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!

___________________________________________________

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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The Dog Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: 10/18

The weather continues to be slightly warmer than normal here in northern New Hampshire, which has made for some tough scenting conditions for the dogs and difficult walking conditions for us over the last couple of days.

This is perfect grouse cover.
Yesterday was spent with Randy and Leighton in New Hampshire, checking out a covert that they found a couple of years back. They must feel sorry for me to let me in on this gem of a grouse covert, and simply put, it has everything that makes a good place to hang for grouse and woodcock. Not only are there a number of openings and thick spots for the grouse to come out and feed and escape to if necessary, but there is a great variety of cover and food types. It has everything and is at a good age as well.

Though
We used Randy's two year old pointer Ginger again and Rudy got his first real action of the year. At ten years old, Rudy doesn't quite attack the cover the way he used to, but he still does his best and managed to have three solid points on woodcock that would eventually escape Leighton's gun. We ended up contacting 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in about three hours in decent weather conditions (upper 50's and windy). This is certainly an area worthy of further exploration in the future.

Today, I was out again with friend and client Paul, and we checked out a new cover that I have been putting some time in to this season. Unfortunately, it did not surrender the amount of birds that I thought we might see, so there's still some work to do there.

Paul bags his share of grouse every year.

Monty did a solid job in tough conditions
(upper 50's/low 60's with gusty and swirling winds), as he pointed 5 of the 10 grouse that we contacted today. Some of them held pretty well for his points and Paul had some good chances on the birds, managing to connect on two of his shots.

Monty retrieves yet another of his pointed grouse.
The highlight was when Monty pointed and two grouse flushed as Paul shot at one of them. It looked like he may have hit it, but we weren't sure - within seconds, Monty came back with the grouse in his mouth, and we congratulated him on a job well done. He seems to have taken the next step in being a great grouse and woodcock dog - he not only staunchly points birds, but retrieves them reliably when they go down.

Monty will get the bulk of the work over the next few days as Bode recovers from an infected puncture wound to his mouth that he sustained late last week - we hope to have him back in action this weekend. Rudy will get some work in the meantime and maybe he can recover some of his touch with the grouse.

We tested the maxim that
"you see a grouse for every mile walked, shoot at one every three miles walked and harvest one every ten miles walked."

We walked ten miles today and saw ten grouse, but Paul shot two - he's a good grouse shot.


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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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Nearing Opening Day

Woodcock pointed by Monty - 9/15/16
That's a mighty tight sitting woodcock last week during one of our scouting sessions in New Hampshire. Monty had him pinned for a good while before I could wade over to him, and Mr. Timberdoodle allowed me to stop, locate him on the ground, and then get my camera out and zoom in for a couple of pictures. He skedaddled out of the area once I took another step.

That bird was the beginning of a particularly fruitful session with Monty, as he located 3 grouse and perhaps 7 or 8 woodcock, the vast majority of which went pointed. Monty has done some good work lately, so he has been taking it easy this week, in preparation for the Vermont grouse hunting opener on Saturday. Temps look good for this weekend, so we should be able to get out there for a couple of hours each morning.

All of the dogs have had good moments this past week, though Bode worked hard but had little for results in some of the new covers that we were scouting. We did have a bit of success, walking a good distance in to an area that I have only dreamed about, thanks to some
Google Earth research. Well, we finally got in there and it was worth it as we moved 4 grouse at the edge of a gigantic cut. It was an arduous trek to get in there, so the cover may not be the best for some of my clients, but could be nirvana to those that aren't afraid to have callouses on their feet.

Rudy, at ten years of age now, also had a great morning last week when we were scouting one of our tried and true areas. He had a field day with the woodcock, as I believe that we moved 8 woodcock in that cover - most were pointed by Rudy, sometimes two at a time. He also pointed 2 grouse in this cover, the last one of which held surprisingly well, and had me wishing that I had a client with me. Of course, I probably would have told them to approach from the wrong direction -
grouse always make you look bad.
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More Scouting Tales

Bode points a woodcock on September 12
Good temperatures, at least early on these last two mornings, and the dogs have done well finding some birds on our scouting missions.

Yesterday in New Hampshire, Bode started out hot, pointing a pair of grouse, then a solo woodcock and finally a lone grouse in heavy cover - he was at his best in the cool early morning conditions. But then it warmed up a bit, and he began bumping a few birds as the temps climbed … we would end up contacting 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in nearly three hours, which was pretty good considering the conditions.

Today in Vermont, Monty did very well as he had points on two solo woodcock and then pointed a group of three grouse, a couple of which would have made nice targets. He then bumped a solitary grouse to close out his 1.5 hours in the woods. Once again, the canine performance was best when the temperature was coolest. By the time we left the woods, it was getting warm again, well on its way to hitting 75 degrees today.

As you can see from Bode's picture, the woods are mighty thick right now, and that might not change too much over the next few weeks. Usually the cover is beginning to come down by mid October, and usually everything is down by late October. Good grouse cover is thick however, so we just have to learn to deal with it -
after all, if you're not picking up your hat when you're going through the cover, your probably not in good grouse cover!

By the way, last year's clients can attest to my struggle with certain technology (beeper collars!) that we rely on out in the woods. I had been using TriTronics beeper collars over the years with dependable results. Since I run the dogs with silent beepers until they point, it is really important that my beeper collars work dependably, when they're supposed to.

Well, I started having problems with my old TriTronics beepers early last season, and I opted to replace them with beeper units made by Garmin, which, truth be told, seem to be the same technology as the TriTronics collars
(Garmin bought out TriTronics a few years ago and continued the beeper units). Unfortunately, I found that the new Garmin beepers were not as dependable as the TriTronics units were - not sure why, but I had quite a few instances where the beepers were going off at inopportune times, and it affected my hunts as a result.

Taking the recommendation of another guide friend of mine, I purchased the
Dogtra 2500 beeper/trainer unit this summer, and it has been a revelation. The dogs have adapted seemlessly to this unit, and it has been dependable for us this summer as we run it on silent until the point is established. There is a small delay in the beeper going off (a few seconds), but then the beeper goes off every two seconds and having the training function on the same unit is indispensible to ensure that the point is held through the flush (still working on through the shot).

For $300 approximately, the Dogtra collar is a good value if you also need a training unit as well - I recommend it highly.
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What's Going On?

grousetail2
Yes, that is the question that people (Chris!) have been asking me lately about the bird populations of the north country. What can we expect to find in the woods on our voyages afield this autumn? In short, I'm still not sure.

