Monday, November 21, 2016

Grouse Camp 2016

     Grouse camp has come and gone, without much fanfare. As is usual Ginger and I pointed the car north where I met with BK and his Labrador, Ruby. This year BK's father FG made a long trip to  joined us in camp. Unfortunately, grouse are on the down side of their population cycle, so we didn't move as many grouse as we have in past years. Still, as cliche as it sounds , a day in the grouse woods is far better than a day in the office.

     The weather didn't cooperate with our plans either. Of the 11 days I spend in camp the first 5-6 were quite warm. Actually, hot. The weather started out in the low to mid 60's, which will wear a dog down really quickly, not to mention what it does to us two-legged hunters following them. The warm weather also does not provide for good scent conditions for the dogs. poor scenting, and worn down dogs breathing through their mouths does not make for a good combination when the grouse cycle is low. Of course the warm weather didn't last, but rather than become the seasonal cool, dry weather we all love to hunt in, it turned cold,....and windy,.....and overcast,.....and it snowed. Now, cold isn't terrible, nor is snow, but overcast doesn't help, and windy just plain messes things up. All was not lost, however, as the cold wind delivered the Woodcock, which had been more or less absent. The arrival of the Woodcock made for a couple of fun, hot barreled shooting.

A rare glimpse of sunlight

     Sadly, this was the first time I can remember, that I did not shoot a grouse at grouse camp. That is not to say others did not shoot grouse, but my shot opportunities were few and far between, and I did not connect. The first half of the trip we averaged 10 grouse flushes each day, and only a handful of woodcock flushed. The second half of the trip the balanced changed; fewer grouse flushes, but double digit Woodcock flushes.

Ginger with a couple of Woodcock taken with the 28g Gamba

     On the plus side of things, my best day saw 35 flushes over the dogs. I also hit another milestone; I killed birds will all 3 guns I brought to camp. I usually bring two guns, because it's always wise to have a back-up gun when traveling.  I couldn't decide which two guns to bring, so I brought three. I brought my 20g Citori, 20g Beretta SxS, and 28g Gamba O/U.  I've struggled with my SxS over the years, but have recently changed my shooting style a bit, and have been shooting it quite well. In fact, I killed more birds with the SxS than either of the other guns, and have actually fallen in love with it.

Ginger with a couple of Woodcock taken with the 20g Beretta SxS

Monday, October 3, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here

     It's often said in the spring of each year that spring has sprung. Well, I'd say that fall has fallen. Yes. Autumn is here, and with it hunting season. Up north Grouse and woodcock season opened on Oct 1st, and bear season and archery deer season a few weeks before. Here in Mass, woodcock season opens the 5th, and the season opens shortly after that, followed by our archery deer season.

     Like always, Ginger and I have been preparing for our annual grouse camp up north. I seldom seriously hunt the upland before the second half of October. I've found that the weather is often still quite warm and both man and dog get worn out too quickly. Coupled with the leafy canopy still being thick, making shooting tough, I elect to take a couple more weeks to get ready. Those two extra weeks pay off in other ways. The beginning of October is a great time to fine tune a deer hunting set up. I've got a ground blind and a tree stand to put in. I know generally where they will go, but now is a great time to really pin point their location. As the archery deer season opens while I'm away at grouse camp, these stand sites will get to sit undisturbed  for a couple of weeks, and end up blending in to the surroundings. And truth be told, I don't even plan on sitting in my tree stand until the fire arms deer season.

     Other preparations have included lots of skeet shooting, but that is nothing new. Unfortunately since my wrist surgery this past winter my shooting has suffered. Sort of anyway. Over all my scores at skeet have dropped, not that I was any good, but I've figured out how to shoot a couple of stations that had plagued me. That said, I am a grouse hunter not a skeet shooter, and I shoot enough, and break enough clays to feel like even with falling skeet scores my performance in the uplands will be improved. I also have had second thoughts about selling my Beretta side-by-side. Seems I was making some common SxS shooting mistakes. Earlier this summer I picked up a copy of Fieldsports Magazine which had an article entitled Fit For Purpose by Simon Ward which highlighted the differences between O/U and SxS guns, the differences between them, and common mistakes shooters make. After reading the article I grabbed my SxS and mounted it a few times using a new hand hold on the fore end and barrels, and the difference was instantly noticeable. The gun no longer felt too short, and I was no longer seeing rib. Of course I was keen to try shooting the gun this way, and what, After a slow start on station 1 that had me thinking maybe there was nothing to this article I proceeded to smash clays, finishing the round with only 2 more misses, one miss at station 4, and then missing low 8. I even went clean on stations 2, and 6, which have been my worst stations. So, it looks like the SxS will be making another trip to grouse camp.

