Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fit For A King.

     Ruffed grouse are a tough bird, living in tough conditions and tough habitat. No doubt hunting them is tough, too. Truth be told, it's the fact that the Ruffed Grouse is a) excluding Woodcock, the only wild upland bird in New England, and b) tough to hunt, my main attraction to hunting them. This means one would be wise to get themselves and their dogs in shape prior to the opening day of the season.

     Fitness is an area where I have fallen by the wayside. Not too long ago I actively kept my self in shape to the point where even at 50 years old, a couple of weekends each spring and fall I made my way on to the rugby pitch for a bit of a throw down. But the last couple of years I haven't made any effort to be/stay fit, nor get back in shape. A few years ago I suffered a wrist injury, and after a year of not working, a surgery which left me with a partially fused wrist, and months of physical therapy, I finally had a wrist that was good enough for me to go back to work. This doesn't mean I was without my troubles. I lost a lot of mobility and strength in my wrist. 

Even as an old-boy I could leave a trail of destruction. Will it happen again?

     My lack of mobility left me unable to correctly hold and mount a shotgun. To get past this issue I installed a soft rubber palm swell on all my pistol grip stocked shotguns, which allow me to get the gun in to my shoulder correctly while filling the void between my palm and the stock caused by the lack of wrist mobility. Straight stocked guns, being shaped somewhat differently require the use of a Gripswell glove. Anyway, my wrist issues have been floating around in the back of my head for some time, and I've been scared to get in the gym, or out on a bike in fear of aggravating my wrist. Time to put that behind me and start getting back at it again.

     There are two kinds of outdoor grouse related exercise; exercise for man, and exercise for dog. The two do not really go hand in hand very well in many cases. This year I have decided to make a serious effort to increase my fitness level in a few different ways. Let's look at what I plan to do and why.

  • Hiking- I live very close to the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts. This reservation has hundreds of miles of trails, some quite challenging, I can hike. I enjoy hiking, and think the endurance aspect of a long, tough hike on a regular basis will be beneficial when grouse season opens. In addition, I can bring the dogs along. While the dogs will certainly enjoy the hike, it is not very strenuous for them, and wouldn't be my first pick for getting them ready for the season.

  • Mountain Biking- This is my plan to get more serious cardio going. Mountain biking is fun, and a few good hill climbs is a great way to increase the heart rate. This, too, can include the dogs, but one would need to select the right location and, understand the limits of their dogs. In the past I routinely roaded Ginger from a mountain bike to get her in top shape. We had two different routes we could take, a 4 mile course, or a 5 mile course. Both courses were relatively flat, and offered numerous places along the way where she could get a drink of water, or cool off with a quick dip. Roading Ginger, however, was not an activity where I got lots of exercise. A 4 or 5 mile run for a Springer is a decent run for the dog, but not anywhere nearly enough cycling for a human to get a good workout. Sure, I got some benefit from it, but as a stand alone, it isn't enough, so there will be two different types of mountain biking happening; for me, and for them. No doubt a bigger, leggy pointing dog could run more than 4-5 miles, getting both of you a workout. Depending on the breed of dog you hunt with, mountain biking may be the thing.

  • Yoga- Well, not really, but I may give it a try sometime soon. I have, however, begun a comprehensive stretching routine. Stretching helps keep the blood flowing, and I just feel better when I do it. Truth is, I am not very limber, so this stretching came out of necessity, but as I see and feel progress, I really do feel better. I can't help but think being more limber will help to swing a shotgun better, too. Shoot better? Hmmm,....Maybe I will give yoga a try. 

      Hopefully this plan will pay off when grouse season opens, and I find myself following various spaniels across the New England uplands. In the past I used Apps like Runkeeper and Strava to track my workouts. I may start doing that again, and posting my workouts on the ASO Facebook page to keep myself accountable. Who knows? Maybe I'll even find my way on to a rugby pitch again.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Tradition and Hogwash, The Truth About Grouse Hunting

     Ruffed Grouse hunting ain't easy. If it was everyone would do it. The same challenges that keep people out of the grouse woods is what draws me in to them. In my quest to become a better grouse hunter I have constantly worked at learning my craft. Be it field craft, shooting, dog handling and training, or game handling there is a lot to learn. So why would people try to make being a grouse hunter even harder?

     One pervasive sentiment that is often spread through the grouse hunting community is the idea of the "traditional" grouse hunter. The idea being that because some of New England's most prolific outdoor writer hunted with an American made side by side, and a big headed, heavily marked, Belton English setter dictates that the tradition demand that it always must be so, and anyone who would break from the "tradition" is less of a grouse hunter. That's hogwash. Then, like now, those most entrenched in an activity used the most efficient equipment available. At one time certain side by sides were the most advance gun on the market. That's why they found their way in to the lives of those who paved the way. No doubt, if the grouse writers of the past were here today they'd just as likely be shooting a well balanced over and under with screw in chokes, ....because technology.

