Preparing for the Hunt
September is a very important month for the upland hunter/gun dog enthusiast. In preparation for the upcoming season, there are many subjects we should address. We should be scouting new coverts, exercising our dog and ourself, checking gear and replacing if necessary and spending a few hours on the trap or skeet range.
All of these subjects would take three or four monthly columns to properly address so we’ll talk about scouting new cover and exercise in this column; with an emphasis on the ruffed grouse and woodcock hunter.
In hunting and filming for our TV show, Bird Dogs Afield, my wife and I travel thousands of miles every fall. We meet grouse and woodcock hunters from all over the United States and Canada. Without question, the most successful hunters have done significant research and/or boots on the ground in the areas they plan to hunt.
Three years ago, in the North Maine Woods, we met three hunters from South Carolina. This was their first trip to Maine. Every day they were either shooting their limit or coming very close. I asked them how they prepared for the trip to encounter such success. They told me they had spent several hours over a two month period studying the area, in which they were hunting, on maps...primarily Google Maps. Before even arriving, they had several prime cuts marked on their DeLorme Gazetteer. They also weren’t bashful about proclaiming that they had well-trained bird dogs...English setters and German shorthaired pointers.
That’s the South Carolinian story. They did all their research on maps before heading North. However, if you live within a 1/2 day drive of your fall hunting destination, you should plan in September to do some pre-season scouting. You want to add at least three new coverts to your secret list of “honey holes”. Start with map research before heading to your hunting grounds. Look for streams that have an old logging road running along the edge of the stream. On the stream side of the old road, look for a good run of alders which will hold both grouse and woodcock. On the other side of the road, look for a hill that has raspberry growth, black cherry, aspens and hardwoods at the top. On both edges of the road, look for clover and wild strawberry. Two other plants to look for are high-bush cranberry and mountain ash. All of this growth will hold the ruffed grouse.
If you find all of the above mentioned growth in one area, you have everything a dominant male grouse needs for a home. If there is a dominant male grouse in the area, then he bred several hens in the spring. That means there will be a plethora of birds during your scouting period in September. Although those broods will breakup in October, there will still be the dominant male and his hens hanging out.
Grouse feed on mostly green ground cover from spring through the first frost. As the green ground cover becomes brown, they move to berries and nuts such as the high bush cranberry, mountain ash and acorns. Once the berries and nuts become covered with snow, the grouse move to the trees and eat buds. That’s when the black cherry and aspen become important.
Hunting season is for hunting known coverts that contain birds. It’s not for spending hours driving back roads looking for quality bird cover. You’ll enjoy hunting season much more if you pre-season scout.
Every adult knows the importance of exercise...for both you and your canine athlete. I want to scare you...both you and your dog could encounter your final hunt if you don’t exercise and get into shape. Enough said. Have a safe and successful hunting season.