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For the newcomers to this great north american continent, the wilderness was a vast expanse to explore and survive, for the first nations it was their home. I believe that no matter how you interpret the wilderness, it is much greater than us, and our short history will remain an insignificant slice in this phenomenon called time.

There is one thing for sure, if you spend enough time in its core, it will become part of your very fabric and its mysteries will reveal themselves to you. This is of course, if you learn to interpret what the wilderness has to share.

A few weeks, ago I was immersed in the great white spruce cathedrals of this wonderful northern country with my hunting buddy, I had just taken a few steps forward breaking the snow crust surface with my snowshoes. We were pursuing the elusive snowshoe hare, when I suddenly turned to my buddy and said the following “I don’t know why but I can feel a great amount of energy in this area, I know we are being watched.”

My buddy, tells me I was like a hare whisperer, I knew that I could not put into words the very feeling but it was overwhelming. I took four more calculated steps, all the while looking into the dark shadows at the base of every tree, and almost in an instant on my left there was the hare in its famous freeze pose just like the Robert Bateman painting.

In a flash, I swivelled to the left, released the safety, aimed and fired. Once the smoke and snow cleared, my harvest was confirmed. It is difficult for me to share in writing the energy I felt and this almost instinctive hunt.

It is an experience or a slice of time in the wilderness, that transcends all modern logic and technology, it is pure mastery of the woods, which to this day leaves me humbled.

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The trailer rolled downward on the concrete ramp into the dark waters below, my bare hands gripping the rope attached to the front of the boat. Following a sharp stop, the haul of the boat slid off the rails and splashed into the waves. The red tail lights were glowing underwater, it was such as neat effect. We were full of excitement, and would be soon heading into the unknown toward the wetlands.

This was going to be one of our last waterfowl outings for the season as in just a few weeks it was coming to its end. I really wanted us to have an amazing hunt and great harvest but I have found that if I do not dip into my knowledge, the weather and just focus on getting a harvest, we could go home without ever firing a shot. I did not want to jinx us. With the boat all loaded up with the kit, we set off to the West down the river.

I was sitting in the front and while I was getting my kit ready seeking a more comfortable position, the water was splattering in my face and I was taking it all in, just like the famous scene with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet at the front of the Titanic. The Jon boat, looked amazing with the camouflage skirting and the accessories attached to the frame, we were all setup for success.

There were several hunters out on this particular day, and I set a plan for us to go to one of my sweet spots, well away from the others. For many years, I hunted either land locked on the banks or from my kayak or canoe. In doing so, I learned and remembered all the spots were I harvested and what species of birds and their numbers were and where I had failed, where they came in the land in the mornings and late afternoons, right up to the thirty minutes past sunset.

It felt like I was gambling but deep down in outdoorsman repertoire, I had a good recipe going. We would alternate using the gas powered motor and the trolling motor depending if were approaching known areas where there were birds. There were geese flying in but still too high or they landed in areas where hunting was not allowed, so we pushed our way further West in the direction of the sweet spot.

Almost at the half way mark, we spotted a group of about twenty Mallards dabbling in some tall grass. At first we could not make them out as they looked like weeds near downed trees half submerged. We killed the motor and let the boat coast along with the current, I took out my binoculars and confirmed they were Mallards indeed. The difficult task was getting closer without spooking them. They were still quite a ways out and we had a good distance to cover, we switched to the trolling motor and closed the gap between them and us.

By the time we reached the distance of about two hundred meters, we killed the motor again and used the onboard paddle to keep us going straight and let the current bring us in naturally, we were right near the tall grass coming out of the water which provided great cover for our approach. With the boat now at a complete stop stuck in the mud, I considered climbing out and circling the group through the water, but quickly assessed that this plan would not be successful.

I loaded my three shells and cycled one into the chamber and placed the gun on safety to control my breathing. With my bead sight lined up, I released two shots into the group and when all the excitement settled. I had missed them completely, it was a near impossible miss but I sure did and could not explain it. It was like every pellet when passed each bird and they flew away to the South.

It felt like being kicked in the stomach by a horse, I could not even explain what just had happened or let alone my shot. The only thing, I could do is lick my wounds and pick up my abilities from the water and move on down to the sweet spot. Even my bud was in awe, it was either one of my worst shot or magic, but there is one thing we agreed on, we could not linger on what could have happened or should have done, it was the past. After all, we were heading to the sweet spot and it was going to be a gamble mixed in with my knowledge.

As the boat inched up the river, we kept our eyes locked on the banks and the skies to the North, for those few moments there was no activity. In an instant, I could hear geese calling out in small call bursts as to alert each other of approaching danger. We killed the motor again and I leaped out of the boat into the water about knee deep and began my stalk forward toward the calls. I was just on the other side of the banks and coming in at a North-westerly angle.

