I’d planned a road show with the dogs this past Saturday- hunt a local state game lands (SGL) quick with a pup and limit out quick on pheasant, getting out of there before the ‘mob’ showed up. After that, prospect a new area for woodcock with an older dog and then head up to camp to hunt grouse the remaining half of the day. I don’t know why but I set my alarm for 5:15am. It was still pitch black out. I checked the sunrise time on my phone and saw 7:23am listed so I took my time and got out the door at 6:45. I was sitting smug in the driver’s seat knowing I’d have a dog at heel headed out to the middle of the SGL before legal shooting hours and would be turning him loose about the time we got to the spot. This would have me walking out with a limit as everyone else was walking in. That idea was quickly derailed upon rounding the first corner of the SGL and seeing the first parking area. It looked like a mall parking lot on a Black Friday, with overflow parked off the side of the road boarding the state ground. I continued on for no other reason than to only get the full weight what was about to transpire for the mass of pen raised birds.
My phone, ever on silent, buzzed in my pocket. I didn’t dig it out until the second reminder I’d received a text. It was from Kevin who’d hunted birds with me before. He’d seemingly grown up at a skeet range and who’d consistently score low 20’s with his Mossberg 500, usually seen out shooting the guys with Citori’s and the like:
Are u hunting the _______ this morning? Im headed there to join the excitement of opening day. Ha.
He knows the subtle disdain I hold for stocked pheasants and figured I’d be as far way from that in a grouse cover as possible. What happened? – As much as that may be true I’ve found little better way to turn spring puppies into fearless cover-charging machines, than on running pheasants in nasty cover. A practice much like putting some quail down in the woods for pups to chase at 10-18 weeks old.
I’m leaving now it literally looks like a mall parking lot.
Jeez. That’s Crazy.
I’m headed to ______, it’s supposed to be a good spot for woodcock. I’ll hit camp for grouse after that. You can ride along or follow behind if you’d like.
And so shortly after this he was in the passenger seat and we were on our way. The chance hunt happening purely by coincidence much like our first of such trips. We’d known each other, known we both hunted but never together until we’d bumped into each other at a woodcock cover one evening.
After nearly an hour ride in the grouse wagon, we’d pulled into our destination at the rumored woodcock hotspot. We were greeted by an unoccupied truck with a two-door (and empty) dog box in the bed. When we opened the truck doors we heard beagles running in the distance. In hopes the rumors were true of this spot I pulled Pop out, got him ready and put him down while I put my vest one and dug the gun out. He was off into the woods, a mature stand I did not intend to take him through. As we went the other direction to fields of goldenrod and aspen stands we’d heard his bell still going occasionally over the gusting winds. I turned around to call him out of there and seven or eight turkeys came running out onto the road and took off flying over our heads. (And unashamedly one or two would have came crashing down if it was a weekend later and turkeys were in season, Pop was no where in site and about out of earshot.) About the time the last turkey was out of sight, Pop squirted out on the road right where they did… I guess he had a hard time pinning one.
We’d worked the area pretty good and that included crawling on all fours through patches of thick hawthorn but while out in some more open cover, a mixture of goldenrod and what I’ve called red twigged dogwood that I think is actually know as red osier we both missed a bird. Pop’s bell was going as normal, stopped, and went again, and then stopped. This was followed by that unmistakeable whistle. We didn’t see Pop or the bird at first until it streaked by with the wind. Two misses, one out of each gun. It was a big bird, a resident no doubt. We tried another area before we called it quits with no other birds seen, just a couple of cats… perfect woodcock nesting cover guests. The area seemed that it’ll be a natural sponge for upcoming flight birds this year. We rumbled on to camp.
It seemed to be a little more gusty at camp so rather than hunt high we took Blaze down into one of the many hollows. The wind wasn’t nearly as bad but still seemed to keep things unsettled. Access to the hollow is really only from one end. Of course the wind was blowing from that end to the other and was at our backs. Basically it’s one of those deals where you walk down the trail until you hit the end of your property and come directly back the same way and hope the dog hits different spots, Blaze did a decent job of that. His first bird was bumped. It was dry, the leaves crunched under foot as a testament to that and the wind was still blowing in the wrong direction, tail to nose. It appeared he hit ground scent and went another ten yards ahead at a 45 degree angle before the bird busted out ten yards beyond that. Near the turn around he had another point on a steep ridge on the left side of the old lodging road we were one, he was probably 75 to 100 feet above us. As we stood there for a moment trying to hear over the wind whether or not his bell was still going we heard it again. Not long after we saw a grouse sail over high above and kept going above the tree tops. I don’t know what happened, but being about 2.5 years old that made my mind up to start running him on woodcock a little more and possibly the right pheasant cover to keep him in closer so I can make corrections when needed.
