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