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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The grouse hunting was pretty good this past week, with a few tight sitting birds at times and others that ran out of points before we could get there. They are still up to their old tricks, but due to the lack of foliage, we are sometimes able to see exactly what is happening instead of merely wondering what went wrong.
Here is a list of how last week went, and the birds taken in our sessions:
- Monday, 10/31 (AM only): 10 grouse & 3 woodcock (1 grouse & 2 woodcock taken)
- Tuesday, 11/1 (full day): 9 grouse & 5 woodcock (3 grouse taken)
- Wednesday, 11/2 (PM only): 8 grouse & 1 woodcock (1 grouse taken)
- Thursday, 11/3 (AM only): 6 grouse & 4 woodcock (1 woodcock taken)
- Friday, 11/4 (full day): 21 grouse & 1 woodcock (lots of action, but we took the bagel)
The first four days were spent in New Hampshire, in a few areas where we have hunted several times this year. Some of the birds were cooperative, but most were not, perhaps reflecting some of the pressure that the grouse have been under in these areas.
Our New Hampshire days were highlighted by some great "sticking" points on grouse and woodcock by Monty and Bode, as well as some great work by my client Lou's young GSP named Emma. In limited action, she pointed two grouse for Lou, and Lou was happy to take one of them over her.
Our day in Vermont (last Friday) yielded a lot of grouse contacts behind the solid work of Monty (at least 21, and it may have been a few more than that), and chances at shooting a few of them for each of my three clients. Unfortunately, none of the shots connected with the birds, and we had to tip our hats to the amazing difficulty that these birds sometimes present. We hunted a couple of new spots that day, and based on the numbers of birds we saw in these places, they will become a part of the Vermont "rotation" going forward.
Our guiding season is nearly at an end, as our last client for this year will be on Wednesday in Vermont - the dogs are charging up for that day, but I have seen them wear down some as this guiding season has gone on, so a little break will be good for them. The deer hunting rifle season in New Hampshire starts on Wednesday, with the Vermont rifle deer season kicking off this coming Saturday - that will spell plenty of time off for the pups.
Yesterday was spent in New Hampshire, as we hunted some low elevation coverts, in the hopes of catching some of our late departing woodcock as they migrate south. We had a good morning behind Bode, even in the (at times) pouring rain. He pointed several woodcock and had a nice point on an escaping grouse, and my clients managed to scratch down a grouse and a woodcock.
The afternoon was spent hunting with Monty, and he was simply great yesterday, as he began pointing lots of woodcock in one of our upland coverts. The rain on Friday got rid of most of the snow that was paralyzing us in these areas, so we were able to get back in there. While Monty provided lots of opportunities on the woodcock, only one paid the price. Later on, he would point four or five grouse, and one of them hung around just a bit too long and my client bagged him before escaping.
Yesterday was probably our best day of the year in New Hampshire, as we encountered 15 grouse and 16 woodcock over the course of our travels.
Today was spent in Vermont, in an effort to avoid deer hunters (it's muzzleloading deer season in NH) and explore some new territory as well. The action started right off this morning, with Monty systematically pointing three woodcock and a grouse, and one of the woodcock ended up in the back of my client's vest. We did a lot of walking today, in a walk-in only area, and while it was frustrating at times (yes, even these grouse were acting typically "grousey") as we had trouble getting close to some of them, Monty still managed to point quite a few of them.
Not all of them gave us good chances, but they were there, and so were we - that's grouse hunting at times. He managed to point four or five grouse this morning, and by our lunch break we had moved 13 grouse and 4 woodcock.
Bode did the afternoon duties, and he started out hot right away, making a nice point on a woodcock that my client took. He also had a couple of grouse points and a couple more woodcock points in his time out there, working tirelessly and thoroughly. Unfortunately, none of the grouse were taken, but one more of the woodcock fell to my client's shotgun. We moved 8 grouse and 5 woodcock this afternoon behind Bode, for a day's total of somewhere around 30 birds moved for the day.
That's not bad, and along with yesterday's 31 birds moved, we had quite a weekend. Hopefully our hot streak continues through this week, and it looks as though our weather will not be a hindrance in this. More updates to come …
We had our best day in a while yesterday, as we hunted mostly lower elevation cover in Pittsburg, NH again, trying to stay out of the snow that is plaguing the upland higher elevation coverts that we usually hunt.
The snow is great news for the muzzleloader deer hunters that will stream in to northern New Hampshire this weekend, but it is tough on bird dogs and bird hunters alike. We have more weather coming in tonight, and we'll hope for more rain than snow to make things easier next week.
Back to the hunting. Monty had the first turn out of the truck and he led us through the cover all morning. We would encounter eight grouse and eight woodcock behind his excellent nose, with a couple of highlights - first, when Monty pointed a grouse and woodcock in close proximity to each other (no shot for my client), and then near the end of our morning hunt when he pointed a pair of downhill escaping grouse that almost gave Peter enough time to get in position and get a shot off.
We had points on four of the grouse and seven of Monty's eight woodcock, and Peter took two timberdoodles in the morning.
