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There is no better way to treat your soul than spending time in the woods, it is not only refreshing but it also allows you to recharge your inner battery. You are free of all the city madness and its sounds. With the snow melt now in effect, and the sun coming out in full strength I couldn’t have asked for a better day to spend time in the elements.

I decided to bring a friend along and we were going to try our luck with rock dove and woodchuck, since their seasons are open all year round in my hunting zone in Quebec. The rock doves are incredible flyers and can perform amazing aerobatics in the air and sometimes can avoid shots thus making it a true challenge, pigeons also learn quickly and recognize danger and can fly away without offering a chance of a harvest.

After a couple failed attempts on the rock doves, I chose to give them a few minutes to calm down and swing back into our wooded area, so we set off to the other side of the creek and head south to try my luck at the woodchucks in the rock formations atop of a hill. The creek current was faster than usual with the water icy cold as there were still ice and snow chunks floating down along with a few Mallard ducks and three Canada geese.

The creek was too wide and we only had our hip waders on, and the depth of the creek was too deep. There were no boards available to make a makeshift crossing, but nature has a way of providing. And in our case it was a land bridge, made by one of the most impressive builders in the animal world, a beaver.

The dam is about eighty meters long and makes for a great land bridge, and it was only six hundred meters West of our current spot, the tricky part was getting there because the bush was extremely thick. I used this opportunity to share my knowledge of moving through the brush, looking for directional signs, such as the position of the sun and the vegetation, for example such as broken twigs, and on our way back we located our foot steps in the mud and snow as guidance.

The forest floor was saturated with snow and mud; sometimes you found yourself sinking into mud holes that resembled quick sand, holding on small trees and walking on the mud islands and downed trees worked great. Also early in the spring, if you are planning on following a creek I tend not to get too close to the edge as the ice sheets overlap the river and if you are not careful, there is nothing but water below the sheets of ice, that have become thinner with the increased temperatures in the spring.

It is a great idea to use a tall walking stick for balance, while crossing the dam wall and ensure that every step is on solid parts of the dam, being aware of the spillway. Once we had reached the other side it was simply magical, just the wind and birds keeping us company. The view overlooking the ridge was just breath-taking. Total mastery of the woodlands is not just a positive feeling but it is also incredibly rewarding. Their dams are not a barrier, but rather a passage.

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Last weekend I went snowshoe hare hunting with a good friend of mine and the snow was pretty deep in the woods with the recent snow fall that had dumped around one foot of snow. When I checked the weather network the night before, I was pretty happy about their forecast, because when it snows it is warmer and hare leads are much more visible along with the droppings and their regurgitated green cuds.

During my pre-planning for the hunt, I packed up some of my gear the night before and I was sure to have the snowshoes as part of the kit that was needed. I really like the new strap mechanisms on those new shoes but unfortunately they are not the best in the deepest of snow, the good old Michigan styles are by far the best which have a larger coverage for the foot placement and of course you do not sink to your waist every two steps and eventually tire yourself out.

Your firearm is by far one of the most important tools during your hunt and of course during your outing it will be exposed to the elements like snow, small branches and pure muck, this can most definitely have an effect on the working parts, along with the water which freezes on the shotgun as you move in and out of the snow-covered pine and cedar.

Years ago, when I purchased my Remington 870 Express, I purposely chose the pump-action, because I knew the type of harsh conditions I was going to expose my shotgun to and I was legitimately concerned that the mechanism would fail if I had gas operated semi-automatic actions. Not only was a pump the right price but the action was more reliable in our Canadian fall and winter months, compared to the semi automatic shotgun which is also double the price of an Express if not more.

After a few hours of tracking through the brush and not locating any hares, we made our way back to the southern barns on my friends farm and placed ourselves at the edge of the tree line. We were going to try our luck with the rock doves, there was a group of seven of them flying around the cattle and then setting themselves in some nearby trees.

I carefully directed my friend into a good shooting position and then placed myself to his right and we chose our birds carefully and prepared ourselves for the harvest. We loaded the shells and made our shotguns ready and when we released our shots, only one gun rang out. My friends semi automatic shotgun clicked into emptiness and no shot came out, two pigeons tumbled to the snowy ground. One step that made all the difference is prior to loading the shells for the pigeons, I rode the pump-action back and forth multiple times with an empty chamber and tube magazine to clear any small ice particles and warm up the slide, this you can do on a pump. This represented for me my third time this year to have had two pigeons harvested in one single shot of number six, but I was truly disappointed for my friend.

The semi-automatic was clear of any snow but the cold had such and impact on the action, that the firing pin was slow to release and come forward to strike the primer, in addition the trigger was frozen which prevented him from depressing it all the way toward the back. Simply releasing the action in order to eject the shell proved to be more challenging than it would have been in warmer weather. I always had my doubts about my choice but now the proof is in the snow.

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As I lifted one snowshoe and placed it in front of the other through the thick powdery snow, I found myself venturing deeper into the wintery woods. With the smell of fresh pine dancing through the cool air, this had to be heaven.

You take a moment and close your eyes then breathe it in, you are absolutely surrounded by the darkness of the coniferous forest which contains all of its mysteries that nature has to offer, far away from all that is logical to the rational mind. The time had come, I found a hare lead and began to navigate further into the thick brush, with large amounts of snow falling upon my shoulders but I kept on pushing ahead.

