Archive for May, 2010

A veteran hunter once told me “That is hunting my friend, you know what I mean.” The origins of this phrase come from a conversation about a phenomenon I call the fifty percent chance. While applying the principles of still or tree stand hunting, the truth is there is always a fifty percent chance you will leave the hunting grounds with no harvested game. Is this what is truly important? Veteran hunters may agree or disagree. Is it about the chase and the experience? For new hunters having harvested game is proof that you have mastered the art of hunting as well as earning bragging rights. 

If I wanted to cook a meal, firstly I would have to decide what dish I wish to make and then write-up a list of ingredients I would need based on the recipe. Once the items have been purchased and prepared as long as the right amount of fluids and ingredients are used and the right amount of heat applied, you will always be guaranteed a meal. Even if it does not taste the same as the dish in the restaurant. 

The processes that make up sport hunting are the same as cooking, you first decide what game you wish to hunt, for the purpose of this article it is hare or cottontail. You then purchase the material needed and now the differences between hunting and cooking become apparent. Now in cooking getting the right amount of fluids and ingredients is important, in hunting however it is the placement of your best shot or the right call or amount of calls that count. But it is at this point where the “fifty percent chance” reveals itself. You are never guaranteed a meal and it does not matter if you are cordon blue certified. 

I do not ignore the fact that there are exceptions to the rule, if we take into consideration areas where there is so much game you can see a deer, while standing beside your truck. However when hunting snowshoe hare without dogs in the dead of winter, the “fifty percent chance” is more likely to be hanging over you like a judging dark cloud. 

I just finished reading the book “Rabbit Hunting” written by the well-known cottontail expert hunter David Fisher. Over his thirty year career he has harvested around a thousand of what he calls Mr. Cottontail and this was always done with the assistance of trained dogs. He does, like many others provide two chapters on hare and rabbit hunting techniques that may be considered helpful but once again it is only the recipe. 

The content of such a recipe could have information about hare habitat such as boreal forests with trees like spruce, aspen or balsam poplar that provide a low canopy and protection from predators. I have always comes across hares or seen signs of their presence near swamps as well. You may also find information on their behavior, for example if they hold up, would they be in a hole or just a small recess in the ground or the base of a tree. And if they were walked-up or jumped would they decide the run and would they indeed circle? These are all secret ingredients but the harvest is never a guarantee. 

I seem to have this unquenchable thirst to find out if there is such a secret formula to having a successful hunt with a harvested rabbit or hare each time. Unfortunately there is a part of me that knows there is no definite answer. And if there was, the fuel that keeps the flame of our hunting passion alive would be of no use to us, because the challenge that keeps it a true sport would be void and the entire experience would fall over along with your disappointment in your performance for that particular day. “That is hunting my friend, you know what I mean.”

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We had spent eight hours still-hunting on the look out for small game, more specifically the illusive snowshoe hare. Fall was coming to an end and the winter winds were coming in whistling though the game trails, like a ghostly chant of ancient times. On the forest floor there was a light coat of frost that would make a soft crunching sound under the sole of your boot. At times we would step on deer moss which would then release a small puffy cloud of white powder into the air; it would swirl and then disappear like a strange dancing spirit.

Once some leads were found we would follow them through very thick moss-covered evergreen and it seemed that the wilderness around us was very dark and closing in. The game trail we were following was leading us in the right direction and the idea was to finish the hunt at the car and then rest a while before the three-hour drive back home.

By the time we got to the car dusk had long since fallen; we stowed away our gear and got in, each of us sitting in our respective seats. We were exhausted and our hands bloodied by the brush and our nails black from the forest soil. I placed the keys in the ignition, started the car and turned it around so that we were perpendicular to the dirt road. The head lights were aimed down the game trail as far as the eye could see. This was to be our last view of the woods for the day, so I put the car in neutral, rolled the windows down so we could hear the nightly sounds of the wilderness.

I had left some spare snacks between the seats, which we could enjoy once we were back in the comfort of the car. My tracking friend and I did not say a word, we were looking into the darkness absorbing the last few moments of the raw nature. I picked up my pair of binoculars and focused my sight on the furthest and largest tree at the end of the trail, its bark seemed to move as if it was coming to life, and it wasn’t long before the woman’s face appeared. I was locked in the stare and did not want to break it, fear and intrigue filled my body and my adrenaline caused me to feel my heart beats in my chest. I slowly looked over to my friend who was also looking in the same direction and he calmly asked me “Did you see her face?”

It did not take me long to put the car in reverse and we drove out of the park along a few miles of dirt road. To this day, we believe that it was a sign letting us know that our time in the Canadian wilderness had been exhausted and it was now time for us to leave.

