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Archive for September, 2010


Blind

It was late in the evening of the twenty-fourth of September and we were all standing out on the deck of the hunting camp enjoying a few refreshments and cigars under the stars. The gear was all ready and neatly stowed away near the old stove fireplace ready for the early morning to come. There was a short clothesline draped across the room with hunting pants and belts swaying in the breeze coming in from the front door. You could see some old cigarette butts smoldering in the ash tray near a bag of chips through the screen door. We all had a strong  feeling of anticipation and excitement for the upcoming duck and goose hunting season which was going to officially start at the break of dawn.

We had just spent several hours around the dining table talking about the old days and we all listened attentively as my friend’s father, the eldest of the group was sharing his old hunting camp stories about the woods and rich Québécois traditions. He also talked about his heroic moose and deer hunts. It could not get any better than this; we were like a pair of excited boys at a summer camp, sitting there staring as he shared his stories and knowledge. He was about my height and had the same build as I, stocky and very strong. Earlier in the day he flipped our canoe around like a rag doll, just as I did in my past canoe trips during the portages.

We were one hundred kilometers north of the nation’s capital and there was nothing but lakes and boreal forest to keep us company. This is when you learn the most about the old ways and expressions such as the “Chasse fine” or know-how like when you get lost in the woods, not to climb a ridge or hill to find your way but rather follow the low ground or the “Vallons” in French and it will eventually lead you to a river or trail, or even a road.

With only a few hours of sleep ahead we all fell asleep in our respective bunks thinking about the hunt to come and going through all the tips and tricks. Duck hunting is great at dusk but it is a hundred times better at dawn, especially if you have the best spots on the river or watering holes. At around four thirty some of the guys were already up and about having breakfast. I lifted my head still half asleep because of the sounds coming from the kitchen and I hit my forehead directly into the bottom part of the bunk above me. Ouch! “Now I am awake” I said with a smile.
 
Darkness surrounded us and the air was very cold and the grass outside the front step extremely damp and frosty. I had just enough time to get dressed in the cool morning air, grab a quick  cup of instant coffee and some bread with jam and the next thing I knew we were loading up in the pickup truck.
 
We drove down to the riverside, which was about a twenty-minute drive and then parked the truck on the edge of the tree line near the embankment. Once we were unloaded and ready, we each helped out with the group gear and walked down a narrow trail to the river’s edge. There was a motor boat sitting there waiting for us and it had been stocked up and prepared the previous afternoon. We all got in, started the motor and headed up river. You could hear the waves lapping against the boat as we cut across the river to the other side all under the direction of the older brother.

This was to be my first time hunting duck and geese this far north and it was a very neat experience, chugging along in the boat. Each of us had a pre-designated spot and we were being systematically dropped off along the shore. We then had to walk along the bank of the little island to find our blinds.

My blind was fabricated using all natural materials such as corn stems and a large part of a bush standing just on the river’s edge. This position gave me a one hundred and eighty degree shooting arc. I found a large birch tree to my far right and marked it as my cut off spot as it was on the left hand shooting zone for the shooter to my right. Respect and safety is paramount in this environment because there is very little sun light and each hunter has a fair chance to harvest in safety. My instructions were clear with this group: setup, sit down, be patient, do not move and wait for the ducks to fly in within shooting range before you start taking shots. People have a false sense a belief that if there are too many hunters your chances are not great. This is false because if ducks fly in and the others take a shot and miss basically dispersing the flock, chances are the ducks will circle and come to you if you call out with an aggressive call back call. I consider other water fowlers a welcome sign as long as they respect a safe distance and their shooting arcs.

I sat on my sport hunting seat and stared at the sky and watched the light break through the clouds as the sky turned pink. The only sounds this early in the morning were a few nightly bugs and some branch cracking sounds from animals that were moving about but as the sky slowly became brighter the birds started to chirp and I could actually start seeing my surroundings more clearly. My Remington was loaded by my side with the safety on and I had positioned in the vertical using my right leg as a prop. This way I could lift it into a shooting position quick enough once the ducks started flying in and the barrel would already be lined up directly with the ducks.

It did not take long for the ducks to start coming in and I could not see them at first but I could hear the whooshing sounds of the duck wings just above me and then flop into the water to my front. As the second flock flew over me I could see their wings folding in as they came in for the landing while in flight. When they fold their wings to break the drag they lose altitude quickly and then flop right into the water. Crack! My first shot rang out and then it was followed by a series of shots all along the edge of the river. My first wood duck had fallen into the water and there were more flocks flying in.

The ducks flew in with such speed that it made the same wishing sound like bats do in the night. The trick is not to move until the final second and either have your shotgun across both your legs while sitting in your sport seat or have it in the vertical on your left or right hand side depending on the shooter. I like it in the vertical with the butt plate sitting on the ground. Mine is made of synthetic and plastic stock, so even if it sits in the water, it does not bother me or the shotgun.
 
