Archive for March, 2010

On one of my day trips into the wetlands, I met a fellow waterfowler and we exchanged stories during a brief conversation. He had told me about a time when he was out in the marsh and another hunter had shot a Canada goose. He saw the bird fall on the other side of the pond but the shooter failed to retrieve the bird, because it was too difficult but not impossible to reach. The shooter said that it was a great shot but he did not see any reason why he should retrieve it. He was convinced nature would take its course and the coyotes would get to it in the evening. In most provinces this is illegal to abandon game or allow it to spoil.

Unknown to this careless hunter, the other fellow I met sent in his dog after the goose and he soon assisted in tackling the goose and finally harvesting it in knee deep water. This could have been considered spoiled game but because some of us actually respect nature the bird was spared and a family benefited from a nice evening meal.

Spoiled game is very similar to spoiled meat that you may encounter in the local grocery store if the dates are entered incorrectly. The meat will have a strong odor and bacteria will grow, the meat may become slimy in texture; the meat may also become sticky. Depending on where the animal is hit, it is important to properly field dress and remove all its internal organs with the use of latex gloves. It is also a good idea to carry plastic bags, cheese bags, a bottle of water, a good cutting knife and small axe if needed. Some hunters even use small chain saws to break the chest cavity of the moose or large elk. These are all steps to ensure that the game remain fresh and avoid spoiling the meat after the shot has been taken.

During our hunters’ education course, we are all taught where to aim in one specific place normally just around the shoulder blade in order to minimize the suffering, hitting vital organs such as the lungs or heart. This also minimizes the damage done to the game in order to be able to enjoy a nice meal as well as the trophy. Time is of the essence when retrieving the game and if you do not get an accurate shot the first time you will have to take a second one and this might hit an area where spoiling the game may be the outcome. This is a great way to avoid spoiling the game meat and stress to the animal. A great example of this was depicted in the show “Safari Hunters Journal” hosted by Steve Scott on Wild TV hunting and fishing network. On one of his brilliant hunts they harvested an elephant that was harassing the local corn fields and once the elephant trophy was taken, the meat was then distributed throughout the local village. The trophy was achieved but the meat was not wasted.

Lead poisoning, what about it? Extensive research has been conducted in the US and other countries in order to prove that bullets with lead can potentially poison wildlife and humans. In the UK, there has been talk of attempting to ban bullets containing lead which are used in stalking rifles for deer. My aim is not to focus on this debate; I would rather not use ammunition with lead if at all preventable. Does it spoil the meat? I would think it depends on the levels of lead in the game after the shot is taken.

When any large or small game is shot, it is a good idea to field dress it right away in order to avoid any type of bacteria or contamination to take place. Many websites and field dressing manuals encourage the bleeding out of the animal and keeping it cool as well as removing all its internal organs, this is good practice to avoid spoiling the meat. Sometimes ice is added to the chest cavity and the rest of the carcass to preserve the meat during transport. Field dressing game is a whole blog entry on its own. Cooler bags are brilliant for large game.

Any game that has been hit by traffic would be considered spoiled game as the bones and damage done to the intestines or other organs could cause bacterial and toxic poisoning. The same applies to game that has been hit in the intestines by a bullet or other organs containing fluids that could become hazardous.

Be a good hunter, respect and follow the laws concerning abandoning game. Try to use environmentally friendly ammunition if possible such as steel instead of lead and spend some time at the range working on the accuracy of your shots. Review the types of ammunition and ballistics used for the type of game you are attempting to harvest. Do not spoil the sport but spoil yourself!

Read Full Post »

The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Fauna identify the geographic area where I practice sport hunting as Zone 10, for me it is known as the “Swamp” a twenty minute drive up the road or the “Real Woods” a two hour drive north to the woodlands of park Papineau-Labelle. 

The truth is that this land running along the Ottawa River as we know it today provided living, trading and hunting grounds for the Algonquin. Even with the arrival of the Europeans and ongoing skirmishes with the Iroquois, they managed to survive. I want to dig up and find their knowledge about hunting grounds, methods used and tools. In doing so, I will also discover a rich history that took place in my own backyard.

For sport hunters’ modern day hunting seasons are managed by the provincial and federal governments based on studies from data collected throughout the previous seasons and other methods used. Conservation is a critical element as it allows for wildlife to replenish itself from disease, overpopulation and predation as well as sport hunting. What is amazing is that the first nations did not have access to our databases or science labs to assist with these techniques and yet their hunting seasons perfectly overlap the hunting seasons of today. This reveals that they were quite aware of conservation and wildlife management.