Bode did a great job in the afternoon, thoroughly scouring the cover, and even bringing Peter to comment that Bode's nickname should be "Mr. Clean" for his work in the grouse woods. He certainly gives it his all out there and leaves no brushy spot unturned in his pursuit of birds.
It didn't take too long for Peter to fill his woodcock limit of three over a point from Bode and then we had some more action on grouse. Peter took his first of the day on a fast flushing grouse that came from our left, following Bode's close tracking (maybe a little too close - this one wasn't pointed). Peter's quick reflexes and knowledge of bird dog body language took that grouse, and I'm sure that his experiences hunting quail in southern California and Arizona were a big reason why.
On our long trek back to the truck, Bode established a staunch point on the edge of the cover to our left. When we went in to flush the bird, nothing happened, so Peter stayed on the road and I released Bode from his point. Bode bounded in to some thick spruce further in on the left and a grouse rocketed out of there toward the road. One shot later, Peter had his second grouse of the day, and a few moments afterward Bode pointed his final bird of the day, the woodcock in the picture at right - how much longer will they be here before they're gone for good?
Our total for yesterday was twelve grouse and twelve woodcock contacted, which sounds modest but is pretty good for us this year - it's been a strange one!
Things have really taken a turn up here this week in New Hampshire's north country - several days of low to mid 30's with continual snow has sent us from fall grouse hunting conditions to winter grouse hunting conditions in less than a week. By this I mean that most of the grouse and woodcock that remain in the uplands are seeking shelter under heavy evergreen cover where there is snow elsewhere in the cover.
This morning we began in one such cover that has been a good area in the past when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and it seemed as though we might be in luck when we moved a couple of grouse in the first half hour or so. But as we climbed out of the softwood draw of a stream bottom to the upland edge of a logging cut, the 6+" of fresh snow that we trudged through gave us other ideas. The birds simply were not in the uplands where the evergreen cover was not readily present - they were in the lower elevations with plenty of spruce around.
In the afternoon, we took refuge in lower elevations, with little to no snow cover, and this seemed to make the difference. Bode did a great job hunting close and hard, and he pointed quite a few woodcock which my client made good shots on. Peter has never hunted woodcock (there aren't too many timberdoodles in southern California), and he received a good indoctrination in pursuing them.
As usual, it was thick and wet, but Bode provided many opportunities to take birds. He also moved some grouse, and Peter hooked up on one of his shots. All four birds that Peter took were retrieved by Bode - he was really on his game today.
We'll try to stay low again tomorrow and see if the woodcock are still around - it might not be too long before they're gone …
Yesterday was spent with Randy and Leighton in New Hampshire, checking out a covert that they found a couple of years back. They must feel sorry for me to let me in on this gem of a grouse covert, and simply put, it has everything that makes a good place to hang for grouse and woodcock. Not only are there a number of openings and thick spots for the grouse to come out and feed and escape to if necessary, but there is a great variety of cover and food types. It has everything and is at a good age as well.
We used Randy's two year old pointer Ginger again and Rudy got his first real action of the year. At ten years old, Rudy doesn't quite attack the cover the way he used to, but he still does his best and managed to have three solid points on woodcock that would eventually escape Leighton's gun. We ended up contacting 7 grouse and 5 woodcock in about three hours in decent weather conditions (upper 50's and windy). This is certainly an area worthy of further exploration in the future.
Today, I was out again with friend and client Paul, and we checked out a new cover that I have been putting some time in to this season. Unfortunately, it did not surrender the amount of birds that I thought we might see, so there's still some work to do there.
Monty did a solid job in tough conditions (upper 50's/low 60's with gusty and swirling winds), as he pointed 5 of the 10 grouse that we contacted today. Some of them held pretty well for his points and Paul had some good chances on the birds, managing to connect on two of his shots.
The highlight was when Monty pointed and two grouse flushed as Paul shot at one of them. It looked like he may have hit it, but we weren't sure - within seconds, Monty came back with the grouse in his mouth, and we congratulated him on a job well done. He seems to have taken the next step in being a great grouse and woodcock dog - he not only staunchly points birds, but retrieves them reliably when they go down.
Monty will get the bulk of the work over the next few days as Bode recovers from an infected puncture wound to his mouth that he sustained late last week - we hope to have him back in action this weekend. Rudy will get some work in the meantime and maybe he can recover some of his touch with the grouse.
We tested the maxim that "you see a grouse for every mile walked, shoot at one every three miles walked and harvest one every ten miles walked."
We walked ten miles today and saw ten grouse, but Paul shot two - he's a good grouse shot.
After the first few days of the season, where we seemed to catch some of the grouse by surprise (resulting in some good opportunities), the birds seem to have caught on that they are being hunted, and have provided fewer chances at realistic shots. They are running and are using the multitude of foliage still on the trees (abnormal for this time of year) as an excellent screen to get away from danger. In what seems like a millisecond, the grouse are safely away from us, leaving with only a whirr of wings, and sometimes leaves.