I have been able to get the dogs out in the woods several times a week lately in both New Hampshire and Vermont, as we ramp up for the season opener in a few weeks. Some mornings are pretty good, such as two days ago when I had Bode out for about one and a half hours. After a slow first 45 minutes, Bode then pointed two woodcock beautifully, one of which was at a good distance
(30 feet or so), and later I was able to "whoa" him when the first of a brood of four grouse flushed up ahead. He understands "whoa" very well now, so I was able to walk up and flush the other birds. He also had a great point on a grouse last week, the only one that we would see that morning. He's coming along nicely.

We have also had some slow mornings as well, mostly in some new areas that I have been checking out. Yesterday we checked one particular spot in New Hampshire, where the cover looks ideal, and only found a smattering of woodcock chalk and one grouse that I bumbled in to and Monty missed entirely.
C'est la vie!

Two points that have been constant in our scouting. The dogs have been working hard and are progressing toward the opener. It looks like it will be mostly Monty and Bode this fall who will be out on our guide trips. Rudy still has the desire, but at the ripe old age of 10 his stamina is not the same. He can still do the job in small covers or places that require a delicate dog, but his days of the 2 - 3 hour covers are probably gone.

The second point is more about the conditions lately - insanely hot and humid this past week, and I hope this weather pattern ends soon! Yesterday, we got a bit of a late start in the woods - at 8:45 it was 67 degrees when Bode and I left the truck. When we came back at 10:00, it was up to 73 degrees. Too hot, but
the prediction is for a warmer than normal October, so carry lots of water for your dogs, and dunk them in ponds or lakes when you're out there. Hopefully it won't be as dire as that.

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Scouting & Predictions

Bode points a woodcock on July 27
We were a little late to the party, but we finally started scouting for grouse and woodcock this week, focusing primarily on some local covers in Vermont. Much like mythical Sisyphus, rolling his gigantic boulder uphill only to watch it roll down again to the bottom, I always find it a bit difficult to start the process of getting myself ready for another grouse hunting season. Yes, I enjoy the offseason a bit too much at times …

Just like the rest of the eastern U.S.,
we have had some great summer weather (70's and 80's, hot and humid), which is particularly difficult to walk the grouse woods in. It's hot, thick and nasty out there, and I for sure am paying the price for a slovenly winter and fishing way too much this summer. I'm not much for the treadmill generally, but it will become my best friend prior to October.

Was Monty pointing a snowshoe hare or a fleeing grouse?
Bode and Monty have enjoyed their early morning stints out in the woods this week - lots of water and mostly brief sessions for the two of them. We have found a few birds here and there, with Bode excelling on woodcock - he found 3 on Wednesday, two of which were pointed, and 5 more today, with two pinned as a result of his points. He's patterning well and hunting close, which is great to see after a layoff of a couple of months. Monty found 6 grouse yesterday, 4 of which were in a family unit, as well as 2 singles. None of them were pointed, but the conditions have not been particularly suited for bird scent either.

The woods are very dry right now up here (thankfully not as dry as down south), so looking for cool, damp places are where we're more likely to find birds. The season is a little over two months away and we're excited. Hopefully we're all ready for it.

Predictions

Are you crazy? There's no way I'm going out on a limb to predict how we might fare this fall! I've taken too much guff in the past for leading readers astray …
All I will say is that if you walk farther and work harder than most other grouse hunters, you'll probably put yourself in a good position to succeed - in other words, do the same things you do every year!
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April Scouting

bode-grouse-pt-april-5


Perfect (though unseasonably chilly) weather for spring grouse and woodcock scouting. Temps have been in the twenties and thirties, and our woodcock have returned to our northern coverts, which is always a harbinger of spring.

This is also a great time to
reinforce those commands ("WHOA!") that have become fuzzy in the canine memory over winter. While we are a bit limited in where we can go (many of the logging roads are closed to allow them to dry out from the snow and ice of winter), there's still plenty of spots that we can get in to.

The dogs have been doing well in their work. While Monty looks like he's ready for the season now (
4 grouse and 3 woodcock contacted the other day in New Hampshire, and he had two staunch grouse points and a point on a pair of woodcock), Bode has some more work to do. Bode and I ran in to a lot of birds yesterday in Vermont - 8 grouse and 4 woodcock yesterday morning, and while part of the problem on at least half of the birds was wind direction (we were coming at the birds with the wind at our back - you can't always be on the right side of it unfortunately), he managed to bump most of the others.

His one bright spot was on his one grouse point (pictured) - guess you have to start somewhere!

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March Scouting

Monty and Bode point a grouse on March 18

Usually, our spring scouting in the north country takes place in April - by then, the snows of winter have mostly melted, enough for the dogs and I to get around the grouse woods without too much trouble. Well, spring came early this year (it seemed as though winter never really came), making for an extra couple of weeks of work for the dogs and escaping the winter doldrums for me.

Monty and Bode took me through a patch of woods in Vermont that we hadn't explored yet, so I had no idea of what to expect, nor expectations either. The "boys" were pretty fired up to be hitting the woods again, and running together to boot. Those of you that hunt with me know that I prefer to run one dog at a time - just too much to focus on when you have more than one dog on the ground, and today was a prefect example of that, at least early on.

Within five minutes from the truck, Bode, showing great energy at being in the woods, bounded in to some heavy cover on my left as I was watching Monty on my right. Shortly thereafter a great flapping of wings and clucking ensued - yes, Bode must have thought he had the grand daddy of all grouse in his sights. Three to four turkeys exploded in to the air in all directions, with Bode in hot pursuit.
C'est la vie!

It got better fortunately, at least briefly. Monty and Bode had the point pictured above on a tight sitting grouse in heavy edge cover. The dogs held well, and so did the bird - long enough for me to walk up and flush it. It offered one of those tough but very makeable shots at tree height down the trail in front of me. My grouse hunter's eye dreamt of a bird fluttering down, hit by my shot string through the waning foliage of late October or early November. However, you know how dreams sometimes go …

Over the next 45 minutes, we would move seven more grouse, just walking along the snow and ice covered trail. There were two pairs, which both held surprisingly tight, and several more singles. All of the birds were located in the thick evergreen edge cover, and while the dogs were birdy on nearly all of them, they did not perform nearly as well as they did on that first one. Perhaps too many birds too soon? Maybe - they also had a competition going on
(or at least Bode was trying to compete with Monty - fat chance), further confirming my belief that the dogs are best run alone.

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The Irony of It All

bird-on-rail2

What is a grouse doing on the railing of my deck, you may ask? That is what I was wondering as well, and this actually happened late last October when I had returned from a day of guiding.

While I was busy unpacking the truck and getting the dogs fed after our travails that day, my wife secretly was taking a picture from inside of my abode of this grouse seemingly taunting us from the safety of the deck.

Knowing the angst that it would cause me, Karen had the good sense to not actually
show me the picture however, until after my guiding season was done. Thanks, honey.

