Posts Tagged ‘Woodcock hunting’

My Upland Season: So Far, So Good…

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Here’s what’s happened so far in my ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting season.

One dog ran into an electric fence three times within two minutes. Fortunately it wasn’t live. He bounded into it, bounced back out of it. Looked at me confused, then charged it again. This time he stumbled with one foot caught in the lowest wire. Then he backed away, ran to his left and charged right into it again. I worry about his IQ.

My other dog dragged me through what seemed like 20 miles of thick dogwood and buckthorn – the kind that grabs ankles, wrenches knees and makes my arms look like I had a cat fight…with a cat. After he pointed and tracked, pointed and tracked, a bunny raced through the underbrush in front of me. I bellowed “Rabbit, bad!” cursing my allegedly experienced bird dog. Then a lovely plump woodcock zoomed out of the tangle in front of the dog.

I spent two hours in the most magnificent, storybook gorgeous grouse cover I could imagine. Apple trees, ferns, dogwood, thick cedar trees and maples, young birches and raspberries. Blow downs for cover, open lanes for landing. Even a perfect, moist streambed meandering through. Two hours. Not a bird.

Never have so many chipmunks materialized in one region, however. Understandably no one knows where they come from or where they go, but there’s a shockingly large population this fall. Probably due to global warming.

The one grouse I got so far was beautiful, a gray female whose center tail feather had just a shimmer of russet brown to it. Carefully labeled with the date – and the dog who pointed it – it will wait in the freezer for another grouse to complete a dinner for two.

So far this season I have shot maples, dogwood, alders, black locust, sumac, oaks, cedars, beechnut trees and hemlocks. I’ve shot air, mist, leaves, rain, saplings, bark and inadvertently one abandoned squirrel’s nest.

My young dog taught me one of those “trust your dog” lessons when I didn’t believe he really had a bird under his nose. The older dog proves to me again and again that we hunt as a team, our communication fine-tuned over the years. Both dogs have told me that we need to hunt more than a couple of hours after work each day and that it’s okay if I run out of 7½ shot – 6’s will be just fine.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Strangers Aren’t Always So Strange

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

I put four bottles of red wine and a few nips of brandy on the counter at our local liquor store. A voice behind me said, “That’s a good sized collection.” Turning, I saw a squirrely-looking guy, wiry, with a stubbly narrow beard and boney face, wearing a dark bandana on his head and a much-too-worn Harley t-shirt. Living in a small town, I recognize most the locals even if I don’t know their names. He wasn’t familiar.

“It’s for hunting camp,” I said.

“Oh yeah? Your husband’s heading to deer camp?” he asked with a chuckle, probably wondering why a bunch of manly men hunters would sip wine instead of bourbon or beer.

“No, it’s for girls’ hunting camp.”

“So you hang out, drink wine, take walks, stuff like that?” he continued with a smirky half smile starting on the left side of his mouth.

“No, we hunt,” I replied, loving the direction this conversation was going. He gave me a doubtful look that said, “Yeah sure.”

“Fourteen women, ages 39-73. We all have our own bird dogs that we trained ourselves. Actually, I think there’ll be about 19 dogs at the camp this year. We hunt. Hard. All day.”

His eyes lit up, “Really? What are you hunting?”

“Grouse, I mean partridge, and woodcock,” I answered, going with the local term – “partridge” – for ruffed grouse.  “Up in northeastern Maine, in Eustis. Most of us have pointing dogs, but there’s a Lab or two in the group. Partridge are pretty good up there. We’re hoping some flights of woodcock come in.”

That seemed to convince him and flip a switch in his mind. He instantly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and showed me a photo of his living room with handsome deer mounts covering the walls. I admired them. We launched into a conversation about how this year’s deer and bird seasons were looking, what the odds were he was going to get a buck during bow season, and how tough the Maine woods would be for bird hunting until more leaves came down. Then we moved on to the relative merits of duck hunting and goose hunting, my hunting dogs and his non-hunting dogs. Twenty minutes later, I picked up my double-bagged collection of bottles and turned to the door as my friend and I wished each other good luck and good times hunting. Expectations overturned, enthusiasms shared. Pretty cool.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Things My Dog Teaches Himself

Thursday, December 27th, 2012


Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

In his fourth year of hunting, my German shorthaired pointer, “Rimfire,” learned how to pinch woodcock. Locked on point, his eyes would flicker back at me as I pushed my way through Vermont’s dense alders and buckthorn. Rim would wait until I got close, then back stealthily away, zoom a quarter circle to the left or right and point again, facing me. The woodcock would have no choice but to flush close rather than running or flying ahead through the thick trees. Rimfire has developed this into an art, and it usually works. (Note: It helps that well-behaved woodcock hold tight for pointing dogs.)

