Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Habitat On My Mind

I recently attended a Ruffed Grouse Society habitat presentation. Having acquired an eye for grouse cover, the presentation explained a bit of why the grouse prefer the cover they do, and hopefully will allow me to find more, and better cover in the future. Forestry management, and timber cutting were among the subjects discussed, as well as the decline of several species as a result of poor management, and restrictions on cutting. Here are a few interesting facts from the presentation;

* In New England there are 338 vertebrate species. Of those, 257 have a primary or secondary dependence on woodland vegetation. Of those, 233 have a primary or secondary dependence on second growth woodlands.

* Grouse prefer woodlands between 10 and 25 years old.

* Grouse prefer forest patches of mixed hardwoods and evergreens, greater than 20 acres, near young saplings, and within 300 feet of open land.

* Aspen in the most important tree species to the Ruffed Grouse. Aspen is a short lived tree which readily takes advantage of clear cuts, and sunlight. Aspen is one of just a few species of tree, which when cut, sprouts multiple new trees from it's root system.

* Clear cutting will benefit wildlife, but each species has it's own requirements. While Cottontail Rabbits will benefit from cuts about 12 acres in size, the Olivesided Flycatcher requires cuts greater than 35 acres. When cutting any lot, cut from south to north to maximize sunlight.

* Since 1970, in Massachusetts there has been a 43% decline in woodcock. The eastern region of the woodcock's range has seen a decline of about 32% during that time period.

* A woodcock hen will lay 4 eggs. Should her clutch be lost a second clutch will be laid, but it will only contain 3 eggs.

***Special thanks to Andy Weik, RGS N.E., NY, and Eastern Canada, biologist for catching a couple inaccuracies in my note taking, and e-mailing me so I could make appropriate edits.

***Andy and his hunting cohorts have an entertaining blog, Grousers, which I've linked. Take a look, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thoughts On Dogs

     With a new pup in the house my thoughts constantly revolve around dog, and puppy issues. Having a new pup is quite exciting, as everyday, in one fashion or another she show a bit more  untapped potential. Daily I see her moving forward in her understanding of our expectations, her manners improving nicely, as she becomes a young woman. I constantly need to make myself slow down with her training, making sure she understands each task fully before moving on to the next. and I haven't even really started anything yet, keeping our sessions limited to recalling her, teaching her to sit, and some fun retrieves. At 16 weeks old, she's still a little goof ball, and my intention is to train her in such a way that she remains one.

       While the pitter patter of puppy pads on the floor is music which makes me smile, the gang of old,  their antics, successes, and miles of memories are never out of my minds reach. I've loved them all, and they've all loved me. As much as I worked to bring them in line with my expectations, they too, worked to bring me in line with theirs.

     Truth is, having a pup, a dog in it's prime, and a dog in it's twilight are completely different things. The dogs are the same, and their relationship to us is the same, but with age comes wisdom, and a wise, savvy dog is worth every ounce of kibble on the planet, and then some.

     Anyone who's raise a gun dog from puppy hood, and seen it through it's twilight, has seen the transformation. As a pup, the young dog absorbs lessons with a great enthusiasm, focused on pleasing you, reaching for approval and a loving scratch behind it's ear.
     In it's prime, the dog hunts the cover endlessly, because it's love for pleasing you, coupled with it's ingrained desire to find game has opened it's eyes to the fact that you and it love the same thing. It's breeding, boldness, and brains allow the dog to learn lessons that we could never teach it. Lessons that can only be taught by the game we pursue. As this wisdom grows in the dog, the wisdom we've stumbled upon gives us the brains to appreciate, and reinforce these lessons, continuing the bonding we've nurtured since the bumbling pup first napped on our lap. And at the end of the day, all the dog wants is to sit proudly by your side for a scratch behind it's ear.
     Later still, the dog in it's twilight continues to grow wiser; learning to work smarter, and not harder. It reads us as well as it reads the wafting scent cone before it, knowing the hunt is nearing it's end when we've stumbled, again, on a stump we'd have given no thought years earlier. In the home, they've become a gentleman, or a lady in the truest sense. They've learned when to be assertive, when to lay on their bed quietly, and exactly when you need them to quietly sit by your side, with their head on your knee, knowing you want nothing more than to give them a loving scratch behind the ear.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Best Case, Worst Case, Just in Case.