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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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October 30 Bird Hunting Report

One of Monty's many points on October 30.
Good weather today, though blustery at times, for ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting in northern New Hampshire. After a few days off to recharge my batteries (in all honesty, Monty and Bode were ready for a little down time too) and let my feet recover, we were back out there for the tail end of our guiding season. It will be a busy ten days coming up …

Missing a couple of days in the woods at this time of year gives me the feeling that I'm starting all over again, and have a lot of catching up to do. Thankfully, this is what the dogs are for, and Monty did a fantastic job this morning of easing my mind by finding some birds. While he had several good grouse points, only one offered a really good chance, and was cleanly missed by my client.

No escape for this one, but it took us longer to find him.
We moved eight grouse this morning with the help of Monty, but it was on the multitude of woodcock (yes, they're still around and next week's weather looks mild, so maybe they will stay longer than usual) that Monty really showed his ability. Many stylish and intense points brought four woodcock to the game vest, and lots of other chances for my hunters. One of the woodcock even managed to get tangled in some branches on its way down after being taken over one of Monty's points - yes, we recovered him.

Bode finished off our afternoon by moving 5 - 6 grouse and a woodcock in two hours of work. He once again hunted close and had a couple of short points on escaping grouse. He'll get many more chances to prove himself this season. We had a good day - somewhere around 13 - 14 grouse and just as many woodcock that we contacted - hopefully we can have some more days like this in the week ahead.
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October 30 Bird Hunting Report

One of Monty's many points on October 30.
Good weather today, though blustery at times, for ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting in northern New Hampshire. After a few days off to recharge my batteries (in all honesty, Monty and Bode were ready for a little down time too) and let my feet recover, we were back out there for the tail end of our guiding season. It will be a busy ten days coming up …

Missing a couple of days in the woods at this time of year gives me the feeling that I'm starting all over again, and have a lot of catching up to do. Thankfully, this is what the dogs are for, and Monty did a fantastic job this morning of easing my mind by finding some birds. While he had several good grouse points, only one offered a really good chance, and was cleanly missed by my client.

No escape for this one, but it took us longer to find him.
We moved eight grouse this morning with the help of Monty, but it was on the multitude of woodcock (yes, they're still around and next week's weather looks mild, so maybe they will stay longer than usual) that Monty really showed his ability. Many stylish and intense points brought four woodcock to the game vest, and lots of other chances for my hunters. One of the woodcock even managed to get tangled in some branches on its way down after being taken over one of Monty's points - yes, we recovered him.

Bode finished off our afternoon by moving 5 - 6 grouse and a woodcock in two hours of work. He once again hunted close and had a couple of short points on escaping grouse. He'll get many more chances to prove himself this season. We had a good day - somewhere around 13 - 14 grouse and just as many woodcock that we contacted - hopefully we can have some more days like this in the week ahead.
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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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Almost There ...

clear-cut-view

Just ten days until the grouse and woodcock opener in New Hampshire (Vermont gets a head start by opening the grouse hunting season this Saturday, September 26), so we're in crunch time getting ready. The dogs are looking good for the most part, after an exceptionally lazy summer.

The weather has not been cooperative lately, with temps at nearly 80 degrees last week, and nearly 70 this week. Needless to say, there hasn't been much change yet in the foliage either - it's still mostly green out there, with just a hint of some dull reds and russets. Hopefully, more will be happening in this area in a couple of weeks!

We welcomed our coldest morning of the fall today
(upper 30's in Pittsburg), so it was a good one for exploring some of our favorite coverts. Each dog had their moments, but Bode spent the most time out there today - 1.5 hours - to get him ready for the rigors of grouse and woodcock hunting. After a mostly fruitless search for birds in his first hour and twenty minutes (this is actually common at this time of year, as many of the broods are still together, thus the birds may not be as spread out as they will be in another month), he had a nice point on a brood of 4 - 5 grouse that were sneaking on up ahead of us. A quick relocation and another point gave me the chance to move in, flush the birds, and shoot the training pistol, all done while Bode held steady. It was a good job and he's showing some good aptitude in the grouse woods.

BIGmonty-pointing-woodcock.jpg.JPG
Monty closed out today's session before it became too hot, and within five minutes of the truck he had a beautifully solid point on a woodcock. Point - flight - hold - training pistol shot - hold. Hopefully we see more of that this fall. Looks like we'll have some more good mornings for our scouting / training runs this week and then we'll get out in Vermont on Saturday. We may not see them all (foliage), but maybe we'll be able to at least hear them!

Predictions for this season? I have heard a wide range of opinions, and experienced the spectrum of scouting days this summer. In other words, some good, some bad - don't set your expectations too high and you may just be pleasantly surprised …

Tuesday, 9/22 Update:

Scouted in northern Vermont with Rudy for 1.5 hours this morning - 3 grouse, 2 woodcock located. Two of the grouse and one of the woodcock were pointed, so overall it was a good job by him. Then Bode moved 5 grouse in 1.5 hours later in the morning. Unfortunately, none were pointed and all were extremely close flushes. Three of them were singles, and one pair flushed together. The cover was
extremely thick!
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Some good, some not so good

Monty with his first woodcock point of the morning
More training runs this morning for Monty and Bode, with similar results for the boys. Conditions were pretty good for this time of year - overcast and probably about 60 degrees, but I still brought plenty of water for the dogs, as they were working pretty hard for the 2.5 hours we were in the Vermont woods.


Another woodcock point from Monty this morning
Monty got out there first this morning and had a couple of nice points on two woodcock that he contacted, but had trouble with the grouse. A small brood of two or three got away as he got a little too close. In fact, the two "broods" that we encountered today were both small (2 or 3 each), but that has been balanced by a couple of large broods that we saw last week, so who knows how the season will be.

Bode was next and worked very hard and under control - he had a beautiful point his one woodcock, but while he was birdy just prior to breaking in to a grouse brood, he just couldn't stop himself. Scenting conditions weren't great, but we always hope for better when we're out there.

Some of the early berries (raspberries and choke cherries) are out now, so there are many more food sources out there for the grouse. More to come soon.
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Training Begins

Two frosty mid summer mornings last week (low 40's) gave us the perfect opportunity to get in to the woods in search of grouse and woodcock. What a treat it is to get out there at this time of the year to get the dogs on wild birds without mosquitos bothering us and perspiring to exhaustion.

We checked out some of our favorite haunts in Vermont and were rewarded with a few birds. Bode was first up on Wednesday morning and he managed to stop to flush on a couple of single grouse and a wild flushing woodcock, then he bumbled in to a brood of grouse later on. The brood was large I would say - 7 to 8 birds. After the first two flew, he received a quick "whoa", and he held his ground as the others flew off as I made my way to him. A couple of them came mighty close to hitting him in the head, but he remained rock solid. Good exposure for him in nearly two hours of running - about 10 or 11 birds.

