Maine Grouse Hunting – Those Moments: A Project Upland Film…

Maine Grouse Hunting - Those Moments: A Project Upland Film...
Maine Grouse Hunting – Those Moments: A Project Upland Film…

If you’re jonesing for grouse season like I am, you’ll enjoy this video. Just released by the guys at Project Upland it’s a great look into what makes upland hunting so special–and a great reminder of what’s just a few months away.

For the heart, for Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Vol 1…

Essential reading: Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1
Essential reading: Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1

I’ve been kicking around the upland world for a while. As my friends and covers get older, I wonder what will become of grouse and woodcock hunting. To keep it thriving, it’s important we to attract new voices and new perspectives. Both bring in new blood.

Through their videos, website, and now their first book, Project Upland offers readers and viewers fresh take on upland hunting, gun dogs, and fine shotguns. Last December, they approached me about writing an essay for their premier publication:  PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME 1.

The book came out a few weeks ago, and if you’re into bird hunting, it’s a must-read. It features lots of cool, full-color pics, and 10 essays with titles like The Quickest Path to Losing Hunting Partners, The Golden Hour, and, my piece, For the Heart. Here’s an excerpt. To read the whole thing, you’ll have to buy the book.

My essay in Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1
My essay in Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1

For the Heart

Love can be hard to understand, especially when it’s for anything other than babies, puppies, and ice cream. Of all the things I love about upland hunting—my Pointers flashing through the woods, the whirl of a flushing woodcock, the cidery smell of old apple trees—my lifelong affair with shotguns is the most difficult for me to comprehend.

I’m not from a family of hunters or shooters. My grandfather never killed a bird in his life. While my dad was a fisherman, he never even owned a gun or fired a rifle. And I didn’t grow up on a farm with cornfields or stands of Aspen outside my door. I grew up in Connecticut, down the street from a 7-Eleven and a strip mall anchored by a bar called the Amber Light Lounge & Cafe. But despite all this, bird hunting, and especially shotguns, have always been my thing…”

Me & my old Westley in Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1
Me & my old Westley in Project Upland: A Bird Hunting Anthology, Volume 1, No. 1

Let’s get this season going…

 

Best time of year
Best time of year

October’s here — finally. And even though Maine’s state biologists predict a mediocre grouse season and the foliage colors are sure to be muted, I’m looking forward to the fall.

I’ll be hunting the last two weeks of the month for sure, and then any other days & weekends I can fit in.

After a disappointing 2015, I’m shifting away from central Maine. There are birds there, but I’m having a harder time finding them. I also have less free time to look for them, too. And when you have limited time to hunt, one birdless day’s is a big deal — and not something I want to experience again.

Anyway, here are some pics of hunts and memories from seasons past. I hope you enjoy them.

A good day. The gun is a 16g Heym O/U, made in the 1920s...
A good day. The gun is a 16g Heym O/U, made in the 1920s…
Poplars in the AM sun
Poplars in the AM sun
Puck pointing a grouse at the objective
Success! Puck pointing a grouse at the objective.
Pure Puck
Pure Puck
Point! Now what do you do?
Puck, back in her prime

Popped! Lexi’s first wild bird …

Lexi checking out her first dead wild bird
Lexi checking out her first dead wild bird

It finally happened: Yesterday, I killed my first wild bird over Lexi.

It was a woodcock, and I shot it after she gave me a nice, solid point. The one I shot turned out to be part of a 3-bird cluster. They were all together in an alder tangle, and after I shot the first birds (it took me two shots), the other birds went up.

Today we hit some other alder covers, but it was real cold last night and everything was frosted up. We hit another spot on higher ground and found several woodcock and a grouse. Lexi did her job, but I didn’t.

We have another week to hunt and the grouse are starting to move, to I hope to kill one of those for her soon.

Some highbush cranberry in one of our spots. Grouse love these.
Some highbush cranberry in one of our spots. Grouse love these.
A frosted over alder cover. The frost drove the woodcock out.
A frosted over alder cover. The frost drove the woodcock out.

