Monty and Rosie ran giddily through the grouse woods this morning, finding a couple of tracks from long departed grouse and the usual tracks from what seemed like a million snowshoe hares. Eventually, they found two grouse themselves, with one sailing off downhill in to thicker cover and the other pointed beautifully later on by Monty, with a nice honor from Rosie after a "whoa" from me. It was spectacular to witness, and anytime, winter included, is a good time to get out in the woods and reinforce the commands that you'll be using all spring, summer and fall. We'll be doing this a lot over the next two months, as long as the weather cooperates.
Other Thoughts …
My nearly 12- year old GSP, Rudy, has had a littany of health problems over the last year (GI problems, seizures, and weight loss have plagued the old boy) and it got so bad on Wednesday that on the way to the vet I was contemplating that things might be coming to an end for my "Old Man". I get wistful at times like this and so many memories of Rudy as a pup and our first hunts together with his old running mate Greta come to mind. He hunted in Montana for pheasants and sharptails (he really excelled on the sharptails and made some amazing retrieves on wounded ringnecks) at only one year old and has been a constant companion when I take trips to the river for fishing (he seems to scare off prospective interlopers that would like to intrude on the water I'm fishing … little do they know that he is actually very friendly and can easily be bribed to betray his master).
All of this led me to look at some old posts on the blog of Rudy's time in the grouse woods, and his status as a good grouse dog was confirmed after reading some of those posts. He was quite a grouse hunter in his day and the foundation of the guiding business early on. Greta was a great one too, but often didn't have the stamina to go out day after day - that was Rudy's job, and he held up his end of our arrangement.
But, there was another thing that I noticed when reading the entries from 7 or 8 years ago … we seemed to be running in to a lot more grouse than we have in the last couple of years. I don't think this is simply because I'm hunting subpar areas compared to before - I actually pride myself on finding several good areas every year so that the covers don't get stale, and I think I've done a good job of it, especially lately, of changing up our "rotation". Spring and early summer hatch weather is always a concern for grouse hunters, and it has not been what I generally consider as being "good" the last couple of years. Still, it seems as though we've had some poor springs before and rebounded just fine in the fall.
There is still a decent amount of logging going on in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, but certainly not to the degree that we had decades ago in the hay day of grouse hunting. The landscape is changing and maturing and that could be having an impact on grouse numbers in some of our covers. Some of the productive food covers (old apple trees, pasture edges from long gone farms) are simply not as productive as they used to be. Rumors that avian flu could also be responsible for the decline in bird numbers are rampant as well. There are many different factors that affect grouse - literally a mosaic of conditions can have an impact on the birds we love to pursue every fall, so who can say for sure what is happening.
Personally, my opinion is that our constantly changing weather, with its assorted highs and lows and severe rain events and (at times) drought conditions is impacting our birds more than anything. Global warming may be affecting our birds in ways we can't even be sure of, but grouse are birds of the northern forest and cold climates. The more the northern hemisphere warms and results in changes to tree composition in our northern forests, the more we'll see changes to grouse populations and other northern forest loving species. Sorry for the ramble … just my thoughts on how our sport may be changing.
Oh, and Rudy has seemingly recovered and is feeling much better today - I know you all wanted to know how he is doing.
Check out the Project Upland website to get your fix on upland hunting, dogs, training, and short videos this winter. There are other people out there as crazy as us - this is the proof!
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 …
I get asked that question a lot, and to be honest with you, both states have been good to me in the past. I've also had tough days in both states as well, so neither has been consistently dependable either.
While I have never kept track of my time in the two states separately, I will try to do it this year so that there can be a baseline going forward. The "tote board" in the sidebar on the right will have info on what we have found in Vermont and New Hampshire and I'll do my best to keep up with it.
And no, I have no stats on Maine grouse and woodcock!
Rosie had a good morning for the most part today on opening day in Vermont - we moved 10 grouse in just 2.5 hours, and she did a nice job pointing a pair of birds in a softwood thicket. We also moved two other pairs as well as four singles.
That pair was her only point however, as she bumped a few grouse as did I - one of which nearly gave me a heart attack as it went out just about fifteen feet from me. Yes, my gun was not in the "ready position" - no shot.
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!
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 …
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 …
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.