     Our pre-season prep also saw us trying our hand at field trialling Ginger, once again. We did things a bit differently this time. The Central Virginia Spaniel Field Trial Club, after having had their spring Springer trial cancelled due to snow earlier this year, held their Springer trial in Conway NH the day before our club, Patriot Sporting Spaniel Club, held their Springer trial. We decided to enter Ginger in the Open All- Ages stakes of both trials, however, we wouldn't be handling her in the Virginia trial. Rather, Steve Church, the pro we train with regularly would handle her in the Virginia trial, and I would handle her in the Patriot club trial. I was proud of my little girl, and at the end of the day she had made it all the way through to judgment. She had a great day, but 4 other dogs had exceptional days, so a placement was not to be had. The next day I handled her through 2 series in the Patriot club trial, but despite some good work, and some smoking hot bird finds, she has gotten a little loose in the flush, and we didn't get invited to the 3rd series. Still, she had run 5 series in 2 days, only having come out of her heat cycle the previous Wednesday. I was happy, and proud. The field trial placements can be seen here.  Videos of Ginger's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd series in the Va club trial, and a video of her 2nd series in the Patriot club trial can be seen on our YouTube channel, here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New Logo, The Explanation.

     A few weeks ago I unveiled a new logo  and page stop for All Seasons Outdoors. I'd put a lot of thought in to what elements I wanted in a new logo. I wanted a simple logo, but one with some meaning. Many of you, especially long time readers will probably immediately see the significance. Others will be left scratching their heads wondering. I shall explain.

     The base of the logo is a moose antler. The moose antler is significant to me. Years ago I found a moose shed antler while hunting up north. I used that shed for the cover photo of this blog 5 years ago, and still use it, today. That moose shed antler has become one of my prized outdoors finds.

     The crest has 4 quarters, each with a different flag in the background, and a different animal in the foreground. On top is an American flag with a Ruffed Grouse. I am an American, and as a sportsman I identify as a grouse hunter. It is the grouse that get me into the woods each fall. Yes, I do spend time hunting other species, but the Ruffed Grouse is my passion. Traveling clockwise you will find a Japan flag with a trout. This is significant as I've fished in Japan, and have a very good trout fishing friend there. Moving on you will find a Canada flag with bear tracks. My first international hunting trip was to Canada for a Black Bear hunt. As we come around we move on the the flag of Great Britain with a  Pheasant. England was my second (and soon to be third) international hunting expedition, and it was there that I shot driven pheasant in the English countryside. The page stop is layed out differently, but the meanings are the same. So there you have it. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Gearing up; whats new this fall.

     The grouse season is just around the corner. I haven't checked, but early goose season is probably already open. I don't feel like it's the advent, nor do I feel ready. Sure, I'm constantly train with Ginger, and shooting skeet, but gone are the days of making all kinds of lengthy plans, and mapping out destinations. Now when the season opens its just, off I go. It's nice to know your coverts intimately, but the thrill of heading into the unknown, that feeling of excitement and expectation doesn't attach. Still, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

     While the grouse season up north opens October 1st I generally don't start seriously hunting until around the 15th of October. Generally it's still quite warm before then, and unless there has been a heavy rain there can be a lot of leaves still up on the trees. That said, It's been quite some time, perhaps 10 years or more since I've made an early season, opening day dash to Maine. In the past I'd spent a few early days in the Down East region, and often shot an opening day grouse there. I love the state of Maine, and am considering making a quick, budget trip up there.

     As the weather is still quite warm during the earlier part of the season I thought it would be a good idea to get a shirt more suited to the weather. Hunting clothing are usually quite warm. I decided to go the athletic route.
What do you think?

     And now a quick word about Under Armour. There has been a lot of people going on about Under Armour being anti-hunting. This is not true. Yes, UA did fire one of their Prostaffers. Yes, the firing might have been contivertial, or unjust. But UA has not stopped supporting the field sports and hunting. UA still has hunting pro staffers. Still makes hunting apparel. Still produces the Ridge Reaper TV show. UA still supports hunting. They just fired one individual. If they'd have fired one of golf or tennis pros, would they then be anti- golf, or anti-tennis? Lay off the hype.

