Prince of Timber

Goose is away at Black Creek Kennel doing some training with Justin McGrail and my son is sleeping so I get a bit of time to catch up on some reading of Upland Blogs and watching of some videos.

I watched the latest installment from the crew over at Project Upland in collaboration with the gentlemen behind Modern Wild called Timber Rocket.

Near the end of the film they refer to Woodcock as the Prince of Timber which I think is a really fitting honorific for such a worthy little adversary. Most Upland hunters will agree that the Ruffed Grouse is King of the North Woods, so it seems fitting that the timber doodle be called Prince.

This has been my first season in the upland woods hunting over a dog and marks actually the first times I have encountered Woodcock thanks to my dogs impressive nose. I seemed to find them really well for about one week during their fall migration and then they seem to be gone as I have found none since. This first season we flushed 11 woodcock and I bagged two. Next year I look forward to bagging some more as I found them to be really delicious when cooked on a really hot cast iron pan, seasoned lightly with some maldon salt and then dipped in a maple dijon mustard.

Enjoy this Woodcock montage from Modern Wild and blog post about praise for the Prince of Timber.



After working the opening day of the local Ring-necked Pheasant hunt and having to sit out the second day due to more pressing responsibilities on the home front, Goose and I were eager to get out in the field. Luckily I had Friday off which provided an opportunity for a half day hunt in the morning (the local conservation hunting grounds are closed to hunting from noon till dusk on Mondays and Fridays).

Since I worked Thursday evening and have a 5 week old infant at home these days, it would be fair to say we are all tired. My wife woke me around 7 am after our son’s early morning feed and handed me our son dressed in a little camouflage onesie. We had some morning snuggles and I dragged myself out of bed, brewed a pot of coffee and filled my thermos for the road.

Hunting starts at 8 am at the local hunting grounds and parking is restricted to designated areas demarcated with parking stakes (or pegs as they might be called across the pond). I wanted to arrive early to ensure we got a spot as I have been told sometimes space can come at a premium. I should mention there is also no Sunday hunting in our municipality. So local hunters and some that travel far and wide take advantage of the opportunity to hunt quasi-public ground (technically the conservation land is private property but available for hunting use to those that buy a permit. I have opted for the Pheasant, Small Game and Migratory Birds option this year.

When we arrived there were two other hunters already there each with their respective breed of pointer. This place truly is a pointing dogs paradise. The local conservation authority manages the forests and abandoned farmsteads with the goal of enhancing biodiversity and improving water quality throughout the Grand River watershed. The conversation authority stocks pheasants and there is an abundance of waterfowl on the nearby lake (reservoir) and ponds on the property. After many miles of scouting in the preseason I have learned there is also some good Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse habitat.

Goose had previously encountered some Ring-necked pheasants raised in pens at a local farm owned by a relative but she had never had a chance to hunt released birds. When we arrived there were some tail feathers from some roosters from the previous two days of hunts in the parking lot so I drew Goose’s attention to these as we set out to find our own patch of ground to hunt on away from the other hunters and dogs.

At first Goose seemed to think we were going on more of a hike than a hunt mostly sticking to the well-groomed trails throughout the property. Though with some encouragement she began to work a better quartering pattern and explore the treelines and saplings. After limited success in the open fields we took a detour down a treeline which looked like prime Grouse cover and Goose got birdy, or so I thought. After working the cover for about ten minutes it became apparent Goose was trailing a deer which we flushed, but Goose did well to not chase after it once I spotted it. I checked the map, wind direction and compass (all via apps on my iPhone) and then headed in a different direction away from where we encountered the deer.

