Friday, September 29, 2017

Disturbed Forest

     Now that the nights are getting cooler (finally) I feel like the hunting season is actually approaching. Truth is, it was approaching whether it felt like it or not, and up north it opens in 2 days. In some places it is already opened.

     Usually by now I have my entire season almost completely booked up, and planned, but this year I've decided to change my routine. So far I've only got 2 irons in the fire; my England trip in December, and a trip to Maine in November having accepted a very generous offer from an acquaintance. One should not infer that I will not be making quite a few trips to the uplands, and lowlands, and wetlands too. But, I've decided to do things different this year. It's been a long time since I seriously hunted my home state of Massachusetts, so I thought I'd stay for the most part local, this year.

     Without meaning to be pessimistic, but knowing it will sound that way I don't have very high expectations. I don't expect to have lots of grouse flushes like I do up north, but I do expect I'll get into some. I expect I'll see good woodcock numbers. Woodcock being migratory birds means they can be anywhere, anytime. Massachusetts uplands generally benefit from this, and I've had some really, really good days on woodcock in the past. I don't think this year will be any different. So why am I doing this? Well, my biggest expectation is to learn a bit more about my home state, and to see first hand the efforts the state has made to increase grouse and woodcock habitat. I expect I'll be pleased with what I see, and while this season my not yield the numbers I'd like, I fully expect to feel optimistic about the future of grouse and woodcock here.

     Earlier this month, at Grouse School, we went heavy on the importance of habitat. The first half of the day was spent on habitat, and there is a reason for that. Simply put, habitat management and creation is the single most important issue regarding the health of the Ruffed Grouse population. It seems like the officials at the wheel here in Massachusetts have finally come to realize that, and are managing the forest lands appropriately. The RGS video, Disturbed Forest, illustrates the need and the benefit of maintaining a balanced ecosystem, and the positive results that are the result of proper management. That's right, proper management, not popular management.

Monday, September 11, 2017

After The Storm, An RGS Event To Remember.

      Yesterday, with the generosity of the Massapoag Sportsmen's Club where I am a member and regular skeet shooter, I hosted a Ruffed Grouse Society event. The event was something I'd been thinking about doing for a few years, inspired by the number of times I'd had conversations with hunters who'd wanted to, but never tried hunting Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock. Often they'd state that they just didn't know where to find grouse and woodcock. So I thought I'd find a way to educate some of the local sportsmen. I called the event Grouse School.

     The idea of Grouse School was to give a sportsman who has never hunted grouse or woodcock enough info to confidently make a trip into the woods in search of them. Of course every RGS event gets a number of pretty loyal RGS members, so I had to also include enough of the more technical side of grouse and woodcock to keep them engaged. Habitat being the number one thing any grouse and woodcock hunter should really understand, it wasn't very difficult to build a program that would appeal to every experience level.

     Naturally, I doubted very much if anyone would take my word that I know a thing or two about grouse and woodcock hunting, so I had to bring a few people in. After a few phone calls, and emails I'd put together a group of guys I felt could really deliver the goods. Regional RGS biologist Andy Weik would lecture on habitat. Massachusetts state biologist David Scarpitta would lecture on hunting opportunities in Massachusetts. Bruce Bennett, who hosts an annual benefit hunt in NY, would lecture on private land management. After Lunch I would give a brief lecture on grouse dogs before Andy, with his red setter, and I, with my springer, would take the group out into the woods where we would do a grouse dog demo on released quail. While on the trail we would discuss tactics a bit, and naturally habitat, as we were in it. Outdoor writer Tom Keer would then lecture on Guns, loads, shooting technique, tactics, safety, and equipment. The event would culminate with an open floor, round table discussion.

     The day went pretty much as planned. Being the first time I'd attempted anything like this there were a few small snags, but if they weren't pointed out to you, you'd have never noticed them. All in all, I, as well as the others involved were very happy with the way the event turned out.  I will certainly make some changes to allow future events flow more smoothly. I hope the attendees were just as pleased, and walked away feeling like they learned something.

     I have a few ideas for other grouse and woodcock hunting educational clinics in the future. Hopefully they will go as well, if not better, than the Grouse School Debut.

