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photomania-86e404f0c9383d7d7134359ff451344aThe morning fog was still very thick and the sun was trying hard to push through, it was an incredible view, especially with the steam fog coming up from the creek. The time of day was perfect to get ready for my approach toward the Mallards that were dabbling at the creek crossing. I could not head directly south through the field because the birds would surely spot me coming down the ridge out into the open giving me no chance of getting within a fair shooting range. Also I could not come in from the West along its tree line to my right because there was only one single large piece of old farming machinery with a single wheel and a metal seat left, which would provide no cover for an approach.

I had decided that the best way would be to sneak up and come in the from the left going along the electric fence shaping the letter “L”. So I got my kit ready and started to move away from the truck toward the bushes over the electric fence and started a slow jog along the first side of the hedges. By the time I reached the first corner of the field, I had slowed my pace down to a stalk, the ground is very wet filled with thousands of small mud islands and knee-high grass. This is perfect habitat for the common snipe and woodcock, who often burst into flight just feet in front of you and zig zag and usually land only meters from you but in very difficult places to spot them.

By the time I reached the creek on the Eastern side, I hugged the electric fence and dense hedges and started the laborious work of still hunting the Mallards. It is not just about not making noise and not being seen. You are walking on uneven ground, which is full of mud traps and you can not afford to slip with your shotgun even if it is unloaded because you do not want to get mud in the mechanism or barrel end. You are always having to control your breathing to not allow yourself to get too excited or out of breath from covering large distances such as farm fields. These factors will impact your shot accuracy.

In addition, if there are ducks dabbling nearby and you have spotted them, be sure that there are others that you haven’t seen and they will trigger an alert to the others. You must be constantly be scanning every piece of brush and the waters and especially if it is a Mallard hen, they blend in so well into their surroundings due to their brown coloration. By now I had covered well over two hundred meters and had finally reached the largest tree and final bush between the ducks and I.

In order to get the best angle for the shot, I had to move away from the brush line and out into the field to form and arc, all the while moving into position I loaded my three shells and placed one into the chamber sliding the pump-action forward, my finger was resting on the trigger guard only milliseconds from taking my shots. My barrel was aimed toward the ground but the 870 was already well shouldered.

I slowly raised my barrel and spotted the Mallard drake through the thin brush, I swung out two steps to the right and the three Mallards burst into flight, I released my first shot and the drake spun forward in mid-air and came down crashing, I quickly pumped the 870 action and released my second shot into the second bird which was a Mallard Hen but she spun in mid-air and I missed her, by the time I chambered the last shot it was too late. Their distance was too great between then and I now and that this point I would be only sky busting, so I made the shotgun safe.

I crossed the creek picked up my first harvest of the day and continued on toward the wetlands.

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I made my way down through the tall grass and carefully stepped over the electric fence, all the while crouching forward in order to maintain the same height as the top of the old barn roof. The spotter geese were watching with their necks stretched out like periscopes. I was moving rather quickly toward the south because the Canada geese had just landed in the open field on the other side of the barn right by one of the natural trench lines in the field.

After just a few steps I got down on my knees. I stopped moving forward and looked around to make sure that there were no large cows moving in. Sometimes the cattle get curious and move in quickly toward me to see what I am doing, this can be tricky especially if I am laying down flat in a farm field. Cows move with great speed and see very well.

It only took a few minutes for me to make it on the opposite side of the barn and the geese were still scattered on the right side of the collapsed barn. Still on my knees and using both arms on either side, I carefully placed my 870 closer and closer to barn as I inched forward. Once I was up against the corrugated steel roof, I could lay my right hand against the cold steel and cool off as well as get a closer look at the geese just around the corner.

I was surprised to see that there was a smaller group that was much closer than I thought, this was perfect for my first shot. I picked up my 870, loaded my three shells and pumped one into the chamber and pushed the safety on instantly. I had to bring the barrel forward without alarming the spotter geese to my immediate left. I was so low against the boards that they did not spot me until the time was right.

I lined up my bead sight with the first goose and rose up high up on my knees, this sent them into flight and I harvested the closest bird with a single shot. I pumped and fired again but missed, the rest of the birds where quickly out of range, I cleared my shotgun and ran over to pick up my first harvest of the day.

I put the goose in my bag and continued on towards the creek to the South, because it is really rewarding to be able to flush Mallards that are hidden along the shores. But my shots that rang out earlier scared them off and the ducks flew several hundred meters to the shores of the wetlands deeper into the farmland.

