The bare days of November are upon us which have delivered an onslaught of thoughts, emotions and mixed feelings as they always do! Here in Minnesota at least, the arrival of November typically means that the opening of firearms deer season is right around the corner. This year it happens to be this coming Saturday, November 7th. As much as I love to deer hunt and will absolutely be heading to deer camp on Friday evening, it’s always a little bittersweet as it brings with it an end to the golden days of grouse hunting for me. Another season has come and gone, another 31 days of October have somehow passed us by, yet the memories will live on. The briefness of our beloved hunting seasons is what drives so many of us to be as passionate and dedicated as we are. All we can do is enjoy every moment to the fullest as we live them and experience them. When it is over we are free to reflect on seasons past and dream of seasons to come. With the arrival of November this year, I have plenty to reflect upon when the snow eventually flies and we transition to winter up North.
The month of October was full of highlights for me this year and most of them revolve around my year and a half old English setter, Hartley. As he entered his second hunting season this year I had high hopes and was excited to watch his growth and development throughout the season. After tuning up the first couple weeks of the season, Hartley was quickly put to the test at a Ruffed Grouse Society event in early October. Over two full days, I handled Hartley as two pairs of hunters followed us through the woods. I really had no idea what to expect with my young dog and the fact that someone else’s hunting experience depended on my dog added even more pressure. When it was all said and done however, Hartley performed beyond expectations and had two of his best days in the woods this season. Timing is everything right?! He is far from a polished grouse and woodcock dog, but his natural ability has been ever-present this season and his drive to hunt birds and learn from each encounter has been amazing. Hartley received plenty of compliments from our hunting partners that week which he accepted with ample tail wagging. I simply looked on and smiled as his proud owner.
Another highlight for Hartley and I were a couple of the connections made through the Ruffed Grouse Society. It’s a small world after all and during the month of October Hartley was able to meet two of his litter mates. With a litter of only four pups just a year and a half ago it was pretty cool to meet up with the owners and find out how the pups were doing. The Ruffed Grouse Society can provide amazing connections for fellow bird hunters especially during the month of October. The same can be said about a particular kennel or breeder. Whenever I meet an RGS member or someone who owns a dog from Jerry Kolter out of Northwoods Bird Dogs we always have an immediate rapport. One of the most fun stops for me this October was visiting a hunting camp in Wisconsin during the week-long 2015 Ruffed Grouse Society Grouse Camp Tour. While there, we met some passionate and dedicated grouse hunters and had a great time. What made it even more special for me was that almost everyone in the camp owned at least one English setter out of Northwoods Bird Dogs, one of which was Hartley’s brother. For the most part, Hartley and his brother acted like brothers do, just as you’d expect! However when we put them down in some cover to run in a brace there was no doubt about what these dogs were born and bred to do.
Another October highlight for me came when a group of total “strangers” all got together at a small grouse camp in Michigan. As crazy as it may sound, this gathering of grouse hunters and bird dogs was made possible by the amazing technology of the internet! That’s right, the internet, more specifically, Instagram. In case you haven’t caught on yet, there are a group of us that have been using Instagram over the last couple years to share our passion for upland hunting and to connect with other hunters. And so the great gathering of grouse hunters took place in late October where people came together via a common interest and a passion for sharing it. After the initial introductions, first by Instagram handle and then by real names, you’d never know that this group of gentlemen had not met prior to this day. I walked away from the weekend with what I would consider a handful of new friends and hunting partners, which ultimately proves that social media can actually be good for something! For now, we’ll go on with our lives as we had been before, but I certainly hope to hunt with all of them again someday.
And of course, October wouldn’t be October without the migrating flights of the timberdoodle. This year the peak of the migration for my area and what my schedule would allow came down to two-days, fortunately a Saturday and a Sunday. While I certainly found good woodcock hunting on either side of those days, the weekend of October 17th and 18th provided the best of the best. I spent two days in the woods with some awesome people and great dogs. On Saturday, Garrett and I hunted with another friend who had not spent much time hunting woodcock, if ever. It didn’t take us long to find the birds and as soon as we hit a cover that Garrett found a few years ago that is known to hold flight birds, we knew we were in for a treat. I could only spend the morning in the woods that day but after about 3 hours of hunting we had flushed 42 woodcock. Maybe surprisingly, none of us had our limits at that time but needless to say each of us had experienced woodcock hunting at its finest. Hartley and Surly did what young dogs do, combining flashes of greatness with complete chaos. All the while the three hunters did as best we could to keep up with them. At the end of the hunt everyone had shot a bird over a staunch point and the smiles on our faces told the story.
The following day, I transitioned from friends to family and took my dad out on his first real timberdoodle hunt. On that day, the birds were present yet again and the dog work was even better. In just over two hours, my dad, Hartley and I had moved 29 woodcock and a couple of grouse. Before this day, my dad had never shot a woodcock and aside from a quick outing when Hartley was a puppy last season, he had never really hunted over a pointing dog. Knowing the doodles were in town, I had hopes that Hartley and I would be able to show yet another new person to the sport just how much fun one can have beating through an aspen thicket on a beautiful October morning. Hartley did his thing and my dad and I did our best to make good on his points. Both my dad and I put down a limit of doodles that day including the sixth and final bird which is possibly the highlight of the season for me. I had just shot my third bird and my dad had two in the bag. With the midday heat approaching I hoped that Hartley and my dad could make quick work of the final bird, if it was going to happen at all. We didn’t have to wait long. Hartley’s bell stopped and I quickly received a notification on my Garmin Alpha that he was indeed on point. We set off in the dog’s direction and eventually approached a picture-perfect point. Hartley was locked up on the edge of a small island of aspen facing out towards an opening in the larger clearcut we had been hunting. I directed my dad into a potential shooting spot free from obstructions about fifteen yards off of Hartley’s nose. I then circled down below him until I was even with Hartley, still staunch as the moment he hit scent. I slowly moved all the way in to the dog, scanning the ground for a bird with no luck. With the bird either holding very tight or the dog pointing old scent there was only one thing left to do. Sure enough, a quick sweep of my foot across the dry leaves sent a woodcock rocketing out of the aspen from right under Hartley’s nose. The bird flew directly into the opening away from the dog and myself, providing my dad a close, but perfect crossing opportunity. As if he’d been shooting birds over point all his life, Dad swung on the bird while releasing a single shot from the 20-gauge. The bird’s upward direction reversed as it arced and fell towards the ground. Hartley was on top of it immediately and my dad and I celebrated. Words cannot describe what a perfect end to a hunt that was and this blog post will never do it justice, however it’s a memory that I will cherish for as long as I live.
So the golden days of October have come and gone, giving way to the gray and bare days of November. For many of you bird season is still in full swing and don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of grouse and woodcock hunting to be done by some of you. In Minnesota our woodcock season ended earlier this week and we’ve sent most of them south for the winter. However, Hartley and I did find a couple of stragglers in the woods yesterday evening. He pointed them, I flushed them, and we both watched as the pair of doodles set their signature silhouette against a gray November sky. I wished them well and ensured them that Hartley and I would be out in the spring to welcome them home when the time comes. Spring is too far away to think about now though and there are still plenty of fall days to enjoy and memories yet to be made. We hope that you feel very much the same and that you’ll join us in celebration as we welcome these bare November days.