 

We’ve got ourselves a bird dog …

Lexi's perfect point. This was the woodcock I flushed.
Lexi’s perfect point. This was the woodcock I flushed.

You can’t hunt on Sundays in Maine, but you can run a bird dog. So Lexi and I made it out this AM for a little photo safari/training run. Lexi hit birds the first place we stopped, and in about 45 minutes she pointed 2 grouse and 2 woodcock.

I saw the grouse flush wild before I could get all the way to Lexi’s point. The same thing happened with one of the woodcock. I flushed the second woodcock out from under a perfect point. Talk about proud.

I can tell Lexi is still figuring out how to handle these birds, and she may have pressured the first three a bit too much. Compared to how she did yesterday, she’s learning fast. With a little luck, I should kill her first wild bird for her tomorrow.

Enjoy the pics.

Leaping Lexi.
Leaping Lexi.
Brilliant fall red, flashing against the blue sky.
Brilliant fall red, flashing against the blue sky.
Maple leaves.
Maple leaves.
Lookout over a local pond.
Lookout over a local pond.
An old rock wall. The woods behind it were cleared farmland at one time.
An old rock wall. The woods behind it were cleared farmland at one time.
Brilliant fall colors on this tree.
Brilliant fall colors on this tree.
A real old tombstone -- maybe original.
A real old tombstone — maybe original.
Tombstone of a American Revolutionary War veteran
Tombstone of a American Revolutionary War veteran
Crazy looking white pine tree.
Crazy looking white pine tree.
Old meeting building. Classic New England architecture. Check out the details!
Old meeting building. Classic New England architecture. Check out the details!
Nice window!
Nice window!

Finally, our season begins …

Lexi last winter, before the snow
Lexi last winter, before the snow

If you live to hunt grouse & woodcock (like me), the first two weekends of October are horrible teases. I always high hope for them, but I never have an equal amount of luck. For me, the upland season doesn’t really get started until the last two weeks of the month. And today was the first day of those last weeks.

Lexi and I hit a few covers in central Maine today. We found a 7-8 woodcock and, surprisingly, a bunch of grouse — in one spot, 5 in about 15 minutes. Three of those grouse flushed wild out of an apple tree. In this video, you can see moments leading up to the wild flush. Look at that tail! Even though Lexi’s pointing old scent, she’s pretty thrilled. The birds must have been on the ground, and then hopped into the tree when we got close.

Welcome to the best time of the year …

Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2015 Season Preview

Today is the second day of fall – and one day into the best time of the year. Here’s a bit of what I’m looking forward to: Fresh apples, pumpkins, poplar leaves shimmering like gold coins, wool jackets — and of course — bird hunting.

Maine & NH’s grouse season opens in October 1, and the woodcock should start moving through northern New England after Columbus Day. I’ll be in Maine for two weeks this year, and I’m hoping for a great season. Lexi is ready to go, and I’ve heard the bird numbers are looking good.

Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2015 Season Preview
Fall brook trout
Fall brook trout
Fall colors
Fall colors
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2015 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2015 Season Preview

Lexi becomes a bird dog…

Me & Lexi
Me & Lexi

Even though our trip to Maine a couple weeks ago produced few birds, it did give Lexi the chance to get out in the woods and start on down the path to becoming a bird dog. Here’s are a few quick videos of her in action.

Overall, she handles well – coming when she’s called, hunting to the front, quartering naturally, and coming around on command. Her range stretched out to 200-300+ yards on some casts, and after she had some solid grouse & woodcock finds her under collar, she started to hunt objectives.

You can see how much fun she’s having in these videos, and how dynamic and electric she is in the field.

We were there. But where were the birds?

Me & Lexi
Me & Lexi

I’m in a funk. My big hunting trip was a couple wees ago and things did not go well – bird wise, anyway. This annual trip is my bird binge for the year, and I put a lot of hope into it. The ways things turned out left me depressed.

I’ve hit the western part of Maine for several seasons now, and in years past, the end of October was prime: the leaves were down, the woodcock flights were in, and the grouse were abundant. This year, the leaves were down, but the birds were hard to find.