     Venturing abroad, into the woodlands, and thickets has become a way of life for me. These adventures have awakened in me senses, and feelings I seldom if ever experience when in the city, and partaking in everyday life. One thing I've cued in on more than any other, is a sense of self sufficiency. In the woods there are no conveniences. You must take care of yourself. There is no 7-11, nor 911.  In doing this I've amassed a small collection of things I seldom leave home without. Thing I use regularly, and some I've never used, but suspect that should I need them, I'll be glad I've got them.

     A compass, or a GPS (along with a compass) are a couple things one should never venture into the wilderness without. This is basic, and as far as I'm concerned doesn't even deserved to be titled "Outdoors 101" as it's rather remedial in nature. The  question is; what do you consider "wilderness"? I routinely venture into the wood lot where I do my deer hunting without my GPS, or even looking at my compass for a heading. The lot is small, and I've learned that a straight line in any direction will bring you to civilization in well short of an hour. But that's my comfort zone, and each outdoors man needs to find their own. There are other places I would never go without a means of keeping track of where I am, and how to get out.

     A knife and a flashlight are two items that one should never be without. A day trip can present opportunities that stretch your outing to last light or beyond, and the need for a knife presents itself quite easily. I never wander the woods without either. A couple of other items I like to carry are dog oriented. A small pair of forceps are useful after the dog encounters a porcupine, but equally handy should you suffer a misstep in a thorn apple grove. I also carry EMT gel in case a dog receives a nasty cut. I've had dogs get cut up before, and though I doubt their life was in danger, I felt better once the bleeding was stopped. A 10' length of parachute cord can double as a slip lead if needed, or used to immobilize an injured dog.

     There are a number of "worst case scenario" items I carry in the outdoors, too. These are the items that, should I be stuck, unexpectedly, in the woods over night, will hopefully make the experience a bit more comfortable. As I've come to believe a night in the woods is a matter of when, not if, I view these items as essential. Though I haven't assigned them an order of importance, the moral boost, heat, and security a fire provides can't be overstated. To assure I'll have fire, I carry two means of starting one; waterproof matches, and a zinc/ flint starter. There are others out there, and some I'm keen to get my hands on, but for now those are it.
     For additional warmth, and a bit of shelter, I carry two emergency blankets. The way I see it, one wrapped around me, and the other suspended overhead should keep me warmer, and dry if the weather isn't cooperating. As I sometimes hunt with friends, the extra blanket can provide them some shelter too, should I have company in my misfortune. However, they won't find themselves wrapped up in it, but sharing my space beneath it, as they should have had the foresight to pack their own blanket. Hell, I've been advising them of the need to assemble a kit for years.
     A couple of other tid-bits I carry are a roll of heavy weight twine, an extra knife, a couple light sticks, and a snack of some kind. The twine can be used for just about anything, but suspending a blanket for shelter readily comes to mind. The light sticks, snack, and knife don't really need an explanation. This all goes into a big zip lock, which can be useful in a pinch, too, and then into a small stuff bag. The kit easily fits into the back of a bird vest, a fanny pack, or a back pack.

         The only other thing one need consider before trekking the countryside is a resource, more valuable than gold, and under appreciated until demand is greater than supply; The bog roll. I think I'll let you draw your own conclusions on that subject.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things You Should Check Out - Shoot Tech

Everything in life comes with a certain amount of responsibility attached to it. Being a home owner, I find myself spending shotgun, and flyrod time with screw driver, and paint brush. Such is life. Hunting too, comes with it's own responsibilities, and everyone knows proficiency, and accuracy with your gun is one of them. Most responsible hunters spend time on the range, be it skeet, sporting clays, a rifle range, or an archery 3-D course. As responsible, and fun as it is, we also find ourselves wanting to improve these skills. Well, here are a couple of things that any wingshooter will find helpful.

OSP Shooting School- Gil and Vicki Ash run this shooting school, and have produced a few shooting books and DVDs. They also take their show on the road, doing seminars around the globe. But what has helped me the most has been the OSP Tips section of the website, where a variety of articles can be found.