It has been documented that the Algonquin would travel up the Ottawa River to the hunting grounds and hunt from late November to February. My small game season this year was practically the same except, I hunted snowshoe hare until the end of the month of March. Whether someone relies on migratory patterns, hunting seasons or data collected in two thousand nine analyzed by the government, we can say that we have followed in the steps of the first nations and have identified the first key. We are hunting at the right time of year.

A very important point of this blog entry is that I am a small game sport hunter and I wish to perfect my skills as a still hunter. Therefore allowing me to become better at my chosen sport, while respecting nature and doing my part as a conservationist and naturalist. However, for the Algonquin, hunting was a necessity for survival as it provided food to the community and for this reason hunting had to be perfected or sometime supplemented with other sources of food such as trading, fishing and agricultural items such as corn.
I want to be able to isolate the Algonquin trapping and hunting from the other trades, then chip away the rough and find information from historical documents, songs, documented stories from elders and finally folklore. Knowledge that will ultimately enrich us in our most humble existence and make us better hunters, as we are just part of the whole cycle of life.

Prior to the government land laws the first nations had no restrictions with concerns to hunting grounds and the invisible boundaries were dictated by migratory patterns and wildlife habitat. It can be said that this fact still applies today but there are still limitations. Today the natives can hunt for food on land in which they have access to; this can be done all year long and with no licenses. However this is different for the sport hunters as they are required to hunt in very specific hunting grounds under controlled hunting seasons and licenses. These grounds could be a pourvoirie, ZEC’s (Controlled zones), Sepaq parks, family, private or crown lands.

It is true that the Algonquin used bows and arrows, spears and knives for hunting large and small game; however trapping was a quicker way to hunt. A few weeks ago, I went hare hunting for a few hours with my .22 rifle, it was an excellent day but I did not harvest any hares. However, the week prior my friend went out and setup several snares in the same area and harvested three hares in a twelve hour period. This is proof that trapping is more efficient than hunting with a bow or a gun. There is a famous engraving done by Claude Collet 1619, showing a deer trap method used by the Algonquians’ that enabled them to harvest large amounts of deer, this would prove to be a great example of trappings success. Snares, natural tree fences or pitfalls where often used for trapping.

Hunting with a rifle makes for a great sport but it is not always a guarantee compared to trapping where at least your chances if done right were higher. The black powder guns that were brought over with the Europeans and then traded with the first nations did assist the natives in a positive way during hunting as it slowly replaced the bow and arrow and proved more efficient.

Let us look at some of the techniques used:

Paintings have shown that the first nations would use camouflage in a masterful way, creating sort of parkas or ghillie suits with animal hide and fur as well as deer antlers, enabling them to blend in with the environment and get close to the game. This was a must if using a bow and arrow or spear.

Algonquin hunters would use their cunning skills such as observing movement in the woodlands or listening for specific noises, this would ultimately aid in finding their game if they were hunting and not trapping.

This is an interesting method also used by the natives and is still used in places all over the world. Several teams of hunters break up into the woods and make noise beating through the woods forcing the game into a killing zone, where other hunters are waiting with bows or rifles.

(More techniques will be added shortly)

Read Full Post »

Tree Talk

If trees could talk they would say the following “You will never find a black bear in the middle of a bamboo forest.” This is why it is important to know your types forests and its vegetation, as it will assist you in finding your game. For the outdoor enthusiasts having this knowledge will offer a higher level of understanding and allow you to indulge in the true beauty of the North American forests and land.

It will make you feel more confident and allow you to absorb your environment and its wildlife the next time you are out and about. In the book “The Essential Grizzly” the author Doug Peacock writes about a Yellowstone Stone park photographer Tom Murphy; who describes precisely that very feeling of being in the forest: “If I am in bear country, I know I’m in a special place. I’m in a cathedral basically. My hearing improves; I pay more attention. I can smell things that I don’t normally pay attention to. I’m more alive because of that. Not because I’m afraid of seeing [bears]. I want to see them. Because they’re beautiful and they belong there, and I want to belong there, too.”

