Great Grouse and Woodcock Hunt

This trip had a different feel to it from the beginning.  My dad and I typically go up to our shack and hunt together.  He was out in North Dakota pheasant hunting so I made the three-hour drive by myself.  This was a great opportunity for me to catch up with a few friends and enjoy some tunes.  I arrived at the shack Thursday night and was greeted by some friends that were already up working on deer stands.  They had a nice fire going and the shack was nice and warm.  We sat around the fire for a couple of hours enjoying whiskey and cigars.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening in the woods, far away from city lights.

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Friday morning came fast and we were slow to get out of bed.  It was raining on and off and I wasn’t particularly in a hurry to get out hunting.  I think I finally hit the woods around 11am with Surly.  While I have shot birds over him, I hadn’t yet connected on an opportunity to shoot a bird over the classic point and flush.  I was hoping this weekend would be it and decided to work the dogs individually so Surly and I would have the chance to get it done.

We were about twenty minutes in when Surly locked up on the trail about 40 yards ahead of me.  As I approached, a grouse escaped behind a pine tree and I never saw it.  Surly was still holding point and I let my guard down knowing the bird had already left.  Once I got up to Surly, another bird thundered up and used the same escape route, not offering me a shot.  I think my jaw just about hit the ground; I could hardly believe the events that had just transpired.   Surly only went another 20 yards before locking up on point and once again, a bird flushed without me raising my gun.  By this point, I was nearly in shock.  Even now, thinking back on the events, I’m not even disappointed that I didn’t get a shot off as the image of Surly pointing three birds in less than a minute will be burned into my memory for forever.

We continued on and I was telling myself that one of these times, I’m going to have to try to knock a bird down for him.  A couple of minutes later, Surly’s bell went silent.  I made my way through the thick aspen stand and down the steep hill towards him.  Unfortunately, the grouse flushed before I was in position and another opportunity had passed.  Now I was determined to make the next shot count.

Luckily, this covert was holding plenty of birds and it wasn’t long before Surly went on point again.  This time, no bird flushed as I approached.  I kicked around a bit and Surly didn’t budge, he didn’t even flinch.  He was convinced there was a bird around.  That’s when I realized that he was pointing a tight holding woodcock.  It finally flushed and I rushed the first shot and missed.  I took careful aim and connected on the second shot.  Surly didn’t see the bird go down so I made sure to mark it and hurried over.  I found the bird and held it in my hand until Surly came over to see what I had.  I praised him up and took a picture to document the moment.

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Alone in the woods, I stood there for a minute to reflect.  This pup isn’t even five months old and he is displaying characteristics of a seasoned bird dog.  He is just blowing me away with every hunt.  At that moment, I was content and everything was right in the world.  Wanting to end on a good note, we made our way back to the truck where I set up the tripod and got a couple of pictures of Surly and his first pointed bird.

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Surly and I didn’t get too far into the covert so I decided to let Stella out and hit some different cover.  Stella was happy to get her turn and didn’t disappoint as she locked up on point a minute or two down the trail.  A woodcock tweeted up and I shot as it passed behind a pine.  Not sure if I connected on the shot, Stella bounded off.  I reloaded before I went to search for the bird.  Stella locked up again and I thought the bird I had just shot at landed just behind the pine.  I kicked around but nothing flushed so I told Stella “fetch!” She dove into the cover and came out with my second woodcock of the day.

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We continued down the trail and didn’t make it far when Stella went on point again.  As I was busting brush on my way to her, a grouse flushed and I connected on a high left to right crossing shot.  Stella made a nice retrieve on a gorgeous bird.  Stella doesn’t waste much time and doesn’t look for much approval so she was off in search of the next bird.  I took a minute to capture a couple of pictures in the woods but my time was cut short by the sound of her beeper going off indicating she was on point again.  I put the bird in my vest, pulled my gloves on, and loaded my gun on my way to her.

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This woodcock held nice and tight and I was able to connect.  Stella went for the retrieve but was distracted by the scent of a grouse.  I marked the bird and was scanning the ground when Stella went on point about 30 yards from me.  I quickly marked the spot on my GPS and hung my hat on a tree and headed towards Stella.  This bird didn’t hold as tight and Stella and I moved forward as a team until Stella finally locked up and a grouse flushed.  I shouldered my Beretta and saw the bird go down after my shot.  I smiled to myself as Stella retrieved the bird to hand.

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I was feeling uneasy that I had left a dead woodcock lying on the forest floor but was confident we would locate the bird upon our return.  I didn’t even make it to the tree my hat was hanging on when Stella made a pass by the tree and picked up the bird.  It wasn’t even five feet from where I had marked it but as any grouse/woodcock hunter knows, these birds are excellent in the art of camouflage.

I didn’t bag anymore birds the remainder of the day but continued to hunt Stella for another hour and a half.  We saw another dozen grouse and woodcock.  The grouse didn’t offer any good shot opportunities and I already had my limit of woodcock.  We covered some beautiful cover and I found some new trails and great bird cover that I can hunt in the future.

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The deer season is quickly approaching so I spent the remainder of the day working on my stands, cutting and marking trails, and of course, checking the trail camera.

Saturday, Northwoods’R Nick and I met up first thing in the morning at my shack and had a couple covers to hit that Nick had scouted.  We also wanted to get the pups out to see how they hunted together and hopefully get them some bird contacts.

