Monday, July 22, 2019

Upstream A Bit


     Topographical maps show an area of slack water with no contour lines crossing the stream for a very long ways. From the nearest logging road it’s more than a mile in, five times that from the asphalt. It’s grouse and woodcock country, so there’s bound to be alders and woodcock come fall. But it’s the promise of brook trout that draws me in.
     It’s a stream noted for wild brook trout and it weaves through back country, most of the way tumbling down bony grades. But one stretch in the middle is slower, where the water winds through a valley with high undercut banks shouldering the stream. Large brook trout aren’t usually found in the pocket water of tumbling streams. It is more likely they are king of the meandering streams, hiding in the deep holes or under overhanging banks.
     The place needed a closer look.
     With backpack loaded and accompanied by my dogs, following a compass course to the west from my parked truck, I headed into the woods.
     It was easy going, mixed softwoods and hard. Often the ground became soggy enough to warrant detours. Moose tracks turned up the mud. In a gully more than ten feet deep, we encountered a stream too wide to jump. Downstream a couple of hundred yards a half dozen rocks provided stepping stones to cross. Soon we came to alders and the progress slowed. We had to be close to our intended goal.
     So many things in life are like that…you get close to your goal and the progress slows. Finally we broke from the alders onto a bony beach. In front of us water tumbled over rocks after funneling between boulders. Upstream the water appeared a glassy slick lined on either side by alders.
     It appeared to be exactly what we were looking for.






Sunday, July 14, 2019

We Went For a Walk


     Our premise was to find a beaver pond with trout in it. Years had passed since I had found a good one. Pack rods were stowed in our backpacks, along with lunches, trout flies, and basic first aid gear. The dogs would accompany us and their excitement felt contagious. From an old abandoned logging yard filled with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers we headed east.
     The path petered out and we stepped into the shade of hardwood trees. Up in the treetops a grouse flushed. The old skid roads had filled with raspberries and made for miserable walking. Inside the shade of the hardwood trees the air felt cooler. How many people today abandon the trails to make their own way through the forest? Not many I suspect.
     Moose sign was everywhere, droppings and tracks.  Deer tracks, large and small, indicated a healthy herd. A well-worn game trail led down to the first pond we had hoped to find. It looked more like a meadow than a pond, all filled with silt until perfectly flat and then covered with the greenest of grass. After a good mowing it would have made a delightful baseball field.
     Heading to the north through the hardwoods again, we crossed another logger’s skid road and soon entered a stand of softwood trees. Another grouse flew from up high at the sound of our dogs. Clearing the top of a small knoll, we looked down on an expanse of water.
     It couldn’t have looked much prettier, but no recent beaver activity could be found. The water looked brown and warm. Only a trickle of water flowed out of the pond and there didn’t appear to be a brook flowing in.
     Our dogs loved the water and poked along the shore. Maggie swam out to one small island and claimed it for her own. Trout seemed to be absent, so after a short break we trekked onward to the west, passing under beech, maple, and yellow birch trees.
     The third beaver pond we found had water in only one small corner next to the long-gone beaver’s neglected dam. Clumps of very green grass sprouted in the mud, as Mother Nature reclaimed what the beaver had tried to change. It was time to abandon our quest and head home.
     Following the contour of the hill, we continued to the west, knowing we would eventually intersect a logging road that would lead us back to our truck.



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Mayflies



     The month of June is ruled by mayflies. Sure, there are stoneflies and caddis flies, and on the last trip down to the stream a half dozen damsel flies were holding a congregation. But hatching mayflies get the attention of the fly casters.
     This past week a maddening array of varieties flittered over the water. March Browns were still present with Quill Gordons also in flight. A monstrous Green Drake landed on my hand, it looked to be well over two inches long.
     Little trout rise with abandon. Wiser trout are larger and less likely to take an artificial.
     So we swap flies and swap them some more. Bigger, darker, spentwing or dun? There are so many choices.
     Just like in bird hunting, if it were easy we would get bored.





Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rain


     Rain probably kills more ruffed grouse than any other thing. During the first few days of a newly hatched chick’s life, a soaking rain is a killer. If the temperature is cold things get really bleak.
     It is now late June and looking at my notes, at this time last year people were seeing clutches of grouse. Today it is pouring and the rain will last into the night. It is easy to imagine a hen grouse desperately trying to keep her young chicks dry.
     Mother Nature can be cruel and the grouse have been through this before. The specie will survive with the strongest living on. What this rain does to the grouse population we may not know until the fall.



