bird hunting north of sudbury

hunting grouse and woodcock at Black Bear Camp

Every autumn throughout the province, hunters gather in small but tight-knit groups to hunt moose, deer, and occasionally bear. The idea of an upland bird camp was hatched years ago by a number of dedicated bird-dog aficionados looking to share the fellowship and traditions of a big game camp while testing our dogs on wild upland birds at various destinations across Ontario.

Unloading Tired Dogs
Unloading tired dogs. (Photo credit: Tom Goldsmith)

As a proud member of the Full Choke Bird Camp, as we have come to call ourselves, one of the more memorable destinations was near Massey. Seven hunters and ten dogs made the trip. Most of the dogs were pointing breeds including setters, Brittanys, and a German wirehaired pointer. Just to keep things interesting, Steve Galea, one of the founding members, brought along his flushing dog -- a spirited Springer spaniel.

We based our camp out of Black Bear Camp near Webbwood just west of Massey. The accommodations were perfect for what we needed.  Spacious cabins, wood stoves, fully-equipped kitchens, and comfortable beds were just what leg-weary bird hunters needed at the end of a day. Just as essential were the several hundred kilometres of trails accessing thousands of kilometres of public land a few minutes from the camp.

The terrain of the area is a real taste of the north. Spruce bogs, clear cuts, and large stands of poplar made for a true northern experience despite being only a half day's drive from southern Ontario’s urban centres.

We made the most of the few hours of remaining daylight on our first day by hitting a trail close to camp. The goal was as much to stretch our travel-weary dogs as it was to hunt. The trail ended at a washed-out bridge. After some delicate walking on the remaining bridge timbers, we found ourselves in cover inaccessible to ATV hunters. The result of those few hours made the crossing well worthwhile. All the dogs ended up in the action. The pointers found a couple of grouse and several woodcock resting along the river’s edge. It was here among the alders Steve’s Springer proved useful in locating the birds that managed to elude our shot patterns for a second flush.

A dog retrieves a harvest
A dog retrieves a harvest. (Photo credit: Tom Goldsmith)

That evening after our birds were cleaned we barbequed steaks and reminisced about the dogs, the birds, and the hunts that we have shared over the years at bird camp. All the while, tired dogs slept around the warmth of the cabin’s wood stove.

The next morning found the thermometer reluctant to rise as quickly as we did. The dogs, however, were ready to roll so we split up into groups and headed further afield to try our luck again. My small group headed to a large hydro cut. Predictably we encountered a couple of spruce grouse in the dark spruce thickets, but the ruffed grouse claimed the more open areas along the edges of the poplars and pines. The hunting was excellent but the day belonged to Kat -- a young Gordon setter who found and held her first double of grouse for her owner Bob, who was as happy about the dog work as he was about pocketing the brace of birds.

Full Choke at Black Bear
Full choke at Black Bear Camp. (Photo credit: Tom Goldsmith)

Looking back at photos of that trip, it’s hard to believe the pristine landscapes and abundant grouse are as close to southern Ontario as they are. With the improvements to Hwy 69, the trip to Sudbury and west to Webbwood seems short, especially when the trucks are filled with dogs, camaraderie, and optimism for a great hunt ahead.

About Tom Goldsmith

Tom Goldsmith has been contributing paintings for covers, features, and My Outdoors humour illustration for Ontario OUT OF DOORS for more than 20 years. More recently Tom has come aboard as our Gun Dogs columnist, where his long-held passion for dogs and hunting with them is evident. As you would expect, Tom is a keen observer of nature and, as such, is afield throughout the year. But, he admits a particular fondness for when he can run his dogs against a backdrop of autumn's full pallet of colours.

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