Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Season to Remember; Woodcock Flights, and England Flights. Part 1

       What a season it's been. Despite planning to hunt locally, and make a trip to Maine, the logistics around having a young puppy at home made getting out difficult this year. During the best weeks of the hunting season Bailey was too young to join me in camp, so he'd have to stay home. He was also too young to spend long days locked up at home, so I would have to juggle my outings around Bailey's needs and my wife's work schedule. No problem. The next season is always just around the corner. And, again I'd made plans to go shoot driven birds in England, so I knew there would be some quality shooting down the road.

Woodcock, woodcock, and more woodcock.

     Logistical issues aside, I managed to get away for a couple of quick trips north with Ginger. Not having planned anything out each trip began with a call to secure lodging and then a series of calls to see who would be up north while I was there. Turns out I would have the pleasure of sharing a few days with fellow spaniel man B McL, and his small pack. Together B and I spent a few days hitting some familiar coverts, and moving birds. We got into some grouse and woodcock, but it wasn't until we decided to explore some new territory that our barrels heated up.

     Late one day we decided to take a walk up a hillside which had by all appearances been cut 5-7 years before. The tops of the young saplings could be seen stretching up the hill as far as the eye could see. With daylight fading we made a quick push up one edge going about 1/2 mile from the road. What a 1/2 mile it turned out to be. I don't think we ever went more than 100 yards between woodcock finds, and by the time we made it back to the truck B McL was out of shells, and we both had heavy game bags.

     The next morning we knew exactly where we would be hunting. We started our walk a bit further down the road, choosing to walk the edge of a small cut of about the same age before heading up the hill. It turned out to be a great warm up for both dogs and guns, with the cry of "woodcock!" heard 4 times in the first 5 minutes, before even getting 100 yards from the truck. It wasn't until we hit the main hill that the guns started to really roar.

     The hillside was scarred with old skidded tracks of various widths. As we started the climb B McL took a kidder to the left and slightly up hill of me, while I worked Ginger in cover either side of what appeared to be an old wide skidded. The woodcock were there. In fact, they were everywhere on that hillside. There were times when B McL and I would be shooting at different woodcock flushes at the same time. On one occasion B McL shouted woodcock, and as I looked his direction a woodcock came off the hillside, high like a driven bird. I could hear the report of B's gun, but the high woodcock travelled on, so I turned and swung on it, folding it into the swampy creek below, a good primer for my upcoming trip to England. As Ginger was sent out for the retrieve I could here B's conversation with his springer, Willow. Seemed Willow, too, was out on a retrieve. She'd put two woodcock in the air; the one B had killed, the other I killed.

     The day would go on like this, with barrels not just heating up, but getting just plain hot. Some spectacular shots were made, and some equally spectacular misses recorded, too. As lunch time approached we decided to start hunting our way towards the truck. It was then, after reaching into my pocket for shells after recording one of those spectacular misses that I realized I other than the two shells in the Browning, that I'd only one shell left in my pocket. And I still needed 1 more woodcock to fill my limit. As fate would have it Willow flushed another woodcock my way as we were nearly back to the truck. I turned and took the bird, with my second barrel, just as it tried to escape into some thick stuff. Appropriately, Willow made the retrieve, Ginger having been working scent and not marking the fall a bit ahead. I'd filled my limit, and returned to the truck with 1 shell left.

     It probably doesn't have to be said, but this was without any doubt the best day I've ever had on woodcock, and I've had some good days in the past. We stopped counting flushes because they were coming too quickly, but discussing the day later, we both conservatively estimate 50 flushes by lunch time, though it  could have been twice that. As Grouse and Woodcock hunters are know to do, this covert deserved a name, and is thus called One Shell. The question remained, however; would this be the year I killed a driven woodcock in England?


     This year I decided to make a change in the ammo I shoot in the uplands. In England I came to appreciate the forgiveness of a 2 1/2" shell. I also like the idea of fibre wads. Plastic was don't break down, and sit on the forest floor forever. Fibre wads, being essentially cardboard break down and biodegrade. So this year I am shooting RST 2 1/2" fibre wad shells. And they work well.

To be continued in part 2

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.