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?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Things You Should Check Out; British Stylings

     Having just returned from a trip to England, where I fortunate enough to spend (just) a little time roaming the countryside I thought it appropriate to feature a couple of stores I visited while there. Traditional British style hasn't caught on here in the states, but that doesn't mean there isn't a market for a bit of tweed, or a nice cap. Perhaps you'll be attending a Vintager's shoot, such as the up coming Vintage Cup, or just feel like looking sharp when busting clays on the skeet field. Maybe your significant other likes it when you up your game a little bit. Who knows?....But there no good reason to not know where to turn to when the need arises. So here it is.

     Located at 9 Pall Mall in London, Farlow's, is probably the most well know outfitter around. Stocking a variety of both men's and women's country clothing, as well as having a well stocked fishing section, and a large selection of sundry items appropriate for any serious grouse camp, this place is well worth the visit. But be warned, like all of London, prepare for a bit of sticker shock. Nothing is cheap, but no doubt you'll see something you want to take home. Already I'm having regrets about not dropping a few pounds on a sculpted pheasant bottle opener that surely would have been a crowd favorite at camp.

     Next up is an outfitter I visited in a small town called Broadway, in the Cotswolds. Landmark, is located on the High street, and is muck like Farlow's, but with what seems like a bit of a larger inventory, and a country feel. Being in the countryside, no doubt the staff at Landmark know their business, and can set you up with just what you need. Like Farlow's, I didn't walk away empty handed, and took home a nice Schoffel Cap.
     Being so impressed with both the quality of the merchandise, and the tradition behind it, I've decided that not only are these shops worthy of being featured here, but that they are also worthy of an ASO endorsement. So, whether you are in need of a little anglo-country style, or just curious, check them out.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wandering The Old Country

     Life often takes you on some wonderful journeys. Often these opportunities present themselves in unique ways. Recently I had the pleasure of having an overseas adventure, and the circumstance surrounding it was as unique as any I've ever had. And thus, I found my wife and I boarding a plane to jolly old England. I've long hoped to one day jet across the Atlantic to spend some time in the British countryside shooting high, fast flying pheasant, but sadly this would not be my purpose for travelling. So while the glorious 12th came, and went while I was in England I was not to be found on the grouse moores. My travels, in the ASO sense of things, was off topic. I was in England to watch soccer.

     Regular ASO readers know that when it comes to interests outside of my regular country pursuits I'm a rugby guy. England being the home of so many shooting sports, and the original home of my favorite breed of gun dog, the English Springer Spaniel, surely there is bound to be something there to captivate me, but it was not to be. So why soccer? That's easy. My nephew, Shoki, (wife's side of the family), plays for Sanfrecce Hiroshima JY, and he and his mates qualified to play in the Premier Cup, an international U-15 soccer tournament hosted by Manchester United, and held at their Aeon training center in Sale, with the final to be held at the home of MU, Old Trafford. The chance to support Shoki, and see family from Japan who were also making the trek to England was a no brainer.

      The Premier Cup was great. Manchester United provided an absolutely top notch venue, and while it may have been lost on me, I was made to understand by several of the Manchester locals I chatted with, that I was extremely fortunate to be admitted in to the Aeon training center, an area that is secluded and considered quite off limits to the public on most days. Coupled with the fact that Man-U allows the final to be played in Old Trafford, taking the pitch in that venue sure to be the dream of many of the kids present, I say hats off. The soccer matches were quality, too. Each of the 20 teams, from various countries, played 2 matches a day for 3 days, the intensity of which equalled the recent world cup. Not being a real soccer fan, but having an appreciation and understanding of the sport, I can say that watching pitchside provided a heightened sense of excitment, and made for some really enjoyable days, made all the better because they were shared with family.

