Archive for June, 2010

A few months ago I read a great book on small game hunting. The author did not flood the reader with detail but rather selected very specific topics and then pointed out important elements about each game and also explained it in a way that made it simple to understand.

The entire book was a pleasure to read and it included some methods and calls that could be used to increase your chances in harvesting. This gave the reader the ability to turn the game calling into an exercise.

The one I had the most fun with and I practiced in my basement and then used the Internet to make sure I sounded realistic, was the wolf and coyote attracting call or the “Rabbit distress call”. You can most likely buy a caller in any hunting store. But I chose not to and wanted to challenge myself and use just my mouth. 

This is how it works: You place your lips tightly around your teeth, as if you were pretending to be a person with no teeth. Then you bring your jaws together tight enough but also leaving some space between them. Now inhale and breathe in rapidly for a few seconds creating a crying sound combined with a sort of whistling. You must also control your tongue and air flow. My tongue is always kept low with a slight curve and I also drink a lot of water so that my mouth is moist and I get the high pitch sound. I came across several articles that swear by this type of call. Now a few weeks have gone by and it was now time for me to field test it.

The family decided to go to spend the day at one of the largest wildlife parks in our area. My son loves all North American wildlife but his favorite is the Wapiti (Elk). After driving through the park for an hour, we came up to the first wolf enclosure and I stopped the car put down the windows and the whole family started looking for the Timber wolves. We looked everywhere, behind every tree, bush and ravine. There were no wolves.

It was time to try out my “Rabbit distress call”. I put my car window all the way down and leaned halfway out the window and placed my lips in the calling position as mentioned in the book and I began breathing in. I must have called out about five times and within a few seconds a large male Timber Wolf just suddenly appeared over the ridge on the east side. He was quite excited and came right up to the electrical fence only fifteen feet away. It was incredible!

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I was standing on the ridge near the main gate of the cattle’s enclosure. My rifle was resting on some freshly cut wood stumps, freeing up my hands for the binoculars allowing me to get a closer look at the hillside and field below.   

There was a refreshing breeze coming in from the west and the silver-leaved poplars were dancing in the wind making a melodious rustling sound. The cumulus humilis clouds were also moving quickly through the sky, then the wind would suddenly pick up and a few darker clouds would come in and there would be a little drizzle but within a few minutes it was all cleared up and the sun would come out. 

The farmer had mentioned that there was a big woodchuck that came up along the fence not far from where he cut his wood a few days earlier. So my plan was to walk along the old wooden farm fence towards the north and investigate some potential holes. I looked down the ridge at a walking trail that resembled a trench line in the shape of a snake. Its vegetation had been beaten down and dry light brown sand had covered all the hay. The rest of the field was overgrown with green thorny plants and knee-high hay and scattered piles of manure both fresh and dry. There were also three large rocks scattered along the edge of the tree line to the south and so I decided this is where I would begin my search. 

As I started my descent down the ridge, my eye caught some movement and sure enough there was the big woodchuck coming out one of the holes on the southern ridge and it made its way down to the trail heading east. It would sprint, then stop and look around nervously and then it would set off on a sprint again. Since I was higher up and my silhouette was quite visible I got down very quickly on my stomach and took aim with my binoculars and focused in on the animal. 

I was instantly hit with a foul smell and my hands, chest and knees were soaked. I had just laid down in some fresh cow muck. Well at least I would fit in better to my surroundings and the hunt well it went on. Still using my binoculars I followed the woodchuck along the trail until it disappeared behind a large bush. 

It had vanished right before my eyes, so I got up and very carefully walked down about one hundred yards to the exact spot and there were no holes to be found. So, I followed the trail along some more also heading east and it brought me back to one of the barns only a few feet from the car, so I stopped for lunch. 

Before it disappeared at least I had located the woodchuck, so I needed to give it some time to get back to its comfort level and continue to look for food. An important thing I learned is the following: If you scare the woodchuck, leave the immediate area and place yourself a good one hundred or more yards away and wait, if the sun is out the woodchuck will come out, maybe not in the same hole but it will come. So, I finished up my lunch and decided to check out some other fields to the north. 