Now standing in the middle of the field, I had to come up with an approach plan to make it as close as possible to the shore of the wetland, zig zag through the small brush and trees. So, I unloaded my 870, made it safe and started a slow sprint across the creek and heading West along the water way. I could see two mallard hens dabbling in the water close to shore but I have learned from experience, that if you focus on the initial ducks, you will surely miss the others that are close by and out of sight and they will alert the one’s you are focusing on.

So, you must put variety in your closing in, like moving around the trees from either side and stopping often to observe the whole zone, to see if there are others ducks. I was lucky, there were two mallard hen’s and three wood ducks moving swimming around. Once I got about ten meters from the mallards, I stepped out from behind the tree to raise my barrel and the mallards called out aggressively then took flight, I let out my two shots and both birds tumbled back into the cold dark waters. I retrieved my two ducks and placed myself back on the edge of the shore.

The wood ducks were flying in at a rate of one to two birds every fifteen minutes or so, I sat down on a log and stopped moving looking toward the ground as not to expose my face. Ducks always fly in but generally complete a fly over to see if it is good to land or if there are other ducks in the water, this is why decoys work if setup right combined with good calls.

I had no decoys on this hunt but I compensated with patience and being completely still. Sure enough within minutes two wood ducks flew in for a landing, first in flight was the male and then one female. I quickly raised my 870, gave some barrel lead using the break away method from the front of the birds bill and then released a shot and the male came tumbling in and forward flipped into the waters below.

The female instantly dropped dove into the water, instinctively waiting for the male. But she soon realized I was going to release my shot hearing the pump-action and as I took my second shot she dove under water and came back up within milliseconds following my shot which splashed on the surface and then she flew straight up and dove right. I fired my third and last shot and it was a miss. Her aerial acrobats outdid my last shot.

I quickly reloaded three more shells and all of a sudden another wood duck hen came in and landed as well as let out some whistles. I raised my 870 barrel and she burst into flight heading East. I swung around with her flight and gave her some more barrel lead; then released my first shot and missed. I pumped the action and released my second shot, once again with a good lead and she tumbled forward and landed on the edge of the beaver dam almost twenty-five meters away to my right. I quickly reloaded to have the three shells and placed the 870 on safe.

On occasions when I hunt without a kayak, I try to set up or visualize the trajectory outcome of my shots, so that the ducks land close to solid ground and make it easy for recovery. This shot was a textbook case. My first shot on this duck was over the water with a good lead, but my second shot was placed in a perfect spot, also taken over the water but she landed right on the edge of the beaver dam wall. When I go to retrieve my ducks that have fallen to the ground on in the water, I try to find an object such as distinctive tree or stump use them as points of reference to align myself with the area where my duck or goose have fallen. This makes is easier to find them.

It was an amazing shot and I was extremely pleased, my harvest for the day was four ducks and one Canada goose.

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The waterfowl season duration in the province of Quebec is just shy of four months long, roughly from early September to almost Christmas. But it doesn’t mean that as soon as the season is over and you drop your gear that you need to stop thinking about waterfowl for the rest of the year.

After all this is one of the main reasons for my blog’s existence, on the contrary you keep on learning by observing all year-long. And in some cases keep on hunting other smaller game like pigeons and crows both are hunted using the same skills and techniques.

Every day while driving to work I go by several farming fields and watch the geese fly in during the early morning hours from the safety of the river where they spent the night.

One thing that never changes in their physical behaviour, is that they always pick the middle ground, right dead center of every field. This is indeed a perfect spot, and in every sense of the choice, it provides a clear view of any danger coming in for the spotter geese and also a large landing area as well as plenty of food.

I love hunting geese from my kayak, canoe or from a blind. But I also enjoy the challenge of stalking them like a human fox. But usually the numbers in harvest are not as great as if you were in a blind.

For the stalking method, I start on the edge of the field and move my way in and get all covered up with my Real Tree jacket and gloves and lay down flat on my belly and crawl as close as I can to the birds, once in position I snap to my knees and send them into flight and attempt to harvest them.

Knowing where they land and how they setup in the middle ground allows me to study the ground and have a successful stalk and potentially a harvest.

I don’t own enough decoys yet to set up in the field with a decoy spread but if I did, the middle ground is where I would potentially be setup for my blind or in a surrounding zone aiming toward the center.

