Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Graham Covert

Emma and I headed north to the Graham Covert on Wednesday.  It's located in a huge tract of land recently purchased by the Pa. Game Commission. Much of it is reclaimed strip mines with benches  and dirt roads leading to gas wells to hunt along, making for some easy hunting, unless Emma finds a bird on the next bench down which can result in having to slide down a near vertical bank on your butt.




 
With Emma knowing the covert she was running big as we began the hunt. I was walking along an old road "playing" with the new Tek 1.0 tracking collar noting that she was 172 yards out in front when I noticed an especially nice looking tangle of grapevines just off the road down a short steep bank. Usually I would have called Emma in and have her hunt a piece of cover that looked that good, but knowing that she was that far out I decided, on a whim, to check it out myself. This was out of character for me because some years ago I had made the decision to shot only pointed birds and had been letting birds that I had walked up fly away without trying a shot, but this piece of cover  whispered "grouse here" to me and I couldn't resist. As I slid down the bank a grouse flushed from the tangle, just as I thought it would. When my feet reached level ground I laid a thumb on the right hammer and stepped closer and suddenly another grouse erupted from the cover. Call it purely instinctive shooting or dumb luck but I pulled the hammer back as Colette the little 16 ga. Belgium hammergun leapt to my shoulder. A millisecond after pulling the front trigger the 7/8 oz. load of #8's caught up to the bird and I watched it tumble to the ground.  I stood there one part of me feeling regret for shooting a walked up grouse but another part of me feeling proud for making a fine shot.
 



I called Emma in and let her make the retrieve.
video
 
Although we hunted for several more hours these two birds were all that we could find in this lovely cover.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Tek 1.0 Tracking Collar

There as a time in my hunting career when I thought that I would never own a tracking collar. To my way of thinking they were useful only to people with large running dogs, dogs that were out of touch with their masters for much of the hunt, definitely not my style. This fall's hunting season has changed my way of thinking. On more occasions that I would care to admit although I've been able to hear Emma's beeper collar sounding off on point mode I've been unable to determine in which direction she was on point in. My hearing loss is something that will only get worse with age so I decided to investigate the Garmin Astro and the Sport Dog Tek 1.0 the two leading brands of tracking collars. After learning about all the settings and things that you can and cannot do with each one I decided for what I needed a collar for , locating the dog, that the Sport Dog Tek 1.0 was the best choice for me.

Although the Garmin was a well liked and proven collar I believed it had too many settings that I simply would not need. The Tek 1.0 has a nice "clean" screen with no clutter.  The screen shows a  + which is your position and a  ^  which shows where your dog is located and depending on how the  ^  is pointing if the dog is coming toward you or going away. When the dog is on point or treed (in the case of hound hunters) the  ^  becomes a dot and the transmitter vibrates  It also shows the yardage or mileage of the dogs position. These collars were designed with the hound hunter (bear, coon, lion, etc.) in mind therefore the measurement in miles, something I hope I'll never need to know.
The Tek also allows you to mark the location of your truck and will "lead" you back to it at the end of the hunt. I've only had this unit for a couple of days and have used it once on Emma and once on Thicket so I'm still learning about it, but it seems to be what I was looking for. In Thicket's case after not hearing her bell for a little while I checked on her and found out that she was 241 yards away and moving away for me. I took off in her direction at a fast pace thinking that she had taken off on a deer. After about 50 yards I stopped and started calling her name and blowing the whistle. You can imagine my relief when the screen showed that she had changed directions and was heading back to me. Whether she was on a deer or just lost I don't know but I do know that without the tracking collar I may have lost her for quite a while.
So I'll now add another collar the my dogs neck on every hunt and have the peace of mind of knowing  where they are at all times.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Memorable Morning Along Piney Creek

With the Polar Vortex making headlines with it's blast of arctic air sweeping across the nation I knew the woodcock would soon be but a distant memory, so Emma and I headed for Piney Creek to see if any woodcock were still there.



 
The 'cock were there and Emma was at the top of her game but my shooting left something to be desired, and I missed the first bird she pointed then missed a chance for a double on a rare for me double flush on her next point.

 
 
I finally settled down and The Twigg and I got in step and brought down the next two birds that Emma found.
 
 
My last chance for a 3rd bird and a limit was foiled by a bird who made a very impressive "corkscrew" move around a vine covered tree and was gone before I could drop a hammer.  It had been a memorable morning along Piney Creek and I felt a pang of regret knowing that it would soon all end and the birds would be gone to their southern resting grounds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Another Hunt at the Brady-Muth Coverts

On Wednesday Emma and I went north to hunt the Brady & Muth coverts that I had started the season with. Just as we left the truck at the Brady Covert Emma bumped a group of three grouse almost exactly where she bumped a group of three last year.....not the way I like to start a hunt. We hunted the nice looking cover but couldn't find anymore birds.

 
At the end of the cover we walked through an open area to a small strip of cover that looked good from the distance.  A scattering of aspen and a gas well road with some nice looking cover along it. I flushed a grouse along the road and saw a woodcock flush in front of Emma on a sparely covered bank. I couldn't tell if she had bumped it or if it had just flushed wild but our luck was staying poor as we trudged back to the truck and on to the Muth Covert.
 