     I've picked up some new kit for the upcoming season. As I've stated before, my primary hunting boots are Wellies, but  I'd been contemplating giving lace-ups a try. I took the plunge, and bought a pair of Cabelas by Meindle. I'd been looking at Meindle boots, and hearing good things about them. After hearing a serious grouse fool, cover dog fool, hunting guide friend rave about them, I knew they had to be good. As fate would have it, they were not only on sale, but the young man working the register at Cabelas gave me the military discount in lieu of a public safety/first responder discount, which cabbalas doesn't offer (yet Bass Pro does).

     I also found a great deal, online, of a light weight, packable, breathable, water proof shooting coat. So I now own another article of Musto clothing. Truthfully, one can't go wrong with Musto. This coat, as well as the new boots, will be making the trip to England with me this year. 

     I also decided it was time for a new upland hunting vest. I like a strap vest, but I carry quite a bit of stuff with me, so I need storage space.  Because I often walk/hike a long way into the woods on my outings I also wanted something that has a lumbar belt to carry the weight on my hips. I looked at quite a few. Some were nice, others not quite there. 

     One of the first vests I looked at was the LL Bean Pat'ridge II. I really wanted to like this vest, but it needs improvement. The lumbar belt was nice, but the vest lacked adjustability in the back. The belt is attached too high to the game bag, so the entire back section rides up, and the straps bulge out. A loaded game bag would pull down and back at an uncomfortable angle. If changed slightly, this vest would be very nice.

     I also looked at the LL Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack. Believe it or not, this thing is pretty nice. It's not got much style, but it has got lots of adjustability, and storage. No doubt this could be an all day hunting vest. The issue that kept me from buying it was the pockets. The front pockets are basically designed so that a box of shells fits right into each pocket. Who keeps that many shells, and only shells in their pockets? In addition to shells I carry a knife, GPS, EMT gel, a compass, a snack, and several other small essentials up front. With a couple of proper pockets, this vest could be a keeper.

     The Browning Bird n Lite vest was also on my short list. This vest has been around for a while, and gets the job done. Nothing kept me from buying this vest other than a better deal coming along. 

In the end, I ended up ordering a Q5 San Carlos vest through a friend who is a pro staffer for Q5. Unlike the others, the San Carlos rides lower, primarily around the hips, with only the straps running up your back. I like this because I tend to sweat right in the middle of my back and don't need a vest helping that along. I haven't got the vest in hand yet. I'll be picking it up next weekend, but I'll be sure to review it later.

     Q5 also makes an upland bird belt. I am very intrigued by the belt, but don't think it'll satisfy my requirements as a hunting accessory, however, it may make a nice dog training belt at some time in the future.

     And that my friends, is all I've got for you.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Still Dreaming.

     The Glorious 12th, opening day of the grouse season in the UK, arrived a couple of days ago. I've long dreamed of making a trip to the moors to shoot Red Grouse, but it has yet to become a reality. Truth be told, I hadn't noticed the 12th was upon us this year. Probably because I was stuck at work. Of course the Glorious 12th means little here in the US, but to me it means that someone's wait is over, that someone is shooting grouse, and that my season is not far off.

     Fortunately, Red Grouse shooting is popular enough, and moorland habitat special enough, to get year round attention. Here is a short video I came across that highlights the year round work, the benefits thereof, and some estate shooting of both grouse and pheasant. Oh yeah, there is a little falconry in there too.

A Red Grouse in a North Yorkshire moor.

The closest I've yet to come to grouse shooting, an old grouse butt.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dog Days of Summer

     As summer passes by one can not be blamed for starting to think about the autumn, and approaching hunting season. Sure, the summer is great, and I certainly don't want it to end any quicker, but a cool August evening has a way of reminding you that soon it will be time to hit the woods. That means it is time to start getting ready, for many hunters. Time to brush off the gun and shoot a bit. Time to get the dog a work out and brush up on manners. Time to get yourself out and get some exercise. Time to pull out the hunting close and see which still fit, and which need replacing. Time to check the soles on the old hunting boots. The list goes on. Around here, however, these preparations are constant (except maybe the exercise bit), but take on a bit more meaning and urgency as the days begin to get shorter.

     Shooting is an essential part of hunting. Both your skills and the gun you choose can play a big role in your enjoyment afield. I enjoy shooting sub-gauge shotguns, 20 & 28 gauge, preferably over/unders. Living relatively close to a skeet club doesn't hurt, though I will admit, since my surgery this past winter, and the shooting layoff as I recover, I haven't been shooting well. Still, twice a week at skeet is a good thing. Sporting clays is a great help, too.