By the time I finished up with the northern fields, I found myself on the far western side opposite to the ridge where I had been standing in the morning. So, I unloaded my rifle made my way over the wired fence and moved in close to the tree line and stayed in the low ground. This is so that I would not accidentally scare any woodchucks that were bathing in the sun. 

It was a great idea to stay close to the tree line except that I found myself under a tree that must have had about four crows and potentially a nest because they let me know real quick that I was not welcome and they also alerted all the animals around them of my presence. So, I pressed forward and moved along further up the edge now heading east. I tried my best not to make too much noise and the cow muck, combined with the mud made it very easy to move through the forest edge without making a sound. 

I picked up my binoculars and took a quick look at one of the three main boulders and sure enough there was a big woodchuck sun bathing on its surface. The only problem is that it had a perfect one hundred and eighty degree view of the field to his front and I was smack in the middle of it. 

So I kept moving forward through the muck and mud in order to close the gap between me and the woodchuck on the other side of the field. My feet did not make a sound; every step was calculated, purposely avoiding sticks and leaves, slowly moving down along the bottom part of an embankment. The woodchuck was still perched up on the large boulder and looking right at me. I quickly studied the field in front of me and noticed that there was some low ground, so I got down on my hands and knees climbed the embankment and started my approach towards the boulder. 

As I got closer, I noticed that it was not just one large boulder but a combination of four extremely large stones in the shape of a star. I would move a few steps and stop, then carefully look up over the crest with my binoculars, and then once again move a few steps. Now with only thirty-five yards between us, the birds starting chirping in the trees to the south, they could see me coming across the field and in their alert calls all wildlife scattered including the woodchuck. 

So, I got up walked over to the stones found the hole and had a look, the woodchuck was gone. So, I moved south about twenty yards and placed myself right on the forest’s southern edge facing the hole and the field. I sat on a large rock and stayed there for thirty minutes but the woodchuck never came. 

The large rock was not the most comfortable object to sit on, so I decided to move east still staying just inside the forest edge to investigate the two other large rocks that I had noticed earlier in the morning. Once in a while I would turn and look at the star-shaped boulders, sure enough on the third or fourth time I looked over, there was the woodchuck. Not on the boulder but heading south from inside the forest. “What a bugger!” It had been watching me the whole time as I stared at its hole. 

I saw it scoot along the forest floor right over to the large rock. By the time it had reached the large rock; I had turned around and started to make my way back going west. I was only fifty yards away but I had to get closer for a clean shot without scaring it. The woodchuck was now back at the boulder and started to feed. It would lift its head every few seconds and look around then start feeding again. 

We were taking turns moving, every time it put its head down; I took a few steps and then froze like a tree. I got within shooting range at about twenty yards facing west; I then slowly raised my Cooey and took it off safe. The woodchuck was positioned just slightly to my right with its left flank exposed, allowing me to line up my iron sights with its shoulder-blade.  Crack! The first shot rang out and the woodchuck did not move. 

I started to sprint north-west towards the woodchuck, all the while I cocked my rifle, lined up the iron sights. Crack! The second shot rang out; this time the woodchuck ran down the side of the large boulder and bolted towards its hole. 

Once I broke the forest edge and leapt over a smaller log and was now facing the east and had a view right down the hole. My second shot had struck it in its side and it was struggling to move deeper into it’s borrow. Crack! A third shot rang out and everything went quiet. 

I recovered my harvest and covered the hole with large stones. It wasn’t long after I left the area and started getting ready to go home that the herd of cattle moved in on the exact spot and began grazing.

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If you were to look up the word “hunting” in a dictionary on the Internet you would get the following explanation: The activity or sport of pursuing game. Or, the act of a person or animal that hunts.