Gravel Roads


      The dogs sit up, every time, slipping from silent slumber to restless wonder faster than I can straighten out the wheels.
      Under the truck’s tires gravel grumbles and the pace slows. We weave to miss washed out holes in the road and the air smells different. There’s nobody else around and moose tracks travel the same direction we do.
      The dogs absolutely know this road leads to another adventure.
      Up where we live not all town roads are tarred and logging roads are only maintained while logging is active. The dogs know dirt roads lead to out of the way places and that is where fun always awaits. In the summer it might mean trout fishing or just plain hiking, but come fall it means bird hunting, which is their greatest of all joys.
      It could be a mile in the woods or fifteen miles into a wilderness valley they have never visited before. Either way they will be intensely alert until the truck stops.
Around the net corner there may wait...
      Complacent driving often leads to speeds a little too fast. The tires roll sideways on gravel, as if coasting over ball bearings, sort of floating the truck through a turn. Meeting a pickup truck or moose in a corner snaps me back to the present. The youngest dog sometimes steps from the back up onto the center console and I always scold her.
       Like sentries on the back seat, they stare ahead. If the backseat windows are opened halfway, they’ll stick their heads out. Wouldn’t it be grand if they could tell us all the things they smell? Moose, deer, bear?
     Today it is about trout fishing and we turn down a bumpy cart path to park next to a stream that shall  remain nameless. The dogs will sit on the bank and watch with intensity as the fly floats downstream, just as I do. Maybe it isn’t bird hunting, but they still know it is a hunt.
Maggie watching a large mayfly on a leaf.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

Mentoring


      There are not as many people hunting as there used to be. Nationwide the number of hunting licenses has been on the decline for years. If we don’t maintain our numbers we lose our political clout. You know where that can lead.
      The state of New Hampshire has put together a program where willing hunters can mentor someone that would like to learn bird hunting. It is a unique opportunity to do something useful, maybe make a new friend or two, and spend a day in the woods. How bad can that be?
       If you are interested in participating contact Tom Flynn at Thomas.flynn@wildlife.nh.gov . It will be fun and you’ll feel good about yourself.

The king of game birds.



Sunday, May 19, 2019

May


     Unwillingly, the snow finally left, but patches remain on the north sides of hills a handful of miles to the north. Ice lingers on Third Connecticut Lake and only recently departed Second Lake. Continued cool weather has stalled the leaves and there are reports of snow flurries in the higher elevations.
     The winter’s record snowfall and spring rains have swollen the streams. Some of the valleys flooded and logging roads washed out. Most of the back country roads are still gated and the ATV season has been put on hold. In the stream below the house the water temperature is only in the mid-forties. Trout fishing will have to wait for it to warm and the volume to decrease.
     The garden is ready to plant, but only cold tolerant things like onions and peas have gone in so far. Twice in the past week frost covered the morning ground. The grouse drum in the woods, as impatient as we are.
     May is mostly about waiting.



Saturday, April 27, 2019

April


Snow is  still  on the banks.
     Snow still makes blotches the hills and the streams rumble. Water is everywhere. The roads are muddy. Everywhere is muddy. Outside it is barely over forty degrees. This is April in the North Country.
Catkins on alders.
     During the day the grouse drum, a sound more felt than heard. Today rain spit from the sky as water rushed downhill. Grass is still brown, but the poplars and elms are in bloom. A fire in the woodstove makes our house a cozy home.
     The night is still. There is no madness, like on the evening news. Rushing water is the only sound. Twilight lasts long as the sky changes from shades of gray to blues and eventually a star speckled sheet of black.
     Spring is awakening, a slow process up here at Camp Grouse. 


We love the long quiet evenings.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

November


Walking With a Rifle

The snow underfoot crunches. Stealth is out of the question. Even plodding downhill is difficult with the heavy snow almost up to the knees. Deer tracks, several days old, cross to the west following the same path that a coyote did earlier.
     Under the softwood trees the land flattens out. The brook babbles, but the sound is distant. Wet spots have melted the snow, exposing soggy ground that makes walking difficult, but soon the ground rises and is firmer and the stream can be seen.
     Huge fresh deer tracks head to the west. Following them parallels the steep hill on the right. Obviously, the deer didn’t want to go up it, nor cross the cold rushing water of the stream.
     The snow is too noisy. Following an old footpath is quieter and leads away from the deer tracks, but should intercept them again a couple hundred yards ahead, that’s if the deer holds his course.
     Where the woods opens up enough to see  the hundred yards from the stream to the steep hill, a seat is found against a fat old fir tree. It is time to wait.
     Time slows. The rattle of the stream never stops. A squirrel chatters in a nearby tree. Who is he scolding? Nothing can be seen moving anywhere in the woods. A tiny bird creates a nasal buzzing in the boughs overhead.
     Did a twig snap? The water’s song never changes and swallows up most sounds. A blue jay sounds an alarm and passes between treetops.
     Other than pursuing game, deer hunting and bird hunting share little in common. Bird hunters, even hunting alone, usually have the comradery of their dog. Some of the best days afield are spent with friends, joking and telling stories while you hunt. Pheasant hunters talk about not slamming car doors before the hunt, but stealth plays only a minor role in bird hunting. To most bird hunters who hunt with a dog, the sport is all about the dog. Really, it is the dog that does the actual hunting.
      For a deer hunter it is entirely different. The hunter becomes an apex predator in the woods. As he immerses himself into the forest, his senses sharpen until he hears and sees things most humans would miss. He becomes part of the forest. And even when hunting with others nearby, he spends much of his time alone.
     That snapping twig had to be caused by something. And who or what is the blue jay protesting? Time passes differently for the predator. Silence lingers. A red squirrel darts up a spruce tree. For an eternity nothing changes.
     Finally, darkness seeps into the woods and it is time to head home. Walking back the big deer’s tracks are found turning up the hill. He crossed over the hill where it isn’t too tall. There is always tomorrow.
     Both types of hunting are enjoyable, but the hardest thing about deer hunting is looking at the expression on my bird dog’s face as I am about to leave the house with a gun in my hand.
     That is why I deer hunt so little.