Shots rang out in the distance and Goose got excited. She finally seemed to realize we were in fact hunting, not just out for a hike. She wanted to go see what all the fuss was about, so it took some effort to keep her from running off in the direction of the shots.  Not long later some more shots rang out. Judging by the sound the birds seemed to be towards the back of the property. So we continued in the direction we were heading systematically covering the edges of fields, tree lines and swampy areas just in case we came across a Woodcock. We reached the back corner of the property and Goose seemed to want to continue onto the neighbouring property, but she listened well and came when called as we turned to work back in the direction we came. Just as we emerged from the trees into a field a Rooster flushed to my left which I took two shots at but did not connect. I called Goose back to where the bird had been holding and she was eager to continue hunting. We walked in the direction the Rooster flushes and after entering the next field Goose indicated that she caught wind of something which I assumed was going to be a pheasant so I prepared myself trying to be mindful of my footing, released my safety and a while turkey flushed about 20 yards ahead and Goose was in hot pursuit. I called her off and she returned to hunting within gun range and we circled back to where we first flushed the bird.

A whistle was blasting just beyond the trees and Goose froze and then began to bark as a blaze orange figure emerged from the trees with an over-under slung over his shoulder. I calmed Goose, said hello and asked if he had any luck. He said he shot his limit (likely those first shots I heard) and was now trying to reign in his dog a German Shorthaired Pointer which seemed to have plenty of hunting desire. He said she just kept pointing birds and hunting even though he could no longer shoot as he already had his two bird limit for the day. He wished us luck and we continued on back in the direction he had come (he did say his dog had pointed a couple of birds so I was eager to see if we might find some more of these elusive pheasants.

Again Goose got birdy and a we flushes a hen pheasant and again I missed. I gave myself a quiet pep talk about doing better shooting, for the dog. We continued down the field and this time a Rooster flushed and I connected on the second shot with the bird crumpling mind flight falling to the ground. Goose located the bird and brought it back to me and released it when I asked for it. I was giddy with excitement. My first pheasant and Goose’s, a very proud moment indeed. After some praise and the bird in the bag, we continued on, this time back towards the truck as it was now 11:30 am. Only 30 minutes remained of legal shooting. A short distance further near an apple tree I spotted a Rooster on the ground. The dog was working off in a different direction. It jumped up to take flight and I fired a shot knocking it back to the ground. I called the dog in for the retrieve as the bird was down but still had its head up. Goose came crashing in and seemed to be in pursuit of the wounded bird but after about 5 minutes it became apparent she had not located the bird. We circled back to where we started. Marked the waypoint and began to systematically search the undergrowth as the bird had not flown away and I am certain I hit it with evidence of blood and feathers on the ground. We continued to search for another 30 minutes.  At which point I unloaded my gun and decided to make tracks as I didn’t want there to be any concerns that I was hunting after the 12 noon limit.

I was frustrated with myself and the dog for losing the second bird, but happy to know we had one in the bag. On the way back Goose found and flushed another hen pheasant and seemed confused when I didn’t follow her after it. We made it back to the truck about 10 after 12 and I dug out my thermos and changed into dry clothing. All in all not a bad way to start the pheasant season and a reminder of the wisdom of that famous idiom “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush”.

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Birds Flushed: 3 Roosters, 1 Hen, 1 Wild Turkey

Birds in the Bag: 1 Rooster

Temperature 14 C Winds SW 5 km/h Altitude 425.63 m

Distance 14.3 km Steps 20789

Show and tell

Recently we welcomed some friends and their children over for a visit. They drove more than an hour to come visit, but they weren’t really here to see us or even our newborn son. The reason for their special visit was they wanted to meet Goose our Drentsche Patrijshond (Drent) and learn more about the breed.

After hearing much about our dog Goose and her ability to be both a great hunting dog as well as a great family dog with children, our friends were eager to learn more. So on a beautiful Canadian Thanksgiving Monday they made the drive to our small town to play with our pup.

I had just returned from a 3 hour hunting outing at the nearby conservation lands with Goose. No birds flushed, but many kilometers covered, Goose was in a mellow mood which is good for young visitors. We brushed her ears of the burs she always seems to find. Tidied up the house and found our copy of Pointing Dogs – Volume One: The Continentals by Craig Koshyk. I thumbed through the book and found the Drentsche Patrijshond section and used some of my DPCNA decal stickers as book marks that I could later give to our friends kids as gifts.

