“It’s all about watching the dog work.”
It’s 9AM and I’m walking carefully through the brush a mile or so into the Adirondack wilderness. It’s a crisp fall day with color just starting to really pop, the cool air keeping us alert, but not cold. There are no trails, no gaggle of hikers in front and back of me, no crowd at the summit taking turns instagram-ing the best view. Just me, my guide Scott, and Tucker. Tucker's ducking and weaving through branches and bushes, covering 20 feet for every one step Scott and I take. We're watching him closely, waiting for him. Tucker slows and creeps up on a bush, just visible from several yards away. I get excited, this is going to be the first one of the day.
“He’s not convinced,” says Scott
“His tail, it’s wagging, he’s not convinced.”
Scott and I creep up slowly behind Tucker. Something’s there, or was there, but Tucker can’t quite point it. Suddenly a rabbit takes off out of the bush and across the field. Dodging and ducking through the bushes. But we’re not looking for rabbits today and in a testament to Tucker's training he’s already off in the other direction, sniffing out the next trail.
Hunting grouse and woodcock in the Adirondacks
This is how my day went for about four hours when I joined local Adirondack hunting and fishing guide, Scott Gardner of Nessmuk’s Wilderness Guide Services. We were in for a morning hunting Grouse and Woodcock during one of the first days of the fall hunting season. We went to scope out some new spots for Scott to take his clients. Meeting Scott at the pull-off alongside the road, I was immediately introduced to our companion for the day, and the one who I would soon learn really does all the work, Scott's dog Tucker.
Tucker’s a Wire-haired Pointing Griffon, a European breed of sporting dog that looks somewhere between a sheep dog and a terrier. It was immediately clear, if there’s one thing Tucker loves most, it’s the excitement of the hunt, followed closely by scratches behind the ears and food. Tucker was fidgeting in the back seat of Scott's car as I got in and we headed down an unimproved road. His nose on Scott’s shoulder huffing his impatience.
“He knows when we’re going hunting,” said Scott. “He can feel the road change and he knows we’re heading into the woods.”
Parking the car Tucker was just about climbing over the seats to get out. We quickly geared up, donned our orange, and headed out into the woods.
I should take a moment here to admit, I’m not a hunter - but I’ve taken an interest in the last several years and had been looking for an opportunity to get out in the woods. For me, the motivation is not so much to get a trophy as to experience the Adirondacks from a different point of view. I love the hike up a mountain and have instagramed my fair share of Adirondack scenery. But, I like the idea of heading out into the woods with another approach, off the trail, with an eye not towards the destination, but the topography of the land, the ground cover, the trees overhead, and the sites and sounds of the wildlife around you. Sure, I could just do more of these things on my hikes, but that’s not how I roll. I need a purpose, a mission if you will. It is, I suspected, a much more immersive and all around different experience.
Straight off Scott was quick to live up to the legendary knowledge and hospitality of our Adirondack Guides, filling me in on the finer points of hunting Grouse and Woodcock in the Adirondacks. They’re generally ground birds so we were looking for areas with plenty of ground cover. Unlike other places, you don’t find a lot of open fields with good cover in the High Peaks. You’re generally going through thick forest, giving you only a matter of a coupleof seconds to get your shot between the time the dog flushes the bird out and it disappears into the trees. Making the hunting in the High Peaks one of the more challenging and satisfying hunting experiences.
Once we found an area with good cover, Tucker took over. This is where I discovered the fun of ‘watching the dog work.’ Scott and I had the easy job for the day. We walked through the woods, keeping our eyes and ears sharp, and following Tucker’s lead. Watching the dog hunt is an experience in and of itself. He can filter through the thousands of smells that must be going through his nose every second to find the particular dander given off by the Grouse and Woodcock, ducking and weaving he followed the same trail for hundreds of yards until he put us on the bird. Tucker pointed three birds throughout the morning, one buried amongst a stand of pine without enough clearing for a good shot, and two in the trees. A good number of flushes for a few hours work.
We didn’t get a bird this particular day. Of course that’s the ultimate goal, but this was still a great day in the woods. True to my expectations, hunting in the Adirondacks is an entirely different experience and a great way to spend some time in the Whiteface Region.
If you’re a hunter, or have ever known a hunter, you’ll understand when I say our exact location for the day is a bit of a secret. No one who hunts or fishes ever wants to give away their favorite spots. Fortunately, we’re in the Adirondacks and there’s no shortage of huntable land open to the general public! The Whiteface Region has some of the best, with the High Peaks Wilderness Area, Sentinel Range, and Wilmington Wild Forest all within a short drive.
After the hunt - Oktoberfest!
Finished exploring for the morning, Scott and I headed back into Wilmington for Whiteface Mountain's annual Oktoberfest. World class German Bands, juicy sausages, cold beer, and a ride up the Gondola made for the perfect afternoon to follow a morning hunt!