hunt and admit that we have just seen something amazing. That happened for my client Paul and I today as we hunted with Monty this morning.

After around an hour in the grouse woods this morning, Monty locked on point, and we moved in to try to catch an escaping grouse. Paul glimpsed the birds first, and took two shots at the first escape artist
(the second grouse would get away before Paul could load his gun again), obliterating a sapling with his first attempt, and apparently missing with his second attempt. The bird flew high and far, and seemed none the worse for wear.

paul-sapling
After taking a humorous picture of the sapling, we quickly moved on in the direction of the second grouse to get a follow up, and while Monty had another nice point on this grouse, it once again "got out of Dodge" before we could get in to position. We then resumed our search for new birds, in the best looking adjacent cover when Paul had a bird flush up in front of him, probably one hundred yards from Monty's original point on the pair of grouse. It flew on ahead of us, and we once again pursued.

paul-monty-miracle-grouse
Suddenly, Monty's beeper collar started sounding off again up ahead of us, in cover that, to be kind, no respectable grouse would ever let itself be caught in. He was staunch, even when we came in and walked around him. Thinking nothing there, we took a peak at the cover past the dog (a forbidding spruce/cedar swamp), and when I let Monty off his point, he fervently resumed his search. A few moments later, with Paul and I talking about our options regarding the swamp, Monty reappeared with the beautiful grouse in his mouth. He succeeded in retrieving a bird that we didn't think Paul had hit at least two hundred yards and fifteen minutes before.

He's had some good retrieves in his three plus years of experience in the grouse woods, but this one may take the prize, and proves what a tool of conservation a good dog can be when we go hunting.
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October 22 NH Upland Bird Hunting Update

paul-moves-through-cover
The weather's changing quickly in New Hampshire's north country tonight - getting much colder over the next few days, as well as blustery, and this should move some woodcock down to us in their migration southward. The weather also should have a positive effect for us grouse hunters as well, as the grouse should be on the move looking for the closest food sources in the cold temperatures.

grouse-guano-fresh
Though the conditions grew tougher today (windy, blustery, temps in the 40s, and raining steadily at times), the hunting was actually very good while we were out there. We moved / pointed / harassed approximately 23 grouse and 5 woodcock in our long trek (most of which were hunkered down in the heavy spruce cover), and though few of them offered good opportunities, we had some good work from Monty and Rudy.

However, the most exciting moment was when Paul shot a grouse fleeing from Rudy and his hunting partner Bode, making for the youngster's first score on a wild bird. He has lots to learn on grouse and hunting in general, but he's showing some good form and seems to be learning from his uncle Rudy.

More updates to come soon!!
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October 18 NH Upland Bird Hunting Report

october-18-hunting
Changing weather has meant a change in the hunting too, and it has picked up as the weather has (slowly) gotten colder. Earlier this week, the temps were still on the warm side, so we were generally moving 12 - 15 grouse and woodcock per day.

However, the last two days we saw more wind and slightly colder temperatures, and this led to a ten grouse / eight woodcock day on Thursday, and a fifteen grouse / twelve woodcock day today. Better scenting conditions for sure, but maybe the nip in the air has also led to some migrating woodcock and grouse on the move, in search of the nearest food source.

We've had some excellent work from the dogs this week - Monty and Rudy, as well as Chris Ramel's setter Dottie have provided plenty of heart racing moments. While some of the woodcock have been accommodating for a staunch point, the grouse have been running on us quite often, and the chances have been few and far between for Chris and Chip Ramel on the gray ghosts.

Even more good news is that it is supposed to get colder next week
(snow in the forecast), so the action could get better for us in this lean year of grouse hunting. Expect plenty of woodcock moving through our area next week too, as our first taste of winter gets the timberdoodles moving south.
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October 5 Upland Bird Hunting Report

"It's been hot"
"The bird hunting?"
"No, the weather ..."


fall-foliage-october-5
That's been a common conversation among bird hunters here in northern NH and Vermont so far this season. In fact, it's been hot and dry - three bad words if you hunt grouse and woodcock with dogs. We were out a few days this week where it felt like it was up to 65 degrees, and Thursday there was no help from the clouds and we must have pushed 70 degrees. That makes things mighty tough for our four legged friends, so the best hunting opportunities of the day can be found early and late in the day.

There have been some birds out there - we moved 12 grouse and woodcock in about five hours of hunting on Wednesday, and 11 more in about four hours on Thursday. We had a little rain last night, which helped some, and we put up 9 grouse and 2 woodcock in around two and a half hours this morning in Vermont. On a positive note, there was also some very good dog work from Rudy as he pointed the woodcock and several of the grouse. The other grouse were off like a shot, as they could definitely hear us coming through the crunching of the leaves under foot.

Better days are on the way - we're only one week in to a three month long season!

More updates to come ...

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Pittsburg, NH Grouse Hunting Update: 12/13

The
Sometimes the grouse hunting in Pittsburg, NH can be so good, even I have to pinch myself to remember that this simply is not normal. We had another one of those days today, a crisp but sunny early winter day that made us wish this was the beginning of the season and not nearing the end.

Thsi bird had just taken off - Rudy & Monty missed this one!
Running Rudy and Monty, both dogs made the most of their chances out there today, as they repeatedly contacted, and then pointed grouse. Some provided good chances for shots, while most did not, but we were fortunate to connect on our chances with two of the grouse. The first was a bird that Monty pointed, tracked following the shot, and then retrieved to hand, and the second was out of a group of four birds that both dogs pointed. Once again, another track and a great find by the dogs on this one as well.

In all, the dogs contacted
forty-one grouse - that's "4" and "1". Singles, many pairs, several triples, the group of four that I mentioned above, and an astonishing group of five that were nestled down in scrubby
Bobcat track in Pittsburg, NH snow
raspberry cover near the end of the day, probably soaking up the last of the sun's energy before a chilly night tonight. For me, that's a new record for grouse contacted in a day, and we were only out there for four and a half hours! We also moved a group of three moose on a high hilltop cut, and got pictures of what I believe were genuine (and quite fresh) bobcat tracks.

Nothing beats being out there with your best buddies
If you are thinking about making a trip north this weekend for a final grouse hunt this season, it would be well worth it. There are almost no bird hunters up here, snowmobiling doesn't open until Saturday, but there's not enough snow for that anyway. In the middle part of Pittsburg, where we were today, we were dealing with only 2" of snow, but there is probably more in the northern part of town (Second Conn. Lake and points north), while there is definitely less than that south of Pittsburg village.

Unfortunately, this might be the last weekend to get out there too - snow, perhaps heavy, may be coming on Sunday and Monday, so don't put the gun or the dog away yet.

If you need a place to stay, we have lots of
cabins at very reasonable rates available, and the Rainbow Grille is serving up its customary fare each night this weekend ...
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A Grouse Hunting Trip East

My first Maine grouse, courtesy of Jo-Ann's springer Lady
Another trip this week to hunt with Jo-Ann Moody and her excellent spring spaniels for a couple of days in Maine. I joined my client Paul O'Neill, who has been hunting with Jo-Ann for many years now, and Jo-Ann warned us that the grouse population was a little lower this year, and more skittish than normal (which is mighty skittish) in her neck of the woods. Undeterred, we ventured in to the grouse woods near Belfast, Maine in search of our feathered quarry.

As I've noted before, Jo-Ann has her dogs excellently trained, almost exclusively with hand signals only, and they are very repsonsive to her every whim when we're out there. We hunt grouse
quietly when we're there, and those of you that have been out with me know by now that I have adopted several of Jo-Ann's techniques and strategies in the hunting that we do up here in northern New Hampshire and Vermont. The one aspect of hunting with Jo-Ann that is sometimes hard to get used to is being able to consistently read the flushing dogs as they work, instead of the pointers that I'm used to. While it is different, there are similarities in that there usually is some kind of a slowing in pace from a flusher just prior to the acceleration of tracking, and then flushing, a grouse. If you see it enough, you begin to be able to identify these actions by the dogs, allowing some time to get in position.

Of course, the birds have to cooperate too, which is rarely the case from these cagey grouse - the birds near Jo-Ann are true survivors, and therefore don't tolerate much pressure from dogs or hunters before they make an escape. In fact, it dawned on me that for either of us to actually take a bird, the grouse would have to make a critical mistake, and fortunately for us, it happened a couple of times in two days of hunting. I took a close flushing bird that had waited a bit too long to make an escape on our first morning, and Paul took a bird on the second day that made an unusual boomerang flight back at him, when it seemingly could have just flown straight away.