Monday, April 1, 2019

Maggie’s Day


     The day was planned in woodcock country, hoping to find steady birds for our younger dog to work on. Most of the time Maggie held point reliably, but on grouse she was far from flawless. There’s no better bird than woodcock to work a young dog on.
     We had no sooner entered the alders and Maggie locked up on point. A woodcock came up as I walked past her and she retrieved it after the shot. The day began the way I hoped it would.
     Weaving through the alders, we hunted hard and covered a lot of territory, but we found no more woodcock. Where could they be? A beaver had been busy and created a large pond. And then we found a second new pond made by another beaver. Moose had crossed through and deer had a trail parallel with the stream. Finally we turned inland to work our way back.
     Maggie locked up on point far ahead. I could see her, but getting there through the alders and blow down fir trees was a struggle. Finally stepping past her, I expected a woodcock…grouse never hold that long.
     Old mister grouse exploded skyward. I fumbled in the tangle of cover, never getting to fire a shot. Maggie had held that bird for an unbelievable length of time. I was ecstatic.
     After several minutes of praise we hunted on, walking a meandering course more or less following where the alders met the forest. Atop a bump on a knoll Maggie locked up again with Colby backing.
     Not sure what to expect, I hurried past her with my gun up. A grouse flushed twenty feet from her nose. It was an easy straight away shot, but the bird ducked behind a fat red maple as I pulled the trigger. The tree will live to tell about it, and so did the bird.
     Again I praised her. We had found three birds, two of which were ruffed grouse, all in an hour or so, and she performed like a wise old bird dog. Even without a ruffed grouse in the bag, I went home a very happy hunter.





Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ghosts


     Sometimes you don’t see them for months or even a whole year. More likely you will hear them, but sometimes it is a sound not heard for months. Other times you will see them once or twice in the same week and hear them nightly for a month, but then they disappear again. Sometimes, on a warm summer evening, we've heard their screeching on three different hillsides.
     Coyotes are everywhere these days, hiding right in front of us. They are adaptable and clever, and reproduce readily. Around Camp Grouse the packs seem to follow the snowshoe rabbits. If there are lots of rabbits the coyotes soon will appear. For months we haven’t heard them, but last week they returned to sing us a chorus.
     The sound isn’t like any canine baying or barking that I can imagine, but more like the screaming and screeching of violent arguing zombies. Our dogs take notice and sit up, or even hide under our bed. Some nights it’s so distant you pull up the blankets and try to decide if you are really hearing them. Other nights it is so close to the house the volume drowns out conversation indoors.
     Yesterday the ravens were circling a cluster of softwoods at the edge to our snow-buried lawn. Late in afternoon I put on snowshoes to investigate. Ravens and crows protested and a coyote ran off as I approached. Little remained of what had been a healthy deer, a doe in her prime. She lay less than two hundred feet from our home. She would produce no fawn this year.
     Last night the coyotes sang loudly. It probably was a celebration and feasting party. Today there are no ravens or crows, so I guess the carcass is gone.



Sunday, March 24, 2019

Where is Spring?



     It is Saturday, March 23. The spring equinox passed a couple of days ago. Oldman winter apparently missed the memo. Outside, new snow is piled higher than it has been in any one storm all winter. For almost twenty-four hours it has piled up, a heavy snow with a high water content. The deck has been shoveled off multiple times and gauging the amount is difficult. It appears Camp Grouse has about eighteen inches of new snow on top of about three feet that was already on the ground.
     Now the snow has stopped and the wind rocks the trees. To the south a fox barks on the hillside, as it has for the last few days. The songbirds have returned to the feeders and a squirrel dared a visit to our deck. Our bird dogs are bored and watch the world outside through the sliding glass doors.
     In spite of snowshoes, my feet sink more than a foot into the new snow when I follow where the snow was packed before the storm. Off trail I sink well above my knees. Without snowshoes walking is impossible. The two hundred foot trip to the compost pile brought on quite a sweat.
     The trees rock in the wind, but the snow doesn’t shake off. How long will our power stay on? The ravens are enjoying the wind and riding the currents over the hill to the north. If the power goes out we are ready, with water stored and the woodstove cranking.
     It is pretty, a spring snow. Tomorrow the temperatures are supposed to be near 40 degrees and the snow will settle and fall from the trees. Somewhere a male ruffed grouse is standing on a log getting ready to start drumming.




