The Sportsman’s Corner: Changing gears

  • Monday, Nov. 29, is the final day of the 2021 Massachusetts woodcock season and the opening day of the shotgun season for deer. Staff file photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 11/25/2021 4:20:49 PM
Modified: 11/25/2021 4:20:44 PM

Monday was a sad day for me. It was the final day of the 2021 Massachusetts woodcock season. There have been migrating woodcock continuing to move through and last Saturday two different hunters mentioned to me that they had flushed woodcock in New Hampshire while deer hunting. The dogs and I live all year for the hours we spend trekking through alder runs, overgrown pastures, abandoned apple orchards, and early successional growth that is the habitat where you hope to encounter woodcock and ruffed grouse. It was, as always, unpredictable but there were many great memories and, alas, a lot of missed shots or birds that escaped without a shot being fired. If numbers were all that mattered, 2021 would most likely be a down year as to the number of birds bagged but there is so much more to consider when evaluating a hunting season. Fourteen-year-old Dinah was limited due to physical limitations but she delivered when called on. Laney, at 4, really came into her prime and was as good as any bird dog in the Roche history as the season waned. She really rose to the occasion as she became the No. 1 dog and shined on the rare occasions when she encountered a ruffed grouse, or the birds my father called partridge.

It would appear to me that the last wave of migrating woodcock has been moving through as none were encountered locally on Monday. That led me to make the 65-mile drive southwest to the Berkshires, where Laney found a pair of woodcock and the last point of the season was perfect. She came to a sudden stop and tilted her head downhill above a hillside seep. Unfortunately, the iPhone was in the truck, or it would have been a great picture. The bird toppled on the shot, and she retrieved it and we made it back to the truck a little after 3 in the afternoon cold, tired but glad to be out one last time hunting woodcock.

Pheasants and grouse will remain open until Saturday, but Monday the shotgun season for deer opens. That means getting out the deer hunting gear and packing up the upland gear. It is a bittersweet time, and it might be that the deer hunting is for me a diversion to make the end of bird hunting less painful. This writer fully realizes that most hunters are much more excited about pursuing a big buck than a tiny woodcock. Most have been planning for months and many have been putting in time with the bow. A good number of deer have been taken by bowhunters to date and the biggest bucks taken in the Bay State each year are taken by archers.

Bow season is definitely the best time to bag a big racker as the peak of rutting activity is generally around Nov. 11. Bucks are on the move pursuing does as they come into season, and it can make for exciting times in your tree stand. One note of caution: Always use extreme care when using a tree stand. Unfortunately, it appears that one fall from a Massachusetts tree stand this archery season resulted in a fatality. Use a full body fall arrest harness, never just a belt! Keep three points of contact at all times (both feet and one or two hands). Choose a straight tree and center your weight. Use a haul line for all gear and unload guns. Remain attached to the tree at all times. If you fall, stay calm and call for help. Relieve pressure on your legs by pushing against the tree with your legs as you attempt to get back in the stand.

As you prepare for shotgun season, sight in your gun! The continuing shortage of ammunition has created issues. The best way to deal with it is to sight in at close distances like 25 yards. If you want to save slugs, take your first shot at 10 yards with bird shot. Once the impact is where you want, go to slugs at 25 yards and use the ballistic table to decide where you want that impact to be to keep you plus or minus two inches out to 75 yards. That will set you up for most opportunities you are likely to have with Massachusetts whitetails.

For me, getting everything needed for the possibilities means boots, socks (Darn Tough, of course!), pants and jackets for everything from freezing cold to “Indian summer” warmth. Orange vest and hat, knife and drag rope and a license holder to put the tag in (you must immediately attach your tag upon killing a deer) so it does not come off during the drag. In recent years, my choice of footwear has almost exclusively been Muck boots and the 16-inch Wetland gets me across most of the streams encountered while also keeping the toes warm while sitting in the single digits. Good gloves are a must, and the classic red handkerchief is a “must have” in the rear pocket.

All deer hunters in the shotgun and primitive arms deer seasons are required to wear 500 inches of hunter orange material that meets the illumination standards on their head, chest and back.

Will wearing orange impact your deer hunt? Some hunters may worry that wearing blaze orange will hurt their chances of harvesting an animal. While deer are not colorblind, they lack the ability to detect colors like red and orange from green and brown. Wearing blaze orange will not matter to the deer but will make you safer and prevent you from being mistaken for a deer. It is movement that alarms deer, not color.

As always, safety and courtesy are essentials. Be sure of your target and when in doubt, don’t. Never litter and carry out any trash you find. Respect landowners, other hunters and all you encounter while hunting. Be safe and good luck!

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