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Archive for May, 2011


Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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It is very difficult at times for the general public to see or even believe that modern sport hunters are not blood thirsty parasites who have no regard for wildlife and conservation. This has never been the case and in fact it is rather the contrary. Modern sport hunters have a deep connection with the outdoors, with wildlife also and wish to perserve it. Hunters may even do more as a whole toward conservation and protection than the majority of the public when it comes to contributing to both these points. Sometimes, hunters themselves aren’t even aware that they are contributing to wildlife management programs and land conservation projects.

It can be as simple as purchasing hunting accessories or clothing that have a logo of a conservation organization such as Ducks Unlimited. The purchasing of waterfowl permits including stamps, and also simply by registering your game once it has been harvested. Stamps on a waterfowl permit or purchasing gear allows for some of the funds to support wetland conservation programs. The registration of big game and wild turkey allows for the crucial collection of the numbers of species harvested when dealing with population control programs as well as provides great statistical information in direct support of research.
In Quebec where I hunt, it is mandatory to register big game animals or wild turkeys at a registration station authorized by the provincial government. The concept of registration for big game and wild turkeys is also very present in other provinces, territories and states. For more information on this visit your local ministry of natural resources or fish and game websites. Below is the Quebec page on the MRNF site: 

http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/english/wildlife/registration-stations/index.jsp

A registration center can be any establishment that is recognized by in Quebec’s case the province, this can be a local hunting shop, provincial building belonging to the Ministry or even a corner store. These registration centers will all have the following panel outside their building.

Authorized Registration Center in Quebec

 

The ministry of natural resources and fauna in Quebec state the following:

“In order to take advantage of the maximum availability of registration services, the Department recommends registering your game as close as possible to the harvesting site, rather than near your residence.
Some registration stations are open during all hunting and trapping seasons. Other stations are open only during hunting seasons and, in this case; the hours of operation may vary. When in doubt, hunters and trappers are invited to contact the registration station to avoid needless travel.
For more information on the location and the dates and times when registration stations are open, consult the lists below. You can also get in touch with the Service à la clientèle or one of our regional offices. All of this information is also posted on the door of our offices.”
In order to find the registration center nearest to you in Quebec go to following website on your portable device or print out the centers located in the area where you will be hunting big game and wild turkey.

http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/english/wildlife/registration-stations/big-game-stations.jsp

Then select the region on the link above and then the local municipality, there you will find a list including, the type of organization, their contact telephone number and their hours of operation. The cost of registering big game and turkey is six Canadian dollars.
When you register your game make sure you look up the rules in regulations with concerns to the transportation of the game, for example not removing the wings of the turkey during transportation thus making it easier for identification purposes. Ensure that the transportations tags are attached. (I personally like to use twist ties)

When you register the game, the officer/agent/store owner will visually inspect the animal or turkey, transportation tags; record the date and time as well as a location using GPS software where it was harvested. He or she will record the type of weapon that was used. You may also have the animal or turkey weighed. After the inspection, an electronic form will have been filled out and you will receive a printed receipt.
Registering your game and having an officer/agent/store owner congratulate you on your harvest, is also part of a successful hunt as he or she may be one of the first persons to validate your harvest and make it legitimate. This is confirmation that you did your part and that you are a respected member of this exclusive club of outdoorsman/Woman 😉

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Quick Tom

The truck drove slowly up the long dirt road between the north and south-western hay fields carefully avoiding the mud holes. The creaking sounds of the suspension faded into the country music that was playing low on the radio. Once we reached our spot, the driver put it into park and stopped at the top of the eastern ridge on the forest edge.

It had been raining for a few hours now and the temperature was starting to drop at about six degrees Celsius, we had lowered our windows, so that we could hear the nightly sounds and hopefully get a gobble or an owl hoot. I then carefully swung my door open, stepped out into the mud and moved my way to the back to the truck, unzipped my hunting bag and grabbed my crow caller.