Every true hunter knows that this does not even come close to embracing the entire experience, from the time you purchase your tag, acquire the equipment, the excitement of being out in the elements and ultimately the hunt. I may also add sharing these experiences with family and even great friends.

When a hunter chooses the game he or she wishes to pursue, there are many factors which have a direct influence on the choice. For example the author David Fisher possesses an unquenchable thirst for cottontail rabbits and a desire to maintain a family tradition. You could be a farmer that wishes to get rid of varmint, or a once a year deer or moose hunter. Some hunters have outfitting enterprises and television shows and their sole purpose is to harvest wild game from around the world. In return, this entertains every aspiring hunter and gets them to dream and share the experience. Also they get to market their hunting products, accessories, vehicles, weapons, clothing and the list goes on.

There is no doubt that it can be considered a very expensive sport but  does it  have to be? This is the double edge sword. Is there such a divide between the business aspect of sport hunting and just plain old raw hunting?

I would call it the “Bicycle Syndrome.” If you want to get serious about bike racing,  do you feel the obligation to spend thousands on the bike, helmet, shoes, and glasses and is it a necessity?

One of my most important goals that I wish to achieve every time I go out on a hunt is to keep the hunt real. There are many flavors to the word “real” or “raw” as I have used in previous posts. How they fit into my goal is the following: The game that I am trying to harvest has to have an equal opportunity to outwit me in its natural habitat. If possible I try to avoid going to some outfitter where the animals are fed and attempt to harvest game in their true elements. I do not use dogs for rabbit, hare or birds such as grouse. I only use the essential gear needed staying within an acceptable budget.

I do not pretend nor do I wish to be an expert in hunter demographics, but I would like to believe that hunters come from different levels in socioeconomic status model found in our society. You could be an enterprise CEO or an ordinary bloke like me. With the cost of living today for a person with a family, your chances of having a dream hunt involving thousands of dollars may only occur once in your lifetime. But if you are truly passionate and you keep it real you may be able to hunt all year round with the cost of ammunition, food and transportation, tags all for under a couple hundred dollars. The sport does not need to be expensive.

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The sun was slowly coming up over Ronald’s farm, gently rolling over the hills to the east. Although a very hot day was predicted, the morning was still quite cloudy and cold with a low grayish cover.  The morning dew was rising like a strange gas, then it would clear as if it was being gently drawn back into the edge of the woods.

It had taken us well over an hour to get to the farm because I picked up a college friend of mine who brought his filming equipment in order to do a documentary on varmint hunting. Upon our arrival at the farm, the camera was already rolling and we were very lucky to have been able to capture two deer fawns on the edge of the tree line while driving up the dirt road.

Once the car was parked, I took the time to introduce my friends. Ronald however wasted no time in showing us where some of the woodchuck holes were to be found. Our short walk ended up behind his enclosure on the top of the western ridge. There were two old barns between us and a lumber pile along with a chassis of an old tractor. It could not get any better than this: we were in the country and the air we breathed in was so fresh and rejuvenating. The concrete jungle and all its stresses were a distant thought.

We started the day with great country conversation. We talked about last year’s turkey season as well as stories about wolves, livestock and farming. It was now time for us to prepare our gear and get set up. Our first plan was to go under the electric fence, locate the main entrance and spy hole for the tunnel network on the south-eastern side of the farm and then investigate the third hole behind an older barn at the base of that ridge.

Once we were satisfied with our findings, we climbed back up the ridge and placed ourselves in a good shooting position about thirty yards away. A half an hour went by and there was still no activity except for a beautiful flock of geese that flew in from the east and circled right above us, then flew right back in the same direction they came from and settled down in a semi flooded field off to our left.

My tracking friend got up and moved a few steps to the right and had a look through his binoculars. He did not have a good feeling about this tunnel network and so we got up and headed to the western ridge. This was a large rectangular field surrounded by lush woodlands consisting mainly of pine and cedar trees and as promising as it looked there were no holes or signs of tunneling.