As a small game hunter, I really share these feelings at a personal level as I have experienced it. Tracking hare in forests where the black bear roams and majestic bucks curiously stalk you as you walk. When the smell of musk is in the air and you hear branches breaking from behind and you know that you are the only hunter out in this part of the woods, you feel quite alive indeed. Yellowstone ecosystem is one of the last Grizzly domains on earth and is also home to the Whitebark Pine, a tree.

Whether you find yourself in the southern swamps of Louisiana or in the great deciduous forests of New-Brunswick in the east or the coniferous forests along the St Lawrence River, as long as you know your trees, such as the Whitebark Pine and then you attempt to find it, your chances of seeing a Grizzly bear are greater than amongst bamboo trees.
Now let us identify some of our trees.

In Canada we have two main categories of trees and amongst each of them there are several types of species each offering a wide variety of shapes, sizes, leaves, pines and some even have eatable parts. Conifer is one also known as softwood and the other being deciduous or hardwood.

Conifer may include the following types of cone-bearing trees:

Cedars– These trees can reach heights of over 30 meters and as a result unlike other coniferous they grow spreading branches to split off the main trunk. Their leaves which are essentially needles bunched together in a spiral cluster made up of sometimes up to 40 needles. This tree can also be found on the flag for the country of Lebanon. Cedar and Spruce swamps are often the type of habitat where you could find Snowshoe hare.

Douglas-Firs-This tree is interesting as its needles are pretty flat and pointy at the end, and the trunk can reach heights between 40 and 100 meters. Their seeds are quite often considered food for small animals and birds. The wood is also great for making snow shoes.
Firs-Fir trees have an average height between 10 and 75 meters, their needles which are attached to small branches can sometimes be identified as looking like suction cups. Firs are quite often used for Christmas trees as they have a reputation not to lose their pine needles when they dry after being cut.

Junipers-Junipers have an average height between 19-39 meters; this conifer is neat in the sense that this tree has berries with a reddish and brown color.

Pines-When a person thinks of evergreen Pine is often the first to come to mind. These trees have an average height between 3 and 75 meters. In some species of pine certain nuts can be gathered and used for cooking.

Redwoods-When I think of redwood, one of the trees that comes to mind is the Sequoia tree, that grew near  one of the places where I grew up. What I find really neat is that this tree can live up to 2000 years old.

Spruces-Spruce trees have an average height between 19-58 meters; their branches are can be considered smooth to the touch. Spruce gum can also be extracted and chewed and which was a practice the first nations used. I love drinking Spruce flavored soda or Spruce Beer.

Deciduous may include the following types of leaf bearing trees:

Larches –Larches are often found mountainous regions and are capable of reaching heights of 75 meters. This conifer loses its needles in the fall which is quite unusual for a deciduous conifer tree; it also has a reputation for being a very strong wood.

Maple-The famous maple tree leaf which is found on our flag is a very easy way to identify a maple tree as it is believed to have up to 125 species. The sap from the maple tree can be extracted and when boiled it can produce very good syrup. 

Oak-Oak trees have an average height of about 30 meters; what is really odd about oak trees is that they could be considered evergreen but they are more deciduous in nature because they lose their leaves in the fall.

Elm-Elm trees have an average height between 19-58 meters; it has neat looking leaves which vary from single or double serrate in shape. Elm wood is very resistant to moisture and is often used to make wheels and coffins.

Aspen-Aspen trees have an average height between 14-20 meters. I consider them one of the most beautiful trees during the fall season. Their leaves are very round and depending on the type of Aspen the leaves can be larger and more space out on their branches. What is really neat is that because the tree contains salicylates compounds related to aspirin and could be used for medicinal purposes such as treating burns, aches and swollen joints. Wikipedia. Due to its low flammability, I would not use this wood type for wood burning in an emergency situation. Aspen is also believed to be used to make match sticks.

Birch-Birch trees have an average height between 10-12 meters. One of the best ways for me to remember the birch tree, is by using the old trick my father showed me, removing its bark and using it as paper for watercolors or just writing. There are several flavors of birch ranging from red, white, yellow and even silver. Their leaves can also be considered double serrated and can often be in pairs. I love birch as its bark makes for great fire starter material. Elk, Moose, deer and Caribou can often be found using a combination of woodlands as a temporary home which may include birch.

Doug Peacock (2006). The Essential Grizzly, 61.