Stella was the first dog to hit the ground.  We spent too much time hitting marginal cover and only saw one bird.  The better cover was closer to the road.  We were just about back to the truck when I decided to hit a good-looking piece of woods.  Stella bounded in and a bird flushed immediately.  She then locked up on point.  I was making my way to her when two grouse flushed to my right.  I swung on one of them and folded the bird.  The bird Stella was pointing flushed at the sound of my shot.  Stella didn’t see the bird I shot go down.  Again, I marked the bird and walked straight there and hung my hat.  I was dumbfounded that I couldn’t locate the bird.  Stella made several passes through the area and didn’t pick up the scent.  I called for Nick to come over and help.  Stella continued hunting while Nick and I walked grid lines looking for the down bird.  We couldn’t find it.  I started second guessing the spot I marked and was turned around from searching for the bird.

Stella went on point again so we made our way to her.  She relocated on the bird a number of times before it flushed out of sight.  These grouse are definitely escape artists and it seems that more get away than those that end up on the dinner plate.  We went back to my hat and began searching again.  The bird had to be there.  I saw the bird fold and go down hard.  Stella finally caught scent and tracked the bird down.  The bird was still alive and about 20 yards further than I had marked.  Despite folding at the shot, the bird was on the move and of search of protective cover.  Fortunately for me, I have made it an absolute habit and priority to mark downed birds and allow plenty of time for both the dog and I to recover them.  It’s the least we can do out of respect for our quarry.

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The next spot we hunted, we released the pups.  They waited their turn and were happy to get out.  It was a blast watching them bound around with long legs flying all over the place.  Even though the two grouse and two woodcock the dogs encountered weren’t pointed, we were happy that they had bird exposure none-the-less.  It takes wild birds to make a bird dog and lots of them, so this was a success.  It was nice to see two well-bred puppies of different breeds side by side in the grouse woods.  Of course they played a bit but for the most part, they were all business and independently searched cover.

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Next was a spot that Nick and I hunted last year and we were shocked that we only saw a couple of birds.  We had to give it another shot.  Stella got the honors on this trail.  We made it back to what we thought was the end of the trail without a bird contact.  We couldn’t believe it.  We decided to explore a bit as we noticed a trail that worked through a clear-cut.  The cover seemed to get better and better the further back we went.  Time got away from us.  Stella locked up right on the trail, she was 40-50 yards ahead of us on top of a small hill and we couldn’t see what was on the other side, but we both knew that there would be a grouse standing in the middle of the trail.  We worked our way up and needed to get to Stella so we could get a safe shot.  Luckily the bird held long enough for me to get a shot as he flew into the woods.  Nick and I weren’t sure if I connected but Stella knew better.  She ran down the trail and made a 90 degree turn into the woods.  Nick congratulated me as Stella came back out to the trail with another beautiful bird.

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Like I said, time got away from us so we hoofed it back to the truck, hoping we had enough time left to hunt the pups one more time.  It didn’t work out but we did have a couple experiences that Nick will share later in the week on the blog.  Check back in!

Sunday I was back to hunting by myself.  I only had about half of the day to hunt and wanted both dogs to get some work so I put them both down.  The birds were a bit jumpy and a couple of grouse flushed wild right off the bat.  We worked for a while before I saw Surly lock up nicely on a woodcock.  I was able to bag this bird, making it his second pointed woodcock.  After that, Surly went on to out hunt Stella and pointed four more woodcock.  I’m not sure what happened because I missed all four of them.  I’m not going to make any excuses here on why I missed, I just missed and that’s part of hunting.  I was starting to feel the pressure though.  I hate not being able to reward young dogs for a job well done.

We only had time for one more covert and I knew exactly where to go.  I was going to put Surly down by himself and I was determined to get another bird for him.  We didn’t have a bird encounter until we were on our way back to the truck.  Surly’s bell went silent and he was a ways off the trail.  I had to locate him with the beeper.  He had to be on point for a minute or so and my heart was pounding and adrenaline rushing by the time I made it to him.  I had to connect on this shot!  The woodcock flushed, I took aim and pulled the trigger.  The bird came down quick and Surly ran over to claim his prize.  It felt good to finally reward him.

We continued our hunt on the way back to the truck and Surly was ranging quite well.  At this point, I put his collar on point mode only so that I could locate him if he went on point.  Sure enough, I heard a distant beep and it continued as I approached him.  He held point until I flushed a woodcock.  Surly ran over to pick up the bird after my shot.  I just stood there and watched him as he proudly grabbed the bird.  He didn’t bring it back so I made my way to him and knelt down and praised him for a minute or so.  He did a fantastic job and deserved to be rewarded.

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We finally made it back to the truck and I decided to call it a day.  I’m not sure the day could have ended on a better note.  We already had a successful weekend and it ended with me shooting a limit of woodcock over my new pup.  As I said earlier, this pup is absolutely blowing me away.  I couldn’t be more excited about his progress or for what the future has in store for us.

Truth be told, I haven’t been on too many bird hunts when I’m all by myself in the woods as I’m typically with friends or family.  I thoroughly enjoy the company but it was nice for once to go at my pace, or should I say my dogs’ pace, and not be concerned with other dogs running around, or where my hunting partner is.  I feel that I was able to connect with my dogs on a different level and it paid off big time.  I’ll be out in full force this coming weekend with Nick and hope to add a notch to my belt and shoot a grouse on the wing over Surly’s point.

NorthwoodsR: GM

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