The woodcock haven't been much easier to shoot, though we have taken some of them this week. We have been seeing excellent numbers of timberdoodles - in the last four mornings, we have moved 8, 4, 17 and finally 10 yesterday. While maybe not all of these birds are residents, I think the vast majority are, as the weather has generally not been cold enough to push them down from Canada (it was really warm up here this past week). We should see even heavier action with the woodcock in the next couple of weeks.
Monty has been on top of his game so far this season, pointing the vast majority of the birds that we have contacted with him in our sessions - Friday morning, he contacted 3 grouse (2 were pointed) and somewhere around 17 woodcock (15 were pointed). He had a similar day yesterday, even under the less than favorable scenting conditions and at 6 years old, he is in his prime as a grouse hunter.
Bode has also done well this week, but has usually been running second in the lineup, so he's out there when the temps are warmest, making for some challenging conditions. Still, he had a fine point on a grouse on Thursday (it was a runner, and flushed well out of range of the gun), and then had an excellent point and relocation on a woodcock yesterday (missed). He has hunted thoroughly and resembles something like a vacuum cleaner in the grouse woods - scouring everything in his path. With his biddable nature and ease of handling he has been a pleasure to hunt with.
A few observations so far this season:
- The woods are abnormally dry - look for grouse and woodcock in shady sections of the forest that hold moisture longer in the day. That's where we found them this week.
- It's mighty thick out there, as our foliage stubbornly holds on. We have colder weather coming in this week, so that combined with some wind would help with shooting birds, we hope.
- When the dog goes on point, walk boldly past the dog, with your eyes up where a bird might fly. I see hunters looking on the ground for birds all of the time during a point - it is very rare to actually see a bird on the ground before it flies, and when it does your eyes will still be on the ground and it will be too late to locate, aim, and shoot the bird.
- Always walk through the woods thinking that a grouse could go up at any time. Carry your shotgun in the "ready" position and you might just be quick enough to shoot a grouse. If your gun is carried low or slung over your shoulder, you will have no chance of killing a bird. That's one of the reasons we hunt, right?
- Walk through the grouse woods with escape routes for birds and your sight lines in mind. This is a tough one, and while it's not always possible, you have to try to give yourself a chance to mount and swing your gun as often as you can on escaping grouse. Survey the woods to figure out which way a bird might fly.
- If you're running your own dogs, bring lots of water for them - there is almost no ground water for them to cool themselves, unless you're hunting close to a pond or river.
Another important point worth noting is how dogs help us recover birds that would undoubtedly be lost if not for their noses, thus bringing me to the conclusion that a well trained bird dog serves as a conservation tool, helping us recover wounded game that would be lost without their exemplary canine olfactory powers.
I had just such an occurrence today, as I winged a fast flying grouse that hurtled down the trail in front of me. It went down with the shot, but then I saw it scampering back in to the woods on my right. When Bode came in to search for it, he also seemingly lost its track and we searched aimlessly for fifteen minutes or so.
I was resigned to a lost bird, which is beyond excruciating for me, but then Bode bounded in to the cover on our left, and lo and behold … came happily out of the cover with the grouse in his mouth. He pranced, proud as a peacock, for a few minutes with that grouse in his mouth, circling me, and I praised him wholeheartedly. Apparently the grouse had run across the trail while we were in on the other side.
I never would have found that bird on my own, there is no doubt about that, and Bode made a lousy situation a great one with his fantastic nose.
Think of all of the grouse and woodcock that are needlessly lost without the help of a good bird dog!
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!
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.
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.
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 …
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 …
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.
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 …
- 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. 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 …
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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 …
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 ...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
"It's been hot"
"The bird hunting?"
"No, the weather ..."
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
Running Rudy and Monty, both dogs made the most of their chances out there today, as they repeatedly contacted, and then pointed grouse. Some provided good chances for shots, while most did not, but we were fortunate to connect on our chances with two of the grouse. The first was a bird that Monty pointed, tracked following the shot, and then retrieved to hand, and the second was out of a group of four birds that both dogs pointed. Once again, another track and a great find by the dogs on this one as well.
In all, the dogs contacted forty-one grouse - that's "4" and "1". Singles, many pairs, several triples, the group of four that I mentioned above, and an astonishing group of five that were nestled down in scrubby raspberry cover near the end of the day, probably soaking up the last of the sun's energy before a chilly night tonight. For me, that's a new record for grouse contacted in a day, and we were only out there for four and a half hours! We also moved a group of three moose on a high hilltop cut, and got pictures of what I believe were genuine (and quite fresh) bobcat tracks.
If you are thinking about making a trip north this weekend for a final grouse hunt this season, it would be well worth it. There are almost no bird hunters up here, snowmobiling doesn't open until Saturday, but there's not enough snow for that anyway. In the middle part of Pittsburg, where we were today, we were dealing with only 2" of snow, but there is probably more in the northern part of town (Second Conn. Lake and points north), while there is definitely less than that south of Pittsburg village.
Unfortunately, this might be the last weekend to get out there too - snow, perhaps heavy, may be coming on Sunday and Monday, so don't put the gun or the dog away yet.
If you need a place to stay, we have lots of cabins at very reasonable rates available, and the Rainbow Grille is serving up its customary fare each night this weekend ...
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
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.
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.
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 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.