On Friday, we spent two hours in one of our autumn haunts, hitting all of the thicker spruce cover in the hopes of catching up to some grouse. It took a while, but Rosie established point off the edge of the logging road we were working and Monty whoaed to a stop at the edge of a bunch of blowdowns. The grouse rocketed out of the patch of cover before I could get there unfortunately. A little later on, Monty's beeper started going off in another patch of small spruces, and this time Rosie whoaed to a stop. Instead of focusing on the bird, I decided to first take a picture of Monty's staunch point for posterity (you never know, that could be our last point of the season!). Just as I was taking the picture, the grouse flushed out and it would have offered a good chance. At least I didn't have the opportunity to miss that one.
Total, we were in the woods for about 5 hours those two afternoons, moving 7 grouse in our travels, and certainly working hard for the birds we contacted. There was about 3-4" of snow on the ground then, but we have gotten a few more inches of snow in the last few days.
Oh, and we're supposed to get 5-8" more tomorrow. Looks like snowshoes might be the only way to get after them now, and while it's still fun to be bird hunting, showshoes add another challenge to a sport that is difficult enough already. The NH and Vermont grouse seasons go until 12/31.
In other words, it is officially winter grouse hunting now, which is quite different from the hunting we do in early and then in late October. I have read that there are usually three different periods to the three-month grouse hunting season, and this depends upon the transformation of the cover due to changing weather. The "first season" is the early season, where the leaves are still on the trees, and the grouse are still enjoying the plethora of cover (vertical) and food sources that are available. They can be found anywhere and everywhere in the first couple weeks of October, making some of the flushes that we get particularly surprising.
The "second season" usually begins as the leaves start dropping in earnest, and the vertical overhead cover and some food sources start drying up. Grouse are usually found in the thicker areas in the last couple weeks of October and the beginning of November, and evergreen stands become more important to grouse as well. As the vertical cover recedes, the horizontal cover is desired by the birds - thick stands of spruce, and blowdowns become favorite spots for grouse to hole up during bad weather. When the weather's good though, the grouse are often out and about looking for greens (fern tips, raspberry leaves, etc.), if they're still available.
The "third season", or winter grouse hunting season, starts earlier up here than most places in New England, and you never know when it might rear its ugly head. Sometimes it's not until halfway through December, but most years, it is about the mid-point of November, as it is this year. Now the grouse are exclusively in the stands of spruce and evergreens, as all of the greens are either dead or buried under a blanket of snow, and their primary food source is buds and catkins from birch and poplar. Hunting at this time of year can be feast or famine - they aren't where they were even a month ago, so if you can identify the thickest spruce cover in the areas you like to hunt in October, it is likely to be holding grouse right now. Don't expect there to be grouse in each thick, dark area though - you can walk for quite a time and see very little … and then come in to a veritable bonanza of birds.
While winter grouse hunting is not my favorite - the snow is hard to get through once you get to 4"-6" of snow depth, and the points and great dog work that you came to expect in October and early November is much harder to come by in the winter woods - it can still be fruitful occasionally. One of my best days was five years or so ago when I went out with Monty and walked a huge area - we put up at least 20 grouse that early December day, and two of them became my dinner guests as well. There was only an inch or two on the ground that day from what I can remember, but there was 3" or so on the ground today in Vermont. In an hour and a half, Bode and I moved 5 grouse, three of which were together in a stand of large spruces. Bode did have a point on a grouse that eventually flushed quite a way out from us and he also tracked another that I ended up spotting on the ground. When it finally flushed, it flew low and I took an ill timed shot. It flew in to a neighboring spruce tree, and after withstanding my picture taking and branch throwing activities, I had finally decided to let it go - it looked to be a female and perhaps some tame genes will be a good thing for the grouse gene pool up here.
Rosie got the call today, in my effort to put her on as many birds as possible and get some good work from her in the process. Things started off slowly, but Rosie was eventually getting in to the birds, and not pointing a majority of them, but then … her beeper started going off as she was intently and staunchly pointing in to a stand of small spruce beside the trail. The grouse exploded, and I nearly didn't get my safety off in time, but I did and it fell to the forest floor with Rosie in pursuit. Rosie's first grouse (she's had four woodcock taken by clients this season) and it was great. She looked justifiably proud, but I'm not sure that the momentous event had much of an effect on her - she just wanted to find more.
Well, we found more - 17 grouse to be exact in 4.5 hours of hunting, which is a good number considering this year's bird numbers. Another fell to my gun on a wild flush, and Rosie seemed to be excited about that, but not enough to retrieve it (Rome wasn't built in a day, after all). While she probably pointed three birds today, she also had plenty of bumps, but I think she's on her way to becoming a bird dog, and hopefully she will be a grouse dog someday - in my opinion, the highest achievement for any gun dog.
It helped that it was a walk in only area that probably doesn't get a lot of attention from hunters, particularly as far off the road as we were, plus the cold temperature seemed to hunker the birds in the dense firs beside the road and trails. We had several pairs that we got in to, but the rermainder were singles. We are hoping to get out there a couple more days this week before the deer hunting season starts in Vermont, and hopefully Rosie can get a little more bird exposure.
Saturday turned out to be the opposite … and a very frustrating day of grouse hunting. That morning was dominated by quite a few pointed and closely flushing woodcock (nine to be exact) from the efforts of Bode and Rosie, but strangely enough not a single grouse flush in an area that traditionally has held a good amount of birds. The afternoon session, where we were looking for grouse (my client had limited on woodcock in the morning), yielded only three flushes and none of them offered any opportunity for a shot. The areas that we were in had been the scene of quite a few good days on grouse in the past, so it was surprising to take the bagel. The weather conditions had changed that day - from rainy on Friday to cool and sunny on Saturday - but there was still enough of a breeze for good scenting conditions for the dogs, or so we thought. Just in the wrong spots that day, which turned out to be our worst on grouse sightings this season.
Sunday's breezy weather (ahead of the storm front that came in on Sunday night) made it even more challenging for the dogs to successfully scent and lock down the birds. It was swirling and gusty yesterday to put it mildly, so we had several times when Monty and my client's two Brittanies, Kiya and Pink, seemed to look unsure of where the birds were when stopping on a point. We did have a few staunch points that were rewarded with close flushing chances on grouse (one of which flew right over Monty and the other flew a few feet over my head - thanks Brian for not pulling the trigger), but there were also several times when one of the dogs would lock on point and nothing would be there at all - a grouse that had already gotten out of town we figured. We also had several occasions when the dogs didn't seem to scent the birds at all, pushing them in to flight, rocketing away from us.
While we moved thirteen grouse on Sunday (one taken by Brian), we only moved three woodcock, none of which provided good opportunities for shots. We noticed quite a few areas with chalk from a day or two before in them, but no timberdoodles to be found - perhaps headed to points south we assumed. The season on woodcock ends in New Hampshire and Vermont in a little over a week on November 14, and there still seems to be a few of them around - more than most years at this time.
The great question, "Is New Hampshire or Vermont better for grouse hunting?", may have to go unanswered for another season. It appears that I didn't compile a large enough sample size from Vermont to know for sure, and I cannot, in good conscience, reach a definitive conclusion on this topic without doing so. Research will have to continue, and I am hoping that it will in December …
Yesterday was bittersweet - the end of another grouse guiding season for me, my tenth in total, and each year presents its challenges. Most of them are physical as you might imagine, but there is certainly a mental side to hunting our wily grouse these days. The goal is to stay a step ahead of them, and there's been a few times when it has felt that way, but for the most part I'm several steps behind, trying to cram the successes and failures of our days of grouse hunting in to a memory bank that is overfull already. As usual, my clients were an interesting and entertaining mix of folks with a common obsession ("affliction" as one of our veteran grouse hunters at the lodge has put it) and unusually optimistic outlook on bagging a couple grouse or woodcock on our hunts together. Much like grouse coverts, there are clients that have been with me from the start and some that have joined me along the way - I appreciate them all and eagerly anticipate dragging them over hill and dale in search of the King of Gamebirds once again next year …
The abundance of moisture has also helped the scenting conditions for the dogs, adding to the enjoyment of our grouse and woodcock hunts. I never get tired of watching good dogs work, whether they be my own or those of my clients, so we've had a good stretch of hunting over the past two weeks now.
We hunted in Vermont today, and Monty got the call on an abbreviated rainy day hunt. We were supposed to do a full day, but it really turned in to a long half day hunt, and Monty did not disappoint. My victims on this day have hunted with me in the past - Todd, Dave and Tom have all been dragged over hill and dale in search of grouse and woodcock, and usually it has been Monty responsible for the dragging.
Over the years, they have not only adjusted their approach to grouse hunting ("when you hear the beeper, get to the dog, quickly!"), but they have also witnessed the maturing of a true grouse dog. Monty, now 8-years old, hunts much more deliberately than he used to - he has mastered the "economy of motion", and doesn't seem to waste his energy locating where I am, something that I have noticed in the younger dogs. I trust him when he goes out, whether it be near or far, and am confident in his ability to find and hold grouse and woodcock.
Monty was at his best today in some pretty wet conditions, getting bird scent and often slowing in to his points. We would contact 19 grouse and 1 woodcock in our four hours of hunting today, and he was responsible for pointing quite a few of them. Some of the birds we just couldn't get to in time, and a few others we heard flushing over fifty yards away. There were even a couple of others where Todd, Dave and Tom were in position for good chances, but the shots were missed. The boys managed to bag four grouse, two of which were directly on his points - the other two were taken with his assistance and three of them were retrieved by Monty.
We had a good day and the guys had one like this coming - we've taken a couple of birds over the years, but we've had our share of goose eggs too, so it was good to have some success and for the guys to witness a true grouse dog in action. Two more days of guiding for us and then our season is at an end - it seems like these are our best conditions of the year, but we'll be taking some time off and give the woods to the deer hunters for a couple of weeks.
First off, we had over three weeks of unseasonably warm weather - anytime that it is routinely reaching seventy degrees or more, it is very difficult for both dog and hunter alike, and it becomes quite a hindrance in our search for birds. Unfortunately, we had to deal with an extended period of conditions like this, where scenting was very difficult.
Another unwanted byproduct of the warm weather has been the apparent stalling of the annual woodcock flights from Canada, as they pass through our area to points south. Fortunately, we have a solid resident population of woodcock here in northern New Hampshire, so we were still seeing our share of timberdoodles, but the lack of flight birds in some of our more productive woodcock covers seems to indicate that the majority of the flight birds have yet to reach our area.
So … we wait. However, perhaps we won't be waiting too much longer. On this Halloween night, the temp will dip to 29 degrees in Pittsburg (undoubtedly colder in Quebec), and a clear night sky, perfect for travelling woodcock, is gracing us this evening. We will also have a full moon on Saturday night, so this could be the weekend where all of us that pursue woodcock could have our day. We shall see …
We spent our first day in Vermont in quite a while and had a good morning, moving 6 grouse and 5 woodcock in our travels. My client took one wild flushing grouse and two beautifully pointed and retrieved woodcock by Bode. Though he bumped a couple of the grouse, he worked close and had a good morning with the woodcock. Our afternoon, though we were in a couple of good looking covers, was mostly uneventful - a couple of distantly flushing grouse was all that we were able to contact.
More updates to come …
Naturally, our visiting tourists thought this was the worst weather possible for the start of the Labor Day weekend, but for those of us that run dogs and hunt grouse and woodcock, it was nearly perfect weather. No bugs, no sweating endlessly through a tangle of summer cover (don't worry, the woods are still plenty thick, but somehow didn't seem to be as bad when you're going through them at these temps), and great scenting conditions for the dogs.
We're officially in the homestretch now - less than a month left, and we have continued our scouting and training sessions several times a week in preparation for what is to come. Progress continues for all of the dogs, and each one has different objectives prior to the opener.
Monty doesn't need much bird work from what I have seen, but he could use more conditioning to get ready for the toils of grouse and woodcock hunting day in and day out. He's the "#1 dog", and showed it yesterday morning - sticking points on all four of the woodcock we discovered in the hour he was out there. Unfortunately, we didn't run in to any grouse in that spot to truly test him …
At 10 months old, we're trying to get Rosie in to as many birds as possible to reinforce the good work she has begun in pointing birds in the last two weeks. She had a good session yesterday - in just over an hour, she contacted three grouse and three woodcock, and did a good job pointing the majority of them (two of the grouse and two of the woodcock were on points), and she was very cooperative in hunting that covert. She also has plenty of energy as well and doesn't seem to waste it out there - she should be able to handle some of our larger, three and four hour hunts that my clients have to endure …
Bode is hunting very well - close and under control, and he needs almost no handling it seems. Still, when a dog hunts that close, the route through the cover that the handler takes is of the utmost importance, and we only contacted one woodcock (pointed) and one grouse (not pointed) in his hour of running yesterday. This cover is a reliable spot for double digit numbers of birds normally, so I'm not sure if it was my handling skills, Bode's bird finding skills, or the birds themselves that were to blame for our subpar session. It is a huge cover, and we only went through a snippet of it … so maybe they were there but we just didn't find them. Bode seems to have enjoyed his offseason too, so out of all the dogs, he's the one that requires more physical conditioning prior to the season.
Three hours, four grouse and eight woodcock, nine of which were on points. A good session, and undoubtedly the cool temperatures helped with that. Steady to wing and shot training continues for all of the dogs, and they did a great job yesterday maintaining their points through the flush and the firing of my .22 starters pistol (the blanks are actually quite loud and are the next best simulation for a shotgun blast). This training will continue through September - the greatest test will be next month when they spot a running grouse, high tailing it out of a point - that will be tough.
The leaves on a few trees are already changing, as you might expect with 35 - 45 degree nights, and it seems as though we'll be in peak foliage in no time. This is how it always begins, as our peak is generally around the tail end of September and beginning of October. One thing that would be great is if we have an early leaf drop this year - perhaps our shooting percentage will go up?
Yup, probably not.
For grouse, it is said that the leaves of a poplar are unusually nutritious, and they must be pretty tasty too, as it seems that grouse really seek out mature poplars for feeding. Stands of young poplar whips also serve as great cover for broods of grouse as well, as hens seek out the thickest cover from avian predators to raise their chicks. I've also had good luck finding woodcock in these areas as well, and I wonder if it could be because of the soil composition. As you all know, if there are no worms in an area, there won't be any woodcock either, so there must be something with stands of poplar in this regard.