The vertical hold method allows you to use one hand to pull it up and place it into your shoulder in one simultaneous motion and the barrel is already aiming in the direction of the shot. I had fired just over seven shots within the first hour and harvested three ducks. Some ducks like the mallards give you the impression that they have this amazing ability to change direction in the air. In my “Duck Luck” blog entry I describe how the ducks saw me pick up my barrel for the shot and they turned in mid-air and I did not get a chance for a shot.
 
These ducks were so breathtaking and one flock flew right over me, and headed right into tree line across to my front heading toward the corn fields, then they swished back around toward me tucking in their wings to land. Therefore, I concluded that some ducks will do flybys prior to landing, checking for predators. This is why it is critical not to move during the first flyby as it gets the blood flowing and you have the urge to move but you do not want to jump the gun literally. Have a great season!

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Ingredients: (Serves 4)
3 tbsp soy sauce
¼ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
¼ tsp pepper and pinch of salt
4 duck legs or breasts cut into pieces
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 tsp finely chopped ginger root
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 scallions, white part thinly sliced, green part shredded
2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp oyster sauce
3 whole start anise
2 tsp black peppercorns
16-20 fl oz/450-600ml/2-2 ½ cups chicken stock or water
6 dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
8 oz/225g canned water chestnuts, drained
2 tbsp cornstarch

Method:
1. Combine 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, the five-spice powder, pepper, and salt and rub over the duck pieces. Place 2 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a flameproof casserole, add the duck pieces and cook until browned, then transfer to a plate and set aside.
2. Drain the fat from the casserole and wipe out. Add the sesame oil and remaining vegetable oil and heat. Add the ginger root and garlic and cook for a few seconds. Add the sliced white scallions and cook for a few more seconds. Return the duck to the casserole.
Add the rice wine, oyster sauce, start anise, peppercorns, and remaining soy sauce. Pour in enough stock to just cover the duck. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer gently for 1 11/2 hours, adding more stock if necessary.
3. Drain the mushrooms and squeeze dry. Slice the caps; add to the duck with the water chestnuts, and let simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
4. Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid to form a paste. Add to the remaining liquid, stirring, until thickened. To serve, garnish with green scallion shreds.

Reference:
Designed by Terry Jeavons & Company. Perfect Chinese.Parragon Books Ltd 2007.
Page 84 –Main dishes

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Boreal Forest

When people speak of the taiga, they generally refer to the boreal forests found in the northern regions of our globe. The fact remains that it is the same forests that are also found in the southern regions of North America and Eurasia and this boreal forest wraps itself around the globe like a northern belt. In the Americas it starts in northern Canada and spans almost all the way to the United States border and some experts believe it is around one thousand kilometers wide.

This global belt is the home of thousands of species of bugs, birds, mammals and all kinds of micro organisms. Firstly to the natives it was their home and to the early explorers it was an unforgiving land full of riches. To the modern scientists who work with universities and various organizations or even the government it is an endless encyclopedia of knowledge. As a hunter this vast expanse is a source of adventure, challenge, discovery and constant learning.

At first glance the forest may give you the impression that it could be a nice place for hiking and camping but it can also be quite dark and intimidating to someone who is unfamiliar with this biome. This is why with the use of education and awareness; conservation should become the ultimate goal. This way the forest can remain one of the most beautiful places on earth. Through your eyes you can transform it into a more comfortable environment, then in a sense it becomes familiar ground, which is no longer dark and gloomy when you see it for the first time. I can still remember my first time during a compass and orienteering course, as we stood on the edge of the boreal forest with my peers and we all stared at this dark wall of trees and it was so mysterious and frightening yet we were about to take a plunge into its depths to test our skills.

What intrigues me is this silent attraction that the boreal forest possesses over us. Is it the splendor of the fall colors or is there more to this mystical attraction? What is it that attracts people who have experienced traumatic events, adventure types or even hunters? This forest is very alive indeed and it does possess mystical forces*. This draws visitors for various therapeutic or even adventurous reasons and for us hunters, I know that it is more than just the harvest it is the whole experience of being in the elements at least for me it is.

The following video was taken during one of my small game trips in the boreal forest while hunting the elusive snowshoe hare late in November. Near the end of the video we were being shadowed by a large moose and we made sure to stay close to the larger trees and slowly move away from the nearby swamp and closer to the trail. * Read my blog entry: Her

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There we were in mid-afternoon driving up the middle of the dirt road heading north on our way up to the small lake located about half a kilometer north-west of the property. The land owner had told us that there were a few hundred Canada geese at the lake and we wanted to check it out and confirm where the flyway passed over head in order to prepare ourselves for the upcoming migratory bird season.