Weather may be been the problem. We arrived after two days of heavy winds and flooding rain, and all week the temps were in the upper 50s (instead of the normal 40s). Lexi and I hit covers all over the place – alders, pole poplar, overgrown cuts bordering bogs, etc.

For the first few days, the woodcock were nowhere to be found. Spots where Puck and I used to move 10-20 birds were empty until the end of the week. Then they just had 4-5 flight birds in them. We saw some grouse, but not many. On the last day, we bumped  a covey of six, all sunning and feeding at the edge of a clear cut.

On top of this, one of my favorite spots was overrun by an active logging operation (so much for that), and another was inaccessible due to a bridge being out. Lexi and I struck out to some new spots, but the birds just weren’t there.

Fortunately, Lexi did see some birds — enough to turn the light on in her head and start her on her way to being a hunting dog. She handled beautifully: Quartering naturally, turning on command, and coming when called. After she had a few whiffs of bird in her nose, she was even hunting objectives. With a couple of seasons and a lot of birds under her belt, I’m sure she’s going to be a great dog.

And I did get a chance to do some fishing with my Maine-guide friend Greg Bostater. He knows where to find great fish, as you can see in the pics below.

 

We’re off to try again…

The first place we hit.
The first place we hit.

Lexi and I headed out for our first day in the field last Saturday. Lexi did well, but the birds were scarce. We moved two grouse and zero woodcock (and we hit two of my best woodcock spots).

The day started in some classic New England upland coverts – overgrown farmland broken up by plowed fields — plenty of tumbling rock walls and old, craggy apple trees. Lexi hit the first spot with crazed exuberance, bouncing and leaping like she was electrified. She seemed thrilled, but not sure why. We hunted into a birdy looking tangle and after a few seconds of high-octane tail wagging, she popped into a point. I thought she had her very first bird. It turned out to be a dud, though.

Lexi began by ranging out 10-20 yards and keeping a close eye on me. I walked her into the birdy-looking spots and tried to show her where to hunt. By the end of the day, she had started to hunt on her own. Her range was about 40 yards, and she was more independent and bold. She came when I called her, and quartered on command. Not bad for a five-month old pup.

The past week has real warm throughout New England, and I’m not hearing a lot of good things about the woodcock. I’m hoping to find some migrants tomorrow. We’ll be pushing further north and hitting spots that should have some local birds. With a little luck, Lexi may have her very first point. My fingers are crossed. Wish us luck.

Apples from an old apple tree
Apples from an old apple tree
A birdy looking spot
A birdy looking spot
Nice cover. No birds.
Nice cover. No birds.

 

The Problem with Upland Hunting, from Feather and Fin…

Lynn Bogue Hunt grouse painting, coming up at Copley Fine Art Auctions
What will become of upland hunting? Painting by Lynn Bogue Hunt

Here’s a real interesting post from over at Fin and Feather. I think our biggest problem is habitat: Finding wild birds, and places to hunt them, is getting harder across the US. As this trend continues, what will become of our sport? Please read this entire post and then let me know what you think.

The Problem with Upland Hunting

Spencer Knibbe, Fin and Feather

Is upland hunting headed towards extinction?

Running a website that focuses on upland hunting and fly fishing has been a unique study in the similarities, traditions, and differences between the two industries.

Fly fishing is an exciting and rapidly growing space. The industry and its participants have done a tremendous job in positioning  and continuously evolving the sport – as indicated by the passionate media presence, healthy gear market, dynamic newcomer outreach efforts, and impactful conservation initiatives.

In stark contrast, the upland hunting industry is characterized by growing obscurity, stodginess, and a general sense of decline…particularly in the world of ruffed grouse hunting which is a mere fraction of what it was in the days of Burton Spiller’s storied coverts. Upland continues to be left behind while the hunting industry as a whole is experiencing an uptick in participation rates….