     And lest I forget; a big thank you to Andy Weik, David Scarpitti, Bruce Bennett, Tom Keer, Bryan Lehr, Paul Schwalbe, Ernie Foster Jr, and the Massapoag Sportsman's Club. I also need to thank paul Fuller of Bird Dogs Afield who generously donated several items for door prizes at the event.

Me starting the day with introductions

 Captivated audience
Andy lecturing on habitat and scouting
David lecturing on hunting in Mass
Bruce lecturing on land management
(l-r) David, Andy, Myself, Tom
The Massapoag youth skeet team was on hand selling raffle tickets

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Grouse School- RGS Event

     Some years ago I had an idea. This year I made it happen. What is it? Grouse School. Often when I haven't got the time to get away, up north for some proper grouse and woodcock hunting I will run the dog at a local WMA which is stocked with pheasant. She appreciates the work, and I get to eat an occasional pheasant. Often when there I will bump into another hunter, most often in the parking lot, and we will start talking. When the conversation turns to where else we hunt, and I tell them I don't hunt any other WMAs, but I go grouse and woodcock hunting the standard reply is that they'd love to try that some day, had thought about trying it, didn't know where to go,etc....

     Well, I'm not one for holding anyone's hand and walking them through the woods, but I sure don't mind leading them on a path of self discovery, so I thought "Grouse School".  It wasn't terribly hard to get off the ground. The Massapoag Sportsmans Club, where I regularly shoot skeet, had been trying to find ways to have more events at the club. I took my idea to some senior members, and was told go for it. A call to RGS regional biologist Andy Weik was next, and we were off and running. A few more phone calls to RGS, and some area chapter members put the icing on the cake, and grouse school was born.

So, if you are in the Massachusetts area, and would like to learn more about grouse and woodcock hunting, come on by.

Friday, August 4, 2017

When Simple Just Isn't, Part 3

     It's been a while since I last posted. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, I have. I just haven't had time to sit down and share my thoughts. I have been busy with a number of things, some of them have been outdoor related, others a symptom of adulthood,  but blogging just hasn't been one of them. Lets take a look at what has been my number one concern, and time consumer over the last couple of months. Do you care to guess? why yes. It has been my FBESS Ginger.

     Regular readers will remember my account of our attempt to breed Ginger last year. I posted about it in When Simple Just isn't; A Reproductive Adventure, and When Simple Just Isn't; Part 2. Well we were at it again. And simple it was not.

     In an attempt to carry forward what we think is an excellent pedigree and blood line, and maybe even begin our own line of springers we bred Ginger (Starbury Ponkapoag Ginger Snap MH) with Tommy (FC AFC CFC Frostfield Tommy SH). The thought of putting these two together excited several more well versed spaniel people we train, trial, and test with, so we were sure we were on the right track. When the time came Ginger was sent north to reside with our friend, and the pro we train with, Steve Church of Churchie Kennel and Gun Dogs in Epping NH. Steve lives the next town over from Tommy, and being friends with Tommy's owner, Mike, he agreed to help with the breeding. Tommy was brought to Steve's house, and Tommy and Ginger spent a couple of weeks together. Because we had some issues our last attempt to breed, Steve suggested rather than go through the process of repeated Progesterone testing, we just bring Ginger up to him and put the two dogs together a lot. This would let them get comfortable with each other, and when the time was right, they would tie. And tie they did.

     A couple days after the first tie, and after being sure that there would be no more Ginger came home and resumed normal life. We on the other hand were frantically trying to absorb every bit of dog breeding/whelping info that came our way while keeping an eye on Ginger for any changes. The changes were slow to come, and truthfully, we began to think the breeding didn't take, though there were some signs that it may have. At week 5 we took Ginger to a reproductive Vet where she underwent an ultrasound so we could see what was cooking. We were elated when the ultra sound revealed she was indeed pregnant and carrying 5 pups. It was happening.

     Well, we should have learned that nothing is ever easy. A few more weeks later, just days before Ginger was to whelp we went in for an x-ray to get a true count (ultrasound is not always accurate) so we would know how many to expect. To our surprise, and disappointment, Ginger was not carrying 5 pups. We will never know what happened, or why, but Ginger had singlet. She carried only a single, healthy, strong, and incredibly handsome male pup.