The Canada goose season for farmlands in our area had officially opened on the sixth of the month but all the fields were located on the south side of the farm and we did not see any geese for the most part of the day. We had spotted a large flock several weeks prior during the making of the woodchuck hunting documentary. They had left the safety of the water and flew right over us heading to a field to the east, which happened to be private land and out-of-bounds. We knew we would be able to come back on the twenty-fifth of September and start migratory bird hunting on lakes and the river soon enough.

On our way up, I stopped the car near the famous northern hay-field where the second most challenging woodchuck of the season and his “Condo” the tractor barn was located. This was the woodchuck I attempted the harvest weeks earlier during the filming of the woodchuck hunt and I missed my opportunity with him due to several factors but ended up harvesting another on the southern ridge.

While we were both sitting in our car seats, I could have sworn I saw a woodchuck come out from the south-western side of the barn to our right. It had been another warm day and the woodchucks were all finally coming out around five thirty in the afternoon and I was sure I was right; I did see a groundhog but he was not near the barn. He was on the south-eastern side at the edge of the field and it was my tracking partner with his excellent sight that confirmed there was a woodchuck but not where I was looking and it took me just shy of three minutes to spot him but only after I managed to get our binoculars out of the trunk.

He had quite an appetite and I had a lot of open ground to cover between him and I, so we drove up to the lake and then came back on foot and then I cut through the tree line from the north and this is where I began my stalk. This did not involve me getting down on my hands and knees or even crawling and a shot from a distance was out of the question. I simply moved forward a few steps and froze, once he stood up to look around between every feeding break, I froze then moved a little closer closing the gap between me and the woodchuck. He was not just any woodchuck he was the second most challenging woodchuck hunt this year.

I got within twenty-one yards, took off my safety and fired. Once the dust settled the field fell silent and I had harvested the “Condo King” all thanks to the eyes of the jackal.

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This documentary was filmed, edited and directed by Garmamie a great friend of mine who studied documentary and film making and it is about small game hunting in Eastern Canada and more specifically groundhog hunting. Part 1 of 15 focuses on the philosophy of hunting and it does a comparison between personal and commercial hunting as well as discusses the 50% percent theory of hunting.

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After a nice chat with Ron, I thought about my hunting plan for the day ahead, prepared my gear and then set off towards the west down the ridge and across the field. It was full of thorny plants, so I went around them on the left, which brought me over to the south-eastern edge of the woods. From there I went in about ten yards from the forest edge and then continued towards the west, all the while carefully scouting the first large boulder; there was no sign of activity and no fresh dirt from a dig, this first den was abandoned.

So I kept going forward, walking slowly and looking all around for any signs of activity or woodchuck. I heard a branch crack and the sound came from the south, deep in the woods to my left and high above me on the other side of the thirty five foot cliff. I stayed alert because Ron had come across a black bear sow and her cups up the road while picking berries two days prior. So I looked around some more and then kept on inching forward. The forest was so quiet, there were only a few crows overhead and I could hear the breeze blowing around me along with their calls and the rustling of the leaves. It was around ten in the morning now and the sun was coming through the tree canopy and lighting up the stones on the forest floor and causing them to change shapes and color, it was such a neat sight.

Ten minutes into the stalk and I spotted my first woodchuck of the day. He was right in front of me facing north and had a clear view of the field to his front. I was coming up on his right from the east and I was in a bad spot. I could not really move forward any more without him seeing me and I was way out of range. There were a few maple trees to my front so I thought if I move backwards he will see me and scoot in his hole. So I had no choice but to move forward. I waited standing still like a tree for about five minutes, so that he would get more comfortable and not set off his alerting whistle and drumming. I inched forward and then stopped only lifting my feet very carefully and keeping them close to the ground.

I would look down on the ground and place my feet between branches to avoid cracking them, then I tried very hard to move in behind one of the maple trees and then moved to the other. When the wind would shift, I could see the woodchuck turn his head and move in the direction of the wind and this would force me to freeze again. It was one of the toughest stalks of the year but I managed to move forward and get only twenty yards away. My adrenaline level was extremely high as I did not want to miss this harvest; it was very hot out and the woodchucks would soon disappear around noon hour for the most part of the afternoon.

I slowly raised my Model 60, lined up the iron sights and took the rifle off safe. Crack! The shot rang out and struck the woodchuck right into its right flank and then everything went silent. Ron had mentioned that there were two other dens on the southern ridge, so I continued my hunt after a short water break.

Once I crossed the river separating the farm from the southern fields, I walked up the northern side of the ridge following the cattle trail and found myself a large boulder to sit on and had a look around with my binoculars. I felt like a true woodsman sitting high on my chosen boulder surrounded by lush Canadian wilderness and farm fields littered with stumps, jagged rocks, logs and broken branches. The heat was intense but there was a nice breeze blowing in from the north-west and the dandelion seeds floated through the sky where they would fall and then rest in all the darkest corners of the woods. The varmint alliance was solidified once more and my day was now over.

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