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

No ribbons, but still a great time…

New England Bird Dog Club, August, 2017, field trial
New England Bird Dog Club, August, 2017, field trial

Field Trials are great places to see other dogs and meet other dog folks. The New England Bird Dog Club held their August field trial a few weeks ago and plenty of both were there.

I ran Lexi and Sky, but we didn’t have any luck.

Lexi ran twice, but on her first try she broke on the flush. On her second run, she failed to honor. Those offenses got her disqualified.

Sky ran well and found a bunch of birds. Unfortunately, other dogs dig a better job overall than – so no ribbons for her.

Waiting their turn
Waiting their turn
As handsome as it gets
As handsome as it gets
Lexi, staked out on a chain gang
Lexi, staked out on a chain gang
My rig, waiting to go
My rig, waiting to go
Pointer power
Pointer power
Best part of the day
Best part of the day
Now that's noble
Now that’s noble
Resting after his run
Resting after his run
Cool-down station on the course
Cool-down station on the course
The view from the field trial area
The view from the field trial area
Out of the way!
Out of the way!

Pictures from fall, 2016 …

I was going through some pictures this weekend, and I came across these ones I took last fall. Hope you like them.

Lexi pointing a grouse, fall, 2016
Lexi pointing a grouse, fall, 2016
Enjoying the view, Fall, 2016
Enjoying the view, Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Wildflower in an Alder cover, fall, 2016
Wildflower in an Alder cover, fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
This tire has been there a while. Fall, 2016
This tire has been there a while. Fall, 2016

Short films grouse & woodcock hunter are sure to like…

Like grouse hunting? Then you’ll really like these short films. They’re part of the Project Upland Film: Bird Hunting Film Series a ” film initiative to help promote the future of upland bird hunting and the non-profit The Ruffed Grouse Society.” Check them out now.

The Experience: Follow veteran Grouse hunter and New Hampshire native Harry Rowell into the Grouse woods. While Hunting New Hampshire, Harry reflects on his passion for Grouse hunting and the experience as a whole. A humbling short film that will inspire future and current bird hunters alike.

Because They’re Wild: Follow Northeast Regional Director of The Ruffed Grouse Society, Tripp Way into the Grouse Woods. Tripp reflects on his enjoyment of the woods, his passion for the Ruffed Grouse and the precious time spent afield with friends. As a dedicated conservationist and experienced upland hunter Tripp delivers the powerful line of “Its our responsibility to get these folks in the woods”.

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

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.

 

So this is where New England’s famous grouse coverts went…

Up until WW2, much of New England was one big grouse cover – CT, MA, RI & southern ME, NH, VT. As farms were abandoned and the woods reclaimed the fields, upland game birds were everywhere

Today, almost all of this cover is gone. Much of it is under sprawl – highways, houses,  shopping malls, and parking lots. But even more of it under something totally unexpected — mature trees.

In last Sunday’s Boston Globe, reporter Colin Nickerson wrote about this transformation:

“….Today, 80 percent of New England is covered by forest or thick woods. That is a far cry from the mere 30 to 40 percent that remained forested in most parts of the region in the mid-1800s, after early waves of settlers got done with their vast logging, farming and leveling operations.

According to Harvard research, New England is now the most heavily forested region in the United States — a recovery that the great naturalist Henry David Thoreau once thought impossible…”

Swift River Valley Central MA 1890
Central Mass’s Swift River Valley in 1890
Swift River Valley Central MA Today
Central Mass’s Swift River Valley Today

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

Chasing woodcock with my girl…

Puck Pointing a Spring Woodcock
Pointing a Spring Woodcock

Puck and I finally found some time to get out and chase some woodcock. The birds have been back in the area for a several weeks now, and finding a few them always marks the start of spring for me — even if it was in the freezing all weekend.

Puck is eleven now. We’ve spent ten hunting seasons together. It amazes me how well she did today. Her passion for the chase, and her drive in the field, are still thrilling to watch.

Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock
Chasing Spring Woodcock

They’re almost here…Woodcock to return soon….