It had been dark for about thirty minutes now and we were slowly sinking further into darkness. I cupped my hands around my mouth and started with a few owl calls and then waited a few minutes, then called again with my crow caller. This went on for a few minutes and would stop, listening with my hands cupped around my ears, and then I would start calling again. I was anticipating a call back from a gobbler but instead I heard crickets, geese from the lake nearby and some other nocturnal animals. The farmer had said that the field on our left was full of turkeys during the week and so we were attempting to find their roost.

After a few failed attempts, we packed up and made our way back to the cabin for the night. It was going to be a short sleep because we wanted to be back on site about half an hour before sunrise in order to get the best setup. Since I had not located the roost, we decided that in the morning we were going to still-hunt along the edge of the fields just like Ray Eye had done in his book. You must exercise a great deal of discipline while moving through the woods and fields, know your terrain, be patient as well as have a good eye.

Turkeys can hear and see extremely well and it is absolutely critical that you know and understand the game you are pursuing.

It was now five in the morning and I awoke to some nice song birds. Within minutes we had eaten breakfast, which was a few pieces of toast and a cold glass of milk, and then we loaded the gear into truck and drove back to the very same spot. My good friend was carrying my decoys in a bag, along with green mosquito netting for cover. I had my Quaker Boy slate caller around my neck, a set of binoculars and my pump-action Remington 870.

The hunt was on and we were extremely excited, we slowly moved our way east through some copse of trees between the east and western fields and as we broke the forest edge two deer leapt into the tree line to our right and disappeared. We decided to go up the left hand side of the field north-east of the truck and then cut across about half way through as there was a crest in the field leading to a point which offered a great shooting spot.

As we slowly made our way up the forested edge of the third field, I went down on one knee and completed Wade Bourne’s Fly down Cackle hitting my hat against the tree bark and boy it sounded authentic.

I must have alerted some animals nearby because within an instant of finishing my call a coyote came trotting along the field to our right and then when he saw us he disappeared just as fast as the two does. We did however find his meal left over’s which was a porcupine carcass. Several minutes had gone by and now after having seen some wildlife our senses were set to high gear and then almost every dark object in the fields looked like an animal.

We must have taken around forty more steps and had stopped by a pile of logs when my friend tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to our left. We instantly took a knee and stared at the large black mark in the center of the field down in the low ground. As we looked on, I noticed that it was lifting and lowering its head but it was too far out to make out what it was. I whispered “It looks like a coyote” but my friend was not so sure, so I handed him my binoculars and he focused on the animal. He was several hundred yards away down in the low ground. Behind him was a beautiful valley and on its crest there were very large trees mixed with pine and aspen, oak and birch.

To his north there was a very large hay-field and a small lake behind some more trees which formed a sort of barrier between the two features. To his south there was another field and it was on its southern edge where my point and best shooting spot was located. By the time my friend handed me the binoculars to have a look, he had already whispered back that it was a very large tom and he had a huge smile on his face. It seems that my calls had worked and he was spreading his wings in a feathered dance then moving slowly into the direction of my calls. He was all alone with no other turkeys in sight.

We kept very low and slowly moved back toward the southern edge and decided to place the two decoys twenty-five yards from the brush. My friend walked back to the logs some thirty yards to the west providing me with a safe and wide shooting arc. Ideally, I needed to be further east on the point but I could no longer move as the tom was closing in on my decoys and would have instantly seen me.

I tucked myself into the bushes on the edge of the forest my back facing south with my decoys slightly to my left to the west about fifteen yards out. I carefully placed my Remington 870 aiming directly to my front and lifted my slate caller and let out a few cutts, yelps and purrs. I would then lift my binoculars, look for the tom’s position and reaction.

At first I could see him moving toward me but then he would fade into the low ground, and I thought to myself “Damn! He saw me.” Then I would see this very long neck pop up like a submarine periscope and then disappear again behind the grassy knoll. It was quite comical. What I found very neat is that he never once communicated with me, not even a few clucks or a gobble.

