Thursday, September 3, 2015

TBT, New Brunswick

     About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week bear hunting with Three Brooks Outfitters in New Brunswick. While I didn't end up with the monster, or even the 15 lb bear, I had a great time learning about bears and bear baiting. I recently found a few pics of some of the New Brunswick trophies hanging in the camp.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

No Ordinary Challenge; The MacNab

     Sportsmen and women around the globe take to the fields and streams for a variety of reasons. There is a lot of satisfaction in dedicating the time, and commitment needed to meeting the challenge, and bringing home a hard earned meal. In some corners of the world the challenge of taking game is not enough, and a select few of a particularly sporting nature venture out seeking ways to make their time in the outdoors demanding. For some this additional demand is only satisfied by achieving a MacNab.

     The MacNab is a sporting trifecta of sorts. In the UK there is the Highland MacNab, where a person bags a stag, a brace of grouse, and lands a salmon, all on the same day. I've also read accounts of  what is called a Summer MacNab, which involve bagging a Roe buck, a wood pigeon, and landing a sea-run rainbow trout. These sound like fine challenges, indeed. I'd be happy with just a brace of grouse, and doubt my system could handle completing a MacNab.

     Here in New England we too, have a MacNab, but few have heard of it, and even few have completed it. The New England MacNab is shooting a whitetail buck, a brace of ruffed grouse, and landing a brook trout. Unlike the UK where season greatly overlap each other, the chance of ever completing a MacNab in the US is slim; our season only slightly over lap. In most of New England Trout season closes shortly after grouse season opens, and the deer season during that time period usually restricts hunters to archery equipment, not fire arms. Even if you did manage to take your buck, early season grouse hunting is often challenging, grouse heard but not seen through the thick canopy of leaves. Of course some states make it impossible. In Connecticut, for example, there is a robust deer herd, and some fantastic trout waters. I have no doubt that a sportsman could take a buck in the morning, then land a brook trout by lunch, but the grouse would pose a problem. While grouse can be found in Ct the numbers are small enough that the state only allows hunters to take 1 a day. So much for the MacNab.

     There are other challenges, too. In Maine you are recognized if you bag a deer, bear, moose, and a turkey (maybe coyote is included, too) in one season. That is a feat, and requires dedication. As a grouse hunter I enjoy shooting a mixed bag. While I've enjoyed a few heavy game bags in my time I've never had the pleasure of taking grouse, woodcock, and hares all in the same outing. I've had plenty of grouse/woodcock, woodcock/hare, and hare/grouse days, but never the trifecta. And while I always carry a separate supply of non-toxic ammo in the car, ready to switch our if I see ducks sitting in the rivers when driving around, I've yet to have the chance to mix fowl with upland species. Perhaps this will be the year I add an additional species to the game bag. No. Not the same wow factor as the MacNab, but not a bad goal, either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Slow It Down, People. Slow It Down.

     No doubt about it; hunting season is just around the corner. For some it's just days away, while for others we're just happy that we are closer to the next season than we are from the last. Social media is full of preseason hype, and new hunting catalogs are in my mail box daily.

     I'm looking forward to the season, too. But truth be told, I'm in no hurry for the summer to end. It's still August, but try buying a six pack of a summer ale. They're scarce now. However, Oktoberfest beers are already in stores. Really? We still have 4 more weeks of summer, 6 weeks til October. What's the hurry? At training yesterday, friend and fellow spaniel club member, Brice, asked  the question; When did we start deciding the seasons based on the children's vacations? It's a valid question. My school days are long behind me. My summer runs until mid-September. I intend to enjoy all of it, too. And guess what kids? You go to school in the summer time. What you call "summer" is really just a summer vacation. Summer has already started when your vacation starts, and it continues after you're back in school. It's time for us adults to reclaim summer. Sure, it's a little tougher for those who must juggle leisure time and school aged children, but that doesn't mean one should abandon finding time to enjoy a gin n tonic in the yard with a good book. Or a swim in the local lake. Or a day at the beach.