Back on top and in the worst of the wind I decided to run Tipper down through a cover that always has at least one bird in it regardless of conditions. It worked out we’d be going into the wind, otherwise I don’t know if it would have made any sense. Tipper put a good run in and knows where to look. This spot has pretty much always been his cover as he’s been put down in it much more than any other dog. He had one unproductive almost immediately and then at the end of his run had a solid point. I did not get a shot at the bird but Kevin missed it, it was on the ground just beyond Tipper. The day was not over for Tipper, but his time in the woods had ended.
The last dog down at camp was Annie. I pulled down and parked right below the “golden covert” I’ve referred to on here before. I actually didn’t even run her in there but on the other side of the road on a flat and ridge side. We’d run the ridge side first and then come back through down into flat. A bird was put to wing almost immediately, I saw it flash 40 yards ahead and barely heard it over the wind. Annie didn’t see, hear or smell it from what I could tell. We were in the process of heading 100 yards back or so before we were going to swing around on the ridge side and be headed into the wind. Annie ran fairly big, she had me fooled with her being on point a few times but she’d actually stopped to listen for me and my location. No birds were on the ridge side and we swung down on to a flat between the ridge and a mini-gorge carved by a large brook. Near the end I didn’t hear her bell any more and came into view of what appeared her to be on point (with the wind and her stopping occasionally to get my location I wasn’t sure..until she broke and I could see she was birdie) she broke when she saw me moving in on her. A “whoa” was all it took to bring her to an abrupt stop. I went over and attempted to flush a bird which wasn’t happening. I went back and tapped her on the head to release her and she charged on in the direction she was pointing, somewhat into the wind.
60 yards further a bird busted out from the bottom banks of the brook, Annie skidded to a stop but didn’t give me the impression she was going to stay put for long so I called whoa again to at least get some stop-to-flush training in out the deal. As I made my way down near the drop-off another bird rocketed out going left to right. I got a good jump on it and missed with the first barrel, the second barrel did not as the 1-ounce 8-shot RST Spreader-lite load brought another grouse down. I was the only one that got shooting. Annie broke, was whoa’d again and with that I lost a chance to really mark the bird. I didn’t head towards her but instead towards the direction of the bird. I didn’t have much luck finding it. I hit the whistle and verbally released Annie from a distance to help look, something I prefer not to do. But before she was over I found it laying neatly on it’s back, wings at it’s sides and feet up in the middle of a deer trail. A nice mature bird with the fan later measuring 14.5″… not my biggest (a hair under 16″) but a very nice bird, so much in fact that I carried it in hand back to the truck and it’s currently intact in my freezer before heading to the taxidermist. This was the highlight of the day.
After a few photos we were on state road heading in the direction of home with one quick stop scheduled back out at the SGL to see if the crowd cleared. It did and we had about 45 minutes to hunt. I grabbed Tipper and off we went to the spots I know guys and their dogs pass up. Surprisingly, the first bird was out in a field we were passing through. Tipper, just to the side, stopped ahead and we didn’t think much of it, there’d been a lot of dogs through here all day and he’d been marking here and there along the access roads and the freshly made yet well worn trails. A hen chuckled up and out, I got the first shot off and hit the bird with Kevin’s load was bearing down on it before it started to fall. I tried to give him the bird but he deferred, he knew… and he knew it had just been on the receiving end of about 2 ounces of lead. Tipper broke (the little rat), got chewed by mee before we moved on.
It is interesting to watch Tipper hunt pheasants; completely different from how he hunts grouse. Its like he knows it’s a marathon and the birds will be running. Generally we’ll have a guy on each side of a fencerow and send him down through. We can pretty much stay right with him as its thick for him and we’re in the open. Usually its at the end of these he’ll pin the bird if it doesn’t squirt out up ahead and veer off. No birds were in this one so we headed down into a little wooded depression surrounded by fields. Tipper went in and looped around and stopped on point. I went towards him not knowing what to think as it was a fairly open spot. 20 feet away from Tipper I saw a rooster that had flattened himself out about eight feet from where I stood. I turned around to call Kevin over that still had yet to claim a bird when it cackled up. I spun and shot missing it. Knowing I’d never hear the end of it from Kevin I really took the extra time to make sure the second barrel was put to good use on the trap-like going away shot. The bird came down and a moment later the waining light had us calling it quits with Tipper technically being the dog of the day but the birds from Annie being the day’s details that will remain with me over the long haul.