The dogs have been run, and in some cases, probably corrected a time or two. In short, you're as ready as you'll ever be for the coming grouse and woodcock hunting season. Sure, you could have done a few more miles on the treadmill, but nothing can truly replicate hiking through the grouse woods, trying to follow a hard charging hunting dog …
The woods are changing a bit here in the north country this week - the leaves are turning, and a few of them are even carpeting the forest floor in places. The smell of decaying leaf litter that only a hunter can truly appreciate is wafting through the air as well - it is one of the rights of fall, and a harbinger of the approaching grouse season. We have had some cool mornings lately, but it tends to warm up by noon the last few days. We are all hoping for cooler weather to get here soon, and stay for good.
Our grouse guiding season begins tomorrow in Vermont and on Saturday in New Hampshire. It's almost here and we can't wait.
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.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, Bode started out hot, pointing a pair of grouse, then a solo woodcock and finally a lone grouse in heavy cover - he was at his best in the cool early morning conditions. But then it warmed up a bit, and he began bumping a few birds as the temps climbed … we would end up contacting 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in nearly three hours, which was pretty good considering the conditions.
Today in Vermont, Monty did very well as he had points on two solo woodcock and then pointed a group of three grouse, a couple of which would have made nice targets. He then bumped a solitary grouse to close out his 1.5 hours in the woods. Once again, the canine performance was best when the temperature was coolest. By the time we left the woods, it was getting warm again, well on its way to hitting 75 degrees today.
As you can see from Bode's picture, the woods are mighty thick right now, and that might not change too much over the next few weeks. Usually the cover is beginning to come down by mid October, and usually everything is down by late October. Good grouse cover is thick however, so we just have to learn to deal with it - after all, if you're not picking up your hat when you're going through the cover, your probably not in good grouse cover!
By the way, last year's clients can attest to my struggle with certain technology (beeper collars!) that we rely on out in the woods. I had been using TriTronics beeper collars over the years with dependable results. Since I run the dogs with silent beepers until they point, it is really important that my beeper collars work dependably, when they're supposed to.
Well, I started having problems with my old TriTronics beepers early last season, and I opted to replace them with beeper units made by Garmin, which, truth be told, seem to be the same technology as the TriTronics collars (Garmin bought out TriTronics a few years ago and continued the beeper units). Unfortunately, I found that the new Garmin beepers were not as dependable as the TriTronics units were - not sure why, but I had quite a few instances where the beepers were going off at inopportune times, and it affected my hunts as a result.
Taking the recommendation of another guide friend of mine, I purchased the Dogtra 2500 beeper/trainer unit this summer, and it has been a revelation. The dogs have adapted seemlessly to this unit, and it has been dependable for us this summer as we run it on silent until the point is established. There is a small delay in the beeper going off (a few seconds), but then the beeper goes off every two seconds and having the training function on the same unit is indispensible to ensure that the point is held through the flush (still working on through the shot).
For $300 approximately, the Dogtra collar is a good value if you also need a training unit as well - I recommend it highly.
I have been able to get the dogs out in the woods several times a week lately in both New Hampshire and Vermont, as we ramp up for the season opener in a few weeks. Some mornings are pretty good, such as two days ago when I had Bode out for about one and a half hours. After a slow first 45 minutes, Bode then pointed two woodcock beautifully, one of which was at a good distance (30 feet or so), and later I was able to "whoa" him when the first of a brood of four grouse flushed up ahead. He understands "whoa" very well now, so I was able to walk up and flush the other birds. He also had a great point on a grouse last week, the only one that we would see that morning. He's coming along nicely.
We have also had some slow mornings as well, mostly in some new areas that I have been checking out. Yesterday we checked one particular spot in New Hampshire, where the cover looks ideal, and only found a smattering of woodcock chalk and one grouse that I bumbled in to and Monty missed entirely. C'est la vie!
Two points that have been constant in our scouting. The dogs have been working hard and are progressing toward the opener. It looks like it will be mostly Monty and Bode this fall who will be out on our guide trips. Rudy still has the desire, but at the ripe old age of 10 his stamina is not the same. He can still do the job in small covers or places that require a delicate dog, but his days of the 2 - 3 hour covers are probably gone.
The second point is more about the conditions lately - insanely hot and humid this past week, and I hope this weather pattern ends soon! Yesterday, we got a bit of a late start in the woods - at 8:45 it was 67 degrees when Bode and I left the truck. When we came back at 10:00, it was up to 73 degrees. Too hot, but the prediction is for a warmer than normal October, so carry lots of water for your dogs, and dunk them in ponds or lakes when you're out there. Hopefully it won't be as dire as that.