Unfortunately in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, we don't have an abundance of poplar stands like they have in the midwest (out there, they're usually called "Aspen"), so it is something like finding buried treasure when you find a stand of them. For me, these places are GPS-worthy, but they often automatically find their way in to my memory bank of grouse coverts. When we're hunting these spots, those poplars will definitely be part of the plan going forward.
In the fall, the leaves of a poplar turn a golden yellow and I've found that they stay on a bit longer than some of the other hard woods, making them easy to pick out from the landscape. God take pity on clients of mine if a stand of golden leaved poplars are spotted from some high ridge across a valley! This exact occurence took place a number of years ago in mid-October. A solid but unspectacular morning with my clients Mike and Lou had me wondering what to do next … when I spotted a clump of sparkling golden coins across a valley on a ridge that didn't seem that far away. Of course, we had to climb down from the ridge we were on and cross the valley, then cross a stream, and up the other side. All turned out well when we entered this little slice of grouse habitat nirvana. It was a bit of work getting there, but we got in to a few grouse and several woodcock as well, and I briefly looked like I knew what I was doing …
While I've never personally hunted in the Midwest for grouse, there are supposedly tremendous concentrations of poplar, and perhaps that is why Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are considered the epicenter of grouse hunting in North America. Here in the east, we have to be content with smaller pockets of poplars, mixed with our maple, birch, beech and assorted soft woods. Together, our combination of tree species makes a nice mosaic of habitat for our birds, and we'll just have to be content with that.
The picture above was taken this morning in Pittsburg, NH - we had the good fortune of finding two grouse and three woodcock nearby. Perhaps that proves my point!
Our training and scouting sessions actually began back in early July, but were derailed following an upper leg muscle pull for myself - a reminder of my advancing age and all that goes with it. I don't "bounce back" the way I used to, so my wife's advice of stretching before getting out there is probably warranted. This led to three more weeks of yard work for the dogs, which isn't entirely a bad thing - a little boring though.
We have managed to get out several times a week the last two weeks, and the results have varied, depending on the day. Some of our tried and true haunts have produced next to nothing, while we have had surprisingly good success in other areas. That's grouse scouting, and it's not that much different from what we usually find during the hunting season.
Still, preseason predictions, while anticipated, can sometimes be counterproductive. It's hard to gauge what we will find in two months from what we are observing right now - since the grouse broods are still together, we can walk a long way without seeing much and then suddenly discover a nice sized group of grouse. We'll just have to temper our expectations until we actually see what's there in another six weeks.
A Few Observations from the Last Year …
- We had an "average" grouse hunting season last year, going by the numbers. Our average numbers of birds (grouse and woodcock) flushed per hour was 3.16 - not as many as some years, but more than other seasons that we've had.
- We had a long, snowy (180" in Pittsburg) winter this year, and that amount of snow may have actually helped the grouse survive it better. The bitter cold that we usually endure really didn't manifest itself last winter, so maybe our grouse weren't exposed to predators when feeding as much as they are in a bitterly cold winter.
- I heard quite a few drumming grouse this spring while turkey hunting - another indicator of good adult grouse survival through the winter.
- June was one of our wettest, and perhaps one of our coldest as well - not good for chick survival when that happens.
- Small broods of turkeys were being seen in late June and July, as well as small broods of mallards on Back Lake. Needless to say, I could only assume the worst for our grouse. Yes, sadly, that's how my paranoid mind works when it comes to grouse …
So, this all leads us back to somehow predicting what this fall will be like. My observations over the last two weeks of scouting have given me some optimism - in three different coverts, we have run in to a different brood of grouse, with at least six birds in each (there may have been more, but they are hard to keep track of when they start popping off). Perhaps the grouse fared a bit better than their avian cousins, and we've been seeing some woodcock too.
In the end, does it really matter what the predictions are?
After all, are you going to rake leaves in your yard this fall rather than follow your bird dog through the woods in search of grouse and woodcock?
I didn't think so. Me neither.
The first major mast crop that you take notice of in August when you're out in the woods are choke cherries, and their garnet clusters seem to be everywhere out there this year. They are a favorite of many birds and animals, with black bears perhaps favoring them the most, and I'm sure that our grouse also get in on the action as well. They are an "early" food and are usually entirely gone from the scene when we're out there grouse hunting in October and November.
Wild apple trees remain the quintissential fall food for grouse, and they really become a staple wherever they are present following some hard frosts that drop the fruit to the ground. In a short time, they become mushy and easily digestible for the birds and are a guaranteed spot to check on for grouse. There are a few old apple orchards that have gotten in to our rotation of coverts over the years, and while they seem to usually have birds in them, that does not mean that they are always areas of hunter success. I have noticed many times that the birds that frequent the orchards are very skittish (even for grouse), as if they know that they are undertaking something of a commando mission to take the chance of feeding there. We usually hunt these spots as silently as possible (no bells, no beepers, no talking) to try to take the birds by surprise, but that still rarely works.
The best day in one of these old apple orchards came probably five or six years ago following the first sticking snowfall of the year (it was in mid-October and we had received 4"-5"). We bumbled in to 18 grouse that afternoon (yes, just the afternoon, in one covert), and it was undoubtedly because we were intercepting birds that had come in to feed with the cold weather. My clients harvested none. Old apple orchards also tend to be good areas for woodcock here and there - the soil composition is perfect for worm production, so timberdoodles can be sought in under the shade of an old apple tree too.
Another important food source are high bush cranberries, which linger perhaps the longest of all the food sources. They last well in to winter, and sometimes right through it. A couple of these natural food patches are on our roster of coverts as well, and they can be pretty dependable, particularly early in the morning or just before dark. The proof of how important high bush cranberries are to wildlife came a few years ago when I was driving through downtown Canaan, Vermont. There, in the middle of town, not fifty feet from someone's house, was a mature wild turkey in a high bush cranberry bush, hammering it for all it was worth. They must be good.
The last natural food source that's big with our ruffed grouse up here is the Mountain Ash (Sorbus Americana) - it also lasts well in to winter and is there for the grouse when other food sources have dried up. Some years, it seems like they're everywhere, and other years the crop doesn't seem too good and I'm not sure why. This year looks to be a fantastic one for production, as their bright red berry clusters are prevalent wherever I drive - can't miss them, and hopefully our grouse don't miss them either!
In most cases, our work is over by 10 AM, as it has simply been too hot for the dogs to work comfortably and safely. We have still been seeing our share of birds out there, but grouse and woodcock don't have to move around much to search for food when it's this warm out. Needless to say, if the birds aren't moving around, they are also not laying down much bird scent either, and with the non-existent air currents (nearly none) of the last two mornings, many of our contacts were extremely close. Hopefully our temperatures change quickly once the season finally gets here.
The woods are bone dry in the upland areas, and we have been able to find some moisture, and woodcock, in some of the low areas. We haven't had good soaking rain in nearly two weeks now and the forecast doesn't look promising for wet weather coming our way either. We have come across some grouse in areas that are extremely thick and shady - cooler for the birds to hang out in - yes it would be a good plan to me as well.
