Before we arrived in Quebec, Yvon Champagne told me our timing for woodcock would be perfect but that, although ruffed grouse populations were good, we’d have to work to put birds in the bag. My friend Alan Sands and I had been looking for a combination hunt and had chosen early October, when the woods would be a tapestry of yellow and red leaves.
The hunt was to take place at La Griffe d’Ours, located near the farming community of Notre Dame DuMont Carmel, an hour west of Quebec City. Translated, La Griffe d’Ours means “Claw of the Bear,” and it comes from Yvon’s other endeavor: spring bear hunting. Formerly a Ducks Unlimited biologist, Yvon began outfitting full-time in 1991, and he has been guiding for woodcock and grouse ever since. He offers hunts for five weeks, from late September until the last week of October. Ruffed grouse are resident birds, while woodcock are a mix of locally produced birds and migrants from northern Canada. Typically during the first 10 days of the season only local woodcock are present, but during the first or second week of October the migrants arrive and total numbers increase, often significantly. By the time we arrived, the first flight birds had made their appearance.
La Griffe d’Ours has three guides, including Yvon and his son, Philippe. Hunting takes place within a 50-mile radius of the lodge. The outfitter has access to more than 6,000 acres of grouse and woodcock coverts.
Yvon has an impressive kennel of Brittanys, with at least six seasoned dogs available and several others in training. The dogs are outstanding at finding and pointing birds and are good at locating downed birds as well.
Our first morning dawned bright and clear and, after a breakfast of French toast with homemade maple syrup, crisp bacon and strong French-roast coffee, we drove about 30 miles to a patch of woods with the perfect mixture of alder thickets and stands of poplar and maple. We were paired with Philippe, who had brought along a seven-year-old Brittany named Wysley.
Philippe said that the area held good bird populations, but he warned us that the cover was heavy. Grouse and woodcock are masters at flushing behind trees and brush and seldom present clear shots. My best advice: When a bird flushes, don’t hesitate; take the shot even if it appears that obstacles will prevent a clean kill. Surprisingly, you can and will drop birds in the heavy cover.
Less than 10 minutes into the vines, briers and alders, Wysley went on point—the steady beeping of his collar providing the only clue to his whereabouts in the tangle of brush. Soon we found the dog on solid point, and about the time I reached him, a woodcock flushed from the alders and flew nearly straight up toward the blue sky. I snapped my 28-gauge over/under to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger as the bird reached the tops of the trees. At first I wasn’t sure if the woodcock had fallen, but Philippe sent Wysley, who, after some searching, returned with the dead bird. By the time we finished working the covert, Alan and I had five woodcock in the bag but had yet to see a grouse.
A 20-minute drive brought us to a covert that Philippe was sure held grouse as well as woodcock. He released the Brittany, and we followed the dog down an old logging road. Soon Wysley headed into the woods with the three of us close behind. Fifteen minutes into the jaunt he went on point, and Alan moved in. Alan was just about to the dog when a grouse flushed from the dense cover. Thanks to Alan’s quick reaction, he managed to drop the bird as it passed through an opening in the trees.
During our hunt we averaged 30 or more woodcock flushes a day, and each of us easily bagged our daily limits of four birds. As predicted, grouse were more difficult to find, and we took only a few during our stay. Of course we missed a number of ruffs as well . . . .
La Griffe d’Ours offers hunts that include transportation to and from Quebec City or Montreal. The lodge has four double rooms with shared baths and provides excellent home-cooked meals. The hunting package is five days, with a Sunday arrival and Saturday departure, and there are three hunters per guide. Shotguns are available at no extra charge, or hunters can take their own into Canada.
For more information, contact La Griffe d’Ours, 819-379-7291; www.griffedours.com.
- By: Gary Kramer