I lifted my head to take a peak and then signalled to my friend to secure the boat on the shore and get ready. I loaded three shells into my shotgun and slipped it into safe, I was now kneeling forward trying to keep a low profile behind the dead trees and swamp grass. When I raised my head, the birds had already seen the boat and burst into flight, I could not believe the sheer number of geese, there were well over fifty if not more.

I lined up my bead site and fired into the group and hit a Mallard hen who spun forward and fell back into the water. Some of my shot, went further and struck a goose that was behind the Mallard who also tumbled into the water, but was wounded. Very quickly I had to manoeuvre my way forward and circle around the swamp in order to track down the goose and finally harvest it. Following my shots, the skies filled with Canada’s who were now flying south.

I was hoping for my bud to be in a good position to cut off a few geese but he was unable to get into a good position in time before they flock got out of range. We knew from experience that later in the day the geese would come back to this area, hence the sweet spot. So, we unloaded our kit and setup for the afternoon with our mobile blind which was basically two stakes with a burlap sheet. It did not provide a lot of cover from the cold winds but it was sufficient for our concealment.

With about half a dozen duck and goose decoys setup, we sat and waited for several hours and had stopped to have a snack, unbeknownst to us a female wood duck swam into our decoys and we spotted it right at the last minute and released a shot and harvested our third bird of the day. Following the third harvest, I let out several goose and duck calls and then took breaks in between and for a while things started to quiet down, until about one hour before sunset all of a sudden waves of geese started to circle in and come for landings from all directions.

I hadn’t experienced this type of phenomenon in at least two seasons, the last time this occurred in a blind, we barely had time to reload three shells and release shots off. We were literally running out of shells and had to dig into our pockets quick enough to reload. I have had geese approach in small numbers but not like rain, this was incredible to experience again. One of the biggest challenges for a new waterfowler is not to get too excited and release shots at the geese before they are able to come into the decoy spread.

It is best to stay low in the blind and if you can tilt your head as to look up above you without moving too much. Get ready to select your shots and then point out to your bud your shooting respective zones, so that you do not cross into each others zones. We had determined this very quickly and as soon as the geese were into the spread and well within range, we began releasing shots, by the time the first volley of fire stopped two geese tumbled down and still more geese were coming in. We released another volley of fire and two more geese fell to the waters below. We also managed to harvest an additional male wood duck.

Once the noise and smoke cleared, I jumped into the water with my waders and began retrieving the harvests as sunset was fast approaching and the legal shooting time was coming to an end. Packing up decoys in deep water when the sun is setting is not the safest practice, so I wanted to do this also while we still had some light. Today, like many others were a good lesson, when you experience some misses, don’t get discouraged because if you tap into your knowledge then choose a well known spot where the birds come in, be patient aim straight and you will be rewarded.

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Shortly after noon, my friend and I breached the Southern forest making it to the road and then continuing into the rich northern territory of the farm. We were headed deeper into the white wilderness, the sights were simply breath taking with the majestic evergreens covered with their imperial winter coats.

There was a consistent snow fall with a slight North-Easterly wind. As my bare hands gripped my shotgun keeping the barrel clean of debris, the snow from a nearby tree fell onto my shoulders as I leaned under the ever green canopy and disappeared further into the bowels of this raw Canadian wilderness.

As I turned for a last look at the road, I knew we were not alone, there had been a lone coyote, walking right down the middle and you could see his curious pauses along the trail as there were paw tracks heading right towards the trees, then back stepping into his trail and continuing North.

His presence was a positive sign, as both him and I had successful harvested the famed snowshoe hare in these woods in the past. My friend and I finally found some fresh hare tracks and began our tracking, which lead us to an abandoned barn full of great kidding places for snowshoe hare.

The droppings were harder to find, but we focussed on the leads and on all possible hidden spot a hare could be found. Time seemed to accelerate as we looked into our environment and the tracks, our focus was consumed.

I suggested we work our way to the Western side of the forest because I knew there was a high probability that a hare would be in its freeze pose amongst the low hanging spruce bows.

With my friend on my right, we pushed forward.

I got down on one knee to get a closer look at the ground level and under the spruce. I was looking East and in an instant, as soon as my friend pushed through the pine, moving at an incredible speed the white ghost sprung diagonally in front of me from right to left. I immediately raised my shotgun and pushed it off save, but did not have a clear shot, the hare had already covered lots of ground and zigzagged through the trees and gave me no opportunity for a clean shot.

The pursuit was on, I yelled out to my friend that I spotted one and took off after it, kicking up snow as  fast as I humanly could. I pushed my safety back on, and started pushing through the wintery trees, keeping my eyes locked on the fresh tracks and hare leaping forward, he was a good size hare.

