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Archive for October, 2010


The sun was bright orange as it crested the horizon over Cartier St-Pierre; it was also the beginning of dusk and night was now falling. Saturday had come and gone and the weekend had just started with most families preparing themselves to have supper. The white smoke was rising from the scattered homes and wooden shacks and the streets were slowly emptying.

Except for the odd group of militiamen dressed in olive drab uniforms sporting Russian army boots, their SKS assault rifles slung around their shoulders, also a few stray dogs were there to keep us company. Congolese music was filling the neighbourhood sky coming from a local bar and mixing with the sounds of a passing train blowing its horn in the distance.

The curfew was at eleven in the evening, so our parents decided to treat us to the restaurant just minutes from our home in the north-eastern part of town. We were the only Canadian family living in the Congolese cite and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. If you are going to live in Africa, it is not done living in a compound. So, we all jumped in our 1980 Suzuki jeep and headed down the road to the one of our favourite dining places.

You guessed it; I ordered “Green Pigeon” with a nice cold glass of Fanta made fresh from the powdered pulp. The pigeon was roasted like a chicken and mixed with local spices, rice and a few pieces of manioc foufou. It had a very sweet flavour and similar dining to quail, as it had a lot of bones but it was very tasty and worth the work.

Pigeon is a small bird averaging between 36 and 40 centimetres and weighing in just shy of four hundred grams in full adult size. In Quebec you may hunt the Rock Dove all year round under your small game provincial license or with the non-resident small game license if you are a visitor. It is great practice hunting in preparation for the migratory bird season. We often loosely use the word “Pigeon” as a general name for the majority of its different species that are found all throughout the world, except for very hot deserts like the Sahara in North Africa or the north and south poles.

Throughout my life, I have seen them in tropical jungles, urban areas and also in proximity to farms and open fields just on the edge of the woodlands. When hunting pigeons, my experience has taught me that you must first observe them from a distance and see where they land to feed and then still hunt to that position. Be careful not to scare them into flight as they tend to fly away in an explosive fashion and flap their wings and make a lot of noise, rendering your shot a very difficult one.

If I were to compare it to another type of hunt, I would say it would be like hunting duck, once they are in the air. You must use some lead, while they are in flight and I would recommend using a shotgun with a #6, #7 or #8 shot. You may also hunt pigeons with a blind; and decoys are often used as well.

Although pigeon hunting is quite common in North America and is considered a form of small game, I get a lot of interesting reactions when I mention to people that we can hunt pigeon. In France, wood-pigeon hunting is deeply engrained in their culture and the “Salmi de Pigeon” (Pigeon stew) is a delicacy.

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The “ministère des ressources naturelles et de la faune” in Quebec is no longer providing printed copies of the “Sport Hunting Main Rules” booklet. This started in 2010. However you can now print out the exact same information from their website. Hunting stores and your local Wal-Mart sport counters also provide green and white colored small business card paper strips that have the ministry’s contact information such as web links to the Sport Hunting Main Rules.

This booklet was extremely important to all hunters as it contained the season dates for two years, bag limits, the regulations and new measures that I consider a must know. Just like the stocks in the financial world, a few weeks prior to the release of the sport hunting information listed above, hunters begin to buzz, talk amongst each other and check the ministère des ressources naturelles et de la faune website. The excitement shared by many is caused by what I believe to be the anticipation of being able to get out and hunt with friends and family. Once the international hunters traveling into Quebec had the dates this allowed them to make travel arrangements and book with outfitters. This can mean a lot of money. We can all agree that once the information is made available it is considered an essential part of our kit list. The fact that the ministry no longer provides printed booklets of the main rules was criticized by some sport hunters and magazines alike but the data still remains accessible. Where there’s a will there is a way.

I have personally resorted to printed copies myself of specific pages found in the sport hunting rules link and have made secondary copies of some of the necessary pages which I have placed in my backpack or hunting bag. The section I use the most is the: Hunting periods and bag limits. Once you know the chosen the species of game you wish to hunt for example: snowshoe hare, then you can click on the Small Game link.

The bag limits and season’s page has several links for every game hunting category: Caribou, Small game, wildlife sanctuaries, as well as a link to environment Canada for migratory bird season and bag limits.

Since our focus is small game, let us discuss the content of that particular webpage, which has some text on bag limits and also provides you with a table containing several columns: Species and gear, hunting zones where hunting is permitted and then the hunting periods for two years. Example: 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. In Quebec there are twenty-eight hunting zones.