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!
Perfect (though unseasonably chilly) weather for spring grouse and woodcock scouting. Temps have been in the twenties and thirties, and our woodcock have returned to our northern coverts, which is always a harbinger of spring.
This is also a great time to reinforce those commands ("WHOA!") that have become fuzzy in the canine memory over winter. While we are a bit limited in where we can go (many of the logging roads are closed to allow them to dry out from the snow and ice of winter), there's still plenty of spots that we can get in to.
The dogs have been doing well in their work. While Monty looks like he's ready for the season now (4 grouse and 3 woodcock contacted the other day in New Hampshire, and he had two staunch grouse points and a point on a pair of woodcock), Bode has some more work to do. Bode and I ran in to a lot of birds yesterday in Vermont - 8 grouse and 4 woodcock yesterday morning, and while part of the problem on at least half of the birds was wind direction (we were coming at the birds with the wind at our back - you can't always be on the right side of it unfortunately), he managed to bump most of the others.
His one bright spot was on his one grouse point (pictured) - guess you have to start somewhere!
Usually, our spring scouting in the north country takes place in April - by then, the snows of winter have mostly melted, enough for the dogs and I to get around the grouse woods without too much trouble. Well, spring came early this year (it seemed as though winter never really came), making for an extra couple of weeks of work for the dogs and escaping the winter doldrums for me.
Monty and Bode took me through a patch of woods in Vermont that we hadn't explored yet, so I had no idea of what to expect, nor expectations either. The "boys" were pretty fired up to be hitting the woods again, and running together to boot. Those of you that hunt with me know that I prefer to run one dog at a time - just too much to focus on when you have more than one dog on the ground, and today was a prefect example of that, at least early on.
Within five minutes from the truck, Bode, showing great energy at being in the woods, bounded in to some heavy cover on my left as I was watching Monty on my right. Shortly thereafter a great flapping of wings and clucking ensued - yes, Bode must have thought he had the grand daddy of all grouse in his sights. Three to four turkeys exploded in to the air in all directions, with Bode in hot pursuit. C'est la vie!
It got better fortunately, at least briefly. Monty and Bode had the point pictured above on a tight sitting grouse in heavy edge cover. The dogs held well, and so did the bird - long enough for me to walk up and flush it. It offered one of those tough but very makeable shots at tree height down the trail in front of me. My grouse hunter's eye dreamt of a bird fluttering down, hit by my shot string through the waning foliage of late October or early November. However, you know how dreams sometimes go …
Over the next 45 minutes, we would move seven more grouse, just walking along the snow and ice covered trail. There were two pairs, which both held surprisingly tight, and several more singles. All of the birds were located in the thick evergreen edge cover, and while the dogs were birdy on nearly all of them, they did not perform nearly as well as they did on that first one. Perhaps too many birds too soon? Maybe - they also had a competition going on (or at least Bode was trying to compete with Monty - fat chance), further confirming my belief that the dogs are best run alone.
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 …
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.
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.
Took Greta out for the first time this season, just for a short jaunt on our resident grouse in Vermont. Greta is now 13 years old, and hasn't been part of the guiding operation for several years, but I wanted to see her hunt again. While her nose is still very good, her hearing is nearly gone, as are her legs - she has advanced arthritis, so she struggles to get around. She's no longer the graceful hunter that she once was - in fact, she doesn't run at all anymore. It's much more of a "waddle" that she uses, so the cover would have to be correspondingly short and sweet, to accommodate her physical condition.
I am fortunate to live in an area that I know very well, so I can pick and choose where to take Greta, and because we have limited time out there, the choice covert always involves birds that are close at hand, not far from the truck. We were lucky today, as we contacted a group of four grouse literally one hundred feet from the truck.
No, Greta didn't go on point, but her pace quickened, as did the speed of her wiggling tail, indicators that something was in the area. Just after recognizing this, a group of four grouse exploded in to the air, and my 28 gauge managed to bring down the last escaping grouse, on the second shot. We'll have a few more times out there this fall, but it was great to see her work again on a beautiful day like this.
Just a hint of color up here at the moment, as our foliage has been unusually slow starting in the north country. Too warm and dry over the past month, but … there's a change underway, and it looks like the good weather is coming tonight. Lots of rain forecasted over night, and more to come this weekend, but the most important part of the change will be in the temperatures: ranging from 30's in the morning to mid 50's during the day. In other words, perfect weather for hunting grouse and woodcock.
