Last Monday, December 1, was our first outing, and Monty did a great job in his nearly three hours of hunting. His patterning was excellent and methodic, and he picked right up where he left off in pointing six of the eight grouse that we encountered that day. The conditions were perfect - not much snow, with temperatures in the upper 30's and a steady breeze, so we had everything in our favor.
It became apparent after the first few birds that he pointed that these grouse had become content during the deer season, holding very well for Monty's points. A couple of them held so well that I had decent chances for shots on them, but you know how that story goes … yup, there will be seed birds for next year's crop. Six of the eight grouse were in pairs, but there were a couple of singles in there as well.
This morning brought much different conditions - it snowed a few more inches yesterday, and was 11 degrees when we got out there this morning. Don't forget the steady wind out of the north, and you may get the picture that skis may have been a better choice today instead. I did my best Jerry Allen imitation today and ran all three dogs to get them some work before the season ends.
Rudy, Monty and Bode all did their thing to the best of their ability in the tough conditions, but we only moved a couple of birds, hunkered down in tangled spruce blow downs, avoiding the winter weather the best they could. No shots, but that was fine with me - it was great anyway to be out there in the crisp air, watching the dogs work with the stillness of inevitable winter approaching. Too bad if this is the end of the season, and while it wasn't the best we've had (probably not even a good one!), I'd rather be out in the woods in the fall chasing grouse than doing almost anything else …
Monty saw the action today, and while he had a rough start to his time out there, seemingly bumping everything to start, he settled in, particularly after we were able to turn in to the wind. He had many solid, grouse sticking points as the morning went on, but unfortunately my client didn’t get too many chances at good shots. Sure, he missed a couple of birds, but there were also quite a few that walked (or ran) away from points, eventually flushing a distance away, as well as those that flushed within range, but quickly put a tree between us and them.
They utilized all of their tricks of escape today, to great effect. That’s why I love grouse hunting, as it is anything but predictable.
Today we were in two of the better woodcock holding covers that we’ve hunted over the last several years. We only moved five woodcock in probably 3 hours in these areas, which was surprising. We saw lots of chalk in one of the areas, but not many birds, perhaps signalling that the birds had already moved on. There was another good frost last night, so maybe the woodcock “got out of Dodge.” These are upland covers, so if you specifically target woodcock, you might want to hunt the low lying stream beds more over the next week or so. Bad weather’s coming this weekend, so maybe that will prevent any others that are already here from leaving.
Monty did a very good job today on his healing wheel - he had his boot on from last week’s injury, and thankfully it didn’t affect his nose at all. He was a pointing machine for a while today, racking up solid holding points on several of the grouse we encountered and four of the five woodcock as well. Unfortunately, his brace mate Rudy is down for a couple of weeks while his injured foot heals from an infection caused by a grass awn in all probability. Monty will be “the man” for a while, so we’ll try to keep him healthy for the remainder of the season.
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.
Today I had friend and long time client Paul O’Neill along with me, and he had a great week of hunting with me last year in Vermont, but we are hunting New Hampshire this week, so I hoped for similar results. The action this morning was pretty hot, as Monty kept a good range and was pointing with some regularity. We started contacting birds immediately out of the truck and at certain times it seemed that we were at the epicenter of grouse activity in this cover.
Within about an hour and a half, Paul had two grouse in the bag (one was an excellent point from Monty), and several other misses on woodcock as well. When Monty started ranging out a bit too far, I put him up and brought out Rudy for some close work. He did a good job too and found a couple more grouse and several more woodcock, but none of them offered good chances for Paul.
We moved to our afternoon cover around 1:30 today, and gave Monty a second chance to redeem himself. He did that and more, as he pointed several grouse back to back, made a nice retrieve on one bird that Paul winged, and an awesome find of another downed bird that Paul thought he had hit, which sailed off after his initial shot. It was great for sure, and Paul is my first hunter ever to have limited out on grouse - by 2:30 PM!
Monty pointed another grouse on the way back to the truck for good measure too ...
The good news is that it didn’t seem to dampen the grouse and woodcock hunting this weekend. After a morning pursuing some pheasants for my clients’ springer spaniels, we turned to some more traditional covers in pursuit of our native birds on Friday afternoon. We weren’t disappointed, as we moved around 13 grouse and 10 woodcock in the afternoon, with some excellent work from Krystal’s springer Phoenix and Jo-Ann’s springer Bonnie. These are close working bird dogs that literally scour the woods in search of bird scent, and it appeared that they don’t often miss a bird.
On Saturday, we hit several covers in search of grouse and woodcock, as we employed two, and sometimes three dogs (either Phoenix, Bonnie, or Krystal’s springer Levi, and Monty), with good results. The dogs all worked the woods independent of each other, which was great to see. Our morning went very well as the flushers kicked some grouse up in range, and Monty had a nice point on a pair of running grouse (lots of runners right now) that got away. Things slowed down a bit until our last cover of the day, where we put up 4 more grouse and 5 or 6 woodcock. Alas, none fell to the guns, but you can’t hit birds if you don’t shoot, and both Krystal and Jo-Ann were shooting often.
We had a great time and it’s probably safe to say that everyone, dogs included, were tired and satisfied with the weekend’s efforts.