     Of course, puppies learn to be puppies, and eventually dogs through their interactions with their littermate. Raising a singlet is difficult, and has tried many breeders and trainers with much more experience and knowledge than we've got. So we reached out to the spaniel community. That is where we got very lucky, our friend Bev of Osage Kennels had whelped a litter of 6 only 4 days after us. She graciously agreed to foster our pup in her litter so he could learn the lessons that can only be learned in that environment.

     So, Allow me to introduce you to Ponkapoag's Bailey Island Castaway.

     Bailey will becoming home next week, and our new adventure in dog training will begin. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rabbit and Pheasant Leg Meat Pie

     One of life's greatest comfort foods is a nice chicken pot pie. At least, to me anyway. But a nice thick meat pie of just about any variety is pretty satisfying too. Not a pot pie with veggies and gravy inside, but entirely filled with meat, then smothered with gravy.  Last December, when I was in England I had the opportunity to eat a couple of meat pies; one a pork haggis pie, the other a game pie. Both were delicious. Inspired by the memory of these delicious pies, I decided it was time to pull a bit of game out of the freezer, and get busy.

     I decided I'd use a rabbit, and some pheasant legs I'd put aside. Rabbit is a very delicate meat, with a rather sweet flavor. It also cooks and strips off the bone easily. Pheasant legs are a piece of the bird many people don't use. They can be tough to deal with because unlike chicken or other birds, they've got 3, rather than 2 tendons, running up the leg. The tendons tend to harden when cooked. But pheasant legs have a nice, rich, dark meat on them, which compliment rabbit nicely.

     Having decided on which proteins to use for my filling, a plan was hatched. Now, before I get into the play-by-play, rest assured, this recipe is actually quite easy, but time consuming. I didn't make it all in one day. One day I made my meat filling, and the next I assembled the pie. Also, despite my trip to England fueling my desire for a meat pie, the flavor profile of this dish is more continental, French in particular. Anyway, let us begin.

You will need:

1- Rabbit
4- Pheasant legs
4 cups- chicken stock
2-4 cups white wine
1/2- finely chopped onion
1- finely chopped carrot
2 sticks- finely chopped celery
Thyme, Parsley, Sage
cooking oil
3-4 cups slice mushrooms
Salt & Pepper
Dijon Mustard
2- frozen deep dish pie crust
1- Egg

Here we go.

     In a large sauce pan heat a bit of cooking oil, and when heated add the onion, carrot, and celery, and begin to brown slightly.

     Once browned slightly add and brown the rabbit. The rabbit should be cut into 4-6 pieces for easier handling and cooking.


     Once the rabbit has browned, add and brown the pheasant legs.

     Once all the meat has browned add the chicken stock, wine, and the herbs, and cook over a medium-hi heat until brought to a boil, then lower the heat and cook at a low boil for a couple hours. 
Cooking down the filling

      When the meat is easily pulling away from the bone, turn off, and remove the meat from the stock to cool. 

     Strain the stock to remove all the herbs and veggies, retaining the stock. Discard the bits and pieces strained from the stock.

     After the meat has cooled, remove all the meat from the bones, discarding the bones and any bits of tendon. Set meat aside.
The Meat

     In a sauce pan reduce the stock to about 1 1/2-2 cups, and sift in flour slowly while stirring until the stock becomes a nice gravy of whatever consistency you prefer.

     The gravy and the meat is then mixed together. Add salt and pepper to taste. The meat should not be awash in gravy, rather just moistened and coated. At this point the meat filling can be put aside and the pie finished another day. 
The Meat Filling

     The next step is to cook the sliced mushrooms in butter until softened and browned. Don't go light on the butter. Butter is good. You want the mushrooms to retain a lot of butter flavor.

     Take the pie crust out of the freezer, and defrost for about 15-20 minutes.

     Fill the crust with the meat filling.

     Brush the top of the meat with the Dijon mustard.

     Top the meat filling with the buttery mushrooms.

     Place the other pie crust over the top, crimp the edges, put a few vent slits in the top, and brush liberally with an egg wash.

     Bake on the middle rack at 375 degrees for 40 minutes,........