For more information consult:

http://www.mffp.gouv.qc.ca/faune/chasse/index.jsp

I have tirelessly studied every type of small game found in that table with the use of great books and the Internet, including time in the field. I, like many others have the privilege to hunt year round in “La belle province” and this has encouraged me to learn some of the French names of the game I pursue. This is my homework but I have a passion for learning about wildlife and it can be quite rewarding and educational. This can also be quite handy when speaking with the local farmers about the type of game we might come across in their backwoods or fields.

One of my most treasured books that I used for this home assignment is the following: Les Oiseaux du Canada (Birds of Canada) by W. Earl Godfrey. It has great color illustrations drawn by Crosby and has very descriptive sections for each bird in the book, as well as drawings showing the bird anatomy and how to assist you in identifying each bird species. Each bird has their name in French and English as well as in Latin, size description for female and male birds, identification pointers such as wing color, habitat, and information on their nests as well as where you are most likely to find them in Canada.

Just when you thought you knew your game birds such as a Bobwhite, I find the French name listed in the small game table under the “Species and Gear” column and highlight it. With this information I then go looking for the bird in the book “Birds of Canada” in this case it is: Colin de Virginie. I find a wealth of information about the bird and where it lives and what it eats, as well as its distinct whistle call which the French indicate it sounds like: Bob-wait.

Knowing all your birds and small game by name and being able to identify them in the field offers a broader range of challenge for your hunt instead of having just one animal in mind. In the case of attempting to harvest a snowshoe hare, you can also hunt and try your chances on grouse, partridge, pheasant, white tail rabbit, and much more within the same date range, hence the small game season.

Have a great hunt!

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The paperback sat neatly beside the others on the shelf of the used bookstore for several days before I finally decided to buy it. When I saw the title “The Snowshoe Book”, the first thing I thought was this would be a great read to familiarize myself with the history, making of a snowshoe and its different types. I considered myself an experienced woodsman when it came to snowshoes and I was guilty of judging a book by its cover and did not consider the purchase really necessary.

Snowshoes had been part of my earliest years well before we moved to Africa but also after our return to Canada. Whether it was spending Christmas on the rolling white wintery hills of New-Brunswick at the family camp or in the mountains of the beautiful state of Vermont – I knew how to lace up bindings and go. There are a lot of great books that have been written about snowshoes but this one really caught my curiosity, so I bought it.

It was a true pleasure to read and very informative and it took me just a few days to read cover to cover. My initial assumption was accurate that it would cover the history, the making and types of snowshoes but I realized that it was much more than this, it was exactly what the title described it as: a guidebook. The co-authors are extremely knowledgeable and have a lot of combined experience. But, they are also quite modest and I appreciated their style of writing in which they give credit to a wide range of professionals and experts who assisted them with some of the content of the book.

What is an expert? How does it reveal itself in the realm of bushcraft and snowshoeing? This is a blog entry in itself.

Like snowshoe binding itself, the Canadian Snowshoe Union is intertwined in our Canadian heritage and I encourage you to read up on this history and its racing events. What I discovered on the history of snowshoes in the book, was how long they have been around – way before skis. I have been re-educated on how to choose the best snowshoe for hunting. I have decided that my wooden “Maine” AKA “Michigan” snowshoe is the best for breaking trail when hunting Grouse and Hare. I also carry a spare set of bindings.

The chapters on “Tips on Technique and travel” “Winter Safety” and “Making your own” were definitely my favorite. When hunting small game or any game for that matter, knowing how to navigate over ice and being able to identify its thickness by the color of the ice in order to avoid going through, is very important. If the ice has a grayish color and you can see air bubbles forming when you walk on it, it is probably not very thick. That area should be avoided. I would need at least a good two inches to take my weight, but also the weight you are carrying in equipment requires extra thickness. Last year I bought myself an ice-pik kit specially designed for assisting you when you fall through the ice.

In the book, they contrast crossing an iced-over stream with crossing a pond because flowing water has an impact on the thickness of the ice above it. I always exercise extreme caution and great judgment when crossing ice; not too far from my home people ice fish during the winter months and there are deaths every year.

If you have the time and the material you can have fun trying to build your own emergency pair of snowshoes. Several years ago, I was skiing with my father in the woods and one of my skis broke, I had to improvise and build a harness with the damaged leather straps and eventually I ended up skiing three kilometers on one ski by placing my right leg behind my left foot and pushing  with my arms. If time had permitted, building an emergency pair of snowshoes would have been ideal.