There was one thing which was clear and this is that this tom was quick and he was in a hurry to see my hen decoys. He was now fifty yards out to my right, I had tucked myself away into a ball and pulled my camouflage hood over my head, I looked like a Real Tree bush with just my eyes moving, he was moving quickly but cautiously towards my two decoys. He would complete another feather dance which was just breath-taking and you could see his beard dragging along the ground. He would then tuck his head back in and move forward a few more steps, then stop and move yet again.

My heart was racing like crazy and I kept on going through my shot scenarios and wanted to insure I chose the best time to take my shot, so I waited for him to walk directly to my front, I slowly raised my Remington 870 and unlocked the safety using the slow push technique which Wade Bourne had shown on his video. It made no sound at all, took my breaths and when he was twenty-five yards out, I lined up my bead sight with his head and neck and let out a shot of number four.

It struck him by surprise and made him jump into a winged frenzy, I instantly leapt out of the bushes and while on my second step toward the bird I fired a second shot. Upon the second impact he spun around and the twenty-three pound beast fell to the ground. I had just harvested my turkey on the second day of this year’s season and it was all over in less than two hours. Brilliant!

I may never meet Wade Bourne, Ray Eye and Preston Pittman in my lifetime but they were all present during my hunt. Thank you!

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Humility is the right antonym in every sense of the word when dealing with vanity. If Bert Popowski practiced humility while hunting, then he would not be the rightful author of the book that I just finished reading today: The varmint and crow hunter’s bible.

When it comes to reading books on hunting, especially small game, it does not take me long to reach the back cover, but for some reason this book took me longer than usual and it was not because it was a difficult read but rather due to the fact that I considered its text quite rich.

As I was reading, it would be comparable to a person with a sweet tooth eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake and wanting to enjoy every mouthful rather than just polish it off with great speed. Knowledge is what I seek and this book most definitely delivered.

I particularly enjoyed the following chapters: The Canny Coyote, Woodchucks for Rifleman, Cow Pasture Pests, Those Canny Crows as well as the Lesser Bird Pests as the author named them. Also near the ending of the book are two other great chapters: Shotgun Efficiency and Varmint Cartridges which focus on rifle and shot gunning. Both chapters enable you to understand some of the science behind the art of shooting when dealing with varmints.

As an avid varmint hunter, I highly recommend this book. Throughout the pages the author brings out very specific hunting knowledge and skills that are a must know if you wish to be a successful hunter. For example when hunting woodchucks “depending on the elevation, temperatures and food supplies they take the air during the idyllic months of spring and summer.” (Page 10)

“The average mature woodchuck offers a sizeable hunk of target. He owns so tough a hide that, in the days of ox-, horse-, and mule-drawn transportation, a strip of it was often used as the “popper” at the tip of the skinners’ whips. His body, even when encased with considerable fat in preparation for hibernation, is of solid and muscular flesh. And, what is most important, he has considerable life tenacity. He must be hit well -often with power enough to stop a yearling deer-to be dropped in his tracks.” (Page 14)

If you wish to be in business for hunting crows learning the three basic calls: The distress, come-back and mourning calls amongst other great information on crow hunting is well covered in “Those Canny Crows” chapter.

The Canny Coyote”
“A light wind helps conceal what sounds the hunter normally makes, plus hiding the natural movements of mounting the call and his gun. However, if the wind blows up around 10 miles-per-hour, such velocity severely limits the caller’s range of coverage.” (Page 92)

“Coyotes that are thoroughly sold on the authenticity of the dying-rabbit squall have been known to run in almost atop concealed caller-hunters. That’s why some hunters carry both rifles and shotguns. If the tolled critter gets in within 10 to 30 yards the shotgun is ample weapon for clean kills-if loaded with Number 2’s or coarser pellets. But a hesitant, undecided or suspicious ki-dog may have to be taken from 75 to 125 yards, when a scope-sighted rifle is the only suitable weapon.” (Page 93)

Mr. Popowski has now joined the ranks of what I consider to be the authentic authors on the subject of hunting and the outdoors. In doing so he has provided me with the knowledge that will enable me to fine tune my skills as a small game hunter and enjoy many seasons to come. I sincerely hope this book may do the same for you.

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