Rudy ran for about 1.5 hours on Thursday morning, and he picked up where he left off last year. First, he pointed, relocated, and then pointed again a running grouse that ended up flushing downhill from us. Then he stuck a grouse beautifully in a patch of shady evergreens - really nice work. He finished his run off with a point on a brood of grouse (different from the day before), with the hen pulling the broken wing routine. I came in calmly and led him out by his collar so that he would not further disturb this family unit.

What do bird numbers look like for this fall? After last year, I have decided to take myself out of the prediction game. Bird seasons are what we make of them - seeing more birds usually means more effort needs to be made. More research and scouting for new covers, more training of our dogs and ourselves, and more boots on the ground. I believe that the latest predictions from Upland Almanac for New Hampshire and Vermont are for "fair to good grouse hunting" up here for the 2015 autumn.

We shall see … and I can't wait.
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First Run of Spring

Rudy doing what he does best - pointing!
Finally the snow pack is withering away here in northern New Hampshire's grouse woods. We had some of our warmest weather in six months this past week, and it was much welcomed. Yesterday offered the opportunity to get the dogs out for some work in the woods, as they were only able to see grouse flying out of their snow roosts all winter.

Look closely - that's a grouse in that tree!
Bode was a bit ragged at times, showing his exuberance to be out on bare ground for the first time in a while, but he hunted hard and under control. Rudy was, like normal, the "old pro", pointing one grouse in our time out there. Unfortunately, we moved three grouse and a woodcock in total, so the dogs have some work ahead to pick up where they left off last season.

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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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Heat of the Summer

Thick ... hot ... muddy ... buggy. Those are some of the adjectives to describe trying to navigate the grouse woods at this time of year. Not very pleasureable at times, but well worth it when you start seeing numbers of grouse and woodcock, and bird dogs pointing them.

Rudy started yesterday morning off by finding seven grouse and one woodcock in a little over an hour's work. The first five grouse were in a brood, and Rudy did very well locking up solidly on point and holding as they slowly one-by-one made their escape. He then got in to a couple of other grouse shortly afterward and then bumped a woodcock to top off his time out there. For eight years old he's looking good, and we should have a good autumn ahead with the "old man".

monty-pointing-brood-aug-8
Monty then took his turn for 45 minutes or so and managed to point a different brood of five or six grouse, and while he did a great job establishing his point, he did break for a couple of feet when the first bird flew off. An immediate "whoa!" brought him to a stop, and he managed to hold it as the remainder of the brood flew off.

Bode has gotten out two of the last three mornings, and while he has gotten in to a bundle of birds (11 in two hours of work Thursday morning, and 8 grouse this morning in an hour), he has yet to establish solid points. He is definitely birdy - the prey drive is definitely there, and he is very cooperative when we're out there, but he seems to be developing later than the other dogs did. Looks like we'll be planting some pigeons in launchers for the little guy this week to see if we can improve him.

All in all, bird numbers look solid for this hunting season, probably better than last year due to our drier spring hatching weather this year. Of course, it will still be hunting, so make sure you have some good comfortable boots when you come up!
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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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Looking For Clues

When we check out new areas to possibly hunt in the near future, we're always looking for some evidence to support our beliefs.

Over the last week of running the dogs, we've seen the three primary types of evidence that we're most likely to encounter while out there.

april-27-grouse-poop
1. Guano. This one is pretty easy to find, as long as you're looking for it, and you've got your eyes on the ground occasionally. A dog working ground scent will often give this one away, and while woodcock "whitewash" is the easiest to spot on the drab forest floor, piles of grouse droppings can be a little more difficult to spot.


woodcock-tracks

2. Tracks. This is very difficult to see on your own, unless there's some snow on the ground, in which case they show up pretty well. The picture at right was a rare one for me - spring woodcock tracks in an area of patchy snow where there was also some whitewash.

Grouse tracks from late last season


Grouse tracks are common when we hunt in November and December, and are always confirmation that we're in the right cover to support birds.



shot-shell
3. Shot shells. Pick up your evidence, folks, and that may keep other hunters from finding your hot spots. It's the easiest way to protect those areas that you've worked hard to find and learn how to hunt. Fortunately for me, I find a lot of this type of evidence while I'm out scouting, and this gets filed in to the memory bank for an area to check out again during the season.
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Dreaming ...

monty-bode-spring-2014
Yes, this is that time of the year when all grouse hunters and dog owners are dreaming of the season coming only five months away. Not only are we thinking of birds and beautiful crisp autumn days that remind us of a kaleidoscopic postcard, but we're likely obsessing about the performances of our four legged friends, and probably ourselves too.

This is the time of year when we should be training our dogs (and ourselves) for the rigors of what lies ahead. If it's an older dog, you're brushing up on what (hopefully) he or she already knows. If it's a pup, you've got your work cut out for you, but great days of discovery lie ahead. Fortunately, the last couple of weeks have seen a significant reduction in our snow pack and some decent days to be out in the field, which has made for some good training on our wild birds in the north country.

monty-spring-woodcock-point
While still rusty, Rudy and Monty have enjoyed their time in the woods this spring, and have begun to exhibit that form that we remember from last fall. Yes, the boys enjoy their "down time" during the winter! Bode's doing a nice job learning and paying heed to my commands, though we still have lots of work to do on the "Whoa" command. He's getting in to birds too, and seems to be having a great time chasing them ... not so much on the pointing yet.

betsey-spring-point
I just spoke with a friend and client of mine that just purchased a finished setter pup, and his exuberance for this fall was undeniable. Chris is literally chomping at the bit for this season and we should have a great fall with his two setters Dotty and Betsey.

We're only five months away now, and it can't come soon enough for me, but I have plenty of work to do on my conditioning and also to find a few more "hot spots" before the season starts.
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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 14 NH Upland Bird Hunting Report

matt-with-grouse
The weather in northern NH has remained a bit on the warm side for us bird hunters, but finally cooled off today. A front moved in last night, bringing with it some much needed moisture that helped with the scenting conditions tremendously for our pups this morning.

The numbers of birds moved each day seems to be the same - a little down compared to last year's action, but still fine nonetheless. The interesting thing to take away from the past week of hunting is where we've been finding most of our grouse - near road edges that have thick evergreen cover. This was certainly appropriate for today, where we had a steady misting of rain (sometimes more than that) all day, but it also worked well for us when it was positively too warm for grouse late last week and over the weekend. Grouse prefer areas like this to stay cool as well, and sometimes it seemed that there was a ten degree difference when we went in to the thick evergreens.