The “Winter Safety” chapter was really interesting too with the mention of different types of high energy foods and techniques on how to avoid heat loss and preventing hypothermia and ultimately death. A lot of winter survival and bush craft references and books emphasize on the risks involved while enjoying winter activities such as snowshoeing or skiing and it is important that you plan and prepare your list of equipment, food and basic contingency plans in the event of an emergency.

Always use good judgment and rely on or go with knowledgeable people during a hunting trip. The fact remains that this book was written several years ago and some techniques and food choices may have improved. I come away from this book with many valuable tips to assist hunters –not only with regards to snowshoes but in dealing with avalanches or being trapped in snow for example, although I hope that I never have to use some of this knowledge. For now, I will continue to lace up my Michigan model snowshoes and chase the illusive snowshoe hare.

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The ruffed grouse is without a doubt one of the best small game hunts that you can experience. They quite often make my heart skip a beat with the thumping of their wings when I set foot into the woodlands and I hope they will continue to do so for many years to come.

If you are unable to spot the ghostly bird found in the thickets of pine and aspen, he will surely make you jump with the beating of his wings as he flies away in a hurry into the depths of the forest. This is not to say that he will go far, since they tend to live within a very small range not exceeding a few acres. When this occurs if you are as quick as he, try to watch where he lands. Just like hares and other animals in the woods of eastern Canada, grouse have set pathways and these can be found by looking for droppings and feathers.

My experience tells me if you set out to find them and your eyes are unskilled, you will often walk right past their resting spot. The best way to find them is to “Still hunt” walk, stop, look and listen, then walk again. One trick that is used quite often to locate them is with the use of your fist and punches to the forest floor to make a drumming sound. If you are successful the male grouse will flap his wings and produce their distinct thumping sound allowing you to spot them.

Almost every time I have seen a male grouse on trails or the forest edges, either perched on an old stump or standing on fallen trees, there he was standing proud. They were not necessarily intimidated by my presence and as a result did not fly away immediately as long as they were not surprised.

Nature has adorned them with a great gift: The color of the feathers and this provides them with the ability to blend into their surroundings and quite easily in a sense become the foliage around them, a good example of this is the photograph I took in the forest.*

Grouse happens to be a bird that does not migrate and remains in eastern Canada during the winter months. To the Algonquin natives it is the bird that dives into the snow, a practice which protects them from the wind. Their feet are adapted so they can walk in deep snow like snowshoe hares.

Andi e izhaian pine? (Algonquin)

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Robert Burton’s book “Bird behaviour” is not only a great book for naturalists and oronthologists but it is also an important book for small game hunters and waterfowler’s.
 
Knowing and understanding the concepts of thermals, air masses and fronts can help you choose the best time of day to hunt larger birds. I really enjoyed the book and I am going to share with you some of the key points that I thought would be quite interesting to fellow waterfowlers and small game hunters and provided you with the page number and text excerpts identified in double quotes.

“As thermals begin to form under the early morning sun, the smallest vultures take off first and only when the thermals become stronger are they followed by the larger species, unless slope soaring can give them enough lift for an early start.” Pg. 23

In the introduction of the book Robert writes the following: “Birds are, perhaps, the most popular group of animals and they give pleasure to thousands of people around the world.” Wild turkeys are the most majestic bird I have seen and when they spread their feathers to impress, I can tell you they do just that; or the sight of a flock of geese flying overhead is so humbling and really stirs up my desire to learn more about the outdoors and spend as much time in the woodlands of this great nation.

Understanding the bird’s actions such as take off and landings can help a waterfowler predict and identify certain birds for example, if an American wigeon is about to touch down it swings its feet forward, this allows the hunter to identify the bird and duck species. Some ducks and geese can leap straight into the air but swans, divers, cormorants, auks and petrels patter over the surface, wings beating rapidly but shallowly, until flying speed is reached. Pg. 18

“Stiff-tailed ducks can adjust their buoyancy further by compressing their feathers and respiratory airsacs to force out air.” Pg. 26 This may also assist you with being able to identify specific duck species during the migratory hunting season.

“Birds are equipped with the same sense organs as other land dwelling vertebrates, but they have been altered and adapted during their evolution to suit the requirements of flying animals. Travelling at speed through the air is only possible if an animal can make and accurate and rapid assessment of its environment. It must also have a very fine appreciation of the forces acting on it body, and have precise muscular control for the complex movements of flight.” Pg. 40

On one of my previous blog entries “Chasse fine” I mentioned the fact that a flock of ducks flew right over me and completed a kind of environment assessment, this is living proof of their evolution and adaptability.

