November can be the best and worst of grouse hunting here in Northern New Hampshire. The weather is unpredictable and can move the birds around and even force us out of the woods completely. There was one year where it snowed 8 to 10 inches on Veteran’s Day and we never saw bare ground again until mid-April. Other years we’ve hunted on bare ground all the way to the end of the season at the end of December. Temperatures can really vary as well. There have been days in the 50s and mornings in the teens so far this November. We even had one day where the windchill was such we were all wearing gloves, coats, and ear coverings. The fluctuations in the weather create a mixed bag with some excellent days of 20 +/- grouse and days where dog after dog has been unable to produce more than a grouse or two in areas that had been productive a few days earlier.
The reasons for this vary and usually have a lot to do with food. All the apples here at the kennel have been eaten by the birds and deer, there were no beechnuts this year and we’re north of any productive oak stands so late in the season crops are usually stuffed with ferns, greens of various types, and catkins with a few buds thrown in the mix. If the snow covers up the greens the birds switch almost exclusively to buds and catkins. they use to close the season in December in the far northern zones to prevent the easy pickings of birds bunched up in large poplar trees feeding on buds. A road hunter with five shots in his pump or auto can do a lot of damage if the birds get spotted feeding. To find the ferns birds tend to be in areas of more open woods where a little bit of sun filters in to the forest floor which can make them even jumpier than usual. But sometimes they find a little fir tree or the top of a blow down and sit tight for the dogs rather than fly out into the open. When they do fly out into the open, you get some of the best shots of the season. the other factor is the snow. There is up to four or five inches in some of our covers which makes the deer hunters happy but can be a little tough on the dogs. Most of the snow on the ground will be gone by the end of today as it is 50 and has rained all morning. But more snow is predicted for Wednesday night — we’ll see as all forecasts are subject to change around here at this time of year.
November is also the time of the season where the experienced dogs like Tim’s setter Bog Brook Rigby show the value of their experience. So far in November, Rigby has been run 5 times and we have flushed 58 grouse and 2 woodcock in front of her. Wild Apple Jack has also had a couple of really good outings in November. One that was most memorable was on Veteran’s Day when the temperature warmed into the 50s and Jack pointed the first 5 grouse that my old friend Jim McMahon’s 11 year old son had ever seen. Jim hasn’t been up to hunt in a few years, but when we taught together in the late 80s he and I hunted a lot. Jim was also with me 10 years ago when I shot what would be the first of many grouse over Wild Apple Jack. Jack’s record as a field trial dog speaks for itself, but what it doesn’t tell you is just how good he was and still is as a grouse hunting dog. This season, at 10 years of age he still points with the same style and intensity he has always had. He’s slowed a lot but still seems to produce birds even on days when they’re hard to come by. On his first day out early in October we flushed five grouse and 13 woodcock that he pointed. On that Veteran’s Day hunt a couple weeks ago he had five separate grouse finds. But I digress here.
In addition to the changing diets of our grouse they often seek out different cover then you find them in earlier in the season. In addition to the above mentioned open forest they are often in heavier fir and spruce cover especially if it’s raining. One of Rigby’s best outings was on a rainy afternoon where 20 grouse were flushed in front of her out of clumps of fir and spruce where the birds were seeking protection from the weather. On the trip back to that same spot on a dry day we only flushed 5 grouse — two of which are in the picture above with Tim, Don, and Rigby. An interesting side note on those two grouse: most of the grouse we shoot around here are grey phase birds — the one on the right that Don is holding is very much a red phase bird it was our second one of the weekend.
Some people give up on their puppies at this time in the season as they feel the late season grouse are too hard for them to handle. I take the opposite approach. If you want to have a dog that becomes a Jack or Rigby later in their hunting careers they need to see as many grouse as possible. The puppies that were here at the kennel this spring and summer cut their teeth on the broods of grouse that we found on the puppy loop early in the summer and have been continually exposed to them when they have been out this fall. I’ve also shot woodcock for all three but concentrate on grouse. Any good grouse dog can point woodcock, the opposite is not necessarily so. And all those grouse are starting to pay off as all three of the pups that are still with me — Molly, Dottie, and Spot are giving us opportunities on pointed late season grouse. The youngest of the three, Dottie, had a really good outing on the 15th as she pointed 3 out of five grouse in a small cover giving the gunners shots at all three (she didn’t seem to care that they only knocked one down). Spot and Molly are also regularly handling birds. They don’t get them all right and birds that we might have had a chance at with an older dog get flushed without a shot, but honestly who cares, if it was just about killing I’d get rid of the dogs and just ride the roads. When you add the derbies, Sam, Glo, and Brandy to the mix the string of grouse dogs we’ll have in the future should be a force to be reckoned with.
If you have any thoughts about booking a hunt next fall, you should get in touch with me soon as the schedule is quickly filling up with my repeat clients.