     As for Oktoberfest beers? Well, I'll be sure to enjoy them at grouse camp after a long day afield, but for now, it's still summer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lets Clear this up; Trophy Hunting

     Moral, ethical, and legal issues pop up in our lives from time to time. Sometimes things are quite clear, and at other times rather murky. The issue du jour of late has been the killing of Cecil the lion. Justified, or not hunting has been given a black eye in the press. What happened? I don't know. I haven't seen enough of the evidence to make a decision. But what I did learn from listening to the public feed back is that the general public knows almost nothing about hunting, and managing sustainable resources. One issue in particular stuck in my craw, and I'd like to address it (though I'm pretty sure most of my audience knows it already); trophy hunting.

     What is trophy hunting, and more importantly, what isn't trophy hunting. As it sounds, trophy hunting is the pursuit of an exceptional example of whatever species you've decided to hunt. Most people quickly think of African safaris, but trophy hunting of big game in the US and Canada is not uncommon. In fact there are TV stations airing programs dedicated to trophy hunting.  Anyone with an interest in deer hunting has heard of QDM, quality deer management, a program of managing deer herds to allow them to grow bigger bucks. In the US and Canada QDM is in place to facilitate better trophies, and one of the key elements of QDM is to only shoot trophy bucks, not the little ones which are viewed as future trophies. The science behind QDM is pretty sound, and areas practicing QDM generally have bigger bucks, and healthier deer herds. But don't be misled, it is driven bu the fact that lots of deer hunters want to shoot bigger bucks, and only bigger bucks, and that's trophy hunting.

     There are basically 3 kinds of trophy hunting. First there is the "Trophy" hunter. This is the sportsman who gets a thrill out of pursuing, and shooting exceptional animals. This is the African Game seeker, the 200+" buck seeker, the sportsman driven by record books such as Boone & Crockett. These sportsmen often employ a guide/professional hunter to take them out and put them into a position to kill a trophy. Sometimes these sportsmen are accompanied into the field, as is the standard practice in Africa, sometimes these sportsmen rely on the scouting, intelligence, and prep work of their guide who tells them where they are most likely to see an animal they'd deem worthy.

     The next type of trophy hunters are those who prefer to trophy hunt on their own, who spend their time in the woods scouting and prepping, and doing everything a guide would do for a client. These are the sportsmen who hunt just like everyone else, but with one big difference; they're determined to only shoot at a trophy animal. Both this type of trophy hunter, and the kind outlined above have to be very disciplined, as they watch animals, often very nice animals, that other hunters would be more than happy to take home, walk away.

     The last type of trophy hunter is the sportsman who ends up a "dream" hunt. These are often the sportsman who routinely fills his freezer, and often dreams about one day taking a nice trophy. They are seldom obsessed with trophies, and are often "meat" hunters who are presented an opportunity to hunt somewhere with bigger bucks, or bears, and they take advantage of the opportunity. Quite often this type of sportsman's trophy barely shows up as a blip of a true trophy hunters radar.

     Now that we've got that out of our way, lets wade into another area of trophy hunting that is also quite frequently misunderstood. None of these type of trophy hunters I've outlined waste meat from the animals they kill. Trophy hunting is not shooting an animal, cutting off its head, and leaving the rest to the vultures. In all cases, the animal is processed and consumed. In the case of an African safari the meat often goes towards feeding a lot of people in the surrounding communities. But in no case is the meat wasted. In fact it is illegal to wantonly waste meat in all 50 states, and all Canadian provinces. It just doesn't happen, and I think the fact that this is not generally understood by the non-hunting public is what drives a lot of the bad feelings towards trophy hunting. I think that when the subject of trophy hunting comes up, we as sportsmen have a responsibility to set the record straight on this issue.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Future Planning