I love the summer but I can’t wait until September!

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My snowshoe aluminium claws broke the silence in the woods, when they crushed through the ice and into the softer snow below the crust. I was well over a kilometer away from the nearest barn and I was surrounded by evergreen trees. They stood tall with their majestic winter coats and seemed on the verge of collapse because of the weight of the snow.

January 15th, 2016 marked the last day of sharp-tailed grouse for my hunting zone. I thought to myself it would be amazing to maybe get a harvest on the last day of their season. I was out hunting snowshoe hare, grouse and maybe if time permitting a few rock doves over by the farm.

Still-hunting for snowshoe hare and grouse are very similar in technique, it is basically scanning the hidden dark spots at the base of spruce bows and fallen logs, walking slowly and frequently stopping to look and try to identify shapes and colors that don’t fit in.

Hares have black tips on their ears and are generally straight up listening for danger, as for their black shiny eyes these are easily spotted with a keen sight.

Grouse can either be sitting at eye level on small branches in a tree or at ground level tucked away in a ball puffing out their feathers to stay warm during the winter months. Or just simply walking about like a domestic chicken, in short but quick bursts.

Once you see one, lock your eyes on them and stay with them because they can lose you in an instant as they dash around foliage. If you decide to follow, then make sure you are well versed in the use of a compass because they will bring you further into the brush but they will always stay in their circuit. Which is invisible to us unless you follow their tracks in the snow.

After about two hours of following hare leads, I was slowly making my way back to the farm, when something caught my eye at the base of a pine tree on my right about twenty meters in from the main trail.

There was a dead fallen log leaning diagonally under the pine tree up against its trunk and the pines lowest branches were buried with its tips buried under the icy snow forming a natural skirting almost all around the base of the tree.

What struck me was this black circle just sitting under the fallen log, I mean it was a perfect black circle. Deep down I had a feeling it was a grouse but I was not sure yet and couldn’t decide if it was a malformation on the tree, like a large accumulation of sap on the log in the shape of a ball.

It would have been unpracticed and unsafe for me to take a shot at the dark object without truly knowing what it was. I was excited and yet physically I remained calm in my decision, I had no choice but to move in closer for a good confirmed shot.

I loaded two shells into the shotgun and pumped one in the chamber then instantly clicked it into safety on position. I lifted my left leg and started to make my way toward the tree through the deep snow and dense brush.

My first two steps through the snow aroused the grouse with a thrashing sound which caused it to turn its head to the right, I had my final confirmation, it was a grouse.

My shot was going to be a very difficult one with over twenty meters between us through several thin branches. In addition while aiming I had to point low below the log where the grouse was hiding. I only had about a five-inch diameter to make the shot and the bird was on the move toward the north.

To make matters worse, my snowshoes had failed me and I went through the snow on the edge of the trail and sunk down to my waist. I was using the more modern pair of snowshoes, my Michigan’s would have kept me at the surface of the snow crust.

Once I got myself into a descent shooting position I shouldered my 870 and fired a shot, aiming to high and missing my shot completely.

The grouse jumped out to the right and made his way north and then back around the front of the tree heading west.

I saw him through the greenery but it was not a clear shot. I tried to chase it but sunk even further into the snow.

I was instantly broken and felt and incredible amount of frustration. Gosh!! I love the winter woods but it can be a tough environment. You might live incredible hunts but you will also have days like these.

I tried to circle around but the grouse he was gone and my hunt was also done as it was getting close to dark.

I know there will be next year’s season but this one was a bust, this is when you must dig deep and find the positive in the experience and not find things to blame.

Like there could have been less snow, I should have used different shot or a different shotgun.

Next fall will remedy this and for now I can continue to pursue pigeon and snowshoe hare and hope to make up for this day.

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As the cold rain drops fell all around me they made thousands of ticking sounds as they hit natural objects and finally the mud below, some drops managed to flow into my balaclava and drip into my eyes, I slowly raised my fingers and wiped them clear. With my every breath there was a faint mist forming in front of my mouth and then soon after it faded away like smoke from a pipe. For a brief moment it reminded me of my great uncles cherry flavoured tobacco. After having parked the truck on the muddy western side of the fence, I spotted thirty geese in the centre of the field, with no vegetation nearby that would provide cover for me to get close enough for a harvest. I had observed that when Canada geese land in fields, they always place themselves in the centre of the field giving them an all around view of their surroundings.

