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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Season Ends, Another Begins

     Sometimes it all seems to be happening at once, and the beginning of this month was one of those times. GW was off for a week of trout fishing in the Rangeley area, BB was in Arizona on an Elk hunt, and my father, like always, was in a tree stand with his bow. It was a good time to be an outdoorsman, and Ginger and I were up north for an early season cast-n-blast.

     October 5th I pointed the car north, and headed up to my regular haunts to chase some early birds, and trout. In New Hampshire Grouse trout season closes on Columbus day, and Grouse season opens on the 1st, so I thought this would be the year I got after them both. Of course things don't always happen the way we'd like them to, and an emergency room visit, and several suture in the chest, for Ginger meant I'd have to call an audible. My cast-n-blast was renamed, and my trip north was now a 5 day cast-n-scout. No problem. I've had some ideas, and wanted to take a look at a few areas, so taking some time out to do some casual walking would pose no problem. Besides, there isn't much better than taking a nice walk in an area as beautiful as the great north woods.

     The weather didn't cooperate, and I ended up spending a bit more time in camp reading that I'd anticipated, but when the sun was shining I made the most of it. I hit the river twice, and thoroughly enjoyed it despite never landing a fish. I was a bit unprepared for the increased water level, and can only blame myself. None the less, I was fishing in the fall, and my waders didn't leak. In fact, I enjoyed my time on the river so much that I'm planning to make a trip to the Westfield river later this month.

     I learned an interesting, and somewhat disturbing tid-bit about the area. I bumped into a friend, Eddie, who shoot at the same skeet club. Eddie is an older gentleman I've known for some years now, and who I have always known to be humble, down-to-earth, a knowledgeable outdoorsman, and one who is not prone to exaggeration. Eddie swears he saw a wolf, and knowing Eddie, I am prone to believe him. Of course Eddie's wolf tale piqued my interest, so I approached Gary, an accomplished big game hunter, and Owner of Spruce Cone cabins, and inquired about wolves in the area. After a lengthy conversation with Gary it seems that wolves, though widely seen, are not new, having been several times over the last 5 years. And get this; Gary knows of a reliable Mountain Lion sighting, too. But I didn't follow up on that. I will be looking into the wolf issue more in the future.

     The grouse and woodcock hunting proved to be exciting, and if the flush rate I experienced hold it should be a super season. Ginger being on the mend, I only put her on the ground twice, in cover I knew to be easy going, for short runs. We kept it short, and never strayed very far from the car, but I chose correctly; Ginger flushing 41 birds, in about 3 1/2 hours of hunting over 2 days. She put up 15 grouse, and 26 woodcock, of which I killed 6 birds. On day one I killed the only grouse I got a shot at, and a limit of woodcock. On day two I added a brace of woodcock to the mix. I was especially excited to get into good woodcock numbers, as I think they are the tastiest bird out there, and in the last few years I haven't gotten into them like as much as I would have liked to.

     Hopefully our streak continues, and the flush rate stays high. I've come to expect a flush rate of about 4 grouse an hour, with an even better rate in good years, though I will admit that there are time when I have walked for an hour without a flush, before stumbling into a honey hole with 10 flushes in an hour to save the average. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens. But we won't be waiting very long; Ginger and I are off for a 10 day stint in grouse camp tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trials, and.......

     With summer behind us, and opening day upon us hopes and expectations are high. I like to think of all the dog days of testing, and trialling as nothing more than preseason preparation, and while I enjoy them greatly, I am never as excited before an event as I am the final lead up to the grouse season. This season is no different.

     The build up began in August when I brought home a new Browning 20g over-under to accompany me in the woods. I've been shooting a 20g side-by-side, which I like a lot, but it's got 26 " barrels which I find too whippy. Not having a 28' barrelled 20g, nor an over-under 20g I figured I'd fill that hole in the gun safe. I'm glad I did, too, as I've been shooting this gun to pretty good effect at skeet.

     The build up to the season continued when a couple of weeks ago I ran Ginger in the Patriot Sporting Spaniel Club's fall springer trial in North Conway New Hampshire. Spending the weekend in New Hampshire, watching lots of good spaniels flushing and retrieving, and conversing with other club members, many of which I see regularly in grouse camp was quite enjoyable. The trial proved to be a bit of a milestone, too. While Ginger has been doing well in the hunt test arena, trials have been difficult. As such I entered with the humble goal of being seen by both judges. In this way we were successful, but a third series was not to be had. Ginger was a bit sloppy in our first series, and despite Ginger making a fantastic retrieve of a running, fighting bird in the second series, I was the one who was sloppy. Still it was fun, and I look forward to attending this trial again next year. Unfortunately, in a very un-journalistic way I failed to make note of the winners, and thus can not report them here.
Ginger and I getting ready for our second series.

A participant gives his dog it's final instructions before casting it on.

A steady dog honoring it's brace mate.