Read the entire piece now

Last day: not really a good one…

Migrating woodcover love this cover
Migrating woodcock love this cover

I love maps, and back before the web, I had a Maine Delorme map filled with hunting and fishing spots.  I still use one like it today- stained with coffee spills, creased like old hunting boots, and speckled with colored dots I used to mark brook trout pools and bird covers – but I supplement it with satellite images on my iPad. When I have them with me, ones give me quick directions to a spot, the other lets fly above the trees and scout covers far from a road. But when I forget both at home, neither one is very helpful.

    Migrating woodcock love this cover
Migrating woodcock love this cover

That’s what happened today. Our hopes were up when we left the house. Instead of the hard winds and heavy rain we were supposed to have, the sky was overcast with just enough of a breeze to puff a flag. Puck and I thought we could pound some ground before things turned bad.

But after 45 minute of driving to get where I wanted to hunt, and about hour trying to find a certain spot, the weather turned from just overcast to overcast with drizzle, and then to black sky with down pour. Then the wind kicked in enough to make the 50′ pines on the roadside sway. So much for hunting. We turned around and headed for home.

What do you think -- coyote?
What do you think — coyote?

The weather did let up some on the way back, so we hit a little spot that migrating woodcock like to bunch into. I think most of the flight birds have moved through now, but we did find a straggler. Puck stuck him with a rock solid point, and the bird flushed up and ahead of me. A flash of umber, a peet-peet-peet, the bird rising up like tossed softball – an easy shot for once. But I let him go and wished him luck. Perhaps we’ll run into him on his journeys back through come spring.

So tomorrow we pack our bags and head back down to Boston, and on to an exciting new chapter in my live: Puck living with me and my wife full time. Check back to see how it goes…

Today’s report: nothing to report…

Happy Halloween. Imgage from Eckert's Family Farm
Happy Halloween. Imgage from Eckert’s Family Farm

Rain, it’s something Puck hates and it’s what we had today. So instead of hunting, we spent the day traveling, running some errands, and taking care of some business.

I hope we can get out tomorrow. It’s supposed to rain in the AM, but then clear up a bit in the afternoon. BTW: Happy Halloween.

Today’s report: still great weather, connected on 2 grouse…

A good day. The gun is a 16g Heym O/U, made in the 1920s...
A good day. M & F grouse. Gun is a 16g Heym O/U, from the 1920s…

Another good day in the field . Puck and I headed out just after lunch and spend almost 2 hours checking out a new cover. I spotted the cover yesterday and thought it might be productive. Turns out it was. We moved 3 grouse and 6-7 woodcock. I shot a lot, but only brought down 2 birds – both ruffies.

Puck continues to impress me with her energy. She charged into each day like a dog 1/2 her age. She tired and a bit stiff at night, but by the AM she much better and anxious to get back in the field.

Grouse crop. Both birds were full of the same green stuff and the buds.
Grouse crop. Both birds were full of the same green stuff and the buds.

Tomorrow will be out last day in this part of Maine. We’re going to pull out and try some covers further south, and then head over to Caratunk for Friday. I hope the rain holds off the next couple of days. Enjoy the pics.

 

BTW: be sure to blow up the pics of the feathers. It’s pretty cool what you can see.

 

Breast feathers on a grouse
Breast feathers on a grouse
Feathers on the back of a grouse
Feathers on the back of a grouse
"ruff" feathers around grouse's neck. Where the name "Ruffed" grouse comes from.
“ruff” feathers around grouse’s neck. Where the name “Ruffed” grouse comes from.
Back feathers on a grouse
Back feathers on a grouse

Yesterday’s report: The birds won again…

Strangest point ever - Puck, on a rock, pointing a running grouse.
Strangest point ever on a running grouse

Pick and I made it out yesterday for a couple hours today. The weather was just about perfect for bird hunting: Sunny, temps in the upper 30s after a real hard frost during the night, and just a touch of wind.

We hit two spots and found birds in both. In all, around 3 grouse and 4 woodcock. My shooting stunk, though. So all those birds are still out there, waiting or another day. Enjoy the pics and video.