     Like hunting seasons, ideas come and go very quickly. Each off season brings new ideas of hunting destinations with the turn of of each page of a glossy shooting magazine. I've consistently planned out a grouse camp, often with friends, sometimes quite meticulously each year. Destinations varied, but were always within driving distance; New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine and Vermont have all been the scrutinized by the loosely organized syndicate with which I associate. In the early years, before children, mortgages, promotions, and moves we laid down a long term plan; every 5 years we would travel together to a more distant, exotic local to shoot birds. The plan was for each member to write down a destination on a piece of paper, toss them all in a hat, and then pick one. Members who's destinations had been pulled would not be allowed to drop another destination in the hat until all members had seen their dream hunt realized. Granted, travelling every five years meant it'd be a good 30-35 years until all the choices were exhausted, and we started again. We were young, and enthusiastic. Our plan never materialized, and our camps, due to external circumstances grew shorter each year, but we did still travel New England, and shoot grouse together. Recently, in an online forum I frequent the subject of a "bucket list" came up, and it got me thinking.

     The "Bucket List" as a concept is a little grim, to be honest. Future planning sounds better, and is something I've been doing all along, though rather shortsightedly. Of course picking out a few destinations/quarry isn't hard. Everyone has a dream hunt, or hike, climb, visit, etc. Thinking about the outdoor things I'd like most to do came quite naturally. It's the realization, that I may actually be able to make them happen that is slower in coming. But it's coming to me. The more I think about my bucket list, or future plans as I'd prefer them called, the more I see a way of making them happen. Let's take a look at my "future plans".

     Number one on my list is a shooting trip to the UK. I've for quite some time wanted to give traditional British game shooting a try. I particularly would like to try my hand (and eye coordination) at Red Grouse shooting. It's often said that The Red is the fastest, toughest game bird on the planet. As a die hard Ruffed Grouse hunter I find that hard to believe, and the only way to know for sure is to try it myself. Of course driven grouse shooting is the pinnacle of grouse shooting, and I'd be glad to spend a day in a butt on a moor, but to get a true comparison to Ruffed Grouse shooting  it'd have to be walked up shooting with dogs. Second in line to the Reds is Woodcock. I'd love to get a European Woodcock in the bag. I've shot some surprisingly big woodcock here, but nothing close to the heft the European birds seem to have. Of course any opportunity to shoot in the UK would be a new experience, and the first deal I find will be booked, Reds of not.

     Number two on my list revolves less around what I want, and more about enjoying a trip abroad (loosely defined) with a friend. I've never been very good at hunting or shooting waterfowl. I've had my moments, but all-in-all, my average on waterfowl sucks. BK however does well on waterfowl. BK has also been my number one hunting partner for a very long time. Bk and I have hunted together so long that we find it unnecessary to communicate much when traversing a grouse cover behind the dogs. I know he's drawn to blowdowns like a magnet, and he knows I'll pull a crazy Ivan, going out laterally, and back in again, on a whim. BK has long wanted us to go south to shoot ducks in flooded timber. He's right, we should. A trip like this may well bring my horrible life time average on waterfowl up, and I'd enjoy seeing BK fulfill his dream.

     Third and fourth place on the list could be interchangeable. Both would be great, but for different reasons. Those destinations couldn't be further apart either; Argentina, and the Mid-West. It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is about Argentina that makes me want to go there. It seems like a good time from every account I've read about it. The opportunity to shoot Perdiz, or high volume ducks or doves, and then follow that up with some serious steak, and a Malbec? Yup. That's it. The Mid-West, on the other hand, would be more Ruffed Grouse shooting. Sure I do a lot of grouse shooting, and I've even had some banner days with great flush counts, but it'd be nice to have a week of consistently high flush counts, and to really sling some lead. So Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are all earmarked for future travel.

     Domestically there are some destinations and species I'd like to see. For the most part I'm species driven, but as I research a trip things may change. Anyway, to that end I'd like to hunt wild Pheasant one day, either in Montana, or Kansas. Chukar are on my radar, too. I've shot plenty of pen raised Chukars. They're quite tasty, and even pen raised birds have been enthusiastic fliers, so I imagine in the wild they'd be even tastier, and quite challenging on the wing.

     Rounding out the list, for now, I venture into the big game arena. I'd long wanted to take a black bear with a bow. I seriously hunted bear here in Mass awhile back, and while I didn't manage to hang my tag off of one, I learned a lot, and even saw one. One day I'd like to give this a try again, only this time it'll be somewhere I have an honest chance at getting a shot.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cabin Fever Ramble, and A Couple New Endorsements.