Our guest arrived mid afternoon and Goose was on her best behaviour. She played well with our friends children. Showed some of her tricks and went for a nice walk with us all down by the river.

Time will tell if our friends get a Drent that Goose can play with, we certainly think they should. I think my favourite part of the afternoon is when our friends daughter told me with great certainty that Goose was on her sticker and when their son walked Goose nicely on her leash healing at his fathers side.

Working on Woodcock

As I weaved through thorny thickets Goose locked up on point.


American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) in Essex, Ontario. Photo by Mark Nenadov. (Creative Commons)

Goose and I got out for a couple hours this morning to check out our usual covers in search of another Ruffed Grouse or two (since that is the daily limit in our area). This morning was cool and there was a thick dew on the ground so even though we started around 9:45 am I quickly was soaked from the waist down from the dew. Temperatures were cooler around 18 C and the wind was WSW 16 km/h. We worked down the edge of a pine planting into the wind with the hopes that Goose would pick up bird scent. After walking for more than and hour and a half we had yet to have any promising leads.

Working down an overgrown road thick with golden rod and downed trees Goose seemed to pick up scent of something and began working through the thicker cover over to my left. As I weaved through thorny thickets Goose locked up on point. I worked over towards her and a bird flushed from just under her nose. As I shouldered the gun I realized it was a Woodcock  and dropped the gun back to my side as I have not yet been able to find the non-toxic shot required in 16 gauge for this migratory upland game species. We continued on buoyed by this success with her first true point of a wild bird that she was steady enough to allow me to flush the bird and good opportunity for a shot had I been carrying the appropriate load. Goose gave chase after the flush but broke this off when I called her to come back to my side. After some praising her for her good find we continued the search only to have me foot flush the bird again about a 20 yards up ahead while Goose was searching in a different location.

We worked our way through another overgrown road and through a stand of poplars which had previously held numerous Grouse but today we didn’t seem to have the luck. After a good walk we made our way back to the truck, soaking wet but happy that Goose seemed to have connected a few dots in her own head, doing a much better job searching for bird scent and holding steady on her first point on a wild bird.

Goose’s first Grouse

Goose seemed to have caught wind of something and was indicating she wanted to work up over the hill away from where we had previously found birds.

Goose and I got out into the local Grouse woods the other day for a mid morning Grouse hunt. We went to our usual spot, but this time took a different approach working the east along the northern property line so as to keep Goose working into the wind as we worked back and fourth across the cover from North to South. Early in the hunt we checked one of the covers that seems to most reliably hold birds but Goose did not pick up any scent so we carried on deeper into the tract.

Since this particular property is a Grand River Conservation Authority Hunting ground we were limited to hunt till noon (hunting grounds from 8 am till noon on Mondays and Fridays). I had set a reminder alarm in my phone so prompt me to start working back towards the truck so that we would be at the trail head by noon.

My alarm rang out just as we approached the cover we had checked earlier that morning. Goose seemed to have caught wind of something and was indicating she wanted to work up over the hill away from where we had previously found birds. So I checked my watch and decided to indulge her a little as we worked through think thorny cover.

Just then a grouse exploded out of the cover just ahead. We were on the trail and Goose was excited. We had just over ten minutes left to hunt. So we continued on and Goose flushed the Grouse again further out in front. Again no opportunity for a shot in this thick cover and also being mindful of our position in relation to a nearby road.