Sunday, March 17, 2019

They Don’t Quit…



The Humane Society of the United States will chip away at our hunting until there is none left. We have to keep up the fight.



Chara pointing a planted bobwhite during a hunt test.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Ban Field Trials?


     A bill in New York, AB 722, would ban all hunting contests and field trials for dogs. It is supported (of course) by the Humane Society of the United States, whose long term goal is to end all hunting. You can read more about the bill in the link below.





More on Neutering


     The negative side effects of neutering just keep piling up. Here is a link to more information.


     In the United States the vast majority of dogs are neutered or spayed. In Europe things are much different. Only one percent of the dogs in Sweden are done and in Norway it is against the law unless there is a health reason to make it necessary. About half of the dogs in the United Kingdom are altered, while in the United States concern has grown among dog owner’s, particularly owners of working breeds.
     Much of the concern has been with growth and bone structure, but now finding are hinting at emotional and aggression issues.
     This article is worth a read.




Saturday, February 2, 2019

Winter



The stream icing up.
     Cold grips the land. On the hillsides over two feet of snow blankets the ground. Nighttime temperatures dip into negative numbers, sometimes with double negative digits. It snows often, sometimes light flurries that last for days and accumulate little.
     The chickadees, juncos, and blue jays are constantly at the feeders. When the hairy woodpeckers dart in they look enormous. This year both red and white breasted nuthatches visit us. Occasionally a female cardinal stops by, but her visits are rare and the male even more so.
     Squirrels are a nuisance and we try to discourage them. Our dogs thrill at chasing them away and we set have-a-heart traps in the hopes of relocating them. So far we have only caught the nocturnal flying squirrels. Our big fear is the squirrels chewing into the house and setting up home over the soffits, which happens all too often up in this neck of the woods. I’m not above using the old Winchester 410 to knock them out of the trees. The dogs love that.
     A walk down to the stream requires snowshoes. The snow isn’t as deep there and the dogs can run through the woods. I worry about finding deer yarding up in the shelter of the fir trees, but so far it hasn’t happened. To stress out wintering deer is something I do not want to do.
Grouse tracks
     Snowshoe hare tracks are all over the place. Coyotes cross the stream on an ice bridge. Deer have passed through, but all the tracks are old. Sometimes we see where the beaver has dragged brush, but not this year.
     Occasionally we see grouse tracks or droppings beneath favored trees. The dogs always show interest. Sometimes a grouse will roar out from up high in a tree, but more often they remain hidden and watch. To flee unnecessarily burns too many precious calories.  
Our youngster Maggie.
     Camp Grouse always feels particularly cozy when the temperatures drop and the snow gets deep. Looking at the big pile of firewood brings a good feeling and the woodstove is glowing. Winter is a time for drawing in and savoring the place we live.



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Blowdowns


    The number of ruffed grouse was way up this past fall and the bird hunting the best in years. What’s different?
     There are many reasons, probably much of it had to do with a warm dry spring. The young broods prospered.  Many of the grouse found this past fall were in clusters, with sometimes a half dozen or more bursting into the air one right after the other. Talk about an adrenaline rush.
Colby pointing a bird.
     One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned, which has to have made a difference, is the number of blowdowns. A year ago this past October a storm passed through our area and knocked down thousands of trees scattered all over the countryside. Some broke off, but more where uprooted. Fir trees made up the majority of them and there is no better cover for a grouse than a dead fir tree lying on its side.
     So many times this past fall our dogs pointed grouse hiding in the shelter of a blown down fir tree. On one of the last hunts of the season a friend’s setter locked up on a horizontal fir and as the owner approached a bird flushed out the back. Almost immediately another shot right back at him and over his head.
     The grouse might not have been always been under the trees, but they were often nearby. One day, hunting up high next to a clear cut, a fat old fir tree that had blown down caught my eye. On the way over to investigate it, my youngest wirehair locked up on point in waist-high weeds. Three grouse exploded into the wide open space with two zipping right past my head and offering no shot.
     
Colby bringing it home.
When a dog points a bird hidden under a large blowdown you can almost guarantee it will flush out the backside and offer no shot. There is an old saying that a lone hunter will find more birds, but two hunters will kill more than twice as many birds. Send your buddy around the far side.
     Did the abundance of knocked down fir trees make a difference in the number of birds this past fall? I think so.