By Joe McMillan

When David Trevallion came to Leen’s Lodge this past season he offered a new concept up for a woodcock gun. This concept gun would be short-barreled, synthetic stocked, armor plated & included hedge shears mounted to the muzzles! Maybe not the classic upland game gun, but the hedge trimmers appealed to me!

An appropriate gun for woodcock and grouse would be one that the gunner feels confident with. The choice of gauge would be the same. A shotgun bored .410 to 12 is fine. The larger gauges can offer up a bit much shot payload in tight quarters. I believe it wise to find the lightest possible shot charge possible in the 20, 16 and 12 bores. The .410 should be chosen only if the gunner is very experienced and confident with this gun. In the right hands it is a deadly gun for woodcock. Grouse however, are a different matter. It may be somewhat underpowered for such a large bird in heavy cover. The 28 bore, while only boasting ¾ oz of shot is in my opinion one of the greatest bird killers out there. It is low in recoil, typically chambered in a light shotgun and supremely capable of killing consistently. There is of course the issue of marksmanship. None of these choices mean much without some capability to hit with your chosen gun. Some time on the skeet field or sporting clays course can only help. My favorite for practice shooting is a few rounds of skeet or 5-stand shot as fast as possible with a low gun. Gun mount is critical for upland shooting. The gun needs to hit your shoulder consistently and be followed almost instantly by the shot. We at Leen’s see a variety of shotguns. The majority are side by sides or over and unders, though some pumps and autos do show up. I can tell you from a guide’s perspective, the break open guns are preferable. This is solely a safety issue. A break action gun is easily loaded and unloaded and when open is undeniably safe. This is very soothing to someone who spends a lot of time around loaded firearms. The pumps and autos require greater manipulation to load and unload and the third shot is unnecessary in the upland covers that we hunt. The gun choice is immaterial of course unless basic safe gun-handling practices are strictly observed.

Shot size is again a personal preference. For woodcock #9 to #7 ½ shot will do the trick. My friends in Louisiana load light dram #6 shot in their 20’s. They claim it “kills ‘em outright or it’s a smooth miss!” Grouse on the other hand are a larger and more durable bird. They beg for #7 ½ shot , but there are those who feel the more dense shot swarm of finer pellets are more deadly. Don’t bother buying any high-brass type field loads, they will hurt you worse than the birds. Low brass type target loads are more than enough for woodcock and grouse. I would recommend bringing one box for each day of your visit.

Other items to consider for your trip are mandatory for safety. Eye protection should be worn at all times while in the coverts of Maine. A twig in the eye is not an “if” proposition as much as a “when”. Spend enough time in the woods and we all get them. Blaze orange clothing is required by us at Leen’s. An orange vest, jacket and or shirt should be considered a must. My personal preference is blaze orange from neck to belt. It’s amazing how one can disappear in the fall foliage with a small amount of orange on or faded orange. All garments should be used only if the orange is bright, once faded the garment should be retired. As with gun handling, blaze orange does little good unless the gunners in the party stay aware of each others position. A shot at a pointed or wild flushing bird should never be taken unless the location of all in the party is known to the shooter.

For the self-guided hunter a couple of items are not to be left out. Getting lost, while very unlikely is a possibility in the large areas of wilderness in Maine. A loud whistle should always be in one’s possession. The Acme Thunderer is the loudest and most obnoxious whistle that I know of. It can be purchased from any dog supply catalog. This can be a very useful signal device when one becomes uncertain of their whereabouts. A GPS unit and the knowledge of how to use it is a good idea. It is only good if you make a habit of setting a “goto” every time you leave the truck. A compass and the knowledge of how to use it is also a must. I have one in my pocket all the time and take readings and bearings with it at almost every cover. The reason for this is simple. Many times I have walked into a familiar cover only to decide to investigate some other likely spot which can lead to another likely spot and so on. I’m sure you get the picture. There have been a couple of occasions where I have looped miles through the woods seeking new hot-spots.

The temperatures in Maine in October can vary dramatically from balmy days in the 60’s to very brisk conditions. Bring adequate clothing that can be layered. My personal favorite is wool, smells funky when wet but so do my dogs. I don’t hold that against them. Warm headgear is important on cold days. Most of our body heat is lost through our head. A hat can go a long way toward making one more comfortable. Gloves are handy, they should be supple enough for the wearer to safely handle a gun. If you don’t have them you will probably like to stop and buy a pair after wading through your first raspberry patch. Trousers can be faced or not. The guide’s choice seems to be a Filson product or something similar. Their single and double layer pants are hard to beat. Long underwear is good to pack for those cold days as well.

Footwear is, as always, a personal choice. Comfort is the operative word here. I like traditional lace-up leather boots, 8-10 inches tall are fine. Mine are uninsulated, but you may prefer insulation or a Gore-tex membrane for water resistance. A misty morning or a heavy dew can soak a pair of boots quickly. A spare pair would be a mandatory item on my list. Putting on a wet pair of boots in the morning is about as much fun as chewing on a cold dog turd! My spares are a pair of cheap rubber boots, Lacrosse brand, Grange model. They are hard to beat on wet days, or when your damn dog crosses a stream and can’t seem to work up the gumption to reverse the action….typically a pointer specific issue. Several of our clients enjoy the LeChameau rubber boots. They can’t say enough good things about their comfort and durability. The price shouldn’t deter you on this product, they may be the last boots you will ever buy. With all of the walking a gunner will do in a day socks are an important consideration as well. A good wool sock with a silk or synthetic liner sock will do wonders for keeping blisters to a minimum. Never wear cotton socks as they will make your feet sweat and encourage chafing and discomfort from the cold. Moleskin or some of the new liquid band-aid is good to apply in the field if a blister does come up, one of these materials should be in everyones pocket. There are handy electric boot dryers on the market. I would seriously consider bringing one along for each member of the party.

For those hunters who are bringing their own dogs, we can provide kennel hutches by the cabin. If you prefer, the dog or dogs can be kept in the cabin as long as it is crated whenever you leave the cabin. In deference to our other guests the dogs should not come in the dining room. Bring your normal gear that you would when hunting your dog at home. A short lead should be on your person at all times for those covers where you may park near a road. A muzzle is a very good idea to keep in your pocket in case first aid is needed or the dog must be removed from a trap. If you are concerned about the possibility of your dog being caught in a trap, it is not uncommon but I have never seen it harm a dog. It can be disconcerting to the dog though and result in the dog biting as you try to remove its paw. If you are unfamiliar with Maine coverts they are very dense with limited visibility. A beeper collar is highly recommended. If your dog has never had one on make sure the dog is comfortable with it prior to hunting. Tri-Tronics makes an excellent and durable unit. It can be had with a stimulator collar or by itself, beeper only.

A method of carrying gear and game should be included in your kit. This can be a jacket, vest or game belt. My personal favorite is the last. It allows freedom of movement and is cooler on a warm day. If a jacket or vest is your preference, make sure they show plenty of blaze orange.

The last thing to pack is plenty of enthusiasm and anticipation. If you have not experienced Leen’s Lodge, the hunts, the dogs and the camaraderie, then you are in for a wonderful experience. If you have been here, welcome back! We are excited about seeing all of our old friends and the fun of making new ones! See you in October!

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