As far as the dogs go, Rosie has continued to see most of the work to try to get her prepared for the season, and we've had some steps forward and backward. Yesterday she had a nice point on a grouse in extremely thick cover (never saw it flush) and a point on a woodcock as well, but … she also ran through three other woodcock and a grouse early on in the session. The points came later on, perhaps indicating that she is a bit amped up coming out of the truck, as young dogs are apt to be. Today was more of the same, with her enthusiastically bumping three seperate grouse that we encountered within 15 minutes from the truck. Later on, she was very birdy in a low spot in the woods, but took one step too many and up went an escaping woodcock. Yes, our work goes on …
Bode had a nice session yesterday morning, pointing all three of the woodcock that he encountered. He quartered well and hunted thoroughly, and he has become a pleasure to venture in to the grouse woods with. Monty will get a little more work before the season begins, but we're hoping to preserve what little tred he has left on his tires, if you know what I mean.
Guiding Availability Update:
I have recently taken a cancellation for Sunday, October 1 - if you're looking to get out there for some opening day hunting, please send along an email for more information - thanks!
But what if none of these food sources are readily present for some of those "deep woods" grouse? Well, their large menu selection just seems to get larger, as they also incorporate the green leaves of raspberry plants and fern tips (what is termed "salad" by grouse hunters), mushrooms, and the buds and seeds of many different types of trees (yellow and white birch, maple, and beech are most prevalent in northern New Hampshire and Vermont). As you can see, these birds had plenty of salad, but the one bird with the "all you can eat buffet" crop also had lots of those maple seeds (whirligigs) - it was undoubtedly loading up for the weather that we had last night and are currently experiencing today.
There have been no hard frosts as of yet, so there is still plenty of salad out there in the woods - if you're hunting in the next week or so up here, you might want to pay attention to some of those thicker "green" areas. There might just be a grouse in there getting its next meal.
All three dogs (Monty, Bode, and Rosie) worked well this weekend, providing Art and Craig with chance after chance on unsuspecting grouse and woodcock. Monty got the morning duties the last two days, and he didn't disappoint. He pointed and held close the majority of the birds that he saw (9 grouse and 8 woodcock in his two sessions of work) and he really seems to have hit his stride as a grouse dog. He attacks the cover with a mix of energy and patience, and everyone was spellbound at times as he seemed to slink in to his points, whether it was on a grouse or a woodcock - it was beautiful to watch.
On both Saturday and Sunday, Rosie was the second dog out of the truck, as we tried to exploit some of the covers where woodcock are more prevalent. Rosie needs a few birds shot over her right now, and she's been a bit unlucky to be honest - some of her points have gone unrewarded lately. She did very well on Saturday, pointing four of the seven woodcock that she encountered (she also bumped a grouse), but none of the woodcock were taken on her points. While she was a bit wild yesterday, she hunted closer for us today, pointing both of the woodcock that she encountered - one did not offer a shot, but the other was a clean miss. Better luck next time, Rosie.
The best work of both days may have been turned in by Bode, as he worked close and pointed a bundle of birds, especially on Sunday. We moved 8 grouse and 6 woodcock this afternoon, and Bode pointed 5 of the grouse and 4 of the woodcock. Some of his points were spectacular, and both Art and Craig had good chances on these birds. They took four grouse and four woodcock over their two days in the grouse woods, but we all know it could have been more - both of them will be seeing and hearing birds flush in their dreams I think. We had a great time and we're all looking forward to next year already …
Tomorrow appears to be a washout up here, but we'll be back at it on Tuesday in Vermont. One week left in our guiding season (two days left in New Hampshire and four days in Vermont), and it looks like Bode and Rosie may have to carry the load. We heard Monty yelp when returning to us on one of his casts, so he may get a couple days off this week. He looked okay tonight at feeding time, so hopefully it is nothing too serious.
Stay safe everybody, and more updates to come!
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.
Several highlights today were when Monty pointed a group of three woodcock (none taken) and then a pair of tight holding woodcock shortly after that (none taken). Near the end of our morning session today both Monty and Chotsie disappeared over the edge of a small birm - there was a lonely woodcock, sitting in front of the two of them and it offered no chance for Jim to take it unfortunately.
What about the grouse? We have moved 14 grouse the last two days, with a few points from Monty on these birds, but in general they are getting out in front of us and launching well before we can get there. It was been warm (68 - 72 degrees in the afternoon), and very windy today. Wind is the arch enemy of the grouse hunter, as it generally makes a nervous bird even more skittish, and we found that out to some degree today. With the weather change coming, I anticipate much better scenting conditions, dog work, and hunting overall on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow looks like it could be a washout, but we badly need the inches of rain that are coming.
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 …
We had some good days this week and some slower ones as well. Wednesday was our best as far as numbers go - 13 grouse and 11 woodcock contacted that day, but the actual chances at shooting a grouse were way down.
Paul had a couple of chances early on that day, when the leaves were still a bit wet from the night before, but once the woods dried out, the grouse started playing tricks on us. A few times, Monty established point and then would relocate on moving grouse, only for them to go up thirty yards away in a heavy screen of cover. That's grouse hunting and that's one of the reasons that we love it, but it can be hard on the soul at times.
We saw fewer birds on Thursday (9 grouse, 2 woodcock) working mostly road edges in Pittsburg, and while one of the roads was disturbingly slow, a couple of others were better, especially those that had not gotten much vehicular traffic. We walked a long way that day, but it paid off when Paul shot three grouse, two of which were tough road crossing shots. It looked like both of those birds would make it, but Paul swung through them at the last moment and made his shots count.
One of those birds sailed down off a ravine after being hit (we both looked at each other and decided that he had probably hit it - one of the legs dropped. Always follow up on birds that you think you may have hit!) and we went down to look for it. After some searching probably 80 yards from the road, Paul found a breast feather and Monty came in to sniff around. A few moments later, we had our quarry in hand, courtesy of Monty.
Yesterday was an abbreviated day of hunting due to some warm temperatures (let's hope this weekend is the end of those) and impending rain. Randy, Leighton and I hunted the beautiful covert that we hunted on Monday, and it was good again (8 grouse, 2 woodcock). Monty and Randy's young pointer Ginger hit it yesterday and within a few minutes we had our first grouse point (of several) from Monty. Randy and I watched that bird high tail it out of there like a roadrunner and within moments he was gone. Less civilized hunters would have ended that grouse's run there, but we are more refined that that.
We hunted in to the early afternoon in that special place and while the shots were few and far between, the scenery was spectacular. Ginger also kept progressing in her development as a bird dog, as she had a staunch honor on one of Monty's points. Randy has a good hunting companion in her, as she hunts close and is very responsive to his directives. With that, we bid "Adieu" and we are already thinking about our hunts together next fall.
The weather turns much colder tonight and tomorrow and we're hoping for a great week ahead. The dogs are ready for sure - Rudy got out a few times in limited action this week, Bode will be back after his mouth puncture has healed, and Monty will resume his excellent season. My knees, ankles and legs are not quite ready - the hot tub will see extended action and thanks for Ben Gay …
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.
While Monty's time out there was very eventful, the highlight of our day came when Randy's 16-month old pointer Ginger had her first wild bird point - in fact, she nailed down two woodcock as well! Wish I had gotten the camera out for that moment!
Enjoy - and by the way, no woodcock were harmed in the making of this video …
Oh what a difference a week makes! We worked hard to find grouse and woodcock, with some limited results, even in our traditional honey holes.
- Monday: 10 grouse, 8 woodcock contacted for full day
- Tuesday: 6 grouse, 14 woodcock contacted for full day
- Wednesday: 6 grouse, 12 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to heat)
- Thursday: 4 grouse, 4 woodcock (finished at 1 PM due to rain)
- Friday: 5 grouse, 4 woodcock contacted for full day
While the results weren't terrible by any means, the bird sightings just were not happening nearly as frequently as they should be, but we had a few factors working against us.