     Why is this an issue? At a time when we should be recruiting new blood in to our sport the last thing we need is arbitrary benchmarks making it harder for them. People shouldn't be told they need to shoot a SxS to fit in, they should be being told they should be shooting a gun that fits them properly so they enjoy better success afield. People shouldn't be being told they need an English setter to fit in, they should be being told they need a well bred dog that fits their lifestyle so they enjoy better success afield.  The guns, dogs, and various bits of kit that go afield are not one size fits all. The truth is, all one needs to be a successful grouse hunter is a gun that fits, and comfortable boots. So whether you shoot pump gun because it fits you well, or a SxS because one of your literary heroes did, shoot what you want. And, whether you shoot over a spaniel because everything is better with spaniels (Okay, a wee bit of bias), or an English Setter because one of your literary heroes did, shoot over which ever breed of dog you want. All that matters is that we all enjoy our time afield.

Less than "traditional" gun and dog getting it done.



Friday, April 19, 2019


     This year's grouse season has started a little early. Well, not really, but it kinda seems like it has. For some reason grouse season has come to dominate my thoughts much earlier than usual. Most years I manage to make it through winter, spring, and most of summer not really thinking of grouse season until the first cool, dry nights roll in mid-August. Perhaps this is because I am doing a number of things differently this year.

     One of the things I'm doing differently is taking a new friend, and grouse hunting newbie, out grouse hunting. Last year I met KK shooting skeet at the club. we started talking hunting, and while I am quite particular about who I will take out to the woods, KK checked all the right boxes, so we started planning his education.We decided that the best way for him to learn about the grouse woods was to get him looking for grouse cover. So we met early one morning last week and drove 2 hours out to the western part of the state to scout. I already had done some long range recon, and had sat down with KK and explained how I use technology to pre-scout, and what I look for. All we needed to do was make some boot tracks in the potential cover to see if it was what we were looking for. It certainly was what we were looking for. Scouting in the early spring, before everything turns green, allowed us to see the cover in very much the same way it will look in the fall. Many of the preferred food sources had not grown back, but there was just enough green starting to break through that we know the grouse will be in there in due course. I tried to make the scouting trip as educational as I could for KK so he'd have an idea of what to look for in the future. We has a very successful scouting trip. I had marked 5 potential areas to check, and all 5 proved to be worthy of visit in the fall. In addition, due to an un-passable road, and subsequent detour, we added a 6th spot to the list.

     Another change to this season, which could potentially be the cause of my early onset of grouse season induced mania could be a planned trip to Down East Maine. I have been wanting to make a return to Maine but just never made it happen. I'd been talking to BK about us spending a week Down East, and we'd tentatively planned to go, but hadn't actually put it on the calendar. Well, it's happening this year, and we booked a week in October that generally corresponds with the woodcock migration. I'm really looking forward to the vast amount of flat cover Down East offers. I doubt this will amount to a leg cramp free grouse hunting vacation, but it'll certainly be less painful than the leg cramps brought on in hilly Coos county.

     I should add, I've recently been sucked down a worm hole called "reloading". A while back I was given a 20 gauge shotshell reloading press. It's been a great new hobby/obsession. I shoot a lot of clay targets, going through in the neighborhood of 1- 1 1/2 cases of ammo each week. Reloading makes sense.It also allows me to load premium ammo. Regular readers will know that I am a huge proponent of shooting ammo that uses a fibre wad. Spreading plastic wads across the landscape is littering. Fibre wads biodegrade, quickly absorbed back into the landscape. Reloading not only allows me to load fibre wads, it allows me to tailor my ammo to my needs. Currently I am loading, in preparation for the season, 2 different loads; a 2 1/2" 3/4 oz load of #7 1/2's, and a 2 3/4" 7/8 oz load of nickel plated #7's. I'm not entirely sure of what I'll use the 2 1/2" shells for, but I think the 2 3/4" #7's will be the perfect grouse load. For the few times that I am grouse hunting near wetter areas where I my also jump a duck or two (don't laugh, it's happened) I will be loading some bismuth, too.

Reloaded to my exact specifications

     There is also a new gun on order, which should be in my hands as early tomorrow. A promotion at work, and securing a new contract put me in a good place, and finding a really, really good deal on a gun I'd been lusting after for a few years meant it was time to spend some money. But I can't really tell you all about it, now. You'll just have to wait.