Grouse: The Good and the Bad

I’ve been out chasing grouse and woodcock the past two weekends and have experienced various challenges.  The bad hasn’t clouded out the good experiences I’ve had and it hasn’t stopped me from having a positive outlook and enjoying my time in the outdoors.  There isn’t much I would trade for a day in the woods with my dogs.

The first covert my dad and I hit two weekends ago is a known producer of both woodcock and grouse.  We released our three shorthairs and hit the trail.  The trail isn’t much of a trail anymore.  The cover is nearly chest high in areas and it is more of a bushwhacking exercise.  The dogs were working well and I tried my best to stay close to Surly.  He is bold and confident which results in him ranging a fairly good distance in search for his quarry.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lock up on point about 30 yards from me.  Just after that, a grouse flushed into a tree above him.  Surly was pointing the grouse in the tree so I closed the distance and I shot the bird as it flew out of the tree.  Surly quickly snatched up the bird and held it while I made my way towards him.  I praised him up good and snapped a couple of shameless selfies before taking the bird from him.

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After that, Surly was off to the races.  We had dogs working in different directions, tracking and pointing birds and Surly was nearly out of bell range.  My dad was calling for Surly when Stella locked up on point.  I hated to do it but I abandoned Stella while she was on point and started running after Surly.  Once I heard him heading my way, I worked my way back to Stella as she was still locked up.  Stella had a woodcock pinned down and I was able to connect on the shot.  She had herself a well-deserved retrieve.

The next day, I decided to work Stella and Surly separate from one another.  Surly was ranging too far and needed to learn to check back in and I needed to work on Stella’s steadiness on grouse.  The first time I dropped the reins on Surly, he stuck around for five minutes or so and then he was on the edge of bell range.  I took opportunity to turn the situation into a learning experience.  I took ten steps off the trail, knelt down and shut my mouth.  It took Surly a while but he came back looking for me.  We repeated this exercise two more times and Surly began working closer.  On the way back to the truck, Surly worked a bird and I heard it flush.  Although I couldn’t see what happened, I was happy that he had a bird contact.

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For the last hunt of the weekend we went back to a covert that we discovered the previous weekend.  Luckily for us, the birds were still in there and we had some action.  My dad’s shorthair, Gemma locked up in the woods on the edge of a clear-cut.  As we approached, a woodcock flew out past us providing me with a wide open shot.  The Beretta did not disappoint and the bird fell to the ground.  We had a lot of action in the small covert.  We had a number of wild flushes, points, lots of shooting, and we now had a grouse and two woodcock in our game bags.  I was happy for my dad that he connected on a grouse and a woodcock that Gemma was working.  Surly found and pointed a woodcock in front of me.  Unfortunately, the woodcock flushed before I was in position to take a shot.  You can bet we’ll be back.

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It was dark by the time we loaded the dogs and changed clothes for the road.  We were cruising down the old logging road and I lost count of how many woodcock we saw.  I have never witnessed anything like it.  We must have seen 30-40 woodcock in a five mile stretch.  There are a lot of pine trees and wet landscape so I’m not surprised they were in the area.  I just have never seen so many woodcock on the road at one time.  It was a sight to see and I’ll be looking for some answers.

Last weekend, I headed north with a friend, Kevin, his dad, Pat, and his friend Kim.  The temps nearly reached 80 degrees.  It was not ideal hunting conditions for the dogs or for me.  I worked up a good sweat on our first walk.  We had Stella down and had a couple birds flush wild.  Then Stella locked up on the trail.  She pointed for five seconds or so before she busted in and flushed a grouse.  We still have some steadiness training to work on.  I don’t recall her intentionally ripping birds out like this last year so I am going to have to work on a few drills with her.  We circled back to the cabin to take a rest and swap Stella out for Surly.  We had been hearing a grouse drum all morning and had a good idea of the general location.  We lead Surly in that direction and to my surprise, Surly found and pointed him!  As grouse hunting goes, the bird flushed when I was working towards Surly and I was unable to get a shot off.

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We kenneled Surly and let Stella loose for one more piece of cover we wanted to hit before taking a break.  Stella went on point as two of us walked in towards her.  The ground was wet and soggy so I figured she was on a woodcock.  She was pointing straight into some real thick cover.  I told Pat to get into position and be ready for a woodcock.  I knew if I went in the cover, I would have no chance at a shot.  I circled around the other side of Stella so when I flushed the bird, it would fly towards Pat.  He was able to get two shots off but the only thing he had was two empty shells and the sweet smell of gun powder.

It was about time for lunch so we rested the dogs and even took a little nap ourselves before heading out for an afternoon hunt.

We reached our next destination and put both Stella and Surly down.  Stella went on a point about 50 yards off the trail down towards the river.  I was working my way towards her and she was creeping ahead.  I was happy to see her working and moving with the bird.  She would lock up, then move forward and lock up again.  This happened for another 30-40 yards and the escape artist flushed on the other side of thick cover.  I was only about 10 yards from the bird but I barely even saw it.  We came across a great looking aspen stand and started bushwhacking after that.  The covert was filled with woodcock and we flushed a half dozen or so.  I moved in on one of Stella’s points and connected on the only shot I took that day. The group was happy to finally have a bird in the bag and not be skunked for the weekend.

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The Good: We seem to be getting into plenty of birds.  Surly has shown that even at his young age of 16 weeks, he can find and point birds.  He is also learning that he needs to check in with me and stay a bit closer.  I couldn’t be happier with his drive and willingness to hit thick cover.  Stella has had some phenomenal work on woodcock.  My dad connected on his first couple birds of the year.  I had great times with family and friends and made some memories.

The Bad: Even after a handful of bird contacts and corrections, Stella still wants to charge in on grouse.  The 80 degree weather provided difficult hunting conditions.  Surly had a bit more range than I was comfortable with at times.  The worst thing that happened was when I was bushwhacking after a grouse.  I tripped and came down pretty hard and landed on my gun.  I cracked and dented the forearm of my O/U.

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The temps are dropping this weekend in MN and good hunting shall ensue.  Peak color conditions should be in effect and leaves will be falling from trees providing better shot opportunities.  Get out there and enjoy!

NorthwoodsR: GM

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