     ........and enjoy. 

     I brought this pie to the skeet club, and to was on the table very long before the first slice was cut, and everyone was digging in. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

England, Part 2. Musings.

     Since I've been back from my shooting trip to England, last year, I've been giving a lot of thought to the state of driven bird shooting here in the US. Over all, it does not exist. Why not? There are plenty of sportsmen who would give it a try. To a degree the interest is there.

     Around the country numerous shooting preserves hold regular tower shoot where pheasant are released form a tower of some height to fly over the guns who have formed a circle at some distance around the tower. These shoots are usually called European shoots, but truth be told, they are nothing like a driven bird shoot. Some clubs offer a different form of "driven" bird shooting where birds are released from a hill top over a line of guns in a valley below. These shoots often have more than 1 "drive" and the guns move around the property, and change pegs as they would at a real driven shoot. In fact, some of these shoots are quite authentic, like the shooting offered by Royal United company. But it's not "driven" bird shooting. Then there is Blixt and Company. They offer true driven bird shooting out west. Something, however, tells me that this isn't exactly affordable for the average household. Driven bird shooting shouldn't be something that anyone can't aspire to partake of. And it needn't be. The syndicate I shot with in England is a DIY syndicate. The members do all the work. They don't hire a gamekeeper, nor beaters to push the birds over them on shoot day. Before the season they all pitch in and make repairs to the bird pens and feeders. They take delivery of the pheasant poults and care for them. They haul feed, and fill feeders all during the season. On shoot day they split in to 2 teams, red and black, and alternate shooting and beating the cover. This form of syndicate  operates on a walk1-stand 1 format, and is common in the UK.

     What is keeping us from having driven bird shooting here in the US? I think the biggest factor preventing the formation of driven bird syndicates in are the bag and possession limits on game. Unlike in the UK, here the game birds belong to the public, and limits have been established to ensure a fair distribution of the resource, and to prevent game hogging. It'd be hard to get a people involved in a syndicate when they could only shoot 2 pheasant a day. In fact it'd be probably too much effort to organize a driven day for such a small bag. Coupled with the fact that it'd probably be pretty hard to find a property in many states with enough birds to make the day exciting. Here in the east, most pheasant are released by the state, and they aren't exactly releasing all that many. A solo hunter with a good dog has a better chance at killing his limit, in a shorter time, with less effort than would be done working in unison with a syndicate. Of course, a day of driven shooting isn't just about the number of birds killed. Driven bird shooting is a social affair that involves shooting birds. Still, trying to organize a syndicate, and drives when there just aren't many birds around isn't very inspiring, and unless the local arrangements are second to none, I doubt there'd me many repeat customers. But that isn't really too much of a problem. Shooting preserves have long been established, and because they raise, and release their own game birds have been exempt from the bag and possession limits. The special rules for preserves is what allows Royal United to operate, and why tower shoots exist. So why not a preserve dedicated to driven bird shooting?

    I think it's time to form a driven bird syndicate, and get some true driven bird shooting going here in the US. Why not get a syndicate started, and find a property which could be licensed as a shooting preserve, and spend a few weekend each fall doing a little walk1-stand 1 driven shooting? I have a hard time believing that I am the only one in the New England area with an interest in driven birds.

     Here is a link from the Shooting UK website to an article, How to start your own DIY shoot. While I don't think we would need to do everything the way the article suggests, and couldn't do some of it, I do believe that with the right base of people putting their heads together a driven shooting syndicate could be a reality. So, what do you say? If you are in the New England area, and have an interest in driven shooting, and would like to see a syndicate formed dust off your tattersall and tweed, and send me an e-mail.

Monday, December 26, 2016

ASO goes to England, again.

     Sometimes things just fall into place, as was the case last year when I was lucky enough to spend a day shooting driven pheasant in England, so it seemed almost to good to be true when I found myself on a plane headed back to England to do it again this year. There seems to be some truth in the saying "birds of a feather stick together". Last year I met, and fostered a long distance friendship with several members of the Watton Carrs syndicate whom take their shooting sports as seriously as I do. They saw fit to invite me back to shoot again this year, and like last year, naturally I was excited to make the trip.