By nine o’clock in the morning there was no activity and it was still chilly. The sun was only starting to break through the grayish clouds. It was quite a sight to have these yellow streaks coming through the clouds like a bunch of knife blades and you could feel the heat coming through. We had circled the entire field and decided that our third plan would be to cut across Boundary road and stalk three known holes near the largest of all the barns found at the farm.

We named it the “condo” as it housed several large woodchucks. This barn was built on the north side of the other rectangular field right in the center and it had over four hundred acres of lush forest on the northern side of the barn and a swamp in the east. The hay had grown considerably over the past few weeks and made it difficult to see the network of holes.

It wasn’t long  before one of the woodchucks stood out on the lookout right at the front gate of the barn facing the south. We could not come in from the southern front because he would see us on our approach. So we decided to move into the woods on the north side and come around and ambush the hole from the north-east. We did our best to stalk him in order to get at an acceptable shooting distance but he was alerted by a sound and disappeared underground. This plan had failed; we needed a new strategy. We remembered that the last time we were out for turkey the car was parked on the west side of the field and that the woodchucks came out once they knew we were at a safe distance of about two hundred yards.

So we put ourselves in that position and the woodchuck came out again only a few minutes after we left the eastern side of the field. My tracking friend got set up on the western side at about one hundred yards away and with the binoculars gave me a thumbs up or down signal depending on the activity of the woodchuck. I got down on my hands and knees carefully stalking about seventy-five yards, hugging the northern tree line toward the barn but again the woodchuck was alerted and disappeared in his spy hole.

This was becoming challenging and frustrating, so we started again but this time I stalked on my belly, leopard crawling on the south side of field and placing myself in a ditch only twenty yards from the front of the barn door. The hay-field was really high and I did not have a great view of one side, so I waited for my tracking friend to give me the heads up for me to stand and take my shot.  Again the woodchuck was alerted and withdrew into his hole, not to mention that we had every deer fly, black fly and mosquito feeding on us the whole time.

This time the woodchuck let out a loud whistle and then stuck his head out from an opening in the barn but I could not take the shot as it was in the wrong angle and there was a parked tractor in the barn. After two and half hours of stalking this woodchuck, he decided never to come back up and it was time for us to find another tunnel network. Our day was coming to a close, so we crossed back over Boundary road again to the south and headed back to the car.

I wanted to take one more look near the barn located at the base of the south-eastern ridge, so I continued and passed the car while the others got ready for the trip back and went towards the fence. Ronald called me over and wanted to show me some turkey hens that were coming up along a creek on the right, so I had a look. They were really nice and it got me excited about next year’s season, once the toms start coming out. I found a section in the fence where the wire was lower and allowed me to walk over it and start my descent on the ridge.

There he was feeding only a few yards in front of me and he burst into a sprint for his hole as soon as we spotted each other. I started running at him and closing in fast, so he decided to go straight, heading south to the abandoned barn as he had two safety holes on one side. He climbed the log on the east side and froze, so I raised my rifle, lined up my iron sights and took the first shot, it went right above him and hit a piece of wood. I cocked my rifle and the spent casing went flying into the air.

He leaped off the log and crawled under it, heading towards one of his safety holes. I ran down around the log to the south side of the barn and stood at its side entrance. The woodchuck let out a loud whistle and then sprinted right across the floor boards to my right and back under his exit hole. I came around to the right once again and then as he sprinted left, I switched directions again instantly and it startled the woodchuck and caused him to freeze a second time. I raised my rifle and took my second shot and hit him directly in the shoulder-blade, he moved slightly forward as if to try to sprint again. I then cocked my bolt-action Cooey and took a third shot. Once the dust had settled he lay motionless.

The day had come to an end and I had harvested my first woodchuck this year. My varmint alliance with the farmer had been solidified. Woodchucks can cause several thousand dollars damage to livestock and farming property. Woodchuck hunting is by no means a cake walk, rather like a hay walk and a guaranteed feast for black flies. Patience along with persistance are essential ingredients for success.

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