Thursday, November 26, 2015

England Bound

     Next week I'm heading over to England to enjoy some driven bird shooting. Yup. You heard that right. I'm heading off on an international shooting adventure. I came upon an opportunity to shoot driven pheasants in East Yorkshire, and decided that now was the time to make something like this happen.
     Of course a trip like this requires some preparations, and preparing is what I've been doing. Most of my prep efforts have come in the form of clay shooting. I've spent a good deal of time at skeet, a little time at sporting clays, and even made arrangements to practice shooting incoming clays thrown out of a high tower. Driven game is generally presented as high incoming targets, though high crossing targets may be presented, too. As this is a presentation I've rarely had opportunity to shoot, except for a few days of pass-shooting ducks, I thought a session on the high tower would be prudent. It was. Sure, I had to work out a few issues, mostly relating to my neutral eye dominance and how the target looked, but it went well. Strangely, I found the difficulty of the various presentations opposite how I'd imagined them. I'd expected the high right to left crosser to be the easiest as one is pushing the gun into their face, and the straight incomer as the most difficult as the shooter looses sight of the target swinging ahead to the appropriate amount of lead. On the contrary, I shot the incoming targets easily, and struggled with the high right to left crossing target. Either way, if you've never had an opportunity to shoot a high tower, seek one out. It is a ton of fun. I really enjoyed it, and will regularly shoot the tower from now on.

     The rest of my preparations revolve around trying to learn about the culture of shooting in the UK. Shoots take many forms, and most Americans are probably only familiar with the shooting scenes in Downton Abbey, or the movie Gossford Park. True, many are quite formal in their undertaking and held on large estates, but just as many, if not more are DIY affairs put together by a shooting syndicate, and held on leased farm land. The shoot I'll be joining is just such. As a DIY shoot all participants play a variety of roles. The shoot is a walk one-stand one shoot, meaning I will shoot 3 drives, and beat, trying to move birds forward over the line of guns, for 3 drives. As a first timer I think this is a fantastic way to see the entire operation of a shoot, though if I could have one wish granted it would be to bring my springer, Ginger, along to work as a pick up dog. I think if I lived in the UK I'd spend more time picking up at a shoot than shooting. I do love good dog work.

     I've also got to consider what to wear. Blaze orange is not an acceptable option. Granted, on large estate shoots Tweeds are the only appropriate attire. The shoot I'll be attending is not quite as formal. I've already been told I'll not need a tie, though I'll probably wear one. After all, informal or not, one does not simple fly to England to shoot and not wear a tie. Of course I'll wear wellies, but that's nothing new. I've been hunting and shooting in wellies, exclusively, for years. And most likely my Barbour Beaufort waxed cotton coat will make the trip, too. Waxed cotton coats are seldom worn on driven days, but shooting with a DIY syndicate that rough shoots, as well as varmint shoots, I expect it won't be out of place.

Proper tweeds

     What about the guns? you ask. Well, I'm not bringing one. My host has offered me the use of his guns, and that is a huge relief. Yes, I could bring my own gun, but there is considerable paper work involved, and as I will be travelling around England a bit (Manchester, and London) I would rather not have to wade through the various English laws concerning travel and storage.

     So, you can look forward to a full report in a couple of weeks, and hopefully a bit of updating while I'm on the road. Also, I'd like to extend a special thank you to Jack at Addieville East farm in Rhode Island who set up, and let me shoot their high tower on a day when the club was closed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shake Ups

     The outdoors world is not without it's controversies and scandals. Sometimes these issues surprise us, and at other times they seem par for the course. I've recently received word of a couple of shake ups.

     In our first shake up Ducks Unlimited has landed smack dab in the middle of a money grab. Recently DU fired long time DU magazine correspondent E. Donnall Thomas. Why? Well,...follow the money. Don, who also writes for several other publications, earlier this year wrote about a series of stream access court cases going through the Montana court system. At the heart of the matter a land owner, James Cox Kennedy, objected to people floating the Ruby river, which runs through his property, and accessing it from a bridge, on a public road, that went through his property. After a series of trials Mr Kennedy lost his bid to close off the stream, and public access was upheld. The thing is Mr Kennedy is very wealthy, as in Billions, and is a DU contributor. It seems, at the end of the day DU would rather have Mr Kennedy's money than Mr Thomas' writings. What I find distasteful in all of this is the fact that the issue which Mr Thomas wrote about was a) a matter of fact, and b) had nothing to do with DU. And once again, money gets it's way. Anyway, for me, it's bye bye DU, Delta Waterfowl here I come.

     Here is Mr Thomas' original article.

     And here is a statement by Mr Thomas.

     Also, a follow up article on the case.

