Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Quiet Start to the Late Season

I've been out several times in the late season but have yet to see a grouse. I spent a morning in the Squatters Covert, a cover filled with every kind of brier know to man. It has a few nice paths running through it probably made by deer hunters wanting to reach their stands on the ridge above the cut. Who ever made them did a good job and I can hunt sections of the cut that otherwise would be too thick to get through.

I arrived at Brandon's covet late in the afternoon. It's a huge clearcut surrounded by deer fencing that I had never hunted before. With the wind and snow blowing I decided against entering the fencing and hunted just outside the fence through some old pines and autumn olive that looked like it could hold a grouse. Emma gave me one point that proved to be empty but had my heart pounding never the less.

Yesterday I hunted the Hog Farms covert. A 10,000+ acre gameland that I have hunted for nearly 30 years. Sadly the game commission has cleared some large areas of multifora rose and autumn olive that they view as invasive but I had always moved grouse in these areas, often times never getting a shot but never the less it provided cover for the birds. Now this area is mowed clean and the surrounding terrain doesn't provide enough cover to hold the birds. I tried hunting along the rocky mountainside that in years past had provided some action but yesterday that birds weren't there.

 I came to one of two old orchards on this mountainside and marveled at the size of the old apple trees. They are probably 100 years old or more and I couldn't help wondering about the farmer who took the time and effort to plant these trees on this rock strewn mountainside. Did he realize that these trees, probably 3 or 4 foot tall whips at planting time, would one day grow into 35 foot giants and still be producing apples long after all traces of his hardscrabble farm had disappeared.

As I worked my way down the mountainside to a gameland access road my gps showed my truck to be 1.4 miles away and I felt a twinge of melancholy as I thought of all the good hunts that the Hog Farms had given me over the years and  wondered if  there would be any more memories to be made on this rugged mountainside.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Failure & Success

My last several trips afield have been birdless with Emma hunting her heart out to no avail. The woodcock flights always thin in my Allegheny Mountain coverts have been nonexistent this year. Today we tried the Buffalo Covert in hopes of changing our luck. We hunted through the beautiful crabapple-alder cover with no success. Just to try something different we hunted back toward the truck through mostly open timber with a scattering of saplings.

It was in this unlikely cover that Emma gave me two solid woodcock points with me missing them both in spectacular fashion.  It was my poorest shooting attempts of the season and I tried to figure it out as I approached the truck. I had just purchased a pair of Cocoon "fit-over" sunglasses with yellow lens for eye protection against the twigs and limbs that make up much of my coverts. Some years ago I had scratched my cornea going through thick cover. It was a painful experience and after my eye had healed I started wearing a pair of Cocoon's so it wouldn't happen again. Several years ago I lost that pair and I finally got around this year to replacing them. This I thought may be the reason for my dismal shooting and I vowed to remove them when Emma pointed another bird.
Back at the truck I decided to try the Shawnee Creek Covert as it was close by.  Not long after we had left the truck Emma's beeper went off and I found her locked up on a solid point. As I walked in for the flush I remember the Cocoon's and quickly took them off and stuffed them into my game pouch. The bird flushed at my feet and flew back over my head making me twist completely around and take the shot as it flew away. I pulled the front trigger and saw the bird drop. You can be sure that from now on when Emma's beeper goes off and Cocoon's will be coming off too :).
Emma making her usual excellent retrieve.
We hunted the remainder of the covert with no more points, but I was pleased with the way the hunt had turned out. 3 beautiful points by Emma, 2 horrible misses by me that had clouded my day, but the tough shot that I made turned the day around and I came home a satisfied  hunter.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shawnee Creek Revisited

With snow forecasted for my northern coverts I decided to stay close to home and hunted the Shawnee Creek covert. I entered the cover at about 11:00 with the temperature at 35 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing. Just minutes after we left the truck Emma bumped a woodcock and I wondered how the wind would effect my hunt. I hunt Emma with a bell that my worn-out ears can hear out to about 50 yards. She also wears a Lovett Low-Tone Beeper collar set on point mode which about doubles the range that I can hear her when she goes on point. As I reached the nice cover I hear a strange noise and realize it's Emma's beeper. It doesn't sound right and I soon surmise that the battery is going dead. It takes me a little while to locate her pointing in thick alders and as I try to force my way in the bird flushes without giving me a shot, but at least Emma did her part and held the bird for quite some time. We continued northward through nice looking cover.

 Although Emma is hunting hard the cover holds no birds until Emma suddenly comes in to me with a dead woodcock in her mouth. It's still limp and has a broken leg. I had heard no shots this morning so maybe the bird was wounded yesterday. I didn't notice her catching a wounded bird so I don't know how she ended up with it.
We reached the end of the covet and cross the creek and head south back to the truck. As I weave my way through the crabapples I notice something on the ground.
Someone else has found game in "my covert". This is state owned land and I have found numerous treestands set up by deer hunters, but this is the first sign that I've found of a small game hunter. It could have been a rabbit hunter but the fresh low brass 7 1/2 whispered "woodcock" to me.
The only bird we find on our return hunt on the far side of the creek is a woodcock that I walk up. We reach the stream crossing and make our way toward the truck through the final bit of cover. Suddenly Emma becomes "birdy" and in a few seconds goes on point. I walk in for the flush and realize the bird is already airborne. I fire the right barrel as it tops the alders and at the report another woodcock flushes close to me. I swing on the second bird and drop the left hammer and see the bird spiral down and Emma has it.