It was a beautiful fall day with its leaves bursting into bright red and orange colours. The wind would pick up once in a while and let out this loud whooshing sound as the breeze rolled down the slopes toward the southern creek. I made my way around the back of the truck in order to pick up my kit and prepare for my first still hunting approach, when all of a sudden I spotted six more geese on the northern side of the barn closer to my position. I was hoping to be able to use this third barn as cover to get as close as I could for a shot but this was no longer an option.

With my camouflage jacket now on and carrying my 870, I knelt forward and made my way across the muddy field down toward the tree line, kinda circling around their position. The spotter geese immediately saw me and began calling out short sharp alert calls but had not yet sounded a panicked call to set off a wave of flight. Instead the lead bird walked faster to the front of the barn and out of sight soon after the others followed.

Once the group was out of sight, I took advantage of this precious time and ran further down the slope with my boots sliding in the mud, while moving in and around some thorn bushes. I was in position in seconds, having followed a beaten down path of mud in the final stretch where the cows pass through. I had chosen the southern corner of the barn to take my shot.

I closed my eyes took two deep breaths to calm myself from all the excitement, then loaded my three Challenger BB shells, and pumped one into the chamber then pushed it on safe almost instantly. I slowly swung around the edge of the barn exposing just half of my face, this enabled me to spot the geese and register their new positions. Confident of my shot, I selected the largest bird of the group and raised up my barrel from a downward aim to the horizontal one in line with the ground. Very quickly I stepped out from behind the barn and this sent the whole flock into the air, when they were only a few feet off the ground I slow pushed the 870 off safe and released my shot.

Once the smoke and sound cleared the sky filled with geese, my harvest twisted in flight and fell back to the ground. I pumped the action all the way back to release my last shot shell but the expended shell casing jammed because of the plastic end expanding and this caused a few second delay and by the time I cleared it and was ready for another shot but it was too late, the group was gone.

With my 870 now unloaded, I ran out to the field and picked up my first goose harvest of this season. I was now ready to head back to the truck and drive over to the wetlands and setup for this late afternoon hunt to continue. My plan was to park on the opposite side of the rock formation from where I usually park, this would give me better cover for the vehicle which was now closer to the towering evergreen trees.

Moments later and now only meters from the water’s edge, I unloaded my kayak and decided to paddle through the swamp in an attempt to flush some Mallards or Wood ducks. I took out my callers and let out a few geese calls, wood duck and mallard calls.

Within minutes a single young goose who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere was now just above the tree line to my left, I lowered my paddle and placed my ready shotgun into my shoulder from its carrying rack, then pushed it off safe and using the pull-away lead technique I released my shot and the bird tumbled but kept its flight for over fifty meters in the shape of a downward arc and crashed into the top of a dead tree knocking off a piece of bark and hitting the ground moments later. My second harvest was confirmed. It was a very difficult shot because I was leaning sharply to my left in a sitting position with my body partially twisted.

I let out a few more goose calls and barely had time to get back to the shore to retrieve my harvest and place it in the truck when two more geese came in from the West flying in just over the tips of the highest pine trees coming right at me. Now standing on muddy soil, I selected the last bird. I knew this was going to be a frontal shot and for this I used the swing-though lead and released my shot with the bird tumbling and falling just meters from me and the water’s edge.

I was about to head back toward my kayak when another lone goose came flying in from a distance but toward my calls, this gave me sufficient time to get into a better standing shooting position, I was careful not to move too fast as to give away my position. I released another shot and my third harvest tumbled down into the thorn bushes below.

I repeated my third shot once again with yet another lone Canada goose who was also responding to my calls but this goose was actually calling back in short bursts compared to the others who flew in without a sound. My shotgun was empty having used up my three shells. Time seemed to have slowed down by now, so I loaded another single Challenger BB shell, pumped the action, shouldered the 870 then released my shot almost instantly with a pull away lead and my fourth and last goose of the day tumbled to the forest floor.

I was one bird short of my daily bag limit by the time my hunt ended. They were all incredible harvests and this magical afternoon will be with me for a very long time.

That night we enjoyed home-made Mallard and Canada Goose sausages.

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There was a strong breeze coming in from the west that brought with it some cold air; for a moment I felt a chill down my back while descending the ridge toward the creek. The sun was out and the birds were singing and you just felt this renewed source of energy in the air, what an incredible day I had chosen to visit my friends farm and hunt small game.