When I am hunting Woodchuck I can sneak up to the animal and get right up close while it is feeding, because even with monocular eyes it lowers its head to eat, allowing me to move closer without being spotted. However sneaking up to a Woodcock while it is feeding is a very difficult skill to master.

“The woodcock, which feeds by thrusting its long bill deep into the soil, has eyes set high on the head, and their fields overlap both fore and aft. As a result, there is binocular vision to the rear as well as to the front, and the woodcock cans spot danger when it is feeding.” Pg. 43

When hunting wild turkey it is one of the few hunts when you do not have to wear orange safety vests and I believe this gives us an advantage. “Birds have well-developed color vision that is broadly similar to our own and plays and equally important role in their lives, but there are some basic differences. Like amphibians and reptiles, but unlike any mammals, birds have coloured droplets of oil in cone cells of the retina. The function of the droplets has long been disputed, but there is now evidence that they significantly affect the bird’s perception of its environment.” Pg. 44

“In the arctic, ptarmigan save themselves the task of digging through snow by feeding where the caribou and hares have already exposed the vegetation.” Pg. 86

This reveals and interesting relationship between birds and other animals as it relates to feeding and can help you find your bird or game that you are pursuing. If you are looking for ptarmigan you might very well find yourself a hare as well.

“The distinction between seabirds and freshwater birds is rather arbitrary since several groups of birds are to be found in both fresh and seawater.” “The ‘dabbling’, or surface-feeding’, ducks are largely omnivorous. Their bills are lined with three sets of horny or rubbery comb-like plates, known as lamellae, one along the inner side of the edge of the upper mandible and one on each side of the edge of the lower mandible. Water is pumped in and out of the mouth, and food is retained by the lamellae.”

“The ‘diving’ duck may feed at the surface, but they more frequently dive to search for food. Many of these species, such as the long-tailed ducks, the scoters and eiders spend most of their lives at sea.” Pg. 92

Knowing their habitat and feeding habits will help in finding the duck you are wishing to harvest and will increase your chances in having a successful hunt. It is a great book!

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After having made some final adjustments to the way he placed his boots in the dirt, there he was standing very still in what seemed to be a comfortable shooting position. He was breathing in normally and with his left hand carefully gripping the underside of the forestock, he then pulled the butt plate tight into his right shoulder in anticipation for the shot. Click! The safety went off, three breaths went in and on the third one he let out half a breath, his index finger was straight pointing down range resting on the trigger guard.

Under my careful instructions he slowly moved his finger onto the trigger with just the tip of his index touching the steel. “Simply release the shot and fight the anticipation.” I whispered and I could see the barrel moving slightly up and down in the final milliseconds. Crack! The shot rang out and then a tearing and a thumping sound followed as the bullet ripped though the paper target into the sand pit. It was a great shot with the bullet landing just one click to the right of the bull’s eye.

This was his first shot from a .22 rifle and several more shots were taken in preparation for his chance to harvest small game. I then set him up with the Remington 870 and he fired a few more shots from eighty feet away.  He was always on target with an average of three to five-inch groupings with the .22 and his patterning with the shotgun was very good as well. Once the shooting at the sand pit was completed and the rifles were zeroed, our plan was to hunt small game for the rest of the day, this meant Woodchuck, Rabbit or Grouse.

We were now getting ready to shoot the .303 British to make sure the bore sighting and mounted scope were in shooting order for the upcoming deer season. I was just about to take out the ammunition from its box when all of a sudden flying in from a southerly direction a flock of thirty geese flew in over us and systematically folded their wings to land on the small lake to the north which was to our right about one hundred feet up the dirt road. 

My hands locked up the .303 ammunition and rifle with lightning speed and we then grabbed our balaclavas and zipped up our mossy oak pattern jackets all the way up and ran up the road towards the hay bales, that were just feet from the water.

The wind was blowing in from a south-easterly direction bringing in a cool air, it was about ten degrees Celsius and the birds had just landed on the north side of the lake. So, once we reached the lake, I asked my young friend to sit tight by the boat on the eastern side of the lake and to keep a look out for geese. I made sure my Remington 870 was loaded with the right shot and then I moved my way north toward the geese on the eastern side of the lake.