Hunting in South Dakota, Rimfire applies his skills to running pheasants. On point deep in the inner evergreens of a shelterbelt, he’ll wait for me, head turned slightly to hear my approach. Then he’ll dart out of the strip, race along its edge a ways and jump back in, through the outer shrubs, snapping on point facing me with the pheasant caught between us.

Our tag team strategy works in corn or sorghum plots, too. Unless, of course, it’s one of those days when Rimfire gets an overload of pheasant up his nose and becomes completely unglued. That happens at least once a year, and I’ve learned to be philosophical about the sight of eight or ten roosters rocketing skyward 75 yards in front of me. I watch the cornstalks twitching towards the horizon – the only way I know where my dog is – and remind myself that we’re all entitled to a little craziness now and then.

Rimfire’s bird pinching trick doesn’t work every time, but when it does, it continues to astound me. It’s something I couldn’t teach him, something he had to figure out on his own. And that makes me wonder what else he does that wasn’t part of his “formal” training. It’s clear that during the many hours he’s spent hunting, his nose, his movements, the birds, the wind, the grass and the trees all wrote chapters in his training manual.

I’ve seen him track a ruffed grouse in the wrong direction  — towards where it landed – then stop, give me a look that says, “gee, am I dumb!” (the dog equivalent of smacking yourself on the forehead with your palm), then race back to where he started and track the bird in the direction it actually ran. I’ve also seen him search for a downed bird in a pattern I’d have no way of teaching him – loops in and out of a central point, circling that point like petals on a daisy.

What else have our dogs figured out on their own? Simply from the experience of hunting and understanding that our mission together is to produce game, I’ve no doubt my dogs work the cover in ways I don’t notice or can’t understand myself. That’s part of the magic that keeps us together.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Wisconsin Welcomes Wingshooters

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

photo by Mark Herwig

I recently visited my local Gander Mountain retail location to purchase a Wisconsin small game hunting license in advance of a trip east in search of ruffed grouse and woodcock.


“Is this the first time you’ve purchased a hunting license in Wisconsin,” the Gander Mountain clerk asked.


I annually buy a fishing license during visits with my brother’s family in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, but this was indeed the first Wisconsin hunting license of my life.


It turns out Wisconsin has a fantastic promotion to help encourage hunter recruitment in which all first time hunting licenses are sold at a 50 percent discount.  In other words, my non-resident small game hunting license cost me $42.75 instead of the normal $85 charge.  In fact, Wisconsin residents buying their first adult small game license are only charged $5.

The following note appears on my license:

“Thank you for your license purchase.  Wisconsin implemented a Recruitment Program that offers incentives to first time participants and the individuals who recruited them into hunting, fishing, and trapping.  You paid a reduced license fee since it was either your first time purchasing this type of license or you haven’t purchased one within the last 10 years.  This recruitment program also gives you the opportunity to recognize the individual who encouraged you to participate in this activity.  If you would like to designate the person who recruited you, call the DNR at 1.888.936.7463.  Enjoy Wisconsin’s great outdoors.”

Another nice nugget about Wisconsin is the fact their ruffed grouse hunting season remains open across the state’s northern range through January 31st.  That’s an extra thirty days of late season bird hunting when compared to neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan’s grouse season.  I’m already planning a snowshoe hunt in January.


Wisconsin can consider this bird hunter hooked for life.


NOTE: A pheasant stamp (resident or non-resident) costs an additional $10.


The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

Pheasants Forever, “The Friends with Benefits Organization”

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Membership in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people. Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot as evidenced by Mark Haslup (left) and Tom Poorker (right).

I was struggling.  It was Sunday morning and I was on the second day of a fruitless grouse hunting/scouting excursion intended to produce some new spots.  You see, I’ve been hunting my exact same haunts the last five years and “my” aspen stands were starting to age out of their grousey prime. So, I’d set off east and north of my normal destinations in search of new coverts.


I spent Saturday pounding decent looking grouse woods with very little flushes.  And the one layup shot presented to me clanked off the backboard with a horribly makeable miss.


Truth be told, I was really struggling with two nagging thoughts in my mind.  First, it was my first solo exploring expedition with two dogs, so I was very nervous about losing my 6-month old pup in the woods.  Second, I was nervous about getting lost myself.  Despite my GPS lock on my truck’s location, I had trouble diving into the grouse woods with abandon.  Fortunately, hope was just around the corner.


Around 11AM on Sunday, I rounded the corner of a state forest gravel road and passed two trucks on my right.  To my surprise, I recognized the two faces under the blaze orange hats.  If you’ve attended Pheasant Fest or Game Fair in the last ten years, then you’d probably have recognized both of them too.  They were Tom Poorker and Mark Haslup from Focus Outdoors Television and Midwest GunDog Kennels.


After commenting on the serendipity of their coming out of the woods at the exact moment I drove by, I shared with them my frustration of learning a new grouse woods.  That’s when my luck turned around.  Although, they’d both been set to finish their hunting for the day with dog training obligations waiting at Midwest GunDog Kennels, they offered to show me a spot in their home woods.  They even went so far as to insist on my two pups being the only dogs in the woods as their bird dogs had already completed their work for the morning.