     On to our next shake up. This may or may not be a bad thing, but Weyerhaeuser is set to buy Plum Creek. Plum Creek owns a lot of land in Western Maine and New Hampshire, and allows public access. Plum Creek's lands in Maine and New Hampshire are essentially public lands, though they do lease land in some other states. Weyerhaeuser, on the other hand seems to operate on a pay-to-play basis, offering land leases, and for sale land use permits. It is unclear if Weyerhaeuser will continue the New England tradition of allowing access to forest lands, or if they will begin selling permits and offering leases. Time will tell.

Friday, November 6, 2015

And Then There Was One.

     Love them or hate them, big box stores are a way of life.To the outdoors enthusiast this can be a benefit, or a bust. My experiences have been mixed, leaning towards the poorer end of the spectrum. Filling out a big box store with enough employees is tough. Getting people with knowledge of the department you plant them in is a challenge, too, I'm sure. While I'm certain that on all levels of the sporting retail world the intention of the employees is good. Save for the most special of specialty shops, where the staff is made up of part-timers who are only working to get the employee discount and guide as a full time job, most people are spending 40+ hours a week in the store and the odd weekend in the outdoors. Couple that with the fact that football season and hunting season are the same time of the year, and I'll bet you there are some employees who don't even remember how to load their slug gun. But like I said, big box stores are a way of life, and that brings me to the point of all this. Rumors abound that Bass Pro Shops is trying/planning to buy Cabelas.

     What does all this mean? I don't know, but I doubt it'll mean either retailer actually starts carrying things sportsman and sportswomen actually want (on a regular basis, that is. Sure, we occasionally find something we want). Anyway,......

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dispatches From The North

     Regular readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of an absence of new material lately. Sorry. Real life sometimes gets in the way of sporting and other enjoyable things. Recently real life has kicked me, and my wife, right in the teeth. Suddenly our energy was required elsewhere.


     I found, or perhaps made, some free time to get away up north to do a little grouse hunting. In fact, I am writing this from the great north woods. A week in grouse camp is really good medicine, even if nothing ails you. Though, it has been an interesting week.

     I've always enjoyed cold, November grouse hunting. Once the leaves are down, if you can find the grouse, the shooting usually gets good. Unfortunately Mother Nature wasn't playing nice. My week up north started out with a bit of rain. Sure, grouse can be hunted in the rain. I just don't like hunting in the rain. Of course the rain did stop, but things got worse. Wind. Everyone knows a good wind makes grouse extremely spooky. I still hunted. Finally on Saturday we got some typical November weather. In the morning the thermometer in the car read 25 degrees, 28 degrees by the time I arrived at one of my favorite sunny, eastern facing hillsides. I made the right choice, and walked out with a heavy game bag. Despite the near perfect November weather, I was at a bit of a crossroad, and packed it in for the day at 11 am after just 2 hours of hunting. Why? Well, the Rugby World Cup finals were on TV at noon, and regular readers of this blog know I'm a rugby guy, too. I wasn't going to miss it.

     Sunday, even though the weather was a bit drizzly again I decided to head to one of my honey holes; The Trail of Tears. Sadly, 3 hours of really tough walking and hunting produced only 6 grouse flushes. After lunch I met up with my friend Gregor, of Braeval apparel, and his red setter Laddie. In the 2 hours we had left to hunt, Laddie put on a nice show, pointing 6 of the 7 grouse we saw. And that 7th, un-pointed grouse was a wild flush between me and Gregor while Laddie was hunting well out in front of us. More impressive than Laddies pointing prowess, was Gregor's shooting, knocking down 3 of the 6 pointed birds. 

     Yesterday was an outstanding day. We decided to hunt a spot that I'd not hunted in about 5 years, and one that Gregor had wondered about. Due to recent logging it took us quite a bit of hiking to get back into good cover, but once we did,....... Later we explored a bit, and hunted a hillside with good looking cover. Another good move. At the end of the day we'd had 22 grouse flushes, most handled by one dog or the other. Sadly, neither of us could put a shot string where it was needed. In fact, I never even fire my gun. But that's hunting.

     Today I made my last day push, and again I headed up the Trail Of Tears. Again the Trail was slow, with only 7 flushes in 3 hours. Another spot much closer to camp proved to be a bit more exciting, offering 4 good off the nose flushed in just 1 hour of hunting. And again, I failed to connect..

     All in all, it's been great to be up in the north woods, and to be hauling my butt through the woods. For the time I spent in the woods, and the number of birds flushed, I feel like things were a little slower than last year. Averaging everything out, we got a grouse flush about every 17 minutes. I think the weather might account for this slow down. With the exception of Saturday, it's been very warm here. On Saturday, when it was cold, I went looking for the birds in the type of cover I'd expect to find them in when it's cold. But what I found was that they weren't in their standard October spots on the warm days, nor were they in their standard November spots. Seems like they were somewhere else, and I couldn't figure out just where that was.

       Anyway, grouse hunting is always great, and a couple of good shooting days sealed the deal. I had the good fortune of carrying 3 woodcock and 3 grouse out of the woods. But more importantly, every aching joint, and sore muscle in evidence of week spent wisely.