It was not an easy lake to get around, the forest went right up to the edge of the lake and on the north side there was a swamp. So, I decided to move further away from the edge of the lake and attempt to flank and scare them into flight allowing me to take a great shot at the chosen bird’s underside. Once I reached the middle of the lake on the eastern side, I turned inward toward the water and started to stalk, it was such as difficult stalk because the forest floor was littered with dead leaves and branches and it was really tricky not to make noise. I had to focus on my breathing to make sure it was not too heavy and I was extremely excited. I got within one hundred and thirty feet and one of the birds spotted me between two pine trees and started to let out some honks, and then several of them let out some more honks and bunched together then moved to deeper water on the north-western side of the lake.

Damn! My first approach did not work and it was going to get more difficult for me to go around the lake because I now had to cut through the swamp and a small creek that was feeding the lake from the north-east.

Once my first plan  failed to work moreover lost my element of surprise, I decided to move back away from the water edge careful not to scare them into to flight and then I headed north-east again this time I was to go through the swamp and make my way around through the cattail and attempt my scare approach again. This took me the better part of an hour and I was already feeling my muscles screaming for oxygenated blood.
 
I jumped from the embankment onto a small mud island that was connected to another with a small log acting like a bridge. This crossing saved me some time, and once in a while I would look up and see where the geese were floating and then I would press forward again.
 
After a few leaps and hops through knee-high mud and quietly knocking about a few cattail I finally made it to the north side and now I had go down on my hands and knees because the bush was so thick. On my way to the ground I startled a grouse which in turn startled me the bugger. And if that wasn’t enough I went right under a cedar tree that housed a very upset chipmunk that was squeaking at me with great assertiveness. “Ok ok…I will leave you alone” I muttered and then inched forward some more and this is when the stalk became even more difficult. There was a very large tree stump separating me from the water and let us not fail to mention some mud piles and swamp brush.
 
So, you guessed it, I got down on my belly and leopard crawled over the log and to the water’s edge. I was now lying down facing south my feet pointing to the north and I had to wait for the birds to swim into range in order to jump shoot. This would send them into flight and I could take my shots.

After a few tense moments the geese to my left finally came into range. I lifted my barrel from the mud soaked ground cleared a few bushes in front of me and lined up my bead sight with the nearest bird. I immediately jumped up to my knees and it sent the flock into a crazed takeoff flight then switched the 870 off safe and took my first shot.

I had been trying some new ammunition and the patterning just did not work, the bird that I had lined up in my sight did not even flinch. I believe that throwing rice would have done a better job. By the time I got to a full standing position all the birds except one got away, which for some reason broke away from the flock and came circling around right above me, so I pumped my shotgun in a split second and pulled the trigger the loaded shotgun shell jammed in the breach and by the time I got it out the bird had gone.

The last goose got away and he let my own 50% chance drop on me like goose droppings but I will be back and there will lots of opportunities for my apprentice and me and I will most definitely change back to the ammunition I used before.

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Many of us have had the privilege of being taught how to read at a very young age and this is without a doubt one of the most prized of skills that is quite often taken for granted. This ability to read allows us to unlock a door and step into a doorway of knowledge, and this know-how is found in books, magazines, pamphlets as well as the World Wide Web.

It is also a fact that some people posses’ academic and intellectual strengths that allow them to share and discuss the content of a specific topic that they have just read. This allows them in sort to plug into any conversation and in a sense project the impression that they may have understood or mastered the subject. This can be a definite asset if you are attempting to impress someone during an academic gathering or trying to earn points with your future father in law, but I believe in the realm of sport hunting it is only the tip of the iceberg. If you can read a book about bush craft and or hunting and then apply the knowledge in a practical way then you are truly gifted.

The people who are able to share this knowledge take great pleasure in doing so, and having the ability to read, learn, and practice then share this knowledge with others using an applied method as well as harvesting wild game is what I consider the true achievement.

There is also another element to this skill called reading and it is not just about going through the pages but rather reading your environment and this my fellow hunters can teach you things that so-called human masters cannot.

One of my favourite quotes written by Saint Bernard de Clairvaux a knight Templar from the 12th century is the following: “Trust one who has tried it, you will find more in woods than in books; trees and stones will teach you what you can never learn from masters”. This is so true, but thanks to some brilliant authors who wrote books about hunting and bush craft with publishing dates ranging from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, we are able to enjoy the wealth of knowledge from both the written and the practical world.

On my OKB page you will find a listing of some of the books that I have read about our sport and related topics. My findings have been that it is very difficult to find a great recent hunting book, that have been written in the last five years that contains the same wealth of knowledge and substance that you would find in books that were written throughout the years of the publishing dates mentioned above.

There is so much to learn and there is so much more to hunting than meets the reading eye.

(If you have read a great book recently and wish to share please write a comment)

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