Woodcock crack me up. They’re such odd little birds, so determined in their ways, so accommodating to me and my dog, always easy to find, and always a joy to see. They’ll be back in my coverts in a few weeks and Puck and I will be happy to see them. These videos show a couple of males “peenting” out their mating call.

Go here to learn more about woodcock and listen to some audio of them.

Quick video on Ruffed Grouse habitat…

Here’s a quick little video that shows Ann Jandernoa of Northwind Enterprises explaining some things to look for when you’re trying to find grouse.

Ann is a grouse wizard. Puck and I hunted with her in the fall of ’04 and she really knows her stuff. If you want to learn more about grouse, grouse hunting, a great dogs, I suggest getting touch with her.

Favorite winter time foods for Ruffed Grouse…

I was doing a bit more research into winter time grouse foods when I came across this: Winter Food Habitats of Ruffed Grouse in Young Aspen Stands. This paper is based on finding from a 1972-1973 study of 10-15 year old clear cuts in Oneida County, Minnesota.

The researchers found that the top ruffed grouse foods were Aspen bud and Hazel catkins. The grouse also were also feeding heavily on a species of ferns, as well as on wintergreen and goldenthread.

Ghost grouse…

Happy 2012.

Well, another upland season has come to an end for me and Puck – our seventh season together. December was a good to us. We saw quite a few grouse each time we went out. Our last time out hunting was the day after Christmas. The weather was in the mid-30s and there was 2″ – 3″ of snow in my covers – not too much to put the birds off of feeding on the ground. We hit a couple spots and got into 6-8 birds.

But while the birds were there, they weren’t holding for points. I think some were on the ground and others were roosting/feeding right off the ground. Either way, they all flushed well before I made it to Puck. Here are some shots from the day. Enjoy.

What’s her tail telling me?

My dog’s tail says a lot. A couple of weeks ago Puck and I were hunting in Maine and we got into a bunch of grouse. Over almost 2 hours Puck had 6-7 solid points (not including follow ups).

I snapped a few pics of her and later as I was thinking back on things I wondered what Puck’s tail and body position were telling me about each point and situation.

A couple things about the scenting conditions: It was about 40 degrees out, no real air movement, and the ground was moist to wet; there had been a hard frost in the AM and the sky had been cloudless all day; we were hunting the last few hours of the day.

A little more sure?
4-5 grouse, 20 yards ahead

In this first pic, Puck’s pointing a group of 4-5 grouse. The birds were about 20 yards ahead of her, feeding under some apple trees. While it looks Puck caught the scent high in the air, her tail is showing some diffidence. She’s not 100% sure of the situation, and I’m not sure why.

Single grouse, moving right to left

This next point was a single bird, located on low ground in a mix of poplars, cedars, and spruces. The bird seem to be running to Puck’s left, and from the time I spotted her to the time I took this pic, her head turned 45 degrees. This time, her low, crooked tail shows even more diffidence. I released Puck and she relocated this bird after a few minutes. The second point was fifty+ yards away from the first.

The third pic is of a single grouse in cover crowded with poplars and cedars. Again, Puck’s tail is low and hooked. Her head, ear and body indicate a positive contact with solid scent, but for some reason she’s not 100% sure of it. This bird flushed pretty far out — 40+ yards — so maybe the scent was dissipating and this caused her to loose confidence in it?

Single grouse, straight ahead 30 yards

Overall, I’m thinking that these grouse/points had a one big thing in common. The birds were moving away from Puck. This may have caused the scent to diminish, or  shift. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t 100% convinced of the grouse’s location.

Anyone else have any ideas? I’d love to hear them.

BTW: if you’re wondering how many birds we killed, the answer’s zero. I’m a shitty shot.

 

Grouse and…American Mountain Ash??

Here’s something you like to see outside one of your grouse covers. Those are some plump looking birds. I think they’re feeding on Rowan, aka mountain ash berries. At first I thought it was Winterberry, but the berries are in clusters made me change my mind. Any botanists out there?

Ruffed Grouse Feeding on Mountain Ash?
Ruffed Grouse Feeding on Mountain Ash?
Winterberry in Maine
Mountain Ash?
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