     The trip mirrored last year's trip in many ways, except rather than staying a week, a few days of which were shopping in London, I'd pretty much just make it a stretched out weekend; fly out Wednesday night, arriving Thursday, enjoy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the Yorkshire countryside, then fly back home on Monday. And that's what I did.

     The red-eye out of Logan airport, to me at least, is brutal. I just don't sleep well on a short overnight flight, so like last year I'd planned an overnight in Manchester. Early check in at the hotel allowed me to get in a few good hours of sleep before hot shower, and an evening meal with my friend CK, who lives in Manchester and works at the university there. CK and I, after a quick pre-dinner drink at Brown's headed over to Sam's Chophouse for what was an outstanding feast, in a fabulous atmosphere. With neither CK nor I really being well versed in the art of wine selection, we followed the advice of the seasoned and saucy waitress and ordered a red. I can't speak to the quality of the steak and kidney pie CK enjoyed, but it sure looked as if he was enjoying it every bit as much as the lamb chop and cauliflower I ordered. Absolutely delicious. But it didn't stop there; we couldn't resist their puddings, and it was there that my sticky toffee pudding (with an excite dollop of clotted cream!!) addiction was born. After dinner we strolled to a new pub in the area which CK claims would be right in my wheelhouse, owing to the fact that it is home to some 400+ single malt scotches.  He was right. The Britons Protection was a scotch drinkers paradise, and I was happy to help them drain a bottle of Longmorn.

     Friday morning I awoke before the sun. Not because I woke up early, but because I forgot that the sunrise is a bit later there than I am accustomed to. My plan for the day was simple; pack, eat breakfast, then jump on a train to Leeds to meet they guys. Now, let me say this; I love a good breakfast, and don't think anyone does breakfast better than the Brits. So I headed over to Cafe North, a spot my wife and I stumbled upon a couple years ago, for a proper (by proper I mean huge) breakfast, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Having a bit of time after breakfast I decided I'd swing by J. Wippell & Co to see what country clothing they had in stock. If you're not familiar with Wippell, be prepared for a bit of confusion. Wippell is a clothing store that caters to the church, and sell everything a priest might need. They also have a small men's wear shop with plenty of tattersall and tweed. But don't go looking for them online, as their internet presence is minimal. Do take a walk by their Princess St location should you find yourself in Manchester.

Wippell & Co. Princess St. Manchester
A big British breakfast

    In the afternoon I caught my train to Leeds where PP would intercept me. From Leeds we headed north to Ripon where PP had arranged an evening of duck flighting with a local gamekeeper. In North Stanley we met up with SL, CC, and the gamekeeper, and headed out to a small, brush choked pond to shoot some ducks. The evening provided some fantastic sport with lots of ducks flying over, and coming in to the pond. Shooting roosting ducks in the dark is fast, exciting shooting. Unfortunately, my eyes aren't what they once were, and I've been told (rather asked) why I didn't shoot at a number of the ducks which dropped in, or passed by me. Of course, when my best opportunity presented itself my Browning Citori 20g decided it didn't like the heavy British shells I popped in to it, and didn't fire, so I got to watch a couple fat Mallards fly off while I broke and rechecked the gun. None the less, it was a fantastic evening, despite my only dropping one lone teal. After the evening's shooting we found our way to the Staveley Arms for dinner. Again, another outstanding meal, in an absolutely fabulous atmosphere, and a top shelf sticky toffee pudding.

     Saturday morning I again awoke well before the sun. This time it was by design, as PP and I were off to the farm where we would meet up with the shoot captain TH, and a few others with whom we'd line the edge of a field a short distance from a reservoir popular with the geese. The idea being that as the sun rose, so to would the geese who would fly rather low over the field, and hopefully one of the guns. That is exactly what happened. The geese chatter from the reservoir would get louder and more excited before a skein would decide to make their exit. Their flight path took them directly between me and T, and pretty much out of reach of both of us, but twice the geese banked to the left, and into the restricted air space T was guarding. The first flight escaped, however the second was not so lucky, and T had the first kill of the day. He'd also be saddled with carrying the heavy beast back to the cars, but that's the price you pay, and any of us would have been happy to be in his shoes.