     Knowing that I have a preference for O/U guns I've decided to sell my only side-by-side. I've struggled with my Beretta 20g Silver Hawk for years. The gun, while a real beauty, just doesn't fit me at all; short barrels, short LOP, and not enough drop. So off it goes. I'm not giving up on SxS guns, however. I am just taking a break. Someday in the future I will replace this gun with a SxS that fits, probably a 12 or 16 gauge, and one with 28" or 30" barrels. My Browning Citori White Lightning has become my go-to gun for a while now, and it does the job quite well, so I will not be in any hurry to replace the Beretta.

The soon to be gone SxS w/ a NY Ruffed Grouse.

High 8, shot low gun w/ my Citori.

     Dog training is as important to me as shooting skills. Like shooting, I enjoy dog training. And, as you all know, the whole dog thing is more than just about hunting season to me. Hunt tests, and field trials have extended my hunting season and made dog training much more important to me. While many hunters are just getting around to conditioning their dogs for the fall I am working with Ginger all season long. Of course, anyone with a dog will tell you that sooner or later you'll run into some kind of a training issue which will require extra effort to overcome. I had a problem with Ginger a couple year ago, and needed help, so I turned to Steve Church, at Churchie Kennel and Gun Dog Training, in Epping New Hampshire. With Steve's help we overcame Ginger's issue, and earned her a Master Hunter title. Trips to Steve's training grounds to overcome Ginger's issue, became just regular trips to Steve's training grounds. 

A bit of dog work at Churchie Kennel and Gun Dog Training.

     Finding what works well for you in the field is important, and sometimes one must expand their horizons to do so. If you want to shoot well, and be successful in the field you must be comfortable. If you are thinking about your aching feet, you are not thinking about your shooting or dog handling. I believe so strongly that comfort begins at the feet that I packed, and brought my own pair of comfortable, well fitting wellies to England with me last year, despite my host offering the use of several pair of extra wellies he owned. We wore different sized boots, and didn't want to risk blisters from floating around in oversized boots.

     In my quest to stay comfortable I am expanding my field clothing selection to include another pair of breeks. Yes, those just-below-the-knees pants worn in the UK. Why? Comfort. As a guy who pretty much wear wellies exclusively in the field I have discovered that not having pant legs bound up inside your boot uppers is infinitely more comfortable. So I'll be adding another pair of Musto Sporting breeks to my closet.
Musto Sporting Breeks

     Not being lively tweed, but simple green moleskin, these breeks hardly stand out. Keeping your socks relatively low, rather than hiked way up, makes these look just like a pair of trousers tucked into wellies. Simple green breeks are a great way for anyone interested in trying a pair to dip their toe in the water. Many companies make moleskin breeks, but the quality of the Musto products is hard to beat. Of course if one decides to get breeks one must also get shooting socks, a number of which are readily available, in a variety of colors and prices.

     Having stated that I am primarily a wellie wearer, I am also looking for a quality pair of lace-up upland boots. I haven't worn a pair in years, but I'd like to have an option. There have been some hot dog training days when I wished I had something else. I also have a few hunting spots at elevation that, while still wet, are much less wet than other lower land ones. I think I'd like to give a more climbing, walking oriented boot a try.

So, add to the growing list of ASO endorsements Browning, Churchie Kennel and Gun Dog Training, and Musto.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Things You Should Check Out, Japan Outdoors

     Having begun a Japanese language version of ASO I think it's time to feature a little bit of the Japanese outdoors. Here are a few links to some hunting, fishing, and dog trialling pages I've come across. Take a peek at at what Japan has to offer the outdoorsman.

     There are quite a few retriever enthusiasts in Japan. Here is a link to the Gundog retriever Trial Association.

     Like big game hunting? Lots of deer, bear, and boar in Japan, as well as pheasant, and ducks. Take a look at the Hokkaido Hunting Guide Facebook group. I think you'll be impressed.

     There are plenty of trout streams in japan, too. Flyfishing Club is a Facebook group that I think you'll enjoy. It's made me want to fish again.

     For you foodies, the Hunting, Butchering, and Enjoying Delicious Meat Group Facebook page will have your mouth watering in minutes.

     You can also check out the Virtuovice YouTube channel. This channel has a many knife reviews, sharpening tips, field dressing and butchering tips, and some real good deer hunting footage. Oh yeah, much of it is in English, too.

So, if you're interested in learning a bit about the outdoors in Japan, Check them out.