We circled around about 150 yards and I had Goose working in close to me to try and improve my chances for a shot. This time when we flushed the bird I was able to get off a shot and Goose went charging after the bird in hopes of a retrieve. That first shot seemed to have missed the mark as Goose flushes the bird right back towards me crossing right to left, and this time there was no doubt that my shot string connected. The bird was down and Goose made her first retrieve after some encouragement as she seems to think the bird was further out than it was (likely since she had played around in a field as a pup when we shot some clay pigeons). She found the bird and destroyed the fan but did give it up when asked to without damaging the breast. I heaped on the praise and affection and she seemed to understand that she did well as she had a little extra bounce in her step on the way back to the truck.

Again I checked the time and we had to make trails as there was about 5 minutes left of legal shooting on this particular property. I removed my spent shells and placed them in a pocket as a little token to remind me of Goose’s first wild bird. Back at the truck gun unloaded there was time for some quick photos to capture the moment and send to my wife who was happy to hear of Goose and my success.

It was clear that Ruffed Grouse was going to me on the dinner menu at the Jones household.

Temp 22 C Winds SSE 5 km/h

Shooting my father’s old 16 G SXS, Shot shell #7.5

Grouse Camp aka “The Easy J”

“Their cabin was their retreat from the business of life.”

One thing I have been thinking about since I got Goose my Drent (Drentsche Patrijshond) was taking her up to my grandparents cabin just south of Kinmount Ontario on the Galway Road. Since the time I was born we had made visits to the cabin in the fall and winter for grouse and deer hunting, but also just for time away and a slower pace of life. Usually fall comes early to these parts with vibrant colours appearing in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, but this year things are looking like they will be a little late. My Dad’s parents bought the 100 acre property in the 1960s and what was once a farm has over the years returned mixed hardwood and softwood forests with clearings in places where the Canadian shield reaches the surface.

As a child I remember walks with my grandma and aunt through the woods. Playing with Lady my grandmas loyal Black Lab and looking at the old Shooters Bible and bird watching books that lined the book shelves. My grandfather was a consummate grouse hunter. He was a hardworking self made man who built his electrical business from the ground up with the assistance of his wife. Their cabin was their retreat from the business of life. Grandpa Paul as he was known to me used to smoke pipes at the cabin and liked his .410 shotgun and his black Labs. There were man stories of my grandpa and grandma taking Lady (their Labrador Retriever) out for a grouse hunt and getting split up in the hills and swamps. With my grandma and the dog often returning with a grouse (even though Granny never carried a gun) and my grandfather empty handed.

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My grandparents were bird lovers. With many encyclopedias and almanacs of North American or Eastern Canadian birds. The apple tree out front of the kitchen window provided a resting place for birds as they shuttled back and fourth from their nearby roosts to the many feeders my grandma always kept full. Grandpa also seemed to share a passion for birds. Yes he was a waterfowl and upland hunter, but he also was a wood carver who hand carved song birds which are still on the shelves of the cabin, and was even known to make a few wooden duck decoys.

We delayed out trip by a day due to inclement weather, so I was eager to go north to the cabin as early as possible. We loaded up the dog, wife and baby into our truck and retraced the route I had taken countless times through out my childhood. Past the statue of the leaping buck. Past the limestone hill. Past the estate where they trained English fox hounds for the hunt and down the hilly Galway Road to the cabin named the “Easy J” by my grandparents before me.

We arrived in good time with dew still on the grass, took down the gait pole and checked the mouse traps. Fired up the furnace and split some wood for the fire and bundled up our little one for his first walk in the family woods.

Goose seemed to love the place right away. She began running around with her nose to the ground exploring the property through smell with her tail happily wagging away behind her. I decided to leave the gun in the cabin on that first walk since our little guy didn’t have ear protection and I was hoping that he would rest a bit, all snuggled up in his carrier on my wife’s chest.

As we approached the turn to the lower gait I asked my wife to pause a moment as I took the dog down an old road, now strewn with fallen trees and grown up uncut grass. Only a few yards down I saw some movement below the base of a cedar at the edge of a freshwater spring that feeds the nearby swamp and Goose pointed and I flushed a Woodcock (the first Woodcock I had ever seen on that property in my 29 years of visiting). It flew right over my wife back on the main trail and Goose was able to relocate it and flush it back in the direction it came.

