Sportsman’s Corner: GPS adds new twist to hunting with dogs

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 10/26/2018 1:53:16 PM
Modified: 10/27/2018 6:00:15 AM

The bird dogs and I blew into town last Sunday night after spending most of October at On the Wing Grouse Camp in Ellenburg, New York. October in grouse camp is always enjoyable. The hunting can range from very slow to very good, and we saw both. Once the temperatures dropped into the 30s, the understory wilted, scenting conditions got better, more birds were flushed and some were bagged.

The week leading up to the big New York Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt was excellent with some excellent dog work on grouse. Woodcock flights did arrive (they always come right after I leave!), but local birds provided the 30 RGS supporters good action Saturday. The hunt is limited to 30 participants who are guided by 30 volunteer huntsmen. Everyone gathers at a “meet and greet” Friday evening at the Holiday Inn in Malone, New York, and the hunters are briefed. The weekend is not inexpensive, but most of those attending were repeat customers. The Friday affair is pizza and beer, but everything after that is first class. The hunters get a great room (double occupancy) and breakfast each morning. Lunch is at the hunting camp and this year featured pulled pork sandwiches done to perfection by the camp master chef, know to all only as Murph.

It is the Saturday evening meal that is as good as one can find anywhere, period. The semi-open bar warms folks up for appetizers that included jumbo shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes, lamb lollipops and bruschetta, and all were delicious. Newcomers had to be cautioned that there were still grouse and woodcock, done perfectly, to follow. A significant portion of the birds came from this guide and they were the tastiest! I could tell!

Then came a perfect filet mignon served with crisp mixed vegetables and great mashed potatoes. After living a spartan existence (for the most part) at camp my plate was clean at the end. Leaving room for the world’s best carrot cake was a struggle.

There was a silent auction, raffle and live auction. Nothing came home with me, but that is OK. Sunday morning the two hunters I was guiding opted to join me at mass in Ellenburg center and they were not looking for a long hunt. They were coming back in November to deer hunt and wanted to put up some stands. We hunted on cover, got one solid woodcock point from Dinah and left with the one timberdoodle.

The two friends who were my companions on Saturday gave me a chance to see a hunting style that has become popular lately. With the development of GPS units for dogs, many hunters follow the progress of their dogs at a considerable distance using the hand-held receiver. The receiver tells them the direction and distance where their dog is and indicates when the dogs stops, as on point. The style of hunting fits the philosophy of long-time dog training legend George Hickox. He states that “the dog has the nose. That should lead everything.” What took some getting used to was the fact that we rarely saw the dog and it was often 200 or 300 yards ahead. That took some adjusting for this guide, who wants his dog under his direction responding to commands to search covers where history leads me to believe the birds may be under whatever conditions exist at the moment. In addition, it was an extremely windy morning and thus I was never sure exactly where that dog had covered. We had one unproductive point at 169 yards where the owner was convinced by the dog’s demeanor that the bird has exited and one wild flush in front of us when the dog ran into a woodcock that was upwind. The afternoon produced two grouse finds, one an excellent point, put nothing was bagged. It was very eye-opening to me as it was clearly a style that was 180 degrees from what most pointing dog owners’ practice. It was definitely a well-bred and very obedient trained dog, just not optimum conditions that day.

Reflecting on the long stay, it was very enjoyable and waking up in the cabin and rousing the dogs out of bed was fun. They got a lot of work and last Thursday, despite strong winds, was as good as it gets. That is, overlooking that morning this writer missed five woodcock, most of them straight-away shots, in a row. When it finally dawned on me that my head was lifted on every shot so that the bead being right on still meant the shot string would be high, it was time for lunch. That afternoon, checking out the cover that was to my destination Saturday, resulted in a number of grouse points, five by Dinah, and two grouse and two woodcock taken in less than an hour. I do not like to overshoot covers, particularly before guiding hunters to the same spot, so we packed up and got out and left the cover alone Friday.

Lots of good memories and hopefully more as the prime time for woodcock migration has now arrived.


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