I discovered the Muth Covert last year. It's a beautiful cover and from the first it captured my heart.


 
It's always given Emma and I a chance at a few woodcock and even a grouse or two but I've always failed in my attempts to carry a bird out of this special place.  On our first pass along the bottom of the covert Emma had a strong point but it proved to be only splash from a departed bird. We came to open timber, swung up and started back through the top of the cover. Soon in the distance I heard Emma's beeper and I hurried through the aspen & goldenrod wanting desperately for a chance at a bird. I found her on a beautiful point (aren't they all) and trampled in the goldenrod trying to flush the bird. When the flush came the bird was behind me and I turned and fired missing with the right barrel but then dropping the left hammer and seeing the bird fall.  The Muth Covert had finally given me a bird.
 
 
 
We pushed through the cover to the truck without finding another bird, but as Emma and I sat on the tailgate, enjoying a sandwich we both wore a grin on our faces thinking about the lovely Muth Covert and the wonderful experience we had shared there.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Doll's Head-Benny Road Coverts

I hunted Tuesday with my friend Russell. In his early 30's we met some years ago when he worked as college help one summer in the shipping dept. of the factory where I worked. With our similar interests in hunting and fishing we soon struck up a friendship that has endured.
We headed for the Doll's Head covert but a pick-up truck parked where I had planned on parking changed our plans and we drove out the road to the Benny Road covert, an unassuming strip of cover that usually holds a woodcock or two. We got our gear on and let Emma out of the truck and she immediately when on point while standing on the road, pointing in tall goldenrod. I told Russell to walk in and see what happens. As he stepped into the goldenrod a woodcock flushed giving him a good chance but he missed. He was shooting his grandfather's Model 12 16 ga. for the first time so he had a good excuse. We hunted to the end of the cover and turned back toward the truck. About half way back Emma when on point again and I walked in and flushed and dropped a woodcock with my right barrel. We hunted on to the road with me flushing a woodcock just as we reached the road and not far from where Emma had pointed the first one.

We moved back to the Doll's Head covert and hunted the end of the covert opposite from the parking lot that held the strange pickup. We pushed through the nice looking cover with no success and then swung around and started back through the top of the covert. Suddenly two woodcock appeared flying over in front of us from an area where Emma was hunting. Emma soon appeared in front of us and we kept hunting back toward the old road that we had walked in on. As we neared it Emma when on point and Russell walked in and dropped the 'cock with one shot from his grandfather's gun.

 I had marked the spot where the bird had fallen and as I began to call Emma she went on point again. Russell moved in for the flush and shot but this time the bird eluded him and flew away unscathed. As we walked back to the truck along the old road that ran through huge open pines Emma ran into another woodcock and it flew away unharmed. What it was doing in that spot I can't imagine.  The temperature had risen to 60 degrees and it was noon so we called it a day,satisfied with a bird each in our game pouches and the memory of a wonderful morning spent afield with a good friend.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The J & K Covert

Hunted one of my northern coverts today. The J & K Covert is a mountain strip mine that has been reclaimed. it's laced with old mining roads that make it somewhat easier to hunt it's steep terrain. I headed for the top where two small ponds were located. Several years ago Emma found 2 woodcock minutes apart and I have a wonderful memory of dropping both birds with a single shot each. Today that cover was bare so I walked an old road in a southerly direction through nice looking cover.



 
Emma soon was on point. I walked in for the flush but it proved to be empty. She relocated about 20 yards away at the edge of a clearing and the bird had no where to run. It flushed downhill giving me an open shot and I dropped it with my left barrel. It was a hen like the last 3 birds I had shot making me think the flights were coming through.
 
We hunted the nice looking cover for about 1 1/2 hours but found no more birds. The cover turned into pole timber so I began to retrace my steps. Part way back Emma went on point again. I chose the wrong route in to the point and the bird made it's escape behind a multiflora rose. As I reached the bend in the road and started down the mountain, Emma's beeper went off back on top. I hurried back thinking I was going in the right direction, but her beeper soon became faint and I turned and started in the opposite direction. Suddenly her beeper stopped and then I saw her coming toward me. The bird must have flushed on its own. We walked to the bottom of the mountain without any further bird contacts, a little disappointed with the bird numbers but proud of Emma's performance on the birds we did find.
 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Shawnee Creek Revisited

With the threat of rain and high winds Emma and I took a chance and headed for Shawnee Creek Friday morning. The rain mostly stayed away, a ridge protected the covert from most of the winds and we had a fine morning hunt.  I decided to hunt the covert "backward" from the way I had always hunted it. I found the shallow riffles, waded across the creek and started hunting along the creek toward the southern end of cover. Emma was soon on point in open cover and with the confidence of killing the last 3 woodcock with 3 shots I walked in with The Twigg and promptly missed the bird with both barrels. Emma soon found another bird this time in thicker cover and the 'cock used a hawthorn tree to evade my right barrel shot and was gone. We were nearing the end of the cover and Emma's beeper went off again. This bird proved to be even sneakier than the last two and flushed without giving me a chance to shoot. We turned and started north through a large field of goldenrod growing back with pines when Emma's beeper sounded in the distance.
 