My wife supporting the team

My BIL Ken, and nephew Shoki

      In many (most) parts of the world, soccer, and soccer teams are structured around either schools, or professional teams. The Youth teams present, for the most part were the AAA version of the professional team whose uniform they wore. Shoki, and his team were no different. Sanfrecce Hiroshima is a professional team (and league champions) from Japan. Shoki, after a series of tryouts, was selected, and he and his mates benefit from the support, and training that the Sanfrecce organization provides. After 3 days, and 6 matches Sanfrecce Hiroshima JY had a record of 3 wins, and 3 loses. The boys had been bested by the teams from Mexico, the Netherlands, and Brazil. They had however gotten the better of the teams from South Africa, South Korea, and the host team Manchester United. At the end of the tournament, their 3 & 3 record was good enough to deem them the 11th best U-15 team in the world. Not bad for their first ever international play. And I couldn't be prouder of Shoki and his mates. What of the final, held at Old Trafford? As it turned out, after spending almost the entire game of their heels, Dynamo Moscow FC  scored the only goal of the game  with less than 2 minutes left to beat Valencia FC (Spain) for the championship. And I now get to say I saw a soccer match at Old Trafford.

Sanfrecce on the move

Shoki holding it down against S. Africa

A japan supporter from NZ

Sanfrecce family and players

     My week of travel didn't conclude with the final at Old Trafford. The family and I boarded a train bound for London where we would do some sight seeing, and blend into the never ending sea of tourists. The train to London was where my need to see the English countryside grew even more. The first leg of our trip took us from Manchester to Sheffield via a route through the hills of the Peak District. The urge to jump off the train, strap on a pair of hiking boots, and start walking was floating around in my head all the way to Sheffield, but would not materialize this time. London was on the itinerary, and London it would be.

     London was,....interesting. In many ways I was underwhelmed, but I may be a little poisoned, as I travel to Tokyo frequently, and it's hard to find a more mind blowing, exciting city than Tokyo. As we walked London I enjoyed taking in the many historic sight, and beautiful architecture. But I kept thinking of the old NYC saying "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" and thinking that London is probably the opposite, a great place to live, but tough to visit ($$$). Strangely, London gets into your blood, and while I could have cared less if I ever saw London again as I was leaving, I now feel a desire to return and explore more of the city growing in me. In particular I'd like to better explore the Greenwich area of London. While in Greenwich we visited the park, and walked to the observatory atop the hill in the park where one can straddle the time line dividing east and west. But it is the maritime museum, and the many authentic looking pubs down below that are of interest to me.

 A few London pics

     After a few days in London, the call of the wilds, or at least the countyside was sated. Our final day in England was spent driving out to, and around in the Cotswalds, and this was where I was finally awed in the way I was hoping I would be. The villages, and countryside were fantastic. While I was unable to actually get off any of the roads, and into the hillsides I couldn't have had a better day nor introduction to the England I wanted to see. We ate some great pub food, enjoyed local beer and cider, and even had afternoon tea. We left England knowing we'll be back, and that we'll be spending the majority of our time in the countryside on foot.

A few Cotswald pics

     Of course I couldn't visit England and not come away with a few handy tokens, and a bit of sporting gear. So when I had the chance to visit Farlow's in London, and an outfitter in Broadway in the Cotswalds I took it. And yes, I spent a bit of money on a nice cap, a sweater, pheasant motif handkies and some flies. Not standard sporting gear here in the US, but handy items none the less.
A bit of gear I bought, including an England rugby jersey

 A few wet flys

     If you are planning a trip to England, I've got a little snippet of info, something that I discovered while travelling there.  England has a reputation for having lousy food. I found this to not be true. Conversely, one can have a lousy meal whatever the city they find themselves in. Well, having served in public safety for 19 years there is one thing I can tell you; cops and firefighters know where to eat. In both Manchester, and London when it came time to seek out a good lunch spot I made it a point to inquire with the local bobbies, and was always pointed in the right direction.
This was a great spot in Manchester we were directed to by the local bobbies
Oh yeah, don't forget duty free on the way home