We got a head start on the grouse season by hunting in northern Vermont both mornings last weekend. As in New Hampshire, the foliage hasn't gone through much of a transformation there either, so our bird contacts were mostly relegated to hearing them, instead of actually glimpsing them.
While Bode seemingly did his best to prove to me that my training these last two years has been all for naught, he did manage to find quite a few birds on Saturday (2 grouse and 8 woodcock). The problem was that he had trouble in the all important "pointing" category - in all honesty, there was no breeze pushing the scent in his direction, and the temps were rising sharply by the time we left the woods. He did work hard and close however, so it wasn't complete failure by any means.
Monty did quite well on Sunday, but only managed to move 3 grouse in our time out there. One was pointed brilliantly in heavily shadowed cover - when I arrived on the scene, the bird flew out a good fifty yards downhill from me. Yes, they are already up to some of their tricks …
In the meantime, the boots are prepared, new socks have been purchased, and the GPS and collar are functioning properly. Some new coverts have been located (hopefully they produce!), and I have been gobbling down grouse and woodcock hunting literature ravenously (Frank Woolner may be the most informative and witty writer that I have read).
The season starts in New Hampshire on Thursday - it feels like the night before Christmas …
Monty got out there first this morning and had a couple of nice points on two woodcock that he contacted, but had trouble with the grouse. A small brood of two or three got away as he got a little too close. In fact, the two "broods" that we encountered today were both small (2 or 3 each), but that has been balanced by a couple of large broods that we saw last week, so who knows how the season will be.
Bode was next and worked very hard and under control - he had a beautiful point his one woodcock, but while he was birdy just prior to breaking in to a grouse brood, he just couldn't stop himself. Scenting conditions weren't great, but we always hope for better when we're out there.
Some of the early berries (raspberries and choke cherries) are out now, so there are many more food sources out there for the grouse. More to come soon.
We checked out some of our favorite haunts in Vermont and were rewarded with a few birds. Bode was first up on Wednesday morning and he managed to stop to flush on a couple of single grouse and a wild flushing woodcock, then he bumbled in to a brood of grouse later on. The brood was large I would say - 7 to 8 birds. After the first two flew, he received a quick "whoa", and he held his ground as the others flew off as I made my way to him. A couple of them came mighty close to hitting him in the head, but he remained rock solid. Good exposure for him in nearly two hours of running - about 10 or 11 birds.
Rudy ran for about 1.5 hours on Thursday morning, and he picked up where he left off last year. First, he pointed, relocated, and then pointed again a running grouse that ended up flushing downhill from us. Then he stuck a grouse beautifully in a patch of shady evergreens - really nice work. He finished his run off with a point on a brood of grouse (different from the day before), with the hen pulling the broken wing routine. I came in calmly and led him out by his collar so that he would not further disturb this family unit.
What do bird numbers look like for this fall? After last year, I have decided to take myself out of the prediction game. Bird seasons are what we make of them - seeing more birds usually means more effort needs to be made. More research and scouting for new covers, more training of our dogs and ourselves, and more boots on the ground. I believe that the latest predictions from Upland Almanac for New Hampshire and Vermont are for "fair to good grouse hunting" up here for the 2015 autumn.
We shall see … and I can't wait.
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.
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 ...
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.
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 ...
Most days, we'll see anywhere from 7 or 8 birds to a lot more than that at times - a few days ago in Vermont was particularly good, as we moved around 16 grouse in two hours (15 of those were found in two broods that Rudy found and pointed - the picture above). Two days ago, Bode and I checked out one of our favorite hunting spots in New Hampshire, to only move two grouse and one woodcock in around two and a half hours. That's hunting I guess!
Bode's progress continues ... slowly. He has pointed a couple of woodcock in the last week, but the grouse, as you might expect, are not too impressed with this training thing. While he seems to be scenting them just fine, he continues to get a little too close, and they aren't standing for it. Hopefully, he learns his lesson soon.
This season can't get here soon enough for me or the dogs though. We're seeing enough birds to give us some solid expectations of a good fall ahead, and the hint of 50 degree mornings lately has given us just a taste of autumn.
Today was Bode's turn, as he has some learning to do before the season begins - merely 82 days away now from the New Hampshire opener, but who's counting? He ran into his fair share today - two single grouse, one brood of grouse of five or six birds, and one single woodcock. While he didn't point them, he did stop to flush (when given the whoa command) and held solidly for all of them. That's a marked improvement from where little Bode was just a month ago, so he's improving.