Just like a grouse chase, I was being drawn deeper into the wintery woods and I had maintain my bearings on the road as to avoid getting lost. This chase was classic and reminded me of the opening hunting scene in the movie “Last of the Mohican”.

The flush was on and by the time, I would catch up to the fresh tracks, I could see him ahead of me and in an out of wide trees, I could not get a clean shot off and he was starting to circle back to the road toward my friend.

With no clear shot, I turned back and met up with my friend and we began our push toward the abandoned barn, this triggered another snowshoe hare, who burst in from the east to the west in matrix move worthy of Neo, I swung around and released my shot and by the time the snow burst settled it was a confirmed miss. I saw him fly into the deeper trees. The sound of my shot was not that of a usual shot in the open, the trees muffled it like was confined in a cylinder, like a “Whammffff” sound. Just incredible!

The silence that followed in the cold wintery woods, ended my hunt and I must admit it did sting not to harvest, but this was my reality and I had to accept it for this day was coming to an end. On the drive home, I could see the hare “Neo” flashing in front of me, at speeds of around sixty five kilometres an hour through trees, and that on this day the flush was not going to produce a snowshoe hare harvest.

I can’t wait to hit the wintery woods again soon, to continue my pursuit of this famed white ghost, the snowshoe hare.

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By the time we crossed the creek, heading South-West toward the edge of the wetlands, the sun was already out with the winds blowing at a steady pace. This was a pretty neat experience for my bud as this was my buddy’s first ever waterfowl season, although he was a deer hunter, we even went to purchase our waterfowl stamps/permits together at the Post office.

This was a big deal for me too, being able to share my passion with a good bud and yet once again I got a chance to be a guide, sharing all my knowledge about ducks and geese. Moments before, I had mentioned to him that sometimes Canada’s can fly in for a landing without ever letting out a single call, and to keep an eye in the sky for they may fly in undetected and this is exactly what happened.

My bud had brought a second pair of  boots to wear for crossing the creek and then left them by a large boulder for later and switched to a lighter pair of boots to make his advance. During this exact moment, three Canada’s flew in from the South-East and headed straight for the wetlands, almost right over head. They completed one fly over doing a half circle then tucked in their wings and dove down into the dark waters behind large bushes.

I waited for my buddy to come up by my side, as I was ahead and then we both caught our breaths and discussed our approach based on their current position. We knew they had landed in the water but did not have any idea in which area of the wetlands. Once ready, I got up and started running in the low ground with him following behind, along the creek and moving closer to the brush using small pine trees as cover. We stopped again just before the water and loaded our shotguns and then left our small kit bag by a tree to make ourselves lighter.

I knew from experience that when Canada’s land in the wetlands and if I am able to stalk them, I almost always have a successful harvest, and the hunter who positions himself on the Western edge always has the upper hand, just by the contour shape of the wetlands periphery.

By now we had to get down on our knees as we continued our advance on all fours, still using the brush as cover. I purposely let him circle around and position himself to my left or West. This time was his and I was going to pour all my waterfowl knowledge and experience into his every move and direct him through whispers.

We were now directly inline with the waters edge facing North and now we had to find the Canada’s exact spot. We carefully took turns looking up while standing inline with a pine tree trunk, within seconds we spotted them about thirty seven meters out, I had numbered the birds verbally and had instructed my bud to take the one on the left first then work his way down.

We got back down on the ground in the prone position and chose our own parallel paths on the muddy floor and started to press towards the waters edge even closer, I looked over often to ensure that my buddy, was always up on me by a few meters. When he moved, I stopped and looked, then I would move forward and he would get ready, this went on for about four meters. And just like a Python, I lifted my body off the muddy ground and slid over a log and got right into my final position.

Following a thumbs up signal, he slowly made his way up to his knees and got into a good shooting position, on my second hand signal, he sprung up and sent the birds into a flight frenzy, he released his first shot and I followed with a second and the first bird spun forward and landed back into the waters, the two remaining Canada’s took flight in opposite directions.

I kept my eye on the one to my right, who eventually completed a large circle, I immediately took out my caller and began to call out aggressively and the bird swung around and came right back over top. I yelled out that the goose was coming back around. In all the excitement, I grabbed a shell from my pocket and attempted to load it and it fell in the water. My buddy kept his aim at the bird the entire time and once in range, released another shot, by then I had chambered, aimed and fired my shot and the goose, froze in mid air tucked in its wings and came crashing down from high above within meters of the first harvest. It was an incredible explosion of water, it was a massive bird.

By now the third bird had also circled around giving us the chance to reload and fire two additional shots right ahead of the bird and we can see that it took the hits with bursts of white feathers flying out, but the Canada kept on going in the direction of the Easter field high above the tree line, I could see that the bird was going down but it was well out of sight by now. I yelled out to my buddy telling him that the Canada will come down for sure, and that we will need to find it.