I was on the lookout for woodchucks and rock doves. By the time my descent had finished I was now standing at the edge of the creek, the water was still incredibly cold with the water levels higher than usual caused by the melting snow and ice.

I crossed over to the other side choosing my path carefully stepping on the large boulders just below the surface of the crystal clear water, high enough to prevent my socks from getting wet, also not to allow the water to reach the top of the boot which was just below the knee.

It was now time for the climb to the rock formation at the top of the southern ridge, it is a really enjoyable walk but I am alway cautious passing through the wall of evergreen, because the cattle have carved out pathways that they use frequently and I would not want to surprise a young bull into a face to face encounter.

As the years go by and as you spend more time outdoors hunting small game it is inevitable that you will make mistakes which causes you to lose out on a few harvest opportunities. I find the trick is once the frustration has been released through a few swear words and licking your wounds; you then decide to learn from them. Observe and then you promise yourself that you will not be doing this twice. The mistakes I mean.

One example of this is, a few years ago I was walking up the whole length of the creek in late October trying to flush ducks and after several hundred meters I was starting to get discouraged and tired of still hunting. Not one duck in sight, as soon as I let my guard down and started walking tall and ordinarily, I scared off two mallards and they got away before I could get a shot off because of the tough angle of the shot.

This has happened to me with Grouse, Woodcock and also Woodchucks. I walked right into their still stance trap and then boom in an explosion of speed they were gone. Once you become an expert in their habitat I believe you get to know when you should flick the on switch for still hunting alert mode.

So on this particular day I put my theory to the test, I made my way through the cattle trail and got up to the rock formation. I could have walked right up to the crest and looked around and gaze over the horizon like a king over his kingdom but every single game would fly off or run for cover. Of course the red squirrel and crow alert calls wouldn’t help.

So, instead I leaned forward and just popped my head over the crest and I found myself practically staring into the eyes of a woodchuck who was sun-bathing just meters in front of me. I put myself in reverse fairly quickly and lowered myself into the low ground and took a few deep breaths. Loaded a shell into my 870, clicked the safety on and then started to lift the top part of my body just above the crest looking right back into the woodchucks eyes.

Lined up my bead sight with the vitals, completed my three breaths then slow pushed my safety off. Moments later I released my shot and harvested my first spring woodchuck. That night I pan-fried some nice thighs in maple syrup with Cajun cowboy spices from Canadian Tire. It was delicious.

Two years ago, I guided a friend duck hunting in my canoe, he was in the front ready to shoot and I was paddling us through a maze of weeds, but because I had learned so much about ducks and their habitat and knew the swamp extremely well, I had also observed like a hawk and mentally recorded certain gold pot spots. I had it down to a science. I knew exactly when he should shoulder his shotgun and be ready. On this day we did not make same mistake twice. Instead we made nice Mallard dishes.

Take your time still hunting on foot or paddling through the weeds, when you feel it, you will know when to flick on the switch and be extremely observant and be ready.

The results are very rewarding and a confirmation that you are learning. Observation just like conservation is paramount.

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It had been several weeks since I had gone to the farm to hunt pigeons; and I was really looking forward to spending some time in the woods. The past few times I was out the birds were either too fast for my shot on that particular day or they would simply spot my orange safety vest and then fly away to the neighboring farm even before my kit was ready. If this occurred I would not see them again until it was time for me to head home.

This past winter, we had several days in a row when the temperatures dropped below normal and it was a wicked cold. As a result the farmer would wear a heavier coat which happened to be orange. Part of his daily routine was to feed grain to some of the younger cattle; he would come out with a white bucket and wore his orange vest.

Within minutes of this feeding routine, the pigeons would fly in, swarm the cattle then help themselves to the grain. This pattern occurred daily for quite some time without interruption and the pigeons got used to the routine and the color orange.

So, on the day that I arrived and put on my orange vest, they did not pay too much attention to me, in fact they were quite bold. This allowed me to sneak in and line up several precisions shots and by the end of the afternoon I had harvested two large pigeons and enjoyed a good pan-fried feast that night with maple syrup and Montreal spices.

Color, habits and patterns are very important elements to hunting and its success if applied well. If you are out hunting a specific type of game and it is not working, do not be afraid to change-up your game and adapt to their habits, habitat and remember always wear orange vests.

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