Sunday, November 29, 2015

The #5 Crabapple

There are a number of wild apples and crabapples growing around the perimeter of the Home Orchard. I've numbered them so that I can keep a record of what they produce, their bloom time, and how long they hold their fruit. The most promising of these wildings is the #5 crabapple. For the last several years it's limbs have been bent with small yellow crabs that hang on well into the winter.
I'll be grafting several pieces of scion wood from this tree onto B118 rootstock this spring to produce trees for the wildlife in the Back40.

The Last Week of the Early Season

My luck ran poor on the last week of the early season. The woodcock had mostly disappeared, as they are prone to do, with a few flushing at my feet and the dogs finding none. The scattered grouse that we found were either also flushing for me or were distant sounds as we hunted through the coverts. Even so it was a good season with many good memories of my hunts with Emma and Thicket. Now we get a 2 week rest as the deer season kicks in and then, weather permitting, another 6 weeks to search for the elusive grouse.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Church Hill & Prince Coverts

Thicket and I headed up to the Church Hill Covert yesterday in hopes that the northern winds that we had gotten the night before had blown in some more woodcock. Instead the winds must have blown the woodcock that were there out. We hunted hard both over ground that Emma and I had hunted and tried some new ground but could not find any woodcock.

This patch of cover screamed woodcock but they weren't there this day.

Still hoping to get Thicket into some birds, we headed for the Prince Covert.  As I weaved my way through the cover a grouse flushed 50 feet to my left. Thicket appeared from behind me and pointed were the bird had been.

We hunted the rest of the cover and moved into the adjoining reclaimed strip mine cover with Thicket reached out 300 yards or more several times in an attempt to find game but to no avail.  Thicket finds a little water hole after one of her big casts.  

With only one more week of woodcock and early grouse season left I wonder where it has gone. Family commitments take up much of next week with only two free days to hunt. I'll be giving each girl one more hunt for the little gypsy birds before we have to call it over for this year. Two weeks of deer season will give us time to rest up and dream of the late grouse season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Church Hill Covert

Emma and I hunted the Church Hill Covert  yesterday. It's mostly reclaimed strip mines totaling over 7,000 acres. I've hunted parts of in over the past few years and last year a rabbit hunter gave me directions to an area where he had jumped woodcock.

I'm used to hunting woodcock in thick creek bottoms and find it hard to believe that they use cover this open, but Emma pointed 5 woodcock, I had shots at 3, and was only able to drop 1 a nice hen, who when cleaned, had a nice layer of fat on her breast. In cover like this there's no nice mossy logs to get a photo op.
The first bird she pointed which I missed was in ridiculously open cover under this tree, but there was a stiff wind blowing and I felt like I was making figure 8's in the air with my barrels as I tried to focus on the bird as it made it's escape.
Here's Emma on point in fairly open cover. This bird ran and flushed out ahead of us not giving me a chance for a shot.

We came to a large beaver pond. I started around one side and didn't realize that Emma had taken to the other side until I heard her beeper sounding. I tried to circle above the pond , then realized it was much larger than I thought and had to backtrack to cross the stream at the dam. She held the point for several minutes but as I made my way to her the bird must have flushed as her beeper went silent and she appeared checking back in with me.

We later came to another pond. Emma pointed a woodcock that I missed and then went on point almost before I could reload my gun. As I walked in thinking another woodcock a grouse erupted and used some pine trees to cause me to miss, but it was nice to see Emma handle a grouse, a bird she's always had trouble pointing.

As we made our way back to the truck I gazed out over the landscape at all the cover and knew I'd have to return soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Monday and Tuesday Hunts

Monday Emma and I hunted with my friend Russell. We hit the Shawnee Creek covert hoping for flight birds but it wasn't to be. Emma pointed 3 woodcock with Russell missing two of them and I missing one. Russell also saw one bird lift in front of Emma as she worked the cover. I spent most of the hunt talking to Russell and didn't take many pics. Here's Russell moving in on an Emma point.

Tuesday Thicket and I headed up north to try several coverts again hoping for flight birds.  The first stop was at the Muth covert. A beautiful stand of aspen which often holds a bird or two. Yesterday it was empty.

The next stop was at the Pheasant Ridge covert. Last year Emma pointed a hen pheasant along the gas well road that runs along the top of the ridge. Yesterday Thicket went on point in the goldenrod that grows along the road and I kicked up another pheasant, this one a rooster. It dropped at my shot then ran off the road with Thicket in hot pursuit. I found Thicket with her body stretched half way under a huge log and when I got down on my hands and knees I spied the rooster buried in the leaves beneath the log.
We hunted back up the hollow through heavy cuttings searching for a grouse but found nothing.