He was so excited also, he climbed the small muddy ridge and went after it and ended only half way to the creek and soon started to make his way into the tall grass to start the search. I laughed out loud and told him, the bird is much further away. Just like you would in deer hunting, if you do not see the animal after your shot, allow yourself a few minutes to calm down before you go searching the harvest or you will get lost in the brush and tall grass.

With my waders on, I pushed into the wetlands and collected the two harvests and set off to join my buddy near the creek crossing, we decided to start a box search following a planned break but upon making our way across the creek, there he was several hundred meters from the wetlands directly on the edge of the Easter field.

It was a great harvest no doubt, but I was more overwhelmed with pride and happiness for my buddy. He was exceptional and knowing that we shared this first waterfowl hunting experience together is simply awesome. It was his time and it belonged to him!

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The heal of my waders slid in the fresh mud off the bank into the shallow black waters of the creek, my left hand was raised as to prevent the low hanging branches from scratching my face with my right hand cradling my Remington 870. Within a few steps, I was immersed into the edge of the woods. I was in pursuit of the famed Rock Dove.

I had a look through the trees into the neighbouring field and saw nothing but fresh wild grass and hay, there were black birds, and common house sparrows, and red wing black birds flying about in the absolute nature. Once my feet were placed firmly at the bottom of the creek, I swivelled to the front and back with my eyes to get a better glimpse.

The fast flowing current was slipping around my boots and like a serpent continued into the heart of the woods, on either side there was thick brush, rich in color and sounds, it was place where the love for the woods is moulded into your soul.

I stood their very still and saw a ripple in the waters just up a little ways up, a beaver came swimming towards its dam in total silence, gliding through the water with a sense of purpose all the while very weary. Be humble in the woods and respect the environment for it can teach us great things.

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My thirst to never stop learning is what has made me into the bird harvester that I am today, but it is not just about education and information or field experience, it is also about pure observation. As waterfowlers bird species and their flight is knowledge that you must add to your bag if you wish to harvest in confidence.

Have you ever noticed that when drive with a deer hunter, they can spot almost every deer on the side of the road and they can tell you the size and sex of the animal and they get excited every time they see one. Beside all the fun of seeing them, it is an acquired skill because most people just see landscapes. Also it is not about just seeing a deer randomly standing there. There is the weather, time of day and what they feed on and their behaviour and habits.

I find myself doing the same all year round for all birds and it keeps me busy, I am also noticing that I am getting really good at it; so that I can spot ducks at great distances and can tell you the type of birds they are based on their flight and coloration and placement of wings on their bodies or even their calls.

I take in every detail and this is crucial to success on any hunt. Pigeons are by far one of my favorite, because like many other bird species they have incredible eye sight and their flight capabilities are just out of this world, I would say similar to that of Teal. I can recall one Teal hunt, I had four birds closing in, heading directly toward me, and I as soon as I raised my barrel and released the shot, every single one of them spread and flipped like the infamous Matrix move and believe or not I missed them. Arial aerobatics that to this day baffled my mind.

I am so fortunate that in my hunting zone in the province of Quebec, Rock dove hunting is open all year round and not only do pigeons taste amazing, it provides the necessary preparation and skill development needed for duck and goose harvesting. Farm pigeons can be taken from the ground or top of barns but I prefer sky shots in flight.

Observe, learn and adapt and you will harvest more birds and waste less shells. There is more than meets the feather!

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As a regular “Joe” amongst the millions of hunters from around the world, I know one thing and this is that I am incredibly fortunate to be alive and able to work. With this luxury I can afford to put funds aside so that I can purchase new supplies or tools for our shared passion. But for me this means having to save up over several months, so that I can afford my new tool in my sights and this is the Stoeger M3500. I believe that with the results of my research and experience in the field, it is one of the only shotguns that can handle my punishment in the field.

A few nights ago, I watched a historical documentary about Mountain Men and their adventures in the West. One of the guests on the show was historian Robert Utley, who I loved listening to. He said that for the Mountain Men to be able to survive in the wilderness, they required several sets of qualities, some of these were strength, courage, endurance, fortitude and dexterity of mind and body. Not only is this incredibly insightful but I think these qualities also apply to the modern day outdoorsman/woman and along with wilderness survival skills, I also believe that humility should be part of this package.

Last weekend I took my family to an expensive special event and with the cost of living being very high today, I tapped into my Stoeger fund, now this might put me back a couple of months from my eventual purchase but the memories were simply irreplaceable. In the fall once the leaves begin to turn red again for another waterfowl season, I know that I will have my Stoeger in hand in the wetlands along with my humility along with my memories.

Robert also shared that mountain men had to deal with every manifestation of nature of human and wildlife activity, and this I know we as modern day hunters share this as well.

Have an amazing small game season.

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