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Archive for October, 2013


It can be incredibly difficult to find a harvested game bird during a waterfowl hunt, especially if you are hunting early in the morning or right at dusk. One of my hunting partners has a gun dog, a Labrador retriever and she is an important member of our team.

We take great pride in being able to bring back our harvested game birds, but also about being safe and ethical hunters, every year our families have a wild game dinner.

She is a strong swimmer, and with her great sense of sight as well as smell, she brings back bird after bird and the only price I pay, is a muddy, wet truck with a happy dog sitting in the back seat.

However when I am out on my own either sitting in my ground blind or in my canoe it becomes a little more challenging because you are no longer just taking the shots and letting the gun dog complete the retrieval process. You are now also focusing on what I call the follow through and not just for the shooting aspect.

Being able to retrieve a duck or goose and bring it back home for a meal is a wonderful feeling; I have included a link to the Government of Canada, Justice Law Website and section for the Migratory Birds Regulations concerning retrieving birds.

I also would like to share some of the techniques I use when retrieving my migratory game birds without a gun dog. Once the game bird has fallen into the water or the wetlands vegetation after the shot and I have decided the retrieval process has begun, safety becomes my number one priority.

For me safety is represented in several flavors: Firearm safety, once I have taken the shot and harvested the game bird and made the choice not to down additional birds, I unload my shotgun immediately before starting my retrieval process.

Wearing my life-jacket is another, when I am in my canoe or on foot depending on the depth of the water; it is also about not taking unnecessary risks, understanding the importance of using a boat when the water is too deep or when current is very strong. Life jackets are so important!

Even with chest waders or being a great swimmer it can be very dangerous in the wetlands or along major rivers. The water may look shallow but you can easily sink into the mud getting stuck and even below the surface in a flash. And the water is very often cold. Using a long pole or paddle can help with judging the depth of the water or strength in the mud islands.

Last year I bought myself a pair of ice picks attached to a rubber cord; this is designed to pull yourself out of the water in the event you break through the ice in December.

Being aware of other hunter positions and their awareness, it is possible that you are not the only waterfowl hunter in the area and you want to ensure that they are aware of your presence. I use the same principles as turkey hunting for alerting others, since we are not wearing orange during the waterfowl season; I use my voice, rather than stand and gesture with my hands and arms.

Duck hunting can be a very fast and exciting sport and it takes just one trigger happy hunter to ruin your day.

Once my shot has been taken and the bird has fallen, I do not take my eyes off the bird and I follow it visually until it is on the ground. I then look for a prominent object which is directly in line with the possible position of the game bird, such as a distinct bush, tree, building in the distance. In the fall a tree may have all yellow leaves, and this can be used as a great reference point if the surrounding trees are shorter or if their leaves are red.

In the wetlands sometimes the vegetation and the small water channels create unique looking mini islands or water ways which can aid with placing an imaginary reference point. In some cases, when I am shooting from a ground blind, I will walk towards the shore and then place a stick into the mud to mark off the direction. Once I get into my canoe and start paddling toward the game bird, I use the stick as a reference point while heading in the direction where the bird fell.

Judging the right distance is also very important, during the retrieval process, I know that the majority of my shots will never exceed twenty-five meters, and knowing this aids with the retrieval because it allows you to visually break up the ground between you and the bird into sections in the event you do a type of box search.

Just like tracking  a blood trail for big game like deer, in some cases you can find a large bunch of feathers at the exact point of impact in the water. This can point you in the right direction. Also depending on the depth of the water and the density of the weeds below, look to see if the bird got stuck below the surface in the roots, all my ducks and geese have floated and only once did I have a mallard break through the ice during landing and get stuck underneath. Mallards and black ducks can be very difficult to see in murky water filled with weeds, their feathers make them almost invisible. For geese I look for the large white feathers on their underside. I compare it to the tail of a white tail deer; it is quite visible from far and can assist during the spotting of the bird. For mallards, I look for the blue on their wings and the green heads with white band in the necks for the drakes.

If there are two of you in the canoe, you can have one person stabilize the boat and you can have the second hunter stand and scan the area around the boat for the game birds. Beware of the winds and current.

There are several methods that can be used to develop your skills on how to judge distances. Conduct research on the Internet using key word searches in any major search engine or read books, you can also purchase portable laser range finders if your budget permits. During your annual patterning exercise with your shotgun prior to the waterfowl season at the range, you can use the resources available on site at the shooting club to learn the distances and take mental notes of the sizes of certain objects at certain distances.

Also recreating the shooting scenario from your ground blind or shooting position can assist. A few weeks ago, I shot a Canada goose which was very high above me but towards my far left, I had to really turn to shoot and but it was a successful harvest, the bird fell in very high grass and it was extremely foggy. I thought to myself, I will never be able to find the bird; I unloaded my shotgun, told my partners I was going to retrieve the bird and started walking towards where I thought the bird had landed. I was totally off. So, I walked back to my ground blind and using my arm as the shotgun, I recreated the shot and kept my arm pointing in the direction of my harvest, I walked twenty meters and the goose ended up being one meter to my right hidden behind a fallen tree.

I wish you all a great waterfowl season!

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I was standing very still inside the barn hidden behind its double doors; this was the second barn of three in the field. The old doors had just a wide enough gap between them allowing me to see the whole southern field.

My heart was racing and I was very excited, as soon as I got to the farm in the morning for the start of my hunt, I could hear geese calling out from the field below and I knew this was going to be very promising.

A few weeks ago I had spotted a large number of Canada geese very close to the creek but too far from the third barn for a shot with too much open ground to cover in order to get closer. That is without being seen by the spotting geese of course.

In the book “Hunting & Fishing in Canada –A turn-of-the-Century Treasury” The author of the chapter “Sport with Canada Geese” Ed. W. Sandys writes the following on page 84.

“Wild and shy to a degree, suspicious of every unusual sight or sound and craftiest of all feathered game, the Canada goose is no quarry for careless sportsman or eager novice. Yet there are several methods by which these feathered foxes may be outwitted readily enough, always provided that the sportsman is a well-informed, close observer, a man of much patience, and a fairly good shot.”

I studied the open ground and had identified an old bath tub filled with water, two large thorn bushes and some low ground leading to a small muddy trench running east to west twenty-five feet out and then of course the shrub line parallel to the creek.

Twice, I came out the back of the barn crouched down really low and moved along a small fence to the west and stood up very carefully behind some boards to identifying all the spotting geese and seeing how the group was scattered. I could not immediately decide if I needed to move in from the east or west. Deep down I knew which the best choice was but I just had to calm my nerves and make a decision. It was going to be the west!

It was about nine in the morning but the sun was already very bright and warm, which made it easy for the geese to spot me. I knew it was going to take time and that I would have to move very slowly if I was going to be successful.

So, I pulled down my balaclava over my face, checked all my zipper pockets and started to move. I swiveled around in the mud and went out the back of the barn for the third time, heading out the left side of the barn.

As soon as I cleared the right corner of the barn, I got down on my belly and started my slow stalk along the muddy soil, moving along the metal fence and passing underneath the last bar of the metal gate. I had a long ways to go, but I was going to take my time, breathe and ensure that there was no chance that the spotting geese would see me.
When I usually leopard crawl, my elbows are put straight into the ground with my arms curved upward and my shotgun or rifle is horizontally across and slightly lifted off the ground in the crease of my arms. The problem with this stalk is that the geese would see the glare from my barrel if not the movement.

So, I pointed the barrel toward the geese and used my forearm to lift it off the ground. By now, I had cleared the metal gate of the fence and was in open ground and in clear view of the geese. Speed was not important in this stalk, therefore I moved my body like a caterpillar using the ball of my feet to push myself forward.

After about every meter or two, I would put my face right down in the mud and tuck my hands in and wait for a few minutes. The Realtree pattern in my clothing made me blend right into the ground which was composed of mixed grass, hay and mud. I was also able to catch my breath.

Then I would push-off again with the ball of my feet and realign myself with my new cover which was a large thorn-bush large enough to hide a person kneeling down. I was breathing heavily not necessarily from all the crawling but from the excitement of getting so close to the geese.

It took me a while to cover about twenty-five meters, stopping, moving and observing. Now only one meter from the thorn-bush, the older and large spotting geese where getting nervous as they stretched their necks out further. They were only six meters on the other side of the bush.

Their instinct was telling them something but they could not see me, a few of them called out short calls (Cluck), similar to the turkey cut call . Alarming but not urgent, I had to move now before I was going to be seen. I loaded three shells, pumped the action and stood up lightning fast and the geese burst into the air, I fired off two shells into the closest bird and he spiraled and fell about 6 feet from the ground, I fired one more shell into another bird but missed. The gaggle had flown around and was now circling but they were too high for another harvest.

It was a great waterfowl hunt; I harvested a great bird and still had a full day ahead.

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