     Winter has really dumped on us this year. In less than 30 days we've seen about 100" of snow fall, with very few days of above freezing temps. As one might imagine, this much snow has made getting out, and doing anything difficult. Dog training has come to a halt, and I haven't shot skeet in a month. I've been on the look out for snowshoes, but I started my search too late, and it seems everyone else beat me to it; no snowshoes to be found. Truth be told, I don't think I'd enjoy snowshoeing in single digit temps very much. So what is an outdoorsman to do?

     To start with, I've begun collecting information, and working up some ideas for a wingshooting get-a-way. And what better way to do that than reading tales of other's adventures. That is where Covey Rise Magazine has proved invaluable. I know I've mentioned Covey Rise in this blog before, but I believe it deserves an other mention. It's a quality publication. While it has a tendency to feature quite a few high end items and destinations, unlike Shooting Sportsman magazine, a similar type of publication, Most of the featured hunts are DIY, and not exclusively pay-to-play-hunts like tend to be featured in SSM. If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Covey Rise Magazine, I highly recommend it.

      When it comes to high end, top quality adventure/outdoor clothing one can not have a conversation without mentioning BraeVal. Located in Connecticut, BraeVal is making some really comfortable shirts. In addition to clothing BraeVal just started a distillery in Litchfield Ct, and will be making a bourbon. If their bourbon is as good as the BraeVal scotch (specially distilled using an ancient McCluskey family formula which dates back to when the McCluskey family distilled in Scotland) owner Gregor McCluskey treated me to in grouse camp, it's sure to take off.

     In a further effort to prepare for the upcoming season (take your pick: field trial, hunt test, or grouse. I'm preparing for them all) it was decided that it was time to get my wife a decent pair of wellingtons, as she routinely helps me with dog training, and attends all the tests and trials. I don't know why, but it just seems that spaniels and mud go together, which is why we chose to get wellingtons. After looking around a bit a decision was made, and a pair of Hunter boots were ordered. I know what you are thinking, but let me tell you, these are not the Madison Ave prep look rain boots you are seeing in every shopping mall across America. Hunter actually makes some proper, durable wellingtons, and their Balmoral line of field boots is it. My American made wellies still have a lot of life left in them, but when the time comes to replace them I will surely look at the Hunter line again.

     I am pleased to announce that these product have earned an ASO endorsement, and shall be featured on the endorsement page.

     Moving on to a bit of sad news, it has been reported that Lane Benoit of Vermont's first family of deer hunting has passed away at the age of 60. The Benoit's,  have published several books and produced several DVDs of their deer tracking methods, and their father Larry was once featured in Sports Illustrated as one of the best deer hunters in America. I have had the pleasure of meeting the Benoits on two occasions (though briefly) and found them to be sincere gentlemen. The outdoor world has lost a true icon.

Photo credit: Great Northern Productions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grouse Camp/Season Wrap Up.

     Looking around the various states that offer grouse hunting you'll see that the season is well underway, and many hunters are going full bore. Here is Massachusetts the season closes in just a couple of short weeks, while in neighboring New York it hasn't even reached the halfway point. Where I do most of my hunting up north we're about at the half-way point right now. But I'm done. It's unfortunate, but true. Thankfully my season hasn't ended because of injury to either me of Ginger, but rather as a result of real life. I've simply got/had stuff that needed my full attention. So short and sweet I'd need to make the season, and I think I did a pretty good job at that.

     Early October can be a difficult time to grouse hunt. I prefer to stay home until sometime after the second week of the month, after many of the leaves are down, and I can see to shoot. Being a shortened season for me this year I didn't have the liberty of being able to wait, so I planned a 5 day cast-n-blast early in the month. Regular readers of this blog know how that panned out, but I'll recap. A week before my trip Ginger ended up with an injury meaning she would be sidelined until the third week or so of the season; I'd be grouse hunting without a dog. I could still trout fish, though. Right? Well, that didn't exactly work out either; it rained a lot, so not only were the woods wet, but the rivers were swelled up, too. So my trip took on an different form. I hiked, and explored a lot of territory I had been wanting to see for some time. Of course I took my gun, and the dog along, and I even got to see Ginger retrieve a grouse I'd had the pleasure of flushing along side the trail I was hiking, so it wasn't a bad trip. In fact, it was a pretty good trip, as I made the decision to give Ginger a couple of short runs in some easy cover, and sure enough she did her job, and I did mine, resulting in 6 birds in the bag.