- The daytime temperatures for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday rose to the mid 60's, making for some tough scenting conditions for the dogs - dogs have a hard time bringing in bird scent if they are panting hard, not to mention that the bird scent dissipates quickly when it's warm out.
- The grouse woods were as dry as I've ever seen - needless to say, it sounded as if we were walking on cornflakes as we approached dogs on point this week. The woods were way too loud to get close to many grouse and we had quite a few points from Monty where he was staunch but we couldn't find a bird when we got there - probably a running grouse that had already made its escape.
- We worked mostly road edges this week, in an effort to conserve the energy of my clients, and I expect that quite a few of these edge birds have encountered hunters so far this season. Their daily patterns have been disturbed, but it was curious that we didn't encounter more birds yesterday when it was cold. Perhaps it will take them a few days to fall back in to some kind of a pattern involving roads again.
Still, my clients Chris, Frank and Mark did a good job getting in on points and getting shots on woodcock and a few fleeing grouse. We were also able to get Chris's two year old Brittany spaniel Chotsie in the grouse woods for the first time and she acquitted herself well, hunting with boldness and gusto in our time out there. She patterned well and covered the grouse woods with the thoroughness of a vacuum cleaner - she'll make a good grouse hunting companion in the future.
As for the shooting, Chris and Frank had a built-in excuse for most of this week, as there was still plenty of foliage on the trees for their shots to contend with. All of that screen provided excellent opportunities to escape, for the grouse especially.
Chris and Frank have been going out with me since the beginning, and they enjoy the grouse woods no matter what kind of luck we have, and we had a week of beautiful sights and vistas to soften the blow.
Frank is the most veteran of my clients - at 80 years old he's still walking the roads and guarding for any bird that tries to escape the easy way. Chris was often roaming the woods with me, so Chris would get shots at the birds heading for heavier cover and Frank would get chances on the birds that were road bound. This strategy worked well on the woodcock, but the grouse proved to be much tougher.
Mark joined us the last couple days of this week and he hasn't been grouse hunting in six years and gets to shoot rarely due to his young family. While he was a bit rusty, he definitely put a scare in to a couple of grouse and several woodcock, especially two that Bode pointed for him yesterday.
The good news is that things are changing - the weather turned colder yesterday, never hitting 50 degrees and we should have beautiful weather for today's hunt. We also received some rain Thursday night, softening the leaf litter a little, which helped us get a little closer to the few grouse that we encountered yesterday. More rain is coming throughout this week, so the hunting should get better.
As for the dogs, Monty was on fire again this week and Bode had a good session yesterday afternoon, pointing a grouse and two woodcock.
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.
Thursday, as has already been documented, was a good day, as we moved 9 grouse and 22 woodcock in Vermont. We followed that with a morning session on Friday of 10 grouse and 1 woodcock, 2 of which were taken by my client. Randy's 5-year old GSP had worked so well on Thursday that we decided to run Polly together with my 6-year old Monty, and they preformed like they had been working together for years. They covered ground thoroughly, without being competitive and we even had a couple of points that were honored by the other dog - great to see, and I wished that Randy lived closer. They were quite a team.
Saturday was the opener in New Hampshire, and I went out once again with Mike and Sue and their nearly 3-year old setter Blue. Blue roamed the grouse woods like a true veteran, as she displayed patience in working the cover and pointed many of the 28 birds (16 grouse, 12 woodcock) that we contacted yesterday. While Blue performed beautifully, the birds gave Mike and Sue limited chances - the woods are still mighty thick, and the birds seem to escape behind vegetation almost instantly.
The highlight of yesterday was when Blue went on a staunch point … and then four grouse broke loose. Mike made a nice shot on the fleeing grouse to our right, while the other three birds headed toward the road, where Sue was waiting. She dropped one of them and put the fear of God in another. That was Sue's first grouse taken on the wing, which was really great to see, and after watching Blue work yesterday, there will probably be quite a few more in Sue and Mike's future.
We have had excellent dog work these first three days, not only by Monty but from my clients' dogs as well. Hopefully this trend continues, and Bode and Rudy should see some work this week as well. More updates to come.
Guiding Update: I have the following dates available - 10/4, 10/5, 10/22, 10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3
Send me a message if you want to get out in the woods!
It all began literally 5 minutes from the trucks when she staunchly pointed a woodcock, and it continued from there, as she pointed a lot of birds - we figured that she contacted somewhere around 5 grouse and 13 woodcock (the vast majority of which were pointed) by the time we got back to the trucks for lunch. Randy made a heckuva shot on a fleeing grouse, and he had his first Vermont ruffed grouse in the back pocket of his vest.
You see, Randy has an enviable goal to hunt or fish in all 50 states, and this was his first time doing either in Vermont - I was glad that we could enhance his pursuit! Monty did the honors in the afternoon, and also had a solid hunt, as he contacted 4 grouse and 8 woodcock in his time out there. Unfortunately, woodcock season in Vermont doesn't start until October 1, so the timberdoodles went unscathed - there is no doubt that Randy would have had his limit on them if they were in season.
We finished up the afternoon getting Randy's 1 year old GSP Libby a shot in the grouse woods for a short time - she handled really well and managed to move a woodcock of her own. It was hot out there today and the woods are still plenty thick, but grouse season is here and it'll only get better from here.
That bird was the beginning of a particularly fruitful session with Monty, as he located 3 grouse and perhaps 7 or 8 woodcock, the vast majority of which went pointed. Monty has done some good work lately, so he has been taking it easy this week, in preparation for the Vermont grouse hunting opener on Saturday. Temps look good for this weekend, so we should be able to get out there for a couple of hours each morning.
All of the dogs have had good moments this past week, though Bode worked hard but had little for results in some of the new covers that we were scouting. We did have a bit of success, walking a good distance in to an area that I have only dreamed about, thanks to some Google Earth research. Well, we finally got in there and it was worth it as we moved 4 grouse at the edge of a gigantic cut. It was an arduous trek to get in there, so the cover may not be the best for some of my clients, but could be nirvana to those that aren't afraid to have callouses on their feet.
Rudy, at ten years of age now, also had a great morning last week when we were scouting one of our tried and true areas. He had a field day with the woodcock, as I believe that we moved 8 woodcock in that cover - most were pointed by Rudy, sometimes two at a time. He also pointed 2 grouse in this cover, the last one of which held surprisingly well, and had me wishing that I had a client with me. Of course, I probably would have told them to approach from the wrong direction - grouse always make you look bad.
Just like the rest of the eastern U.S., we have had some great summer weather (70's and 80's, hot and humid), which is particularly difficult to walk the grouse woods in. It's hot, thick and nasty out there, and I for sure am paying the price for a slovenly winter and fishing way too much this summer. I'm not much for the treadmill generally, but it will become my best friend prior to October.
Bode and Monty have enjoyed their early morning stints out in the woods this week - lots of water and mostly brief sessions for the two of them. We have found a few birds here and there, with Bode excelling on woodcock - he found 3 on Wednesday, two of which were pointed, and 5 more today, with two pinned as a result of his points. He's patterning well and hunting close, which is great to see after a layoff of a couple of months. Monty found 6 grouse yesterday, 4 of which were in a family unit, as well as 2 singles. None of them were pointed, but the conditions have not been particularly suited for bird scent either.