We continued on down the trail and as we approached “the cedar tree” on the front hill Goose again got birdy indicating that their was something below us in the cedar and tamarack swamp. A few steps off the trail we flushes a second Woodcock. We walked a ways further zigzagging our way back and fourth across the main trail and through the undergrowth in search of bird scent but didn’t find much more so we returned to the cabin for my wife and child to warm up.

Goose and I ventured back out this time determined to go further afield into to the thicker covers and more off the beaten path. After hiking the full length of the property to check the back property line marked at its terminus by the rusting skeleton of an old car, we turned back towards the cabin following the disintegrating cedar rail fence that marks the eastern boundary of the property and flushed our first Ruffed Grouse of the day just below the “the center field” but no shot was possible as it disappeared down over a ridge into the clearing of an old beaver pond.

We made it back to the cabin in good time for a late brunch of bacon and eggs and lit the fire to dry out and warm up. Checking the GPS on my iPhone (I use iHunter Ontario and a step counter app called Walkable) and we had done 8.4 km that morning and the dog many more.  After a break for me and the dog by the fire we got back out for a mid-afternoon hunt and once again flushed a Woodcock near the lower gait. Working back towards the beaver bond where we flushes a Grouse earlier that morning and had heard it drumming this time we approached from down wind to help the dog hone in on the grouses hidden location. Within 100 yards of the earlier flush Goose flushes the Grouse towards the neighbours property. Again shortly after landing we could hear drumming so we worked in that direction with another flush coming shortly after which was heard but not seen. We circled back to the western side of the property to begin heading back to the cabin and flushes another Grouse in a dense stand of young conifers at the edge of the old sand pit.

Our bird contacts for the day were, four Woodcock and four Grouse flushes (likely representing two distinct Grouse). All birds were left in the field for another day. Overall I was happy with the range Goose hunted at, but would like to see her a little more independently exploring covers adjacent to the easier walking trails. She does a good job indicating when she has got a bird scent but sometimes waits for me to give her the go ahead to follow the scent into the deeper cover. Hopefully with her upcoming training at Black Creek Kennels they can help with her independence, quartering as well as establishing points at a better distance from the bird to prevent dog flushes. Overall I think she is making great progress as a young grouse dog in her first season, especially since she is from and unproven line and her parents were never hunted.

The First Three Days

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) are the most widely distributed resident game bird in North America, living now or recently in all of the Canadian Provinces and in 38 of the 49 states on the continent. (RGS)

After a productive week of scouting before the ruffed grouse season opener, I had high hopes for our first official day in the Southwestern Ontario grouse woods. After putting in many hours studying satellite imagery on google and many kilometers on foot scouting local conservation and county forests, I had narrowed down my list of thirty-one forest tracts I had access to hunt to my top ten properties.

Monday we set out to the most promising tract near our home that previously during scouting walks had yielded nearly 25 flushes in just over a month. I knew the property well and where the most promising grouse covers were.

Everything was seeming to come together in these last few weeks with Goose my nearly one year old Drentsche Patrijshond (Drent) finding both wild grouse and woodcock but also becoming more reliable in terms of listening to commands, pointing pen raised chukars we released on my in-laws rural property and even fetching shot chukars to hand and hunting for winged bird.

As luck would have it the start of grouse season arrived right in the midst of a heat wave well above seasonal averages with daily temperatures reaching 30 to 33 C or 86 to 90 F for midday highs.

Monday I had great difficulty sleeping, which I would love to say was due to anticipation of the upcoming hunt season, but it was really because my newborn son seems to have finally found his lungs. He woke our whole house bright and early sometime just after five AM and long before I had my alarm set for. So I figured I would brew my pot of coffee, fill up my thermos and pack the truck and ready the dog. My plan was to get the dog on the ground sometime around 9 am late enough to allow the heavy dew we have been having to burn off, but still early enough to beat the midday heat. By about seven AM I was fully packed up and the dog was clearly getting excited so my wife suggested we get out early to see what we could find.