Needless to say, we found grouse and woodcock in the woods where these two veteran hunters aimed our trio.  In fact, Mark bagged a nice opening weekend timberdoodle that my young pup was able to deliver to his hand, and Tom brought down a beautiful ruff with a dandy shot.  However, I earned the trophy of the morning’s walk with renewed confidence.


After sharing a few laughs over our impromptu hunting trip and thanking them for their generosity, I went north in search of some spots of my own.  And I finally started to find what I was looking for in the woods.  In fact, in one particular alder/aspen mix, I elected to hunt my 6-month old shorthair solo for the first time and she produced three neatly pointed woodcock, quickly earning me a day’s limit.


Izzy’s first limit of Minnesota timberdoodles

To me, the moral of the story is that membership in Pheasants Forever definitely delivers more habitat on the ground – we’ve got 8.5 million acres of proof of that fact – however, membership in Pheasants Forever also creates friendships.  Whether you’re a chapter officer, banquet goer or Pheasant Fest attendee, your involvement in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people.  Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot.


To Mark & Tom: Thanks a bunch for a great experience!  It truly meant a lot to me for you to take the time out of your plans to give me a little nudge in the right direction.


The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

Observations from the 2012 Ruffed Grouse Opener

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Noelle St.Pierre holds up an opening weekend ruffed grouse and Nicholas, Izzy & I are all smiles

I had the good fortune of celebrating the ruffed grouse hunting opener in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the weekend with a large contingent of my immediate family.  While we didn’t spend every moment of daylight scouring the woods, four ruffs found their way into our game vests.  In the afterglow of barbecued grouse jalapeno poppers, I offer the following observations:


  • The Woods were Grousey!  Although all Midwest drumming counts will indicate our slide on the downward side of the grouse cycle, there are absolutely enough birds to keep the aspen and alder woods exciting.  Our group averaged 2.5 grouse flushes per hour in four hours of hunting on Saturday and one hour of hunting on Sunday.  And our group included me, my brother, his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, my mom, my dad and two shorthairs.  In other words, we weren’t exactly a stealth group of grouse hunters.


  • A Special Family Opener.  Many folks will complain about the grouse opener being too warm or tough hunting with the woods filled with leaves.  The grouse opener is particularly special to me and has become a St.Pierre family tradition.  A little over 13 years ago, my dad suffered an aneurysm that nearly took his life.  Thanks to medicine and miracles, I am always thankful to spend another walk through the September grouse woods with my dad.  This year was extra special as my brother joined us for his first bird hunt in two decades.  And, to top it off my niece and nephew slapped on their blaze orange Pheasants Forever gear and joined the family tradition.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.

My brother Matt and nephew Nicholas show off the first ruffed grouse of 2012

  • Grouse Broods already Dispersed.  It seems the grouse family groups had already broken up in the grouse covers we walked.  Every flush was a solo bird.  Perhaps the early spring in the Northwoods did indeed result in an earlier hatch.  If that were to be the case, it’d make sense for the grouse family groups to already be broken.


  • Crazy about Timberdoodles.  I was amazed by the number of woodcock we encountered on opening weekend: the most I can ever remember on a grouse opener.  Presumably, the migration hasn’t yet begun so these would have been local ‘doodles.  We averaged 3.5 woodcock flushes per hour.  My older shorthair, Trammell, showed mid-season form pointing numerous woodcock right out of the gates, which presented a number of “honoring” opportunities for my 6-month-old pup, Izzy.  NOTE: Michigan’s woodcock season doesn’t open until September 22nd.


  • Fruity Pebble Forest.  The woods are dry and the leaves are changing quickly.  While there were plenty of leaves cluttering our view of flushing birds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaves are off the trees a week earlier than normal this autumn.


Izzy’s first retrieve and my first bird of 2012.

  • Irish Indeed.  This summer, after four pairs and a decade of loyalty to Danner’s Santiam boots, I elected to give the more affordable Irish Setter Wingshooter boot a shot.  I couldn’t be more pleased.  The leather broke in easily after a mink oil application and a couple of days worn in the Pheasants Forever office.  They are comfortable and light.  Fingers crossed they hold up for multiple years of bird hunting torture.


  • Open Up Your Chokes. In the last couple of seasons, I have been shooting a cylinder choke out of my top barrel and a skeet choke out of my bottom barrel with .20 gauge Federal 7 ½ shot.  I couldn’t be happier with this combo for grouse flushing 10 to 20 yards off a point.  So far, I’m 3 out of 4 on grouse shots this early season thanks to the more open choke selection.




Did you get out grouse hunting (ruffed or prairie) over the weekend?  Please feel free to keep the conversation going with your personal observations in the comments section below.


The dynamic duo show off a pair of U.P. ruffs

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.