The woods are very dry right now up here (thankfully not as dry as down south), so looking for cool, damp places are where we're more likely to find birds. The season is a little over two months away and we're excited. Hopefully we're all ready for it.
Are you crazy? There's no way I'm going out on a limb to predict how we might fare this fall! I've taken too much guff in the past for leading readers astray … All I will say is that if you walk farther and work harder than most other grouse hunters, you'll probably put yourself in a good position to succeed - in other words, do the same things you do every year!
We look forward to another good grouse hunting season, in just 275 days from now, give or take a few - we hope you have a good 2016 ahead pursuing our feathered friends too!
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 …
Hunting with my client Parker and his excellent Brittany Rocky, as well as Parker's brother Spencer (who is new to grouse hunting), we were hoping that the cooler weather would get the birds moving a bit. Having grown up in Iowa, both Parker and Spencer have lots of upland bird hunting experience, and it was apparent early on that Rocky is a natural to the grouse woods. Not only is he very responsive to Parker's commands, but he quarters beautifully and hunts at gun range.
The best was yet to come however, as he began to find, and staunchly point, grouse after grouse. We found most of our birds on the evergreen edge of a cedar swamp (perhaps the birds were still staying cool from the day before), and the action was pretty hot for a while. Unfortunately, grouse don't offer themselves up for decent shots in such cover, and only one fell to one of my client's guns. In four hours, we contacted somewhere around 14 grouse and a woodcock, and quite a few were pointed by Rocky.
Monty got the call for the afternoon cover, and he seemed to pick up where Rocky left off. Lots of points, and relocating points on moving grouse, and the fellas had quite an afternoon, taking three grouse and two woodcock (Spencer took his first grouse and woodcock). Two of the grouse and one of the woodcock were taken over points from Monty - the others made the fatal mistake of not getting away fast enough in front of Parker and Spencer.
We hunted until the end of the day to take advantage of as much of the vanishing sunlight as we could. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 grouse and 3 woodcock contacted, it was one of our best days of the season, and we get to do it again today before taking some time off from the woods for the NH and Vermont deer hunting seasons. Hopefully we don't get too much snow too soon this year …
- 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 …
My thoughts are given below, in list form, illustrating the most common reasons why our hunts are unsuccessful. Names have been omitted, and remember that this post is written only as a helpful reminder …
The Top 5 Reasons Upland Birds Escape Our Grasp
1. You're Not Watching the Dog
There is probably no other form of upland bird hunting that relies on the olfactory abilities of a dog more than grouse and woodcock hunting. They are the stars of the show, and without them, our day in the woods is inevitably an exercise in futility. Keeping at least one of your eyes on a hard working canine is important to harvesting a bird, as an experienced grouse hunting dog will give some signs that he's on game and these clues can help us get ready for the expected flush. When the dog looks like he's on to something, follow him - he knows what he's doing!
Of course, this is where the advice of a guide ("I think he's getting birdy …") comes in handy, which in turn leads to #2 on our list …
2. You're Not Carrying Your Shotgun in a "Ready" Position
I can tell after ten minutes in the woods if we stand a chance of harvesting a grouse when observing the carry of a hunter's firearm. If the gun is not at port arms when grouse hunting (held upright, two hands, across one's body), and instead is carried one handed, either down or slung over a shoulder, there is a high likelihood that we will not be successful that day in taking a grouse. Grouse are wild birds - they usually do not sit tight for points, and they often flush wildly when we get close to them. The average hunter thinks that he can snap off a shot from one of those lazy gun positions when a grouse wildly flushes - it's simply impossible for it to be done, and I have seen many a grouse fly away unscathed when a shot could have been taken from a ready position. Remember that your first chance on a grouse is your best chance, and you might not get another one all day!
This advice does not necessarily apply to hunting woodcock, which are much more likely to sit tight for a point - they are the "gentleman's bird", unlike the wary grouse. Still, it's a good habit to carry one's shotgun the right way.
3. You're Not Physically Ready for a Day in the Uplands
It's a grind out there, believe me, and it helps for your body to be ready to enjoy successive days in the grouse woods. We do a lot of walking, and if you're trying to find those out of the way places for more hospitable grouse, you're going to be walking even more. A couple of months before the season, start doing some form of cardiovascular exercise to get yourself ready. While any form of exertion will help you, hiking is the best thing you can do to get ready to go over hill and dale in search of woodcock and grouse. As a guide, I love being able to pursue birds where I think we may see more of them - we will be greatly limited if we have to walk logging roads all day because the grouse woods are too tough!
4. You Don't Navigate the Woods Properly
Yes, it can be awfully thick out in the grouse woods, and just getting around is an art in itself, but there are ways that we can make it easier on ourselves and hopefully have a more successful hunt. If there's a lane or path through the cover, take it - it's a long day out there, so we might as well take the easiest path possible through the woods, not only to lessen our fatigue, but also to keep us in a shooting position should we have a wild flush. If you're constantly walking behind trees all day, you'll have no shot at an escaping grouse. At those times when we have a dog on point, try to get to the dog in as short a time as possible, and put yourself in a good position where your visibility will be best. In other words, don't stop in a part of the woods where you can't mount and swing your shotgun - it will be another grouse that has escaped your efforts.
5. You Haven't Shot Any Clays Prior to the Season
Practice makes perfect, and while nothing can properly get you ready to take shots at grouse and woodcock, shooting some clay pigeons can help. Practice shots from all angles, high and low, in order to simulate the variety of wing shots that grouse give us. If possible, shoot "low gun" in order to practice your gun mount - at a minimum, it will help you get your shotgun up in a timely manner, which can be the difference in a successful or frustrating day in the uplands. This one is my biggest bugaboo, and my most common excuse for missing birds and earning the neverending ire of my bird dogs and hunting partners!
There are other reasons that I haven't mentioned (improper footwear or gear, lack of observational skills while in the woods, making too much noise, etc.) out of fear of coming off as just another grouse hunting curmudgeon. Oh well …
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.
He didn't disappoint - too much. While Bode hunted with great enthusiam (yes, he has plenty of prey drive), and with nearly perfect patterning and range, he was unable to point any of the eight grouse we moved in the first two hours of the morning session. However, he did show "birdiness", or that knowledge that something was present. This alone prepared my clients to be ready for an imminent grouse flush, and Randy connected on one bird that made a bad mistake. Our work continues, and Bode is very close to being a good grouse pointer.
Monty took us home in the afternoon and had a solid, but unfulfilling session. In three hours of hunting, he would find three grouse and a woodcock, but all eluded my clients. Monty had spectacular points on two of the grouse as well as the woodcock, but there's a reason why this is called "upland bird hunting" and not "shooting" - grouse and woodcock are truly wild, and they make us earn every one of them.
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.
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.
Early on in December, it looked like our season was coming to a speedy conclusion as the snow began to pile up and the temperatures dropped. Grouse hunting in a little bit of snow (four inches or under) is still fun in the opinion of most grouse hunters, but when it becomes a drudgery of trudging through deep snow, even grouse hunting can lose its luster. Time to hang up the shotgun and let the dog enjoy some couch time …
We were dangerously close to the latter a few weeks ago, but then warm weather and pouring rain on Christmas Eve and Christmas day changed all of that. With the chaos of the holidays nearly past, it was time to get the dogs out one more time before the season concluded, so we managed to get in to some Vermont covers that I hadn't seen since early October. Even lacking the brilliant colors of autumn grouse hunting, the woods are still startlingly beautiful at this time of the season - very quiet with the occasional thunder from a flushing grouse.
