Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Soft Hackle Safari

From our good friend and fellow Pro Staffer, Greg G:

While it is primarily the ruffed grouse that may divert the trout angler’s autumn imagination from the river to the uplands, it is the grouse’s itinerant companion, the American woodcock, that can provide a bumper crop of fly tying material. A centuries old staple of patterns rooted in traditional English North Country spiders, a woodcock contains some of the finest feathers to ever grace a silk wound soft hackle.

Upland shooting lore would have us believe that grouse and woodcock freely cohabitate, and that may be the case in some of their range. But they are very different birds with different needs for food. However, they both benefit from early successional forests, where nature is beginning to reclaim previously timbered or abandoned land. Tattered pants, frayed bootlaces, bruised shins and sometimes a fat lip often result from working those areas correctly:

Dogs? We don’t need no stinking dogs:

But we do need light, quick handling and open choked shotguns. This is my 20 gauge Franchi 48 AL, posing with a brace of timberdoodles (sorry, no catch and release here). It has a 24” barrel and while it possesses a full range of choke tubes, it is rare that I install anything tighter than cylinder for the early season uplands:

This gun was always Nick Sisley’s favorite, and if you’re a Pee Aye upland hunter with a sense of heritage, you listen when Nick speaks. A standard load of 7/8 ounce of #8’s is the right medicine, as killing shots will all be in close. Heavier loads and tighter chokes will only turn you into an inefficient lumberjack, as the mixed oak and aspen saplings disintegrate in your muzzle blasts.

One of the biggest challenges in adding woodcock to your game pouch is predicting the timing of their migratory flights. A cold northwest wind can either kick-start their migration, or clear out a productive covert literally overnight later in the season. Personally, my recent successes are a classic example of even a broken clock being right twice a day.

So be it. Just like with my trout fishing, I’ll take what I can get until I can really devote some serious time to it and get better. Besides, there’s got to be some ju-ju associated with tying a grannom pupae from a bird you harvested next to a trout stream that also has a good population of brachycentrus. Just don’t ask me to start raising my own silk worms: