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