     Moving closer towards opening day I assessed my schedule, and began adding days away. This year a promotional exam at work, for which I have been studying for, as well as a family obligation and a wedding will keep me from taking to the woods in November, and the beginning of December, so finding a way to spend a lot of time away in October became all that much more important. My one week in grouse camp was stretched out to 10 days, and I added a 5 day cast n blast, for which I will be departing in just a few days. Life with dogs, especially those stuck in high gear, can present you with trails of another sort, and that's what happened on Sunday night when we found it nesseccary to rush Ginger to the animal ER. Somehow Ginger managed to impale herself on something while playing in the yard and presented with a large, deep, penetration in her chest. Though initially the injury looked devastating, by the next morning, with fresh stitches and a drain tube, Ginger seemed to be well on her way to recovery and is back to herself.  Despite bouncing around here at home like nothing happened, she will be on light duty for our first trip north. Rather than  cast n blast, it'll be a cast n scout. Until Ginger has had ample time for her wound to heal she shall be restricted in her upland duties. Rather than hunt in our traditional manner, I will hike some trails, and explore some new territory, hoping to get shots at road birds, Ginger at heel until needed for the odd retrieve. She may not like the arrangement, but she is needed, and we will still have 10 more days in the great north woods for her to do her thing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Things You Should Check Out- A Bit of British Media

     Continuing along the recent Anglo angle I've been writing about after my trip I thought I'd share a couple of Youtube gems from Britain I came across while researching a bit more about the shooting sports in the UK.

     Of particular interest to me, being a spaniel guy, is the Youtube channel by Nick Ridley. Nick has posted quite a few videos of his crew, and their spaniels shooting pheasant and woodcock in England. His videos, some done with a Gopro, and others with what seems like a much higher quality camera feature lots of good shooting, and lots of good dog work, as well as what looks like a good bunch of guys really enjoying their sport. Check it out.

The other bit of British Youtube media I came across is The Shooting Show. The Shooting Show features some serious high quality production video of the many different kinds of shooting in the UK. If it is shooting, and it is happening somewhere in Britain (and other parts of Europe too, I think) it has probably been featured on this show. While I have watched this show on Youtube (haven't seen every episode) based on the quality of the production I believe this to be a regular network show. Check it out.

    I'd like to know what you think of the products and media I link in Things You Should Check Out. If you see something you like, don't like, or have an idea of something that needs to be spread around, let me know.

Pre-season Prep Talk

     Here in New England The Grouse and Woodcock season are just around the corner, as are the waterfowl, and Archery deer seasons. In some states one or more of these seasons may already be underway, but as a whole most of us are in prep mode. If You're at all like me one of your preparations is looking back at a few of last season's mistakes, and doing what you can to not replicate them. Whether it be a shooting error, dog training lapse, or poor vacation management there is some latent pressure that lingers over us as we head into the fall. One mistake we can all easily make is forgetting why we take to the wood and streams in the first place. Because of my involvement in hunt tests, and field trials I put a premium on good dog work. I also enjoy helping people find ways to enjoy the outdoors more, which is why I started this blog. Both of these things can often influence how I see the day, and make me too serious.

     I came to realize this the other day while I was at the skeet club. I'd like to say I was bust lots of clays, but for some reason it wasn't until my last round that I finally looked like I had shot skeet before. Last week at skeet, and sporting I was in the zone, but on this day it wasn't to be. But I really didn't care; I was enjoying myself. And realizing this I started to reflect on other days when I've felt that way. This spring and summer I had a few pretty good days on the river fly casting for trout. I also had a few days where I caught nothing. I enjoyed every one of those days, and on some of them I even took the time to just sit streamside with a cigar for a bit. It was relaxing and enjoyable. That's how hunting season should be, and I'm going to make sure it is. I hope you, too, do the same.

     So, whatever you do this season, do it your way, for your own reasons. Don't get caught up in popular beliefs, and trends. Carry whatever gun you feel like, in whatever gauge you wish. Hunt over whatever dog you want, in whatever cover looks good to you. Sleep in at camp, or quit early when the mood strikes you. Wear whatever boots, or hat, or gloves make you happy. Stay in if its raining, or go out in the rain. Be it a grouse covert, a deer stand, a duck blind, or a trout stream (or anything I've missed) you find yourself in, do it on your own terms, and enjoy the day.

     I've compiled a small list of things I'm going to do this season to help make the season a little less serious. I'm taking a complete newbie grouse hunting, I'm going to spend a day or two carrying my 12 gauge just because I like it, I'm going to spend a day or two not carrying a gun; others can shoot over my dog just as well as I can, I'm going to let others carry one of my guns for a day if they want to. I'm going to take a day or two off to do some fall trout fishing. I'm even going to take a couple weeks off to leave the country and travel (got a wedding over seas so why not make it a vacation). I'm going to enjoy these things. What have you got in mind?