 
I had a hard time figuring out just where she was pointing and when I finally found her the point was an empty one. We hunted on toward the northern end of the covert and was approaching the end when Emma found another bird. I  walked in pushing my glasses up onto the bridge of my nose, tugged at the brim of my cap, and shrugged my shoulders to loosen up my strap vest all in an attempt to get a good gun mount and drop this bird. The 'cock lifted and made it's escape toward a pine tree. My right barrel load passed harmlessly behind it. As the momentum of The Twiggs long barrels caught up to and passed the bird I dropped the left hammer and saw the bird tumble to the ground. Here's Emma making a nice retrieve.

 
We crossed the creek and headed back south toward the truck. After a long spell without any birds we were approaching the "hottest corner" in the covert and sure enough Emma found a bird. I moved in, flushed the bird and dropped it with the right barrel, my confidence in The Twigg restored.
 
Emma soon found another woodcock in this "sweet spot" but I took too long thrashing through the thick alders and the bird flushed without a chance to shoot.  With that I decided to call it a day and headed for the truck for the standard "bored Emma" tailgate pic.
 
Back home Emma got one last sniff of her bird while Thicket waited her turn.
 
The future (Thicket) and the past (Hattie) enjoying the scent.
 
Both my birds were hens, if the bill length vs. width of a dollar bill measurement is accurate. With the cold weather that they are having up north and the northerly winds we are having I would guess these to be flight birds.
 
 
 

Friday, November 7, 2014

A 2nd Hunt in the Valley

Wednesday I met my friend Eric and his setter Cider from Parkersburg at the Save-A-Lot parking lot in Davis WV for another hunt in the Canaan. The snow from Monday had melted and we hunted a logging road that led up the mountain. We moved 3 grouse but none offered any shots and by noon we were back at the trucks. We decided to give the old Camp 70 logging road that I had hunted on Monday another try as Eric had never hunted that area. Emma was soon on point in some spruce but the grouse proved to be too smart for us and using the trees flew away without a shot. Later out the road Eric tried for a woodcock with his little Fox but the bird used a large hawthorn to aid in it's escape. With Eric to provide pleasant conversation was we hunted I didn't take many pics. Here's Eric hunting through some mature hawthorn cover

Mature aspen and goldenrod cover looked good but held no birds today.
 
Emma finally went on point and Cider came in and backed her beautifully. As I walked in Eric captured this with his phone's camera.
 
A woodcock lifted in front of Emma and tried to use the big hawthorns to escape but a load of 7/8 oz. of #8's from the right barrel of The Twigg brought it down. This proved to be the last bird we found and back at the truck Emma and I posed with our first Canaan Valley woodcock.
 
I had hoped to hunt the Valley one more time this week but with a forecast of 33 degrees as the high with a wind chill of 23 degrees and a 70% chance of snow I decided that Emma and I would hunt near home and be satisfied with dreams of hunting the Valley and the Dolly Sods next fall.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thicket

With the hunting season in full swing I've neglected to post pics of Thicket as she growing into a lovely lady.  No more "puppy" collar for her, she's now wearing a "big dog" collar :).  She quickly got use to the big swiss "sheep" bell that I'm using to keep track of her in the woods. We went for a little hunt on Tues. Actually just a walk in a small woodcock covert with me carrying the gun with no expectations. We didn't find any woodcock but did have a grouse flush wild at one spot. We also spotting some deer which she started to investigate but a stern NO and she returned to me. Here's some pics of my little girl getting all grown up.

Just  making sure Dad's coming along behind.
 
She's starting to get into the brush and soak in all the smells.


 
 
Just looking pretty.

 
After a couple of hours busting brush a girl can get tired.
 
We'll continue with our walks in the woods and just let her natural instincts awaken.
 
 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Hunt in the Valley

The storied Canaan Valley made famous in George Bird Evans writings was my destination yesterday. At one time a near paradise of grouse and woodcock coverts it's now sadly home to a golf course, two ski lodges, and hundreds of summer homes. I traveled the 2 hour trip  south to try to find the magic that GBE found decades ago. The temperature started to drop as I climbed the Allegheny Front from the low 40's to the 30's as I reached the summit. A skiff of snow greeted Emma and I when we reached the end of our journey, a parking lot along side the Blackwater River.
 
We started out the old logging road with high hopes and visions of George and Kay walking this same road following their Old Hemlock setters.
 


 
The cover proved to be sparser than I had hoped. Consisting mostly of large hawthorn and goldenrod, but still cover that could hold woodcock.
 


 
The desolation that the Valley is famous for.

 
Perhaps the colder weather had pushed the birds southward for although Emma hunted hard we could not find any birds.
As I hunted my way back to the truck I encountered two hunters with a Brittney who told me that they had moved birds in this area other years, so it gave me hope that I had just picked a bad day to hunt this cover.
Tomorrow I'm meeting a friend from Parkersburg WV whom I've hunted with several times on the Dolly Sods.  We'll be hunting a different area and hopefully find some of the ancestors of the birds who made this place a paradise for birdhunters in years past.