     After the geese stopped moving we made our way to the barn where we would meet up with the balance of the syndicate, and get the day organized. Earlier in the morning PP was suddenly overcome with worry. In the morning, as we set out, his morning routine was somewhat put off having me in tow, and the question of whether or not we closed the front door of the house could not be answered. Being a guy who is lousy with names, and seldom remembers people out of the context of which I know them, I get it. So, PP was off to make a quick round trip home to make sure his place was secured. At the barn the rest of the syndicate gathered, where I caught up with members I'd not seen since last year, and was introduced to new members. The teams were named, the drives announced, and pegs drawn. Then we were off to the first drive where the team I was assigned to would be beating. Armed with stout sticks, noise makers, and hype dogs we held a line across the cover, and pushed through sending birds out over the line of guns. To my pleasure a dog flushed a big woodcock right in front of me, which flew back across the beating line about 4 feet directly over my head. While this wouldn't make the guns happy, it have me my first opportunity to see one in flight. When we hit the end of the woods/cover the whistle was blown signaling the end of the drive. The guns were cased, birds picked up, and everyone gathered to organize for the second drive. The decision was made to break for elevensies early, then shoot 2 drives before lunch, so out came the cake, cheese, meat pies, port and brandy.

The beverage selection 
I've been caught enjoying a cake and port during elevensies.
But, how does she stay so clean?...

     After a short belly warming break we were off to the second drive. This time I would be a gun, and found my self standing out in a large field between were the cover woods ended, and a hedgerow behind. The birds started coming out at a pretty good rate, and at a decent height. My neighboring guns got in some good shooting, and I got in a few shots at birds on the edge of my range that my neighbor missed, but not many flew over my airspace. On the drive I did have 2 good birds come over, but I missed. The first flew directly over, but I failed to give it enough lead. Another good bird flew over high to my left. Not wanting to rush, or swing in a manned that would cramp me, I turned and took a step with the intent of taking the bird as a high R-L crosser. Problem was, when I stepped I  my foot hung up on a hummock in the tall grass, and rather than swinging the gun I was doing dancing a jig with it trying to stay upright. Two long shots as it exited the back door had no effect on the bird. Oh well.

     The day would go on pretty much the same way, alternating between beating, and shooting. The sun broke through the clouds, and the day warmed up enough that Layers were shed, and my sweater deposited in the truck.  Unfortunately, I didn't draw the best pegs, and after my first drive I never pulled the trigger again, save for one suicidal woodcock which few the entire line of guns late in the day, untouched by all, though we tried. Nevertheless, a good day on a shoot isn't summed up solely by the number of shots, nor the number of birds killed. It's about much more than that, and I enjoyed every minute of the day. I took pride in knowing that our team put good birds over the line of guns, and found the steady stream of pheasant flushing infant of me quite exciting. I can see why non-shooting people enjoy beating. At the end of the day we had a bag of 50-something pheasant, 5 woodcock, 1 pigeon (which PP killed with a fantastic shot), 1 hare, and there was armor that a partridge, too was killed, but I didn't see it. While I didn't kill any of these, I certainly feel I earned an assist.

     After dividing the game amongst the guns PP, SL, and I were off to do a bit of duck flighting again. Neither the ducks, nor my eyes cooperated again. A few teal flew in low, and in the shadows, unseen by me. Down the line a few flew in where the guys got off quick shots, but they were gone just as quickly. The only duck I saw was a teal silhouetted in the sky as it tried to escape high over a hedgerow. I was quick enough to ruin it's plan, and dropped it on the far side or the hedge.

     In many parts of England, like here in the states, there is no hunting on Sunday, so PP and I after a relaxing morning headed out for a drive around the countryside, and a bit of sightseeing in York. Then, in the evening we opened a few beers, popped some finger food, and a game pie in the oven, and tuned in to the football game. And by football, I mean the NFL. PP, like myself, is a New England Patriot's fan. Watching the Pat's beat the Ram's was a great way to cap the weekend. Monday morning I was again up before the sun, and on my way home.

     I'd very much like to thank the members of the Watton Carrs syndicate for again allowing me to shoot with them. I would also like to offer a special thanks to Melanie, Claire, Tom, and Shaun, who's pics I have pirated, and used in this post.