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It is really important when bringing in turkeys to understand their habitat, calls and behavior in all kinds of weather. In the previous blog “Spoiled turkey” an illegal hunter shot the bird I called in and never killed it. I managed to call in the large Tom along with a couple hens into a distance of less than twenty one yards all in an open area and up a ridge in less than three hours. My bead sight was on the tom and my safety off. That bird was mine if I had been able to take my shot and I guarantee it would have been a confirmed harvest.

Every expert turkey hunter knows that one of the first ingredients to a successful turkey hunt is finding the roost, knowing this will allow you to choose the best spot for your ambush site as well as assist you in laying out your decoy spread.

I really swear by the methods of finding them by either rustling through the wood line the night before or by making owl or crow calls early morning. I used the owl calls right at day break and I got two gobbles back from the woods in less than a five minutes.

Once you have located the roost, the experts suggest setting up your ambush spot between 100-150 yards away from the roost. If the terrain permits it, find a tree you may lean up against and it should be higher than your head and wider than your shoulders. This provides concealment and also protection from dangerous hunters coming in from behind.

Now for the decoys, I personally use two, one Thom and a hen. Next year I may add one more to my collection and it would be another hen. Depending on the outfitter you are dealing with sometimes or if it is private land you could setup your decoys the night before. I place them about thirty yards out and with enough space between them. I also leave significant space between the hens and the Tom decoy. The reason for this is a younger Jake will come along and gobble away but that is it, as he is too intimidated by my Tom decoy. I experienced this first hand, when I called in a lone Jake. He was out of range and went right into the woods after his gobbles.

I would also recommend placing the hens on the outer edges of your decoy spread, hens are most attractive to an excited gobbler and if they are easy to see the better it is. A veteran hunter also told me that it is a good idea to have them face you and then place the decoys in a staggered leap frog formation. My decoys have a small string going from the main body to the stake and on windy days the turkeys move in circle and wobble in the wind, this brings them to life. I can still see the hens trying to communicate with my hen decoy it was really funny, they behaved very much like chickens.

I really believe that the shot should be taken at the Tom once the birds are in your spread as I noticed the hens becoming suspicious in their behavior, when I did not let out some soft Cutts and Purrs in response to their calls.

Let us now focus on one of the most challenging and yet rewarding parts of the hunt and this is the calling. I was introduced to two experts Wade Bourne and Preston Pittman by my trusted friend “YouTube” and let me say one thing “Unless the weather is really bad and cold or a train passes between you and the turkeys, if you call like them you will see and harvest a turkey as long as you have an accurate shot and an illegal hunter doesn’t spoil your morning.”

Once you are seated in your ambush spot, I like the wait until the sky gets a little pink right at sunrise, and I cup my hands around my mouth and let out an owl call. Here are the famous words used in the call: “You cook for me, I’ll cook for youuuuaaaaalllll!”

Personally I use “You cook for me, you cook for me” pause “You cook for me, I‘ll cook for youuuuuaaaaalll” and it works great I get gobbles back in a matter of minutes. Crows calls are also very efficient fortunately for me, real crows do the calling at day break. I then do the Fly down cackle. Once I get a gobble back, I wait for a good ten minutes and let out some very faint Cutts and Purrs in sets of three. I usually get a gobble back and then I do no more calling because as Wade says “He knows where you are.” If it turns out to be a perfect day and you have mastered their circuit, then you will see them come to you. Sometimes in your silence after your calling is done, you can hear hens closing in, this has happened to me twice and the Jake or Tom were not far behind. If I find that there is a large gap of silence, for example between fifteen and twenty minutes, I will let out a few faint Yelps in sets of threes, I also adjust the volume depending on the call backs I received. Further adjustments to the volume can also be done depending on the weather, for example strong rain or wind.

What about time and weather? In several cases the provincial government or State will provide dates for a turkey season and their decisions may be impacted by the population numbers, weather and other scientific research. This year in my region, the turkeys have been out in some fields in large numbers and in some areas they have sat on their nests for the majority of the day, staying in the woods and only coming out to feed for a couple of hours. This makes it challenging for hunters but not impossible. On one of my hunts it was really cold in the morning and the wind was blowing hard and the turkeys responded to my initial owl call and Fly down cackle. I received four gobbles from three tom’s and I also heard a few Yelps in sets of threes or fours from a few hens but they never broke the tree line to cross the road and remained in the woods the whole morning.