Still, just because we find them, it doesn't mean that we bag them - the grouse have been pulling out all of the stops so far this year - running out of points, disappearing like ghosts, and even gliding away nearly unheard.
Check out this video from today's action and you'll get an idea of the grouse hunter's plight, even when we know exactly where they are!
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October 8 NH Upland Bird Hunting Report

The last two days of grouse and woodcock hunting in northern New Hampshire and Vermont have provided completely different, and challenging, conditions each day.

monty-on-point
Yesterday in Pittsburg, NH was warm and windy for the most part, as a massive front started moving through our area. It was tough on the dogs for scenting purposes, as the swirling wind made it very hard for Rudy and Monty to lock on to the grouse and woodcock. As usual, the windy conditions also meant very skittish grouse - they don't like the wind, as it makes it much harder for them to be aware of predators, so they tend to be pretty jumpy on those windy days.

Fortunately for us, the woodcock were sitting a little tighter than the grouse, and Monty had some nice points. Unfortunately for us, the birds never seem to fly the way that we want them to, and they eluded our shot pattern. Monty also had some great points on grouse, but they also didn't present much of a chance when flushed. That's the way it goes sometimes in grouse hunting - you and the dog can do everything correctly, but the bird still has to make a mistake and fly the wrong way (for him) to get a good shot.

rudy-in-the-driver-seat
Today in Vermont, the wind was very gusty but the tempertures were much cooler, and Monty was a machine for a while, nailing four straight woodcock with great points. He also had a couple of points on grouse that got away for another day. Rudy then got a chance and he did admirably, moving two grouse and two woodcock in his time out there. Leighton and Randy had their shooting boots on apparently too, as they took two woodcock and one grouse. The afternoon belonged to Randy's pointer Axel, and he had a lot of fun romping in the grouse woods. At only eight months old, he has a lot to learn about grouse and woodcock, but he'll get there with repeated exposure to the grouse woods.
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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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The Final Tune Up

So this is it for us intrepid hunters of grouse and woodcock. Only a few days left before the opener in New Hampshire, and the Vermont grouse and woodcock seasons open in less than 48 hours. Thanks to the wet spring and early summer that we had, it seems as though our foliage is brilliant and perhaps a bit ahead of schedule than in years past, which is a good thing when you're trying to hit an acrobatic grouse on his well arbored escape route.

woodcock-drilling
We've been out scouting as often as possible over the last two months, and we had some better days this week. While we are still making contact with the occasional brood of grouse, there have been far more singles and doubles this week, so perhaps the fall shuffle has begun.

The woodcock that we've encountered have mostly been in close proximity of each other, in appropriate cover for them. Today I was able to take this picture of woodcock drillings in a freshly created woods road that was pretty muddy and hadn't set up much yet. Apparently they must have liked it, because there was lots of splash and a lot of these drillings around. And what of the woodcock, you may ask? We never saw one, so they must have only been using this area exclusively for feeding.

Yesterday morning we managed to point
(and sometimes disturb) seven grouse and seven woodcock in about two hours of scouting, while today we only managed one grouse in two points, with one grouse sneaking out before I could get to Rudy. That's the way it has been - good to great in some of our sessions, while others have been just a great walk in the woods.

That's why it's hunting and I would have it no other way
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More Scouting, and an Indoctrination

Foliage is already beginning to change up here!
We've been out in the woods several times over the last week, looking for some evidence of grouse and woodcock, with mixed results. It's always tough to tell what's going on at this time of year, as the grouse are still in their family units and not widely distributed yet, but it's still great exercise for the dogs and myself regardless.

We've also started the low scale training of Bode, the newest addition to the guide lineup (who should be doing his thing next fall I hope) by running with the older dogs. This seems to be the best training, as Bode already is soaking in some of Monty and Rudy's lessons while we've been out there. Although the woods are extremely dry right now, it's still tough for a pup to get through, so we're taking our time with the little guy. At only 9 - 10 weeks old, his little legs can only carry him so far ...

Rudy, Bode and Monty, looking for grouse in August
While we've seen a few woodcock here and there, the grouse numbers have been low so far, except for last Friday evening. After a fruitless beginning to our scouting mission, Monty suddenly went on a beautiful point in a stand of mature yellow birch and spruce. After a short search, I rounded a small knoll and saw the outline of a grouse about 20 yards away - then everything broke loose and I lost count of how many grouse there were - 8 maybe, and of pretty good size. This is the first large brood that we've encountered this summer, and we hope there's a lot more of them out there this fall.
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Mast Crops, northern style

chokecherries
There's plenty to eat out there for the animals now, the bears and the birds especially. Lots and lots of chokecherries currently, and raspberries too, with the last remnants of the blueberry harvest lingering around. The apple crop looks especially good this year (perhaps all of that rain this summer was good for something), so expect to find grouse in those old apple orchards again this fall.

partridge-berry
We also found a low growing plant with clusters of red berries that I believe is properly called Eastern Teaberry, but that is commonly called "partridge berry" - I'm sure that someone will correct me if I'm wrong. I guess that our feathered friends eat these too on occasion, as they are readily available for the grouse on the forest floor.

Went out for a couple of hours this morning and got a couple of solid woodcock points from Rudy - the season is under two months away now, and we can't wait.
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2013 Summer Training

Monty On Point July 30
Yes, it's a green hell of foliage when you're trying to get through the woods at this time of year, but it's still pretty fun just to be out there anyway, especially when a beeper goes off or a bell suddenly goes silent. An hour and a half in the woods this morning with Rudy (bell) and Monty (beeper) yielded 3 grouse finds and 3 woodcock finds - not bad for what everyone thinks may be a lean fall for the birds.

The first was a pair of grouse in a tree that Monty found and Rudy backed on - sorry about the quality of the picture, as I'm also getting the kinks out of my film taking as well. Then the rest were singles: one woodcock that Monty pointed alone, another woodcock that was double teamed, and a third woodcock that Rudy pointed on his own. There was also a bumped grouse in there too, so the boys aren't perfect ... yet.

Lots of water brought along this morning - make sure you do the same when you're running your dogs prior to the season.
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Will we see many pictures like this in the fall?

frank'sgrouse72
That is the question that many of us grouse hunting enthusiasts are asking this very rainy summer (so far). Up here in the north country, we have endured nearly six weeks of less than desirable grouse rearing weather - cold and rainy, which is not what we're looking for to have exciting days this fall with our four legged friends.

To say that this spring and early summer have been almost diametrically opposed to last year's hot, dry summer, is an understatement. As those of you that hunted up here last year know, that turned in to a bumper crop of young birds and one of our best falls in twenty years in northern New England. Mother nature is a fickle mistress however, so I hope for some restraint in the havoc she has wreaked on our bird population this spring.