Read Full Post »

You are standing still surrounded by the elements feeling cold and fatigued, ready to go home after eight hours in the wilderness. The sun is going down quickly and is now just resting above the tree tops of the dark evergreen and there is a heavy snowfall starting to come down. It is still light out but the visibility is now only thirty meters because of the snow and you must now make your way to the car safely.
The small map and compass are still in your pocket and you set a course to the west and begin walking quickly through the bush. A few minutes later you stop and check your direction travel and come to a startling realization that you are back at the same spot where you started. You have no signal on your phone and the nearest safety shack is twenty-five kilometers away and winter is only a few weeks old.
Luckily you knew the main road ran north to south and you had to head left or west to get to the road. You pull out the compass and set it to true north and then go west. You made it! We came out about fifty meters south of the car and I was truly annoyed that something like this would occur to someone who is comfortable and knowledgeable in the woods. Ego prevented us from taking out the compass sooner and for a while we were lost only forty meters from the dirt road. It happened so quickly, even to experienced people. Let us look into this story and try to understand and identify important knowledge skill sets that are a must in order for you to enjoy your hunt worry free and come home safely.
If you are a tracking hunter, the last thing you want to do is spend half of your time trying to find yourself on a map. I know that when I am in the bush and I find a small game trail to follow, I can easily walk several hours or more and I do not want to constantly worry about getting lost.
When we read my story and look at what happened, the first thing I identified is that combined with my ego, I under estimated the dangers and failed to call on my hardware when I truly needed it, in this case it was the compass. A great friend of mine used to be an elite army scout and he had always taught me to trust your equipment and if used properly you would always find your way.
I can guarantee you based on experience that the first mix of emotions and feelings you get when you are lost are panic and then annoyance, for me it was all annoyance. I asked my tracking buddy, “how in the hell does this happen to two experienced guys like us?” The key was to get these emotions in check, the sooner these are under control; the better off you will be, as mentioned by the author Bill Riviere under the “Gun and Hunting Safety” chapter. He wrote the following “He’ll get into trouble only when he gives way to panic which is a prelude to tragedy.” (Riviere, 1965, 183)
Once we pulled out the compass and set out to the West we were fine in a matter of fifteen minutes, unfortunately there are hunters and hikers that are not so fortunate. Therefore I ask the same question as the author Bill Riviere: What is the difference? Bill gives us the answer, it is experience.
Even expert woodsman or seasoned hunters get lost in the woods and it is because they have confidence in their abilities and this along with their experience eliminates the fear allowing them to think clearly. The second thing I identified is that you must trust yourself as well as your knowledge and practice your navigation skills. The author Bill Riviere actually suggest finding a small wooded area in a state park or forest and allow yourself to get lost and spend the night out, practice you bush craft skills and then head back home the following day with the help of a compass and map. Nowadays, you could use your Backtrack or GPS. This is to be done with careful consideration and not just anyone should do this and alone would not be recommended.
The sooner you accept that you are lost and start working toward a solution the better off you are. Now you either find your own way out of the woods or you can accept the fact that you are lost and setup camp if it is nearing the end of the day. Start preparing a fire, lean-to and light up a pipe for comfort as Bill mentions in his book as someone is bound to come and find you.
Riviere, Bill (1965).The Gunner’s Bible, 183
-Always carry enough water and food or snacks in a day pack.
-Get a small pocket-size first aid kit and add water proof matches and starter sticks to the kit. Also include a knife and a small field axe if you are leaving for several days.
-Always carry a back up compass if you are using a GPS or Backtrack and carry spare batteries + topographical map or satelite photo map.
-If you are lost in the morning, you may attempt to find your way home if you are confident with your navigation skills. If it is late in the afternoon and you are starting to lose hope and panic is setting in, prepare yourself to spend the night. Setup a Lean-to, build a fire and find evergreen boughs to make a layer between you and the ground. Stay warm, dry and keep occupied. When I was sixteen, I spent three days in the woods alone during a wilderness survival course. One of the biggest challenges I found was keeping my mind from racing, so I kept busy building my lean-to making my living space more comfortable and hunting small game for food making sure not to wonder too far from my site. There are tons of great websites and books available in order to teach you the basics of bush craft.
-Learn and master alternate ways to navigate such as using the stars, sun and wind. One of my favorite is the “The Shadow-Tip” method using the sun, two sticks and pebbles and roughly in fifteen minutes you have found north, south, east and west.
-Leave a detailed map of where you will be hunting with emergency contact information and advise your family or friends to come looking for you if you do not contact them or come home within a set time and date.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: