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Archive for October, 2012

Wood Duck


Wood Duck

Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is without a doubt one of my favorite ducks; the male’s colors are just incredible and similar to that of its relative the Mandarin duck. The waterfowl hunting season for ducks in Quebec generally starts late September until late December. It is a duck that lives in tree hollows left over by other birds or rodents. It also has a very distinct whistle if alerted, soon after this the duck might fly away very quickly when you approach the waterways in the early morning.

For more information on Wood Duck hunting check out the Environment Canada website.

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The front part of the keel was slicing through the water making sputtering sounds as the canoe pushed through the thick weeds with the momentum from my last powerful stroke. With my right hand wrapped firmly around the grip, I slowly lifted my shoulders and arms readying myself for the next stroke. I brought the tip of the blade down into the water once again and with my left hand at the throat of the paddle; it pierced the surface of the cold black water. As I pulled hard, launching the bow forward, I could see the reflection of my gold ring sparkle in the underwater emptiness.

Just moments before I had navigated through a narrow passage of swamp grass, and found myself in a small bay with a beaver lodge directly to my right to the south surrounded by jagged logs sticking up out of the muddy water with scattered miniature islands of weeds and bog soup.

The beaver lodge was an active one; it had several fresh mud slide markings left by the beavers belly and paws as it brought branches to the upper part of the lodge and then slid down like a child on its water slide.

There was a strong wind blowing in a south-easterly direction, pushing me along and like the current of a river and it swallowed me whole, then within seconds I could see the leaves from the deciduous trees fluttering to my right on the bank. Staying close to the edge of the shoreline enabled me to avoid a hard fight with the winds but also capitalize on the hidden ducks.

The smell, sights and sounds of the fall enriched my hunting experience and as I pushed forward and slowly disappeared in the bowels of this amazing Canadian wilderness. Memories of my grandfather and the many trips to the family camp flood my soul.

This was teal country indeed, and with my shotgun stowed by my right knee loaded with three shells which included the one in the chamber, I was at the ready for the duck flight bursts. My paddle strokes allowed me to glide several meters and with the wind at my back; I would alternate putting down the paddle then shoulder my Remington 870 for about half a minute and then switch back to the paddle once I started to lose speed.

All my senses were at a heightened state and my breathing was controlled, taking only deep breaths thus preventing myself from getting too excited ensuring safe and solid shots. Once I reached a short distance passed the lodge toward my first mini island of tall grass, I heard a sharp whistle and three teal burst into the flight to the south-east only meters in front of me.

With my Remington 870 shouldered, I pushed off the safety catch and fired my first shot at the third and last bird but he reacted to the muzzle blast and dove to the right in flight and flipped on its side and then swerved back to its left just like a rock dove and then blending in with the tree line and I lost sight of the bird, it was a miss. Pumping the action, I now changed focused on the second bird which was more than twenty meters away on my left, I gave the bird some lead and released the second shot, the bird kept flying towards the north breaking away from the group and then dropped down and lost altitude gradually then plunged into the weeds below.

I placed the 870 on safe and paddled very quickly to the spot where it landed; this triggered two more teals to burst into the flight toward the river to the south on my right but I was not at the right angle for a safe shot and my priority was to find my harvested teal. After a few minutes of searching I found my blue winged teal. They are magnificent birds with their bright blue feathers and lightning fast flight. It was another fantastic hunt and a great way to end the day.

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Canada Goose

With the four doors open, I carefully removed each strap which was holding down the canoe to the roof; releasing their individual locks with my key for the ammunition box because the lever locks were too tight to unlock with my fingers. I then placed the straps inside the cab and climbed up into the back of the flatbed, setting myself under the canoe facing the cab rear window. With my knees slightly bent I then picked up the canoe onto my shoulders placing them exactly into the grooves of the yoke stabilizing the bow and stern with both hands on each side of the gunwales. I then spun the canoe around in the air, made my way to the back of the truck and once I was facing the river to the south, I jumped off the tailgate onto the wetlands muddy ground. I threw my hips once again into the opposite direction pushing up with my right arm, then lowered the canoe onto my thighs and gently placed it into the swamp grass to my left.

It took me just a few minutes to load my paddle, shotgun, life jacket and backpack with all the necessary my kit I would need into the guts of the canoe. I moved toward the bow and grabbed its carrying strap, and started pulling the canoe through the tall grass heading south-east.

When I first got to the wetlands, I carefully scanned the sky, tree line and marsh, which included two large bodies of open water. There was a very strong wind mixed with rain blowing in my direction of travel. I knew that it would be tough work coming back once the hunt had ended. I finally chose to go to the large body of water to my left, which had lots of vegetation which had grown in since the previous year; it was filled with swamp grass, mud islands and concentrations cat tail.

Once I reached the edge of the water, I set off with one foot in the canoe and the other outside the boat and pushed myself along using the small mud islands and vegetation as steps. It was hard work but I managed to find and follow a larger water trail which had formed in the middle. There were thousands of small water trails like a maze. With the strong winds and freezing waters any mistake could prove to be deadly.

After several hundred meters of pushing and paddling, I finally reached my first large portion of open water. I now had the time to orientate myself using two large distinct trees found near the river and a community water tower to the north. I programmed my global positioning system along with my compass then put them back into the backpack. The wind had turned the canoe diagonally towards the south but I was still going into the direction I was aiming for because I had seen about six teal ducks fly around very quickly and then land on the northern edge of the marsh.

I grabbed a hold of my paddle, took control of the canoe and made my way another fifty meters. I Passed a large patch of grass mixed with cattail to my right, it resembled a small island and the grass was high enough I could not see through. On the other side directly to my front was an even larger space of open water leading to the river with just a small river bank separating the two. There were also hundreds of small mud islands and patches of grass with thick weed roots.

I had no idea how much activity was waiting for me on the other side, so I placed myself really low into the canoe, stopped paddling and rested the paddle on the yoke and my left thigh then loaded three shells into my Remington 870, chambered a shell and instinctively put it on safe using the push button.

My chosen spot for waterfowl was perfect; there was a mallard out into the open to my left but too far for a shot, two groups of teal flying around in circles right above me to my front and roughly thirty Canada geese to my right behind two large mud islands. My heart began to race and I could feel the pounding in my chest, my breathing was also going steady, but I had to control my excitement and focus on my approach. I made myself even smaller in the canoe and stopped moving.

The canoe was once again being pushed along in their direction with the wind blowing in from the north-west. I was afraid of making noise with my paddle, so I carefully reached in over the gunwale with my left hand and placed it into the freezing water, grabbed hold of some weed roots and pulled myself toward the geese. I was now very close only thirty meters away.

The feeling was incredible; I was like a fox stalking its prey, it was a very intense moment. With the wind pushing and pulling along the weed roots with my hand almost numb, I made it across a small part of the open water until I reached the opposite side of the island directly across where twenty of the geese were gathered. With the ducks flying nervously above me but too high for a shot, something alerted the geese which were on watch duty and two or three of them began to call out. I could hear splashing, I could see several of them through the tall grass moving away to deeper water and then soon after the whole flock burst into the flight.

They took flight in all directions but they did not know where I was, so it took them a few seconds to get organized and finally choose one set path and that happened to be directly over me circling to my left heading north-west.

Canada Geese are large birds and they are quick but not as fast as a duck, which gives you a few milliseconds more to react. I shouldered my shotgun twisted my body to the left and released a shot into the air, and missed a bird by the fraction of a feather. I pumped the action, took a quick breath and applied the skills I learned. Chose one bird out the flock; placed my bead sight directly in line with the chosen bird adjusting my forward allowance accordingly then releasing the second shot.

It was almost the exact shot placement which I used for the Eastern wild turkey that I had harvested. I was aiming directly for the neck and the shot filled the air and the bird which was twenty meters high froze in mid-air like a statue and with its head tilted toward the water it fell to the surface. It was a hard fall! I cleared the last remaining shell from the Remington 870 and then paddled over to recover the harvest.

It was a long hard paddle and push back to the truck against the strong winds, having at times to step out of the canoe with one leg or use the paddle as a push pole but in the end it was well worth the effort. I had just harvested a beautiful twelve pound Canada goose.

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Mallard Creek

The rocks were spitting up into the wheel wells releasing sharp metallic sounds into the air, as I rolled down the dirt road. The morning was cool with the temperature sitting at around minus one degrees Celsius and the sky was starting to have a nice blue color to it with very little clouds. I was surrounded by farm fields with lush forest on their edges displaying its bright yellow and red colors mixed in with the evergreen. There were rock formations and endless rolling hills along with small lakes; the view was just stunning and very calming. The sun was just high enough, so that I could take in every sight and sound of the country side.

There were three deer in the field behind the wired fence with its weathered wooden posts on my right to the north-east feeding close to the tree line; it was a doe and two fauns. There were also kit of pigeons circling around some barns; I could also hear the calls of Canada geese as they flew over the trees heading south.

If you choose to hunt duck in the morning and wish to use the darkness as cover, then this can prove to be a very rewarding harvest indeed and advantageous because you are already in position when the ducks fly in. However getting up at four in the morning and being on the shores of the rivers and lakes, for the half an hour mark prior to sunrise is great but it is not entirely necessary.

Two weeks ago, I was out waterfowl hunting and I had arrived later in the morning. I was calling in a flock of geese when suddenly about ten mallards burst into flight about twenty meters behind the geese in the tall grass and it was already about half past nine in the morning.

After about an hour-long drive, I was now at the farm and ready to start my day.

The field to the south-west of the farm which was connected to a large swamp had been partially flooded by the rising waters from the rain and from the beaver dams. And the last time, I was out I did not have my canoe with me, therefore I was unable to push deeper into the marsh or even to retrieve any birds I may have harvested; so my shots were well calculated, this way the birds landed on solid ground. Oddly enough, I went home that day having harvested two pigeons.

I was better prepared for shots over water on this trip having brought my canoe with me, now the only tricky part was figuring out how to get my canoe down to the creek alone with all my gear. I knew that I was very capable of portaging on my own for very long distances but this terrain was very difficult.

So, once I got to the farm, I decided to open the metal gate and drove down the muddy truck trail down the hill closer to the creek in the south. By now the cattle had started to gather around me, as they are very curious animals, so I waved and called them through in front of me offering me some space to work with and then once they were a safe distance away near the electric fence, I unloaded my canoe, collected my kit and moved down to the creek a few meters away.

My plan was to place the canoe at a very narrow part of the creek and work my way up in a south-westerly direction toward the larger body of water in the marsh. This way I could shorten my portage distance and this would also offer me the element of surprise over the ducks because the brush was much thicker on the northern side of the south-western field. This was also the spot where I would come out to the mouth of the open water section in the marsh. It would also enable me to damage the beaver dam on my way up the creek in order to check for beaver activity in preparation for my trap line setup which would take place in about three weeks.

So, I flipped the canoe off my shoulders having carried it from the truck and then throwing my hips into the opposite direction I carefully lowered the canoe into the water with the bow end first and then the stern. I then placed my shotgun near the front of the canoe with the barrel facing to the front and with my paddle put across both gunwales I lowered myself into the middle part of the canoe sitting on my knees and then pushed off the shore with my left hand pulling on a large branch. The creek was only a few feet wide and a few inches deep with very thick mixed woods canopy right over me consisted of alder and other swamp trees. Although I had my paddle and did make use of it, I was able for the most part inch forward simply by pulling myself along grabbing various tree stumps with beaver teeth marks and thicker branches hanging over my head and my side.

It was tough work and the branches and leaves were breaking off and filling the bowels of the canoe as I continued forward though the dark cold water, I had to constantly duck my head down and even with my valiant efforts, I got several branches go right up my nostrils or slap me across the face. I would put my paddle down to my left and grab the thick vegetation on both sides and like a rower arm gesture, I pulled myself forward. Sometimes the bow would get caught on a thick root and I had to push myself or backstroke really hard with the paddle, and then push forward again. The water swirled and bumbled up with its air pockets like boiling water and as the bottom of the canoe scraped the wood below the surface it let out a screeching sound.

I felt like Charlie Allnut from the movie “African Queen” fighting my way through thick brush and up the creek, except I was all alone just me and the raw Canadian wilderness. I fought my way up forty meters or so then I made it to my first real obstacle, the beavers had built a series of dams, which were packed up like a wall of mud and sticks several inches high, so I would grab my paddle and take two or three hard stokes and I would ram the dam wall with the bow until it lifted the front of the canoe and then I would jump out placing my right or left foot onto the sticks and pull the canoe using the gunwales over the mud wall and back into the elevated part of the creek once again in the water. All the while keeping my eyes open for the beavers, because they have a nasty bite and can jump at your legs, just like Penn Powell described in his CBC Archive interview about his beaver attack.

After battling the creek for well over an hour and crossing four more dams, I finally got to open water of the marsh and I was slowly floating only meters from the beaver lodge. While crossing the last dam, I used a very large pointed boulder which I found in the mud, stepped out the canoe onto the last dam wall and punctures a hole into the mud and sticks then the water instantly started to flood and water the pressure did the rest of the work which flowed from west to east into the creek below, which would make my return a little more enjoyable.   I continued to paddle closer to the beaver lodge, holding the paddle carefully with both hands and taking very gentle strokes, now I had to focus on my silent approach through the wider part of the marsh and the open water. In doing so, I paddled my way through the wider part of the marsh and after thirty meters or so; I noticed that even after I called out a few greeting and feeding duck calls, there were no ducks or geese in this area. So, I decided to make my back down through the creek to the other lake, this time with the help of the current, it was much quicker and less work.

I had to re-load the canoe back into the truck and drive fifteen minutes away to another larger lake, and this time I decided to leave the canoe in the truck bed for now. I stealthily made my way to the shore of the lake using the vegetation as cover, reloaded three shells in the Remington 870, chambered a round and placed it on safe and this is when I spotted the beautiful hooded merganser directly to my front about twenty meters away, swimming along then occasionally diving and coming back up to the surface almost at the opposite side of the shore line to the west. He had a beautiful black and white color.

I skillfully lined up my bead sight with the merganser; with just my barrel sticking out of the tall grass, pushed off the safety catch and released my first shot. “Vlam!” As soon as the steel shot hit the water surface the merganser dove and disappeared below the surface. It was a miss!

The noise of the first shot startled four mallards which immediately took flight on my right hand side going south toward the left and flew right over just a few feet above surface of the water where the merganser had dove right in line with my arc of fire. So I applied the “Majority Method” lead or forward allowance as written in John Brindles’ book Shotgun Shooting and techniques and technology.

The mallards were in a diamond-shaped pattern in the air and so I took aim at the front of the last bird and released my second shot after pumping the action, ejecting the empty shell and the bird tumbled into the air, it was like time was still, almost in slow motion, the bird fell to the water surface below splashing crystal like drops into the air, creating shock waves over the calm lake surface. Once it resurfaced with its bright blue colored feathers and white and brown underside it looked very healthy. I cleared my shotgun of the last and remaining shell and then paddled over to pick up the mallard with my canoe.

It was a great harvest!

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In the past few weeks two Canadian families have been torn by a powerful sense of grief and the unimaginable while their loved ones were practicing the sport we love so much and hold dear to our hearts.

In times of emptiness like these the word accident is just one more word in a million found in the English language which is miles away in someone’s mind who has gone through such a tragic experience or loss.

An accident according to an online dictionary is an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss.
Our sport is dangerous, extremely dangerous but it does not have to be. Yet how dare we judge or preach the safe practice of firearm handling during times like these and how dare we have an opinion on someone or a situation we were not part of and have not fully understood the circumstances.

When an accident such as this occurs in our international community of hunters and to our fellow brethren, it is not criticism or judgment which should be released; rather it should be is a promise to have a higher sense of awareness and going back to the fundamentals which we were taught during our firearm and hunter courses.

A few weeks ago, I was out hunting snowshoe hare and I had to pass over a wired fence and I thought to myself, must I really unload my shotgun like I was taught? Then pass the weapon under the wire and then only pick it up and load it only once I was on the other side or should I just place it on safe and keep it in my hands? What if a hare sprints out as I am climbing over? …Maybe I will miss the shot of a lifetime. In the end I did take the time to do it right and passing the unloaded firearm under the fence. What is a few seconds more in a lifetime? Especially when you have friends, family and loved ones waiting for you at home. A great hunter is not one who brings a trophy or a harvest home every time, it is a hunter who learns and appreciates and knows their place in nature.

I shall dedicate my next hunt to the two families who have experienced extreme loss, and excruciating pain, and hopefully are heading toward the path of healing. While I stand on the damp soil of my hunting path with the fall tree colors burning around me and the breeze blowing in my face, I promise to take a moment and deep breath to think of the two young men who like me were practicing the sport we love so much.

To me they are not just another news article, they are ambassadors of safety and for this I thank them.

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The month of October is just a few days old now and the evenings are much cooler, the sun is also setting sooner. Late in the afternoon after work, I sometimes enjoy a nice drive, and with the bright fall colors in bloom, this drive was a real treat.

I chose to visit four of the best duck hunting boat launch sites and was on the lookout for waterfowl activity in preparation for my planned duck hunt in the upcoming days. It is without a doubt beautiful country indeed, each site had their very own long dirt road which cut through farmer fields and wetlands. The swamp grass and weeds were dark green with touches of a golden color and the water was very dark.

The sky was clear of rain but had a violet-blue color to it with bursts of pink which reflected off the clouds as the sun was setting, so I stopped the truck and put it into park, then opened the door and stood up on the truck foot rail and placed my right elbow on the roof. I was wedged at the opening of the driver side door where the door hinges were and then brought up my binoculars to have a better look from the southeast all the way down the river to the southwest.

Within minutes a flock of thirty geese flew right over me and then some ducks and blackbirds flew in along the river from the north-east heading west. An acquaintance of mine who has spent well over forty years in the woods and farming country told me once that if you are hunting and you do not necessarily harvest but you see animals this is a good start.

Once I got my fill of ducks and Canada geese for the night, I turned the truck around and started my way down the dirt road going north and then all of a sudden to the east near the tree line I spotted three very large deer feeding in the open and only forty feet away from them was a group of twenty eastern wild turkey, moving southerly toward the wetlands.

Well it was now time to head for home but not without seeing a little more wildlife, I finished off the drive with a cottontail sitting on the edge of the road. My fall hunting season started just a few weeks ago but these sightings are a sure sign that I am on the right path towards having a great season.

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