Not much snow in most places, but lots of ice, so we had to be careful navigating through the cover. Monty hunted hard in his time out there, finding five grouse, but pointing only one of them - it was breezy on Monday, and chilly (around 20 degrees), so I'll cut him some slack. He made a nice retrieve on the one grouse that fell to my gun, making another memory to store away in the memory bank until next year. Bode gave it his all in the afternoon, but came up with the goose egg - that's how winter time grouse hunting can be (actually, that's how it is most of the time) - all or nothing.
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.
Yesterday morning, Chris's setter Dottie got another shot as the uplands were hit with soaking rains, and she had quite a morning. Not only did she point and hold at least five woodcock, but she also had points on two grouse as well, and nearly all of them were hunkered down in heavy softwoods, escaping from the weather. While the grouse escaped by employing their usual methods (i.e. you pick one side of the evergreens to go in on and they pick the other side to get out), some of the woodcock held well and provided opportunities for Chris and Frank. They connected on three of them, but the others got away to continue their journey south (expect heavy action on woodcock this week with the weather that is coming).
Dottie showed real style in pointing, then relocating on her birds, eventually pinning down their location for the hunters - all traits that any true grouse and woodcock dog aspires to. Betsy then got her shot at the next cover, and though she showed tremendous energy and drive, she only contacted a pair of grouse in her time in the woods. The birds in this cover had been recently pursued, as we found at least a dozen empty shot hulls along the road that we walked in on. While we found evidence of only one grouse that was actually taken, the remainder of the birds were probably just farther off in the woods, taking a momentary break in their daily routines. As grouse hunters, we are far more successful in disturbing the routines of grouse than actually taking them - years of hunting them has proven this fact to me.
The final cover of the day brought Rudy out of the truck for an hour. This cover, filled with wild apple trees and high bush cranberries required a dog of his particular talents - close working, under control, requiring very little in the way of verbal communication. He is my "stealth hunter" of all of the dogs - no bell needed, thank you. I have found that birds in covers like this near the end of the day are going in to feed quickly and get out to resume their night time pattern. For this reason, these birds seem to be even more wary than others we might meet at other times of the day.
Immediately upon entering the section loaded with apple trees, Rudy moved an escaping grouse that flew the right way for him - no visuals, and no shots for Frank and Chris. We eventually made our way to a couple more apple trees and high bush cranberries in the upper part of the cover, slowly walking in on a mossy forest floor - perfect for a quiet approach. I've seen birds almost every time I've come here over the years, and it happened again. First, a grouse took off high out of a cranberry bush - no chance for Frank. Then Rudy looped to our right and drove a low flying grouse out of a thick spruce and straight at Frank's head. Quick reflexes brought the grouse's flight to an end, less than five feet from Frank, and it was an amazingly accurate head shot with the 28 gauge.
Who knew that a grouse flying at your head could be more dangerous than startling a slumbering bull moose deep in the woods?
Last weekend was cool and crisp which is always welcome, as my client and I disturbed 22 grouse and 2 woodcock with the help of Bode, Monty and Rudy on Saturday. Bode was first out of the truck that day, and while he had a few points on grouse, he also had his share of mistakes as well - he's still learning, after all. He did make a nice find on a downed woodcock as well as an excellent track and retrieve of a wounded grouse, and helped find over half of our birds for the day in the morning. Rudy would move five more grouse in the afternoon, and Monty chipped in with an excellent point on one of the two grouse that he located.
Conditions began to change on Monday as some warmer weather moved in to our area. The birds were a little hard to come by that day, but Bode did a nice job in locating some grouse and provided a couple of shooting opportunities. We also had a bit of a scare when we bumped a young bull moose, apparently lounging after some amorous activities the night before. He steered clear of us, which is good - a moose on the run is a bad thing during the rut, and we would have been in trouble had he turned our way.
Daytime temperatures have continued to soar the last two days - pushing 70 degrees each day, so we brought extra water for ourselves and the dogs, and limited the hunts to 1.5 hours per dog. Naturally, the best scenting has been early on in the day, and then has gotten progressively tougher as the days go on. We still succeeded in moving 6 grouse and 8 woodcock yesterday, with three of the woodcock falling to Chris and Frank's 28 gauges. Chris's setter Dottie did a nice job on those woodcock yesterday morning, and Monty had a great point on a pair of grouse that Frank saluted with a load of 8's as they got out of Dodge.
Rudy was first out of the truck this morning, and he took advantage of the early morning conditions in pointing a group of four grouse near a road edge. Several of them made the mistake of flying out towards the road, one of which paid the ultimate price. The others made it away, apparently no worse for the wear. Dottie then got another chance and she moved a total of four grouse, two of which she had pointed staunchly in a thick spruce stand. The birds were definitely interested in keeping cool the last couple of days, so we looked for thick edge cover where the sun's rays had difficulty penetrating and that seemed to work for us. Monty then gave it his all in the final covert, but managed to only move two more grouse, neither of which were pointed. Scenting had gotten so difficult by then that he couldn't be faulted for bumbling in to them.
We'll have a fair amount of rain the next two days, and then the cool down will begin. Looks like we'll have excellent conditions for hunting starting Sunday right through next week, so hopefully we'll get back to normal numbers of birds. For those wondering about woodcock flights moving through our area, there may be a few birds coming down from up north as of right now, but we should have more migratory action coming next week and the week after, depending on the weather in Canada. It just hasn't been cold enough yet!
We've been through good days and bad, and after a lot of walking yesterday, with little to show for it, they were quick to remind me of our slog through a northern Vermont bog last year in the same cover we started in this morning. Determined to keep all of us out of this area, Monty was first out of the box today. He performed very well, as we moved 9 woodcock and 1 grouse for our morning session in windy conditions.
While the grouse and most of the woodcock were pointed by Monty, there were several woodcock that he bumped as well, perhaps a product of the swirling winds that he had to deal with. Randy made a nice shot on one of the woodcock and Leighton took the grouse, as Monty pinned it between us and him, but there were several birds that flew away with warning shots only from the guys.
After lunch, Bode got his turn, and he did well in his time out there, pointing one grouse and tracking and getting a little too close to a couple of others that didn't like his proximity. Once again, his pattern and range were close and thorough and he responded well to my commands - he's coming along very well now, and appears to be on his way to becoming a grouse dog. In his three hours out there, he helped move a dozen grouse and two more woodcock, for a grand total of 13 grouse and 11 woodcock on the day.
Our operations move to New Hampshire tomorrow, so hopefully our good luck streak continues on some granite state grouse and woodcock.
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.
Rudy started yesterday morning off by finding seven grouse and one woodcock in a little over an hour's work. The first five grouse were in a brood, and Rudy did very well locking up solidly on point and holding as they slowly one-by-one made their escape. He then got in to a couple of other grouse shortly afterward and then bumped a woodcock to top off his time out there. For eight years old he's looking good, and we should have a good autumn ahead with the "old man".
Monty then took his turn for 45 minutes or so and managed to point a different brood of five or six grouse, and while he did a great job establishing his point, he did break for a couple of feet when the first bird flew off. An immediate "whoa!" brought him to a stop, and he managed to hold it as the remainder of the brood flew off.