Podcasts- the world has become hi-tech, and shooters should take advantage of this. I'm not talking about expensive video systems what turn your family room into a virtual skeet field, but you should take advantage of some of the podcasts offered by iTunes. While most pod casts are audio only, many have a video componenet too, and it's these that could help a wingshooter. One of the podcasts I like is from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and is also offered on their website.

Check these out. I think you'll find them entertaining, and helpful.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting Started

     Venturing into the woods in search of ruffed grouse can be an overwhelming task for the newbie. I was a newbie once, and was fortunate enough to have made the acquaintance of a bunch of deer, bear, and turkey hunters from western Mass who had no compulsion about pointing me and my shooting buddy, Bryan, in the right direction. Why anyone would be interested in hunting ruffed grouse was beyond them, though they did join us a couple of times, and brought us along at others. Because of this a groundwork was laid, and the obsession grew. With this came a quest for more knowledge which would allow me to be more successful in the grouse woods. Here is a look at some of the material I used.

     This book has been my go to guide over the years. I've got the first edition, and every year it comes to grouse camp with me. I routinely find myself picking it up, and thumbing through it for a few more morsels of information. So confident am I in the info in this book that it gets passed around the guys regularly.
Get Grouse Hunter's Guide here.

     Here's another I've read and been impressed with. The information was presented well, and was entertaining. I must admit, I do not own this particular book, but it is on the list, as I've been wanting to read it again.
Get Grouse and Woodcock here.

     This video is another great resource. One area of grouse hunting that I believe the newbie struggles with the most is what type of cover to hunt. Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, some good video of grouse cover is worth a million. The bonus; some great footage of a really cute Setter pup.
Get the DVD here.

Buyer beware.

     While there are numerous texts, and magazines with good grouse hunting, and dog training one must use caution when following advice. A friend in Pa. recently forwarded me this link to a column in the local paper, the subject of which is dog training.  The author, Mr Tatum, makes some mistakes in his spaniel training program, which he admits to. While I know nothing about Mr. Tatum, other than he's an outdoor columnist, and what I've read in this article, I'd be a little put off if I'd have been following a dog training program he might have been writing about. So, if there is any question as to the validity of any info, seek a second opinion. The worst that can happen is you'll learn more than you'd expected.

     The link to the column written by Mr. Tatum is to illustrate my point, and if you read the entire column you'll see that Mr. Tatum, having made a training mistake, did a great job fixing what could have been a serious issue. Good job, Mr. Tatum.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Off Course; Other Interests and Things.

    All Seasons Outdoors has moved. We've got a new office, with some real nice neighbors. Well,...sort of.
     While not as extravagant as other locations, this new office is ideal in that it offers access to the wifi from my nearby living room, easy access to my kitchen, a friendly neighborhood breeze, and doubles as a puppy training facility. At night it is kept bright with a series of solar powered lights, and a candle, while four strategically placed tiki torches filled with citronella keep the bugs at bay. When not writing, this area is ideal for sipping cocktails with the missus too.

     Did I mention the new office comes with new neighbors? A nice family has taken up residence nearby, and I'm keeping my eyes open, awaiting the new arrivals.

     In mixing the outdoors, with other interests, I spent the weekend at The Old Men Of The Mountain Rugby Fest. How exactly does rugby, and the outdoors mix? Well, for the last 27 years, this event has been held in Franconia, New Hampshire. Held along side the Gale river, and with a spectacular mountainous back drop, this oldboys rugby event is held at what I believe to be the most beautiful rugby venue in the world.

     While you are assured to see plenty of wildlife on the rugby pitch, driving the country roads, or hiking in the nearby White Mountains is sure to be a thrill too. Next year, this old rugger is heading up a day early, with a fly rod as well as my rugby kit.

***Special Note*** This was a combined BRFC/BIGRFC side.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Slow On The Uptake/ SBH Contribution

     While I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I'm the dullest neither. Working on this blog, and a couple other writing projects, I neglected to point you in the direction of a piece I contributed to, the companion website to the book, Serious Bird Hunting, by Jay Kumar, and Brendan Haines. If you haven't seen their site yet, I highly recommend it. And though I haven't read the book yet (sorry guys), if the content is anything like that of their site, it'll be a winner. So, here's the link, though a little tardy. Enjoy.