We also had our share of misses too, most of which were long shots where we were hoping to connect, but all in all it was a successful two days over there. The weather was chilly, but sunny for the most part, which helped us to stay warm. Jo-Ann and her dogs did their best, and we'll be back next year chasing those grouse all over again I suppose.

What of the grouse hunting in the north country, you may ask? Winter has reared it's ugly head a little early this year, so we have 4" - 5" of snow on the ground near the lodge, so there's probably more in the woods. A slight warm up is predicted next week, so that may put us back in business for a little while yet. What's even better is that the deer hunting season ends this weekend in NH, and the Vermont muzzleloader season goes for another ten days or so.

More updates on the way hopefully!
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Nov. 10 VT Upland Bird Hunting Update

Monty-on-one-of-many-grouse-points-this-week
Just finished three days of hunting grouse in the Vermont uplands before the start of the deer hunting season. Art and Craig Stucchi came along for their annual torture test with me this week, and as we had different weather each of our three days together, we also had three different days of hunting. That is what makes grouse hunting fun for me - the unpredictability of each day out there and what it will all turn out like in the end, not to mention the continual surprises we receive from the birds themselves.

Wednesday was a very cold day, starting at around 20 when we started, and never climbing over 30 degrees. Add to that a little wind, and we were continually looking for hills to climb to help us stay warm. We ended up moving 21 grouse that day, and Monty had some nice points, but Art and Craig never had what I consider to be “good” chances on birds.

Vermont's king of the uplands - ruffed grouse
Thursday was still blustery, but not as cold as the day before, so we were quite a bit more comfortable in the woods. Monty had one of the best days of his young life, as he nailed bird after bird - sometimes groups of birds. Many offered good opportunities for Art and Craig, and they made up for the day before, each taking two grouse. Art especially made a fantastic quartering away shot to his left on a grouse that Monty had pointed in a clump of spruce (these places were their preferred hideouts this week with the cold weather), and Monty actually retrieved that one, completing his job. We ended up moving 30 grouse on Thursday, more than making up for the driving snow we ate our lunch in that day (the first time I haven’t sat at the table for lunch!)

Rudy backs up Monty on one of his grouse points
Friday was the nicest of our three days - a fresh snow had fallen the night before, so it slowly melted as we hunted yesterday. Art commented on the beauty of the scene around us - the woods yesterday morning looked like sparkling diamonds with the snow firmly attached to the trees. While Monty was doing his best, pointing three birds in a group that got away unscathed, and a couple of other singles, the morning was generally slow - we only moved 8 grouse in the morning session.

Craig and Art, with Art's
The afternoon brought some excitement, with Art making a remarkably tough shot on a grouse that Monty pointed downhill, pinning the bird between him and us. When it finally took off, Craig took a shot and missed and the bird was seemingly getting away when Art took the long shot. The bird dropped like a stone in to heavy cover, and it took a little while for us to find it, but the bird was recovered. We moved a few more birds in the afternoon, but our total bird contacts for the day was somewhere around 15 grouse - one of my tougher days this year.

Did I say how unpredictable grouse hunting can be?
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October 28 Update

There's birds out there in 2012!
How do you quantify a morning like we just had today? Very hard to compare this to anything that I’ve seen before. We moved / saw / heard twenty-nine grouse - yup, that’s 2 - 9 - this morning in four hours of hunting. These were all different birds that we contacted, as we never had a reflush all morning. There were lots of singles, but we also contacted at least 4 or 5 pairs of grouse, always great to see.

Monty saw the action today, and while he had a rough start to his time out there, seemingly bumping everything to start, he settled in, particularly after we were able to turn in to the wind. He had many solid, grouse sticking points as the morning went on, but unfortunately my client didn’t get too many chances at good shots. Sure, he missed a couple of birds, but there were also quite a few that walked (or ran) away from points, eventually flushing a distance away, as well as those that flushed within range, but quickly put a tree between us and them.

They utilized all of their tricks of escape today, to great effect. That’s why I love grouse hunting, as it is anything but predictable.
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