Too bad fishing season is closed.
Too bad fishing season is closed.
A small cut. It may look bad, but it's really future grouse cover. Those slender trees are poplars, and they're take over and bring in the birds.
A small cut. It may look bad, but it’s really future grouse cover. Those slender trees are poplars, and they’re take over and bring in the birds.
Classic big-woods Maine cover. I walk the road, Puck works the edges.
Classic big-woods Maine cover. I walk the road, Puck works the edges.
More big woods cover. This is an old skidder trail.
More big woods cover. This is an old skidder trail.
Thick fat on a fresh woodcock.
Thick fat on a fresh woodcock.

Afternoon update: Good call & snow squalls…

The results, and part of what it took.
The results, and part of what it took.

The area of Maine I’m hunting is big country. Outside my door are thousands of acres of  ground , and almost all of it is accessible. That’s great. But it does present a problem: Where the heck do you find birds? In such a big area to scout, you can spend days scouting for covers.

Fortunately, I’ve been up here a couple times and I have a few covers on my maps. These spots produced birds in the past, and so far they’re still popular with the area’s grouse & woodcock.

Puck pointing a running grouse
Puck pointing a  grouse

This afternoon Puck and I headed out to one of them: A cover that’s a mix of wet, boggy areas and poplar & alder growth. Turns out it was a good call.

In about an hour of hunting, we moved  6-8 woodcock and two grouse. I had a 3-4  opportunities on the woodcock, but put only down 1 bird. Both grouse either ran out from Pucks points, or were pointed from far off. Whatever happened, both were heard and not seen.

Snow squall - got pretty heavy...
Snow squall – got pretty heavy…

The weather started out cool and cloudy with breaks of sunshine. By the end of the day a snow squall moved it and things got pretty white for a while. With a little luck, the cold, changing weather will drive more woodcock into the area.

 

Puck's seat in the truck
Puck’s seat in the truck
She's beat
A great day for the old girl. She’s beat.
Dinner - Hot dogs, Mac & cheese, Beer...
My dinner – hot dogs, Mac & cheese, Beer…

First report: Woodcock hunting in Love & Hate….

Road into Love & Hate
Road into Love & Hate

Puck and I just got back from a couple hours of hunting. We hit a big woodcock spot up the road. I call it the Love/Hate cover – you love the looks of it and hate it when you’re in it.

It’s a punishing spot, loaded with nasty tangles, gagging on alders, and loaded with walls of spruces and shotgun-barrel thick poplars. It’s uphill, too. I fell a bunch on my butt a couple times, got poked in the left eye so hard it made me wonder if I still had a left eye, and cursed about every other minute.

Love & Hate. Puck's straight ahead - 178 yards. Go...
Love & Hate. Puck’s straight ahead – 178 yards. Go…

But the birds are always in it. We moved 3 woodcock and 1 grouse in a little over an hour. I shot one woodcock, but never found it. Puck did a half retrieve, dropped it, and then ran off to find another bird.

I looked for it until Puck went on point — again. I looked down at my Astro and it said she was 178 yards out. I marked the bird, and ran off. Not a fun run getting to her, and I couldn’t believe the energy she had. She ran like she was 6, not a decade +1.

We’re going back out this afternoon. The weather was cold & snowing this AM, so the birds should come out this afternoon to grab some sun, gravel, and food for the cold night we’re going to have.

Bigelow Mountain range...
Bigelow Mountain range…
Arnold's Expedition to Quebec passed through this area...
Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec passed through this area…
Puck taking a well deservd nap. Rest up.
Puck taking a well deservd nap. Rest up.
Poplars in the AM sun
Poplars in the AM sun

My season starts today…

The truck is loaded up, and I’m fired up. Today is my opening day, and I hope it’s a great one. I’m picking up a buddy of mine at 6:30am and we’re heading into western-central Maine. Some of the leaves should be down, and I’ve heard flight birds are in. Wish us luck. I’ll post pics soon.

Puck, doing what she loves...
Puck, doing what she loves…

 

The countdown begins: 41 days to the best day of the year…

There are 365 days in the year. For me, the best days arrive when the upland hunting season begins, and this year, Friday, October 11, will be my first day in the field. Here’s a bit of what I’m hoping to see.

Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
Fall 2013 Season Preview
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