I'll know a little more about how the young grouse weathered these conditions when I start running the dogs in August, and whatever we find, we'll all be out there in October and November regardless ...
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April 16 Update

It appears as though our long winter may be over at last. There's still some snow out there, but it's going away fast now and hopefully we'll have totally bare ground soon. The recent warming trend also means it's time to get the dogs out, prior to the breeding season for our grouse and woodcock.

While we've been seeing decent numbers of grouse all winter, it was particularly nice to see some of our woodcock returning from warmer climes this week. The timberdoodles are definitely back now, and we were fortunate to run in to eight of them this morning, along with four grouse, in a little over two hours of scouting. We also saw a good amount of them a couple of mornings ago too, so we'll hope that we have a dry and warm nesting season for all of our feathered friends.

Rudy and Monty did a great job as usual and seem to be in mid-season form already -
check them out on this video.

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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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The Folly of Filming a Grouse Hunt

Monty-on-one-of-many-grouse-points-this-week
Every now and then we have to try something different so that non - grouse hunters can try to understand the obsession with our chosen sport. While trying to film the moment when a good dog goes on point, leading in to hunters moving in, to the flush of a fast escaping grouse, seems like a good idea, it seems to me that this is nearly impossible to accomplish, for several reasons.

  1. Grouse are unpredictable - the dog may do his job to perfection, but if the bird runs away on the point before the hunters get there, all is for not ...
  2. Dogs are unpredictable - they don't always have a solid point, or end up busting the bird ahead of schedule.
  3. Hunters are unpredictable - we miss quite often, so filming the point / flush / shot of a grouse hunt where everything goes as it should is rare.
  4. The director / cameraman falls down - nothing needs to be said here.

Anyway, here is my feeble attempt at
filming a grouse hunt last week in Vermont. This is actually a conglomeration of four hunts, three of which were on the same day. All involved the same dog, Monty, my two year old GSP. He had some great moments last week, but unfortunately, the cameraman (me) missed some of those moments. Enjoy ...
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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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Nov. 4 Upland Bird Hunting Update

first-snow-2012
Another great morning to be out in the Vermont woods hunting grouse today. In a mere three hours of trudging around out there Monty and I moved 21 grouse, quite a few of which he had nice points on. Unfortunately, most of the points didn’t yield great opportunities for shots, until Monty pointed a group of six grouse in heavy cover. One of the birds flew the wrong way (right in to my shot pattern), and with that we had a grouse in the bag. Monty also made a nice retrieve on this bird to complete his work.

We had a little bit of snow out there this morning, just beginning to stick in the uplands, and the temp is supposed to drop to 20 degrees tonight. The rest of this week looks good however, as daytime temperatures will be 30 - 40 degrees most days - perfect for good dog work.

This is the final week of grouse hunting in Vermont before the rifle deer season begins next Saturday. The muzzleloader season began yesterday in New Hampshire, so please be careful
(for you and your dog) out there if you’re going out in the next few weeks.

Here’s a quick list of the deer season dates in northern NH and Vermont:

NH Muzzleloader: right now - November 13

NH Rifle: November 14 - December 2

VT Rifle: November 10 - November 25

VT Muzzleloader: December 1 - December 9
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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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October 25 Update

Monty on one of his many points today
After a few days off, it was time to get back at it with Monty and long time client Mike Scarks today. Conditions were sunny, low 30s to start this morning, but topping out at about 60 early this afternoon. Scenting conditions were particularly good this morning, and Monty did a nice job of making some great points on both grouse and woodcock. His most impressive point was a 4-5 minute special, where he held his point beautifully until Mike and I could get to him - alas, that one got away. The next woodcock didn’t get away, however, and Mike made a nice shot on that one.

Today we were in two of the better woodcock holding covers that we’ve hunted over the last several years. We only moved five woodcock in probably 3 hours in these areas, which was surprising. We saw lots of chalk in one of the areas, but not many birds, perhaps signalling that the birds had already moved on. There was another good frost last night, so maybe the woodcock “got out of Dodge.” These are upland covers, so if you specifically target woodcock, you might want to hunt the low lying stream beds more over the next week or so. Bad weather’s coming this weekend, so maybe that will prevent any others that are already here from leaving.

Monty did a very good job today on his healing wheel - he had his boot on from last week’s injury, and thankfully it didn’t affect his nose at all. He was a pointing machine for a while today, racking up solid holding points on several of the grouse we encountered and four of the five woodcock as well. Unfortunately, his brace mate Rudy is down for a couple of weeks while his injured foot heals from an infection caused by a grass awn in all probability. Monty will be “the man” for a while, so we’ll try to keep him healthy for the remainder of the season.
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October 22 Update

One of Rudy's many grouse points today
Rudy and I explored the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge in Vermont this afternoon, with some good results. This is a huge refuge, and eventhough there were a few other hunters that we saw along the extensive network of logging roads in the refuge, we never met anyone in the woods, and it was a very relaxing way to spend some time outdoors. There are spruce grouse also in this refuge, and although I have never seen any, there are lots of signs explaining the similarities and differences between ruffs and spruce grouse. If you have any doubt about the bird that you just flushed, don’t pull the trigger because it could be a fool’s hen!

In all honesty, I’ve skied and snowshoed extensively in the areas that we were in today, so I had plenty of knowledge of the areas that we were checking, and some of the likely grouse hiding spots. We had action almost immediately, as Rudy made a solid point on a young grouse that took its time getting away from the edge of the road. Surprisingly, I made a good shot, and a mere ten minutes later, I connected on another grouse that Rudy made a great find on. After my shot, the bird set its wings and sailed about seventy yards down the road in front of us, without us seeing it’s ultimate landing spot. A few minutes later, Rudy pointed the dead bird off the road’s edge, and we had recovered our second grouse of the day.

That would be it for lucky shots for me, but Rudy kept right on pointing - in fact, he had five more memorable points on grouse this afternoon. Either the bird would get out well out of range of my gun, my shot would be errant, or the bird simply would put a tree between itself and me. That’s ok - we had a great day and felt fortunate to connect on two birds in the first place. We ended up moving 12 grouse and 3 woodcock for the afternoon, so it was well worth going in to the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge.
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October 18 Update

6 grouse and 1 woodcock over our three days of hunting
It’s pretty easy to hunt (and guide for) grouse and woodcock in years of plenty - this has definitely been one of those years, and we’ve had some great days lately. We moved our most birds ever for three days (91 - 66 of which were grouse) this week when I was out with Paul. While our first day together was our best with 35 bird contacts, Day Two was a respectable 29 contacts (25 grouse, 4 woodcock), and yesterday yielded another 27 contacts (19 grouse, 8 woodcock).