We tried one more covert the Brady with no luck and with aching legs called it a day.


It was a day filled with highs and lows. Thicket's pheasant pointed handsomely was the first pheasant she had ever smelled so I was very pleased, but the thought of all the wonderful cover we hunted through without any bird contacts was depressing and I felt sad that the only bird we found was an "artificial" one.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Emma's Day

Yesterday I decided to give Emma a start and we headed up to the Piney Creek Covert. It held some woodcock both male and female no doubt flight birds. Emma gave me 4 productive points and several empty ones and I moved 2 birds as I wandered through the barberry, multiflora rose bottom. The creek that was almost dry on the first day of the season now is flowing nicely.


Two of Emma's points offered no chance for a shot. Then I got lucky and dropped a bird with my right barrel on a close open shot. I thought I had marked the spot where it fell but Emma soon moved out of the area in her search. I circled the spot tramping down brush and briers, calling Emma back to search more thoroughly. As the minutes slipped by I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes with a lost bird. Emma and I had lost a bird on our last outing and I was fearing the worst when Emma suddenly appeared with the woodcock, a small male,  in her mouth. It had fallen further out than I had estimated and I showered Emma with praise for a job well done.

Her last point was it fairly open cover, but I took the wrong route and became entangled in a multiflora rose clump just as the  bird chose to flush. I ripped my arm free and threw a shot after the bird but it winged it's way to safety.  I had aggravated my hamstring muscle while hunting in Canaan Valley so I called it a day and made my way back to the truck with the sweet memory of Emma's find and retrieve on a bird that I had thought lost.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Walking in GBE's Footsteps

I hunted the Canaan Valley yesterday with a friend Eric Rinehart. The Valley had been made famous by the writings of George Bird Evans. The years haven't been kind to the valley with development in the form of summer homes and a ski & golf resort taking much of the cover.  The woodcock, which the valley was so famous for, were absent yesterday but we managed to move a few grouse, none of which were harmed.

Eric's setter Cider moving through the cover.
Thicket had her 1st solid point on a grouse who flushed low and away not offering me a chance for a shot. Later I had a shot at a grouse that Thicket and Cider had pinned between them. I saw the bird on the ground as I walked in and when it flushed promptly missed it with my right barrel before it vanished into the cover.
Even though no birds were taken it was still a wonderful day with nice weather, good dog work, and a friend to share it with.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Troubles with Thicket

Thicket has developed the disturbing habit of leaving a point as I walk in for the flush. She simply turns 360 degrees and walks away. I've also seen her trot past woodcock as they flushed and show no excitement at the flush. She started this several hunting trips ago and yesterday left 3 points that held woodcock and I also saw several woodcock flush as she hunted through the cover that she paid no attention too. After starting the season off so good she now has me stymied. It's as if she's decided that woodcock aren't worth her attention. I'm hoping it's just a "teenager" thing as she is 1 1/2 years old. I'm going to leave her at home for a few days and hunt Emma instead. I'll be meeting a friend in  the Canaan Valley in WV next week and plan on taking Thicket along  to see if hunting with another dog stirs her desire. She has the bloodlines to be a good solid birddog and hopefully this is just a "hiccup" in her learning curve.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lost Bird

Emma and I hunted a reclaimed stripmine that lay on top of a mountain on Monday. It's a long hard climb to the top but I usually move a couple of birds in this cover. I always walk up an old road that winds it's way to the top but this day Emma raced straight up the side of the mountain and went on point near to top. As I huffed my way up the near vertical climb I stopped to rest, looked up and saw the woodcock fly over my head. So much for that bird. I was over a third of the way up so I continued the climb and hunted the nice cover.

The spruce, goldenrod and alders looked like nice cover but we found no more birds there. The cover then turns to islands of aspen and locust with a goldenrod, blackberry brier understory.

It was here that Emma found another bird that I flushed and dropped with my right barrel. It was a fairly close shot and with feathers still floating in the air I made my way toward where it fell, calling Emma in to find the bird. We search and search but it seemed that the ground had swallowed the bird. Emma has been an excellent finder and retriever but this bird must have been "airwashed" for she could find no scent of the bird. She finally grew tired and wandered away while I kept tramping down goldenrod and briers in a desperate attempt to find the bird. I too finally gave up and hunted on. We had a wide circle and came back to the scene of the point and again attempted to find the bird, but with no success. The day was heating up so we called it a day and made the long walk down off the mountaintop, discouraged with losing the one bird that I had clearly dropped.