Today was also very windy, so that was something new for us this season and usually means skittish grouse. That was partially true, as about half of the grouse that we enountered often were off like a flash when they saw us or heard the tinkle of Monty’s bell. However, there were also some that held pretty well for points, and all of the woodcock that we saw this morning were pointed by Monty. I had grouse hunting veteran Peter Connell with me this morning, and while it may have been cold for us to start our day, within minutes we were both warmed up sufficiently as we hiked over hill and dale in search of grouse and woodcock.
The birds were pretty much everywhere this morning, in a variety of cover, so it’s difficult to pinpoint what they preferred today. Some were in hardwood thickets, while others were hanging out on the edge of evergreen cover, but it was usually thick wherever they were. Monty had another outstanding morning (12 grouse and 6 woodcock pointed / contacted), as he worked generally close and under good control. He has definitely shown some progression in his quest to become a grouse dog, the highest point any of our four legged friends can aspire to.
The afternoon was some time to get some work for Greta and Rudy. Yes, Greta was out again, for approximately 40 minutes, and in that time she pointed one grouse (no shot), one woodcock (that one did not get away), and we moved two other grouse. Pretty amazing, and while her points aren’t technically “classic” anymore, they are priceless and I never get tired of watching her work. Rudy also found three grouse in his time out in the woods, so he was happy to get some work in and get in on all of the fun.
It’s tiring trying to keep up with three bird dogs!
While Monty had some beautiful points on grouse, he also went back to school a few times too, and I wonder if the sheer amount of birds we ran in to in the morning made Monty momentarily come unhinged. In three hours of hunting in the morning, we contacted approximately 15 grouse and 12 woodcock. Most days, that’s usually what we hope to put up, but this was a great start. Meanwhile the weather was typical northern N.H. - rain one moment, sunny the next, and then sleet.
After lunch, my client and I headed to another spot. Tom has had lots of grouse hunting experience in Michigan, but by the end of the day he would tell me that this is the most birds he’s ever seen in a day of grouse hunting. We brought out Rudy for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and while he made a couple of productive points on grouse, we just didn’t encounter the same numbers of birds. My thought was that birds would be coming out to the roads as the sun came out for the first time in several days up here - I turned out to be partially wrong.
We then brought Monty out for another go up a logging road, ending in a perfectly aged logging cut, and that turned out to be quite amazing. In one and a half hours, we encountered 11 grouse and a woodcock, and Tom made a nice shot on a grouse fleeing from a brood of five birds. As it turned out, that would be the end of the action and the end of our day, but not before we moved forty birds for the day (and it may have been a few more than that). We hope to have more days like that this season!
The other big problem has been that there’s still lots of foliage out there on our trees, so as beautiful as our colors may be, it has made shooting extremely difficult thus far. While I never root for bad weather to come our way, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few windy days come our way to clear the trees (and shooting lanes) a bit.
Randy Kinne and Leighton Hunter were my victims the last two days, and while they had one of their better years recently up here, it still was very difficult for them to shoot, never mind connect on, grouse and woodcock. As noted, there was good work by the dogs, especially Monty yesterday, and from Randy’s pointer Cocoa today. In the rain and fog Cocoa managed to point at least three grouse this morning, but only one presented a realistic opportunity, and Randy connected.
The forecast calls for a cold front to move in early next week and stay throughout the week, so we may have some good migratory woodcock action if it’s cold in Canada. Hopefully we also lose a few of those colorful leaves too ...
We have continued our schedule of four days a week hitting the woods in search of birds in areas old and new, with varying results. Seems like our tried and true covers have been producing as usual, but the new spots have yielded fewer sightings of grouse and woodcock. Sometimes they’re not there at all, and sometimes we’re just in the wrong part of the cover at the wrong time. Rudy and Monty have certainly done their part in our scouting searches.
As one of the best grouse hunters I know says, “A grouse cover is like a house - we just have to find out what room they’re in.”
Vermont opening day is this Saturday, and New Hampshire opens a week from today - hope you’re ready!
Nearly four hours in the woods of Vermont this morning yielded 14 grouse pointed / sighted. Most were singles at first, then Monty made a nice point on a pair in the shade. That started us off on an hour in which we ran into most of the grouse that we saw today - first Rudy made a nice point on a lone grouse, then he got in to a brood of probably four more that made their escape in waves. Did I mention that the woods are thick right now? That means we didn’t see too many, just heard the whirring of their wings on take off.
The majority of these birds were in an “old faithful” kind of spot, then we checked a few smaller covers prospecting for grouse, in which we only saw one more. No woodcock today, but there was some evidence that they had been there recently. The woods are dry again, but we’re expecting some weather to come in tomorrow and Wednesday, so that should help things out a bit.
More updates to come as we get closer to September 29 (VT opener) and October 1 (NH opener).
I was able to take a short video this morning of the dogs on point. It was actually Monty who was first on point, with Rudy dangerously close to busting the woodcock (that’s why I’m yelling “WHOA!” on the video), but thankfully they held their points and the bird fluttered away. Once again, sorry about the camera action, but these birds don’t hold too well for a hack like me, but you will hear the whistle of the woodcock if you listen hard. This video also illustrates why I use beeper collars - they are indispensible in finding your pup when he’s on point!
We checked out a couple new spots this week that looked like they had some potential on Google Earth, but unfortunately they turned out to be rather slow. So, we turned our attention to a couple of areas that we haven’t hunted in a year or two and they were surprisingly good - 13 grouse were pointed / moved by Rudy and Monty in merely two hours. I’ll take those numbers every time and this season is looking very good for our pursuit of grouse and woodcock.