Yet another example of some of the great cover that's out there
What was the difference in our three days together? The weather probably had the biggest impact, as our first day was a little rainy and cold, allowing good scenting conditions for the dogs, and us to be much quieter as we approached pointed birds. The last two days were sunny, sometimes warm, and the leaf cover was getting crunchy again - this all meant tougher working conditions for the dogs (water your dogs!) and us, and the birds usually were running out ahead on points.

That's Rudy in that thick cover - he had a very good day yesterday, with many grouse and woodcock points
Rudy got the majority of the work over the last two days. Some of this was because Monty had gotten the bulk of the work, and birds, over the first two weeks of the season, and it seemed as though Rudy had been left out a little. So, he got us off on the right foot the last two days, moving nearly 20 birds Wednesday morning (several nice points on grouse, and he pointed all of the woodcock that day), and many solid points on grouse and woodcock throughout the course of the day yesterday.

The other reason is because Monty went down with a foot injury Wednesday afternoon - he drove a small stick about an inch in to the flesh between two toes when he was bombing around the woods. Epsom Salts, washing and cleaning of the wound, and disinfecting seems to have helped Monty out a lot - he’s putting weight on it now and looks like he’ll be able to get in the woods again next week with a boot on.

This was a classic woodcock point from Greta
This all meant that Greta came out of retirement yesterday - briefly - to hunt a quick food cover with Paul and I. Now, Greta’s not your typical retiree - she has been going hunting with me once or twice a week so far this season, and while she’s slow and arthritic at times, she still points very well and fights her way through cover. Since she doesn’t range too far, we don’t put a bell or beeper on her, so we’re quiet out there and can often surprise birds when they’re not expecting it. This cover called for Greta’s unique talents, and in only 45 minutes she was able to put up 4 grouse (one pointed) and 1 woodcock (also pointed). Paul made a nice shot on one of the grouse, and Greta proved again that the old girl still has it - it was a perfect ending for our hunts together.

The weather will be unsettled this weekend, which might not be all bad. Also, we are on our way to a waxing moon this coming week, so we may have some good woodcock flights migrating through the area.
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October 16 Update

Grouse and woodcock cover in prime condition
Another amazing day of grouse and woodcock hunting in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods today. The weather was unsettled today - 40s, cloudy, and sometimes a little rainy, but that didn’t seem to affect the birds and the way the dogs were able to scent them.

Another gratuitous grouse guano picture
Today I had friend and long time client Paul O’Neill along with me, and he had a great week of hunting with me last year in Vermont, but we are hunting New Hampshire this week, so I hoped for similar results. The action this morning was pretty hot, as Monty kept a good range and was pointing with some regularity. We started contacting birds immediately out of the truck and at certain times it seemed that we were at the epicenter of grouse activity in this cover.

Within about an hour and a half, Paul had two grouse in the bag (one was an excellent point from Monty), and several other misses on woodcock as well. When Monty started ranging out a bit too far, I put him up and brought out Rudy for some close work. He did a good job too and found a couple more grouse and several more woodcock, but none of them offered good chances for Paul.

First limit of grouse, for Paul and myself
We moved to our afternoon cover around 1:30 today, and gave Monty a second chance to redeem himself. He did that and more, as he pointed several grouse back to back, made a nice retrieve on one bird that Paul winged, and an awesome find of another downed bird that Paul thought he had hit, which sailed off after his initial shot. It was great for sure, and Paul is my first hunter ever to have limited out on grouse - by 2:30 PM!

Monty pointed another grouse on the way back to the truck for good measure too ...
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October 14 Update

Jo-Ann's springer Bonnie with her pheasant
Cold and blustery have been the two adjectives to describe our weather pattern lately. Yesterday morning was a crisp 24 degrees, and we had some biting wind on Friday and Saturday of this weekend. It snowed last night and seems to be sticking around a bit today, but it will be gone soon - we have a slight warm up in store for us this week it appears.

The good news is that it didn’t seem to dampen the grouse and woodcock hunting this weekend. After a morning pursuing some pheasants for my clients’ springer spaniels, we turned to some more traditional covers in pursuit of our native birds on Friday afternoon. We weren’t disappointed, as we moved around 13 grouse and 10 woodcock in the afternoon, with some excellent work from Krystal’s springer Phoenix and Jo-Ann’s springer Bonnie. These are close working bird dogs that literally scour the woods in search of bird scent, and it appeared that they don’t often miss a bird.

On Saturday, we hit several covers in search of grouse and woodcock, as we employed two, and sometimes three dogs
(either Phoenix, Bonnie, or Krystal’s springer Levi, and Monty), with good results. The dogs all worked the woods independent of each other, which was great to see. Our morning went very well as the flushers kicked some grouse up in range, and Monty had a nice point on a pair of running grouse (lots of runners right now) that got away. Things slowed down a bit until our last cover of the day, where we put up 4 more grouse and 5 or 6 woodcock. Alas, none fell to the guns, but you can’t hit birds if you don’t shoot, and both Krystal and Jo-Ann were shooting often.

We had a great time and it’s probably safe to say that everyone, dogs included, were tired and satisfied with the weekend’s efforts.
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October 11 Update

Another great day in the uplands today - I know that it sounds monotonous, but it’s been true, as we have contacted many birds each session that we’ve been out. The weather was unsettled today - cold and rainy at the start, then sleet as the morning went on. We are expected to have similar weather this weekend, possibly even colder.

Peter scored a ruffed grouse, with Monty's aid
Today was also very windy, so that was something new for us this season and usually means skittish grouse. That was partially true, as about half of the grouse that we enountered often were off like a flash when they saw us or heard the tinkle of Monty’s bell. However, there were also some that held pretty well for points, and all of the woodcock that we saw this morning were pointed by Monty. I had grouse hunting veteran Peter Connell with me this morning, and while it may have been cold for us to start our day, within minutes we were both warmed up sufficiently as we hiked over hill and dale in search of grouse and woodcock.

The birds were pretty much everywhere this morning, in a variety of cover, so it’s difficult to pinpoint what they preferred today. Some were in hardwood thickets, while others were hanging out on the edge of evergreen cover, but it was usually thick wherever they were. Monty had another outstanding morning (12 grouse and 6 woodcock pointed / contacted), as he worked generally close and under good control. He has definitely shown some progression in his quest to become a grouse dog, the highest point any of our four legged friends can aspire to.