By the way, we ran in to another brood of young grouse in Vermont as we walked back to my house at the end of the session - looking good indeed!
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.
This is the time of year when we should be training our dogs (and ourselves) for the rigors of what lies ahead. If it's an older dog, you're brushing up on what (hopefully) he or she already knows. If it's a pup, you've got your work cut out for you, but great days of discovery lie ahead. Fortunately, the last couple of weeks have seen a significant reduction in our snow pack and some decent days to be out in the field, which has made for some good training on our wild birds in the north country.
While still rusty, Rudy and Monty have enjoyed their time in the woods this spring, and have begun to exhibit that form that we remember from last fall. Yes, the boys enjoy their "down time" during the winter! Bode's doing a nice job learning and paying heed to my commands, though we still have lots of work to do on the "Whoa" command. He's getting in to birds too, and seems to be having a great time chasing them ... not so much on the pointing yet.
I just spoke with a friend and client of mine that just purchased a finished setter pup, and his exuberance for this fall was undeniable. Chris is literally chomping at the bit for this season and we should have a great fall with his two setters Dotty and Betsey.
We're only five months away now, and it can't come soon enough for me, but I have plenty of work to do on my conditioning and also to find a few more "hot spots" before the season starts.
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!
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!
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 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.
- 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
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.
The other big problem has been that there’s still lots of foliage out there on our trees, so as beautiful as our colors may be, it has made shooting extremely difficult thus far. While I never root for bad weather to come our way, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few windy days come our way to clear the trees (and shooting lanes) a bit.
Randy Kinne and Leighton Hunter were my victims the last two days, and while they had one of their better years recently up here, it still was very difficult for them to shoot, never mind connect on, grouse and woodcock. As noted, there was good work by the dogs, especially Monty yesterday, and from Randy’s pointer Cocoa today. In the rain and fog Cocoa managed to point at least three grouse this morning, but only one presented a realistic opportunity, and Randy connected.
The forecast calls for a cold front to move in early next week and stay throughout the week, so we may have some good migratory woodcock action if it’s cold in Canada. Hopefully we also lose a few of those colorful leaves too ...
We have continued our schedule of four days a week hitting the woods in search of birds in areas old and new, with varying results. Seems like our tried and true covers have been producing as usual, but the new spots have yielded fewer sightings of grouse and woodcock. Sometimes they’re not there at all, and sometimes we’re just in the wrong part of the cover at the wrong time. Rudy and Monty have certainly done their part in our scouting searches.
As one of the best grouse hunters I know says, “A grouse cover is like a house - we just have to find out what room they’re in.”
Vermont opening day is this Saturday, and New Hampshire opens a week from today - hope you’re ready!
Nearly four hours in the woods of Vermont this morning yielded 14 grouse pointed / sighted. Most were singles at first, then Monty made a nice point on a pair in the shade. That started us off on an hour in which we ran into most of the grouse that we saw today - first Rudy made a nice point on a lone grouse, then he got in to a brood of probably four more that made their escape in waves. Did I mention that the woods are thick right now? That means we didn’t see too many, just heard the whirring of their wings on take off.
The majority of these birds were in an “old faithful” kind of spot, then we checked a few smaller covers prospecting for grouse, in which we only saw one more. No woodcock today, but there was some evidence that they had been there recently. The woods are dry again, but we’re expecting some weather to come in tomorrow and Wednesday, so that should help things out a bit.
More updates to come as we get closer to September 29 (VT opener) and October 1 (NH opener).
I was able to take a short video this morning of the dogs on point. It was actually Monty who was first on point, with Rudy dangerously close to busting the woodcock (that’s why I’m yelling “WHOA!” on the video), but thankfully they held their points and the bird fluttered away. Once again, sorry about the camera action, but these birds don’t hold too well for a hack like me, but you will hear the whistle of the woodcock if you listen hard. This video also illustrates why I use beeper collars - they are indispensible in finding your pup when he’s on point!
We checked out a couple new spots this week that looked like they had some potential on Google Earth, but unfortunately they turned out to be rather slow. So, we turned our attention to a couple of areas that we haven’t hunted in a year or two and they were surprisingly good - 13 grouse were pointed / moved by Rudy and Monty in merely two hours. I’ll take those numbers every time and this season is looking very good for our pursuit of grouse and woodcock.