That first morning we went to my favourite cover, checked the wind directions and satellite maps and decided on a plan of attack that would bring Goose crosswind into my favourite grouse hideouts. After a 30 minute warm up we were quartering into the wind and soaking wet from the mornings heavy dew we checked the first cover but Goose did not get any scent of birds. So we carried on along a stand of mature spruce and pine and through an overgrown ravine with remnants of one of the former farmsteads and then circled back around to check my favourite cover again later in the day as temperatures rose and the dew cleared. Again no signs of bird scent.   We worked the edges of covers and old fence rows overgrown with apples, hawthorns and buckthorns as well as dried up creek beds but again had now success. So we ventured into the far reaches of the property to another spot I have previously flushed 6 birds. Again no bird scent or contacts. I don’t know if it was the heat or the heavy dew, but after putting in 10.2 km myself and likely many more on Goose we decided to pack it in for the day. Grouse 1 – Goose and Paul 0.

Tuesday Goose and I were back at the same property, this time much later starting our hunt at 11:30 am. The dew was clear but the heat was oppressive with the temperature already hitting 29 C or 84 F with the winds 9 km/hr SW.   The wind direction had reversed from the day previous so we entered the property from the far side to work into the winds and withing 500 yards of the truck Goose made her first point in heavy cover of a juvenile grouse feeding in a creek bed. No good shot opportunity presented itself. Not more than 50 feet ahead she flushed a second bird while trying to relocate the first and again no shot was permitted. I am hunting this season with my father’s old JC Higgins 16 gauge side by side, shooting Remington 7.5  game load shells. After circling around through dense cover and now being able to regain the trail. We began working down the creek bed and Goose got wind of a bird and proceeded to work across the valley to the far edge where there was a fence row running along a stand of red pines. Just as we emerged from the thicket Goose flushed another Grouse this time providing me with a going away shot which I promptly missed.  Not a bad start to our second morning with three flushes in under 30 minutes. We continued on, working the edges and abandoned fence rows and flushed another bird about an hour later. Getting tired after hiking nearly 6 km we started to head back for the truck crossing back through where we had our early success. We again flushed a grouse from almost the same spot which gave a going away shot which due to the heat and my sweaty hands I gave the old one-two punch. Lots of leaves and some good searching by Goose I reassured myself it was again a clean miss, when we flushed the grouse again not fifty feet beyond where I thought it landed. Just then Mrs. Jones called to inquire on the progress of the hunt and to request I stop by at home to get the camera for her planned baby photo shoot while Goose and I cooled off around the pool after our hunt. So day two we moved five grouse and had two opportunities for a shot, I fired 3 shells and hit zero grouse, this time at least we were able to find them.

Day three I decided to roll the dice and check out a nearby property (Fleming tract) where I had seen Turkey but not grouse but was confident had the right mix of covers. The property is a Wellington County forest which permits hunting (not all Wellington County forests permit hunting so check the regulations). Today the temperature was more seasonal, overcast with a temperature of 17 C and wind was NW 17 km/hr with a 30% chance of precipitation. We worked down the north west edge of the property as this provided more ideal upland terrain and less swamp. Goose got scent of a bird and was quite excited and nearly barreled into an old barbed wire fence but stopped when I woahed her, only to think for a few seconds before bounding right over the fence (no harm, no fowl) as she trailed a scent. After trailing that scent for 10 minutes she seemed to loose it and turned her attention elsewhere. I covered 6.8 km area and Goose likely many more kilometers, but didn’t manage any bird contacts that day.  That brought out three day total to five grouse flushed and zero in the bag.

Thursday is going to be a travel day to spend some quiet time at the lake and hoping to find some grouse at my grandmas cabin near Kinmount, Ontario on Friday if all goes well.