In just six hours I called in three sets of turkeys and we had been exposed to sunshine, overcast clouds, rain, and snow then finally hail but the birds still came. Cold weather may be considered a deterrent but it is not the deciding factor on whether they come out or not of the woods. High traffic dirt roads have an impact on their appearance and so does shots being fired in close proximity but usually forty five minutes or an hour after the shot the birds come back out but even this is not a guarantee.

I wish all honest hunters a great hunt.

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It was a beautiful evening in May and the next sunrise would be the second day of the spring turkey hunting season. This hunt was going to be my first official turkey hunt ever. So, my three-year old son and I went for a drive north of the city with the trunk full of Turkey decoys and accessories. I had booked a really great site for Turkey hunting up north on private property. After having located the roost, my son and I placed the decoy spread. I was now ready for an early morning startup. During our drive we enjoyed seeing three white-tailed deer cross the road and a rabbit too. We also noticed some black horses galloping at one of the farms nearby. This was a real treat.

Sunrise was to be at five forty-one in the morning and the weather network was predicting a mixture of rain and sun, as a matter of fact it actually snowed but this did not deter me from what I set out to accomplish. I wanted a beautiful turkey for mother’s day as well as some feathers for my son. So the following morning I got up at three in the morning, got all my gear and paperwork in order and drove out to the private property. I had arrived in advance allowing me to prepare my gear some more and set out on foot to my chosen spot and be ready a half an hour before sunrise.

I had spent a lot of time doing research, practicing my calls as well as spending a few dollars on the tags and all the other expenses. I drove out to the site did my initial scouting and setup with the decoys. In the end there was tremendous amount of time and effort spent towards this day and it being such a short season with only twelve half days because hunting ends at noon and most of us work seven days out of the twelve which are lost.

The car was parked on the west side of the second of three farm fields and I had walked to the middle field and sat at the top of the ridge on my chosen ambush spot with my decoys about twenty-five yards out in front. At day break, I let out a loud owl call with my mouth and hands cupped together and then the local crows did the rest of the work for me. I followed the exact same sequence as Wade Bourne’s Turkey Hunting Tips: Fly down Gobbler.

It wasn’t long and I got two gobbles from the woods across the road, it was now time for me to wait and not make a sound. The Tom’s knew where I was and one of them came right up to my decoys along with two hens. He was huge and he was parading these beautiful feathers and kept his neck well hidden, but he was well within shooting range and at the right angle as well. So I waited for the perfect shot, he went right behind a pine tree to the right but then came around to the east back to my front with his feathers now down. My heart was racing from the moment the group of them came up the ridge. I had been working them with my calls since my startup time and now eight o clock in the morning came round and my perfect shot was now available. I was sitting still the whole time but it felt as if I ran a marathon. I lined up my bead sight with his neck, slowly removed the safety catch and was now milliseconds from squeezing the trigger.

BLAM!! A shot rang out and the turkey jumped in the air, blood soaked feathers flew in all directions. The turkey sprinted in front of my position and disappeared into the woods never to be seen again.

My focus turned into shock, the turkey I had worked so hard to get and had called within twenty yards was now gone courtesy of a spoiled turkey and I do not mean the bird. He was an opportunistic hunter driving along the road, most likely with his gun loaded in the car. He had spotted the turkeys crossing the road that I had called and he jumped out of his car crossed the bottom of the ridge trespassing onto private property and from sixty-five yards away took a shot at my turkey that I called in, which was only a few yards to my right.

His shot hit the turkey all right but it was not a kill and he had the audacity to ask me to take a second shot at the bleeding bird which disappeared like a ghost in the woods to my left before I could.
His ignorance did not stop there; he told me that he did not see my decoys which were only a few meters to the left of the Tom. This reveals a scary thought, if the turkey had been in front of my position he would have taken the shot at me and I would become another statistic and why? Because he drove down a road with most likely a loaded gun in the vehicle, trespassed on private property, and took a non lethal shot at a turkey from a distance of more than sixty-five feet. In all honesty, I don’t think he thought or cared what was beyond his shot. He completed a pathetic search for the turkey and left in a hurry. I was told that the same morning he crossed over yet another private property and took another shot harvesting a turkey.

I was in such disbelief, instead of telling him off, I told him “I was sitting there since five fifteen in the morning and now it was nine o’clock.” And then I let out the “F” word. His car was well hidden behind of copse of woods and he was gone pretty fast and while he was leaving he kept on saying “It is a shame damn shame.” about the turkey not the situation we were in.

In order to make the most of my day, I went back to my spot and an hour later I called in two more birds but the weather got worse and they both disappeared into the woods. I went home with three feathers from the bird. I was so gutted going home with no bird and what pissed me off the most was that my three-year old son had helped me setup the decoys that aided in calling in one of the most beautiful birds of the day.

What a waste….

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