     My regularly scheduled grouse camp was later in the month. Every year BK and I spend a week up north, and this year was no different. Well, it was a little different. I decided that a week wasn't long enough, so I headed up a few days early to make it a 10 day stretch in camp. Also, BK's father Frank joined us in camp for his first ever grouse hunt.  We also got to spend the some time in the woods with Gregor McCluskey of Braeval clothing. As usual the food was splendid, the drink merry, and the company unsurpassed. The hunting was damned good, too, but the shooting,.....well, it's true that I am haunted by some of the easy shots I missed. But what would grouse hunting be without the occasional whiff at a slow pitch? The negative to this season's camp was the weather. It rained a lot. We often found ourselves starting late, or finishing early because of the rain. While it is true that grouse can be hunted in the rain, I don't like to do it. Grouse hunting is supposed to be pleasurable, and being wet and cold in a great north woods grouse covert is anything but. Of course, we did hunt a few days in the rain, because we were left with little choice. Most days, however, we only hunted a few hours between showers, and then enjoyed some good story telling in camp.

     Like all camps there were memorable moment, and Frank getting his first, and second woodcock (on the same hunt, in the same covert) was just one of them. Early, before BK, and Frank got there I had the good fortune to kill 4 birds (1 grouse & 3 WC) in 4 rises, only needing my second barrel on  the grouse flush. That doesn't happen very often and I doubt I'll forget it anytime soon. I also had the pleasure of seeing Gregor's young Red Setter, Laddie, point a grouse; something he's struggling to do like most young pointing dogs. I enjoy watching a young dog come in to his own, and Laddie was fun to watch. BK's Labrador, Ruby, put on a woodcock finding clinic one afternoon that I'll soon not forget, and on the last day, after everyone else had left I made a memorable shot when a woodcock flushed out of an edge, and tried to escape by flying across a clear cut top, and up a cut finger, only to be dropped stone dead at no less than 50 yards. But perhaps the most memorable event was an end of the day redemption walk. It had been one of those days when I just wasn't connecting. Early in the day I'd suffered some terrible shooting, and only had a woodcock to shot for 14 flushes. I hunted the last 2 hour of the day with BK and Frank, and while we were again getting birds in the air, none were coming my way, and BK and Frank were getting all the shooting. As we cut across a clear cut to get out to the road, having called it quits, I decided to walk the edge of the wood line perpendicular to the cut down the hill to a skidder I knew went out to the car where I'd meet them in a few minutes, it only being roughly 150 yards to the skidder and out to the car. What a great 150 yards that turned out to be, and by the time I'd hit the skidder I'd filled my woodcock limit, and killed a grouse. Not only was the edge holding birds, but BK and Frank got shots at woodcock out in the clear cut. It'll be a long time before I forget that short walk.

Returning home, I put away the guns and the hunting clothes, and turned my attention to the real life issues that cut my season short. But not before taking a good look at my notes. My season totals are as follows. Due to the weather I only hunted 22.5 hours. In those 22.5 hours Ginger flushed 163 birds, 87 grouse & 76 woodcock for a flush rate of just over 7 birds per hour. I killed 3 grouse and 15 woodcock, connecting on roughly 11% of the birds flushed. Considering that I (conservatively speaking) only ever get a shot at half of the birds that are flushed I probably connected about 20% of the time. Anyway, however you calculate it, grouse camp was fun, and I'm already looking forward to next year.

 4 for 4

Ginger and Ruby

 Ginger taking a break

A special bottle of whisky from Gregor's family cask

Ginger with a brace of woodcock

The 50+ yard woodcock