Bode has gotten out two of the last three mornings, and while he has gotten in to a bundle of birds (11 in two hours of work Thursday morning, and 8 grouse this morning in an hour), he has yet to establish solid points. He is definitely birdy - the prey drive is definitely there, and he is very cooperative when we're out there, but he seems to be developing later than the other dogs did. Looks like we'll be planting some pigeons in launchers for the little guy this week to see if we can improve him.
All in all, bird numbers look solid for this hunting season, probably better than last year due to our drier spring hatching weather this year. Of course, it will still be hunting, so make sure you have some good comfortable boots when you come up!
Over the last week of running the dogs, we've seen the three primary types of evidence that we're most likely to encounter while out there.
1. Guano. This one is pretty easy to find, as long as you're looking for it, and you've got your eyes on the ground occasionally. A dog working ground scent will often give this one away, and while woodcock "whitewash" is the easiest to spot on the drab forest floor, piles of grouse droppings can be a little more difficult to spot.
2. Tracks. This is very difficult to see on your own, unless there's some snow on the ground, in which case they show up pretty well. The picture at right was a rare one for me - spring woodcock tracks in an area of patchy snow where there was also some whitewash.
Grouse tracks are common when we hunt in November and December, and are always confirmation that we're in the right cover to support birds.
3. Shot shells. Pick up your evidence, folks, and that may keep other hunters from finding your hot spots. It's the easiest way to protect those areas that you've worked hard to find and learn how to hunt. Fortunately for me, I find a lot of this type of evidence while I'm out scouting, and this gets filed in to the memory bank for an area to check out again during the season.
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 been out scouting as often as possible over the last two months, and we had some better days this week. While we are still making contact with the occasional brood of grouse, there have been far more singles and doubles this week, so perhaps the fall shuffle has begun.
The woodcock that we've encountered have mostly been in close proximity of each other, in appropriate cover for them. Today I was able to take this picture of woodcock drillings in a freshly created woods road that was pretty muddy and hadn't set up much yet. Apparently they must have liked it, because there was lots of splash and a lot of these drillings around. And what of the woodcock, you may ask? We never saw one, so they must have only been using this area exclusively for feeding.
Yesterday morning we managed to point (and sometimes disturb) seven grouse and seven woodcock in about two hours of scouting, while today we only managed one grouse in two points, with one grouse sneaking out before I could get to Rudy. That's the way it has been - good to great in some of our sessions, while others have been just a great walk in the woods.
That's why it's hunting and I would have it no other way
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.
We also found a low growing plant with clusters of red berries that I believe is properly called Eastern Teaberry, but that is commonly called "partridge berry" - I'm sure that someone will correct me if I'm wrong. I guess that our feathered friends eat these too on occasion, as they are readily available for the grouse on the forest floor.
Went out for a couple of hours this morning and got a couple of solid woodcock points from Rudy - the season is under two months away now, and we can't wait.
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 ...
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 ...
As I've noted before, Jo-Ann has her dogs excellently trained, almost exclusively with hand signals only, and they are very repsonsive to her every whim when we're out there. We hunt grouse quietly when we're there, and those of you that have been out with me know by now that I have adopted several of Jo-Ann's techniques and strategies in the hunting that we do up here in northern New Hampshire and Vermont. The one aspect of hunting with Jo-Ann that is sometimes hard to get used to is being able to consistently read the flushing dogs as they work, instead of the pointers that I'm used to. While it is different, there are similarities in that there usually is some kind of a slowing in pace from a flusher just prior to the acceleration of tracking, and then flushing, a grouse. If you see it enough, you begin to be able to identify these actions by the dogs, allowing some time to get in position.
Of course, the birds have to cooperate too, which is rarely the case from these cagey grouse - the birds near Jo-Ann are true survivors, and therefore don't tolerate much pressure from dogs or hunters before they make an escape. In fact, it dawned on me that for either of us to actually take a bird, the grouse would have to make a critical mistake, and fortunately for us, it happened a couple of times in two days of hunting. I took a close flushing bird that had waited a bit too long to make an escape on our first morning, and Paul took a bird on the second day that made an unusual boomerang flight back at him, when it seemingly could have just flown straight away.
We also had our share of misses too, most of which were long shots where we were hoping to connect, but all in all it was a successful two days over there. The weather was chilly, but sunny for the most part, which helped us to stay warm. Jo-Ann and her dogs did their best, and we'll be back next year chasing those grouse all over again I suppose.
What of the grouse hunting in the north country, you may ask? Winter has reared it's ugly head a little early this year, so we have 4" - 5" of snow on the ground near the lodge, so there's probably more in the woods. A slight warm up is predicted next week, so that may put us back in business for a little while yet. What's even better is that the deer hunting season ends this weekend in NH, and the Vermont muzzleloader season goes for another ten days or so.
More updates on the way hopefully!
- Grouse are unpredictable - the dog may do his job to perfection, but if the bird runs away on the point before the hunters get there, all is for not ...
- Dogs are unpredictable - they don't always have a solid point, or end up busting the bird ahead of schedule.
- Hunters are unpredictable - we miss quite often, so filming the point / flush / shot of a grouse hunt where everything goes as it should is rare.
- The director / cameraman falls down - nothing needs to be said here.
Anyway, here is my feeble attempt at filming a grouse hunt last week in Vermont. This is actually a conglomeration of four hunts, three of which were on the same day. All involved the same dog, Monty, my two year old GSP. He had some great moments last week, but unfortunately, the cameraman (me) missed some of those moments. Enjoy ...
Wednesday was a very cold day, starting at around 20 when we started, and never climbing over 30 degrees. Add to that a little wind, and we were continually looking for hills to climb to help us stay warm. We ended up moving 21 grouse that day, and Monty had some nice points, but Art and Craig never had what I consider to be “good” chances on birds.
Thursday was still blustery, but not as cold as the day before, so we were quite a bit more comfortable in the woods. Monty had one of the best days of his young life, as he nailed bird after bird - sometimes groups of birds. Many offered good opportunities for Art and Craig, and they made up for the day before, each taking two grouse. Art especially made a fantastic quartering away shot to his left on a grouse that Monty had pointed in a clump of spruce (these places were their preferred hideouts this week with the cold weather), and Monty actually retrieved that one, completing his job. We ended up moving 30 grouse on Thursday, more than making up for the driving snow we ate our lunch in that day (the first time I haven’t sat at the table for lunch!)
Friday was the nicest of our three days - a fresh snow had fallen the night before, so it slowly melted as we hunted yesterday. Art commented on the beauty of the scene around us - the woods yesterday morning looked like sparkling diamonds with the snow firmly attached to the trees. While Monty was doing his best, pointing three birds in a group that got away unscathed, and a couple of other singles, the morning was generally slow - we only moved 8 grouse in the morning session.
The afternoon brought some excitement, with Art making a remarkably tough shot on a grouse that Monty pointed downhill, pinning the bird between him and us. When it finally took off, Craig took a shot and missed and the bird was seemingly getting away when Art took the long shot. The bird dropped like a stone in to heavy cover, and it took a little while for us to find it, but the bird was recovered. We moved a few more birds in the afternoon, but our total bird contacts for the day was somewhere around 15 grouse - one of my tougher days this year.
Did I say how unpredictable grouse hunting can be?
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
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.
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.
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 ...
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.