We searched for the first bird that I had fired at but to no avail and decide that it must have flew away unharmed. So ended another successful hunt. No bulging gamebag, just a single woodcock taken over a beautiful point with a lovely old gun.  Yes a successful hunt indeed.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Couple of Hunts from Last Week

Last Wednesday Emma and I headed north to search for some woodcock. My first stop was at the Duck Pond covert on Wopsy Mt. It's just a small covert, it takes as long to walk to it as it does to hunt it, but it's a favorite spot and usually holds a woodcock or two for me.

Once again the little spot give me a chance. The first 'cock Emma found lifted before I could get to the point, but a little while later she was pointing again.
I circled in front of her and walked in ready for the flush. Suddenly I saw the bird sitting tightly in the leaves. I quickly looked away feeling that it was bad luck to see the bird before the flush and kept walking closer. It took flight but stayed low just clearing Emma's head before winding it's way through the aspens, gone without a shot. That was all the birds that we were to find there today so we moved on to the top of Wopsy Mt. to try an aspen cut. The cut proved to be too close to a busy road to hunt safely so we hunted through some big spruce cover moving two wild flushed grouse.
By now it was mid-day and the temps were rising. I decided to try one more covert the Rifle Range.
It's cover is primarily young aspen that never holds as many 'cock as I think it should but it was close and I thought that I would give it a try.

Today it disappointed me again with no birds present, so we called it a day just glad that we had found at least one bird to point.

Friday we headed to my northern most coverts. First up was the Graham Covert, which had shown us some grouse on previous trips.
Although we hunted it hard, one wild flushed grouse was all that we could find today.
We moved on to the Muth Covert an old field in the middle of big woods that must have been a farm at one time but I've yet to find any sign of a cellarhole.

This cover is becoming one of my favorites and today it didn't disappoint me. Emma had been out of bell range for awhile when I suddenly could just hear her beeper going off on point mode. I hurried through the aspen and came to a large field of goldenrod across which I could make out her white form pointing in the aspen on the other side. I made my way across the field as fast as I could and swung around her to approach her from the side. The woodcock flushed up offering me a good shot which I promptly missed with both barrels. As I later tried to analyze my misses I think I shouldered the gun too soon as the bird lifted through the aspens and lifted my head before I pulled the least that's the excuse I'm using :).  Later Emma found another woodcock but for whatever reason she held point only a short while and then bumped the bird. That was all the Muth Covert had for us today so Emma and I and the little Belgium hammergun  "Colette" worked our way back to the truck. Disappointed with our miss but just happy to have the chance at a bird.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One Chance

Emma and I hunted the Shawnee Creek Covert this morning. A huge expanse of woodcock cover with a mix of crabapple, hawthorn, alder and pines with small fields of goldenrod scattered through it.

  The crabapples and hawthorn had dropped most of their fruit and the deer are using the bottom heavily.

Although Emma hunted hard we couldn't find any birds along the near side of the creek. We reached the northern end of cover, crossed the creek and headed south through nice looking crabapple thickets. Two and half hours after leaving the truck we were nearing the southern creek crossing without even seeing any woodcock whitewash and I was thinking that we were going to be "shut out" today. As I searched for the shallow riffles to wade across the creek Emma's beeper sounded in the distance. I weaved my way through crabapples and hawthorns until I saw her frozen on point. I swung to my left hoping to pin the bird between Emma and myself and moved in. The 'cock spiraled straight up through the crabs and haws like  woodcock are supposed to do, although most don't seem to follow that rule anymore. After missing my last two birds that I had shot at I was ready and turned my body a quarter turn, waited for the bird to clear the treetops, focused and brought little "Colette" to my shoulder and dropped the right hammer. 7/8 ounces of number 8 1/2 shot out of her cylinder barrel caught the bird in the middle of it's pattern and the 'cock was dead before he hit the ground. Emma making a nice retrieve.
It seems fitting to use a 100+ year old chestnut post to display the little 100+ year old Belgium hammergun and the bird she dropped.
Emma says these little birds don't taste that bad.
We worked our way back to the truck with no more bird contacts, but we were happy to spend the day in the woods together and to make the most of the one chance that we had today.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Today's Hunt in Some of My Northern Coverts

Emma and I headed north today to hunt in some of my northern coverts. I hunted the Clover Run cover first. It's a very large clearcut growing back in mostly Black Birch with some Beech and Maple trees. Good looking cover but we didn't move a bird.

I did see a flock of Dark Eyed Junco's or snowbirds. Although they are year round residents here in the Alleghenys it still made it feel like winter was coming soon.
I moved on to the Brady covert. This cover contains Aspen, Larch, Pine and Alder in a nice mix.
Within sight if the truck Emma bumps two grouse from a blown down Larch.
She later has a nice woodcock point but the bird offered no shot. Here's some more of the nice cover in the Brady.

The last covet of the day was the Muth Cover. Aspen cover with golden rod and old apple trees mixed in. Emma had another nice woodcock point.  The bird sit so tight that I thought she had an empty point, and let my guard down.........that is of course when the bird decided to flush and I missed with both barrels. Some pics of the Muth aspen and apple trees.

Sitting on the tailgate at the end of the day Emma and I thought of her bumped grouse and my missed shots and we decided that we both had an off day, but even an off day in the field is filled with pleasant memories.