The afternoon was some time to get some work for Greta and Rudy. Yes, Greta was out again, for approximately 40 minutes, and in that time she pointed one grouse (no shot), one woodcock (that one did not get away), and we moved two other grouse. Pretty amazing, and while her points aren’t technically “classic” anymore, they are priceless and I never get tired of watching her work. Rudy also found three grouse in his time out in the woods, so he was happy to get some work in and get in on all of the fun.

It’s tiring trying to keep up with three bird dogs!
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October 9 Update

Great day yesterday in the uplands - in fact, probably my best ever since those days when I was in high school cruising the woods in search of grouse with my brothers. It started right from the beginning too - we started moving woodcock immediately, with Monty making several good points. Most of our birds at first were woodcock, but eventually we began making consistent contact with some grouse too.

While Monty had some beautiful points on grouse, he also went back to school a few times too, and I wonder if the sheer amount of birds we ran in to in the morning made Monty momentarily come unhinged. In three hours of hunting in the morning, we contacted approximately 15 grouse and 12 woodcock. Most days, that’s usually what we hope to put up, but this was a great start. Meanwhile the weather was typical northern N.H. - rain one moment, sunny the next, and then sleet.

After lunch, my client and I headed to another spot. Tom has had lots of grouse hunting experience in Michigan, but by the end of the day he would tell me that this is the most birds he’s ever seen in a day of grouse hunting. We brought out Rudy for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and while he made a couple of productive points on grouse, we just didn’t encounter the same numbers of birds. My thought was that birds would be coming out to the roads as the sun came out for the first time in several days up here - I turned out to be partially wrong.

We then brought Monty out for another go up a logging road, ending in a perfectly aged logging cut, and that turned out to be quite amazing. In one and a half hours, we encountered 11 grouse and a woodcock, and Tom made a nice shot on a grouse fleeing from a brood of five birds. As it turned out, that would be the end of the action and the end of our day, but not before we moved forty birds for the day (and it may have been a few more than that). We hope to have more days like that this season!
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October 4 Update

Good point from Monty, but this grouse made it to safety
So the first few days of grouse and woodcock hunting are in the book, and in one word it’s been WET. We have a low pressure system that seems to want to stay around us over the last few days, so it’s been a challenge for man and dog alike. Add to it that we’ve had almost no wind lately, and it has been a bit difficult for the dogs to key in on that precious bird scent. However, we’ve still had some admirable dog work in the last few days, so we have certainly had our chances.

The other big problem has been that there’s still lots of foliage out there on our trees, so as beautiful as our colors may be, it has made shooting extremely difficult thus far. While I never root for bad weather to come our way, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few windy days come our way to clear the trees
(and shooting lanes) a bit.

Cocoa with a beautiful grouse point
Randy Kinne and Leighton Hunter were my victims the last two days, and while they had one of their better years recently up here, it still was very difficult for them to shoot, never mind connect on, grouse and woodcock. As noted, there was good work by the dogs, especially Monty yesterday, and from Randy’s pointer Cocoa today. In the rain and fog Cocoa managed to point at least three grouse this morning, but only one presented a realistic opportunity, and Randy connected.

The forecast calls for a cold front to move in early next week and stay throughout the week, so we may have some good migratory woodcock action if it’s cold in Canada. Hopefully we also lose a few of those colorful leaves too ...
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September 24 Update

fall-leaves
Beautiful day out there today - the leaves are changing as you read this, insuring some brilliant outings in the days ahead. Not much leaf drop yet, so we’re hearing the grouse as they escape, and rarely viewing them in the act. Still seeing broods now and then, so the fall dispersal is still probably a couple weeks away. We did encounter a few grouse in old apple tree cover, so if you have spots like these you go to, there could be some birds there already.

We have continued our schedule of four days a week hitting the woods in search of birds in areas old and new, with varying results. Seems like our tried and true covers have been producing as usual, but the new spots have yielded fewer sightings of grouse and woodcock. Sometimes they’re not there at all, and sometimes we’re just in the wrong part of the cover at the wrong time. Rudy and Monty have certainly done their part in our scouting searches.

As one of the best grouse hunters I know says,
“A grouse cover is like a house - we just have to find out what room they’re in.”

Vermont opening day is this Saturday, and New Hampshire opens a week from today - hope you’re ready!
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September 17 Update

fall-leaves
Fall’s in the air for sure now, folks. 38 degrees this morning, chilly enough to get the woodstove going and also to contemplate all of those great days ahead. Yes, we’re all getting excited for the Vermont and New Hampshire seasons now, and the wait is almost over. The leaves are slowly changing, a bit more rapidly in the uplands, but there’s still a lot of green out there right now. Hopefully we have some more cold nights soon to hasten the colors.

Nearly four hours in the woods of Vermont this morning yielded 14 grouse pointed / sighted. Most were singles at first, then Monty made a nice point on a pair in the shade. That started us off on an hour in which we ran into most of the grouse that we saw today - first Rudy made a nice point on a lone grouse, then he got in to a brood of probably four more that made their escape in waves. Did I mention that the woods are thick right now? That means we didn’t see too many, just heard the whirring of their wings on take off.

The majority of these birds were in an “old faithful” kind of spot, then we checked a few smaller covers prospecting for grouse, in which we only saw one more. No woodcock today, but there was some evidence that they had been there recently. The woods are dry again, but we’re expecting some weather to come in tomorrow and Wednesday, so that should help things out a bit.

More updates to come as we get closer to September 29 (VT opener) and October 1 (NH opener).
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September 14 Update

Rudy pointing a woodcock on 9/14/2012
Another good scouting session this morning - approximately 10 woodcock pointed / moved in about 1.5 hours. Not too bad for Rudy and Monty, and they did a good job for the most part of helping each other out by honoring each other’s points. We still have some work to do there though, so that will be the focus of our efforts heading in to the season. My preference is to hunt them alone once the season arrives, but with the temperatures warming quickly lately, running them at the same time to get their work in has been the best option for them.

Monty on one of his many woodcock points - 9/14/2012
I was able to take a short video this morning of the dogs on point. It was actually Monty who was first on point, with Rudy dangerously close to busting the woodcock (that’s why I’m yelling “WHOA!” on the video), but thankfully they held their points and the bird fluttered away. Once again, sorry about the camera action, but these birds don’t hold too well for a hack like me, but you will hear the whistle of the woodcock if you listen hard. This video also illustrates why I use beeper collars - they are indispensible in finding your pup when he’s on point!

We checked out a couple new spots this week that looked like they had some potential on Google Earth, but unfortunately they turned out to be rather slow. So, we turned our attention to a couple of areas that we haven’t hunted in a year or two and they were surprisingly good - 13 grouse were pointed / moved by Rudy and Monty in merely two hours. I’ll take those numbers every time and this season is looking very good for our pursuit of grouse and woodcock.
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