It did not take long before I found fresh tracks and green droppings, I was close but I could not see any black pearl eyes yet. I knelt down and got closer to the forest floor and focused on the hidden dark areas. I felt a strong presence, something was watching me but I could not yet see it. I took two more steps forward and glanced to my left, there he was the white ghost in the darkness with his black pearl eyes. Neatly tucked away behind some spruce boughs.

A true treasure of the Canadian wilderness, staring right at me with the utmost intensity, nature is cold and ruthless but contains some of the most incredible images, those not always understood by the rational mind.

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I have written about it, I have filmed it and I have lived it a hundred times over, yet I find myself sometimes coming back disappointed that I was unable to capture the true experience of spending a cold December evening with the chin straps along the cold black waters of the river. The reality is that when you live it, you are in a sense writing about it when you think about the words that you will use to describe the whole experience. Your mind is in fact filming it too and transforming it into an incredible memory. But it is an exclusive film that only your eyes capture and sharing through stories I find does not always do it justice.

The sun down time today was at four twenty in the afternoon which meant I could hunt until ten to five. This usually means full darkness at this time of year but with the moon coming up this evening it was simply out of this world and was lighting up the whole river bank toward the West. I wanted to ensure I had a long enough hunt, so for this I left the house at around two in the afternoon, thus giving me enough time to get to my spot and setup. Today I brought along my kayak and rigged up a harness for me to pull it like a sled behind me, at least until I got to the water’s edge. This way I can also retrieve birds that fall in to the water a quite a distance.

The trail is not an easy one to navigate through its waist deep watering holes and large broken ice sheets but I always seem to make it just fine. Once on the river’s edge I paddle up the river heading East for about one kilometer, which is what I did today. There was a strong wind and light snow fall, and the whole experience was magical. The waters were a little choppy but I made sure to stay close to shore, and it did not take long for the river to come to life with a bufflehead which flew with lightning speed down the edge of the river to my right but he was too quick for a side angle shot.

The advantage of having my kayak as well is that there are a few spots where I can almost always harvest some Mallard ducks but you can only access it using a boat, however once on the other side of that bank, you can easily hide amongst the tall swamp grass and sneak up to the ducks for a good shot. Quite often I get down on all fours and move forward through the brush sometimes even placing my bare hands into cold water puddles of ice. But it is well worth the reward.

I have blogged a few times about the golden half an hour before sun rise and after sun down and I can not emphasize enough how amazing those time of days are. If you do your research and observe where the birds fly in and you have a good shot, your chances of a harvest during this time is most definitely greater. This time a year, I find that number 3 and 2 shells are not sufficient and I prefer using BB or triple B, in addition while hiding amongst the tall grass do not move and let the geese come in for a close approach this will sometimes guarantee a harvest.

At around four thirty the geese started to fly in by the hundreds from fields to the South to the safety of the river but remained on the other side, it was a hypnotizing sight much like I have experienced during my snow geese hunts near Quebec city. After a few more minutes passed, small groups of chin straps were now starting to cut across within shooting range and it was simply mind-blowing. The sights and sounds were phenomenal and when I called out a few short calls the geese would drop altitude with the sharp ninety degree bank turn and head right toward my natural blind. I never tire of watching a flock of geese flying into range and each bird taking turns completing a sharp bank turn which allows them to drop altitude faster that is if they are coming in for a potential landing. I have also seen them complete this type of aerobatics if they also fly over tree lines where they know they might get shot at, almost like evasive flight manoeuvres.

It was simply amazing!

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I was sliding in and out between the dense cedars bows and small swamp trees pushing forward, raising my hand at about the height of my face to prevent the branches from poking me in the eyes. I have had this happen to me many times before with a random sharp branch either hooking my toque knocking it into the mud below or either spiked me right in the eye. Not a very pleasant experience at all, it felt like I had scratched the inside of my eye then pushed it back. When ever I placed my finger on the particular eye to check for damage or blood I always felt a deep throbbing.

Upon arrival at the farm I heard loud quacks coming from the wetlands and I knew that several mallards had made this their home, their numbers ranged between five and twelve. The cattle were moving across the creek toward the Southern fields to my left thus blocking my access to the wetlands from the eastern side, so I chose to cut through the dense brush on my right and move in a South-Westerly direction. The approach that I chose would make me crest the wetlands from the northern side along the edge of the massive beaver dam, where it connects with the edge of the forest.

My kayak was still in the truck bed back at the barn over six hundred meters away, I often use it to retrieve my birds that are downed in the deeper parts of the wetlands but the bush was too thick for me to pull it through. The forest floor was soaked and full of hundreds of streams and its current was moving very fast because the heavy rains we have had in the last several days which broke part of the dam and created a natural spillway which was feeding into the forest floor.

It was very treacherous, even with hip waders you had to be very sure where you were going to place your next foot step, so that you did not go under or get stuck. For this, I always grab onto a large branch and if at all possible step on a fallen log, which acts as a mini bridge. You could also use large roots or little mud islands formed by grass mounds that were partially submerged. Manoeuvring was very tricky, because I had to make sure my 870’s sling did not get stuck in the low hanging trees or avoid a slip and put mud into the end of the barrel.

The deeper I pressed on into the woods the thicker the brush got and I was following my simple curved line pattern between the trees to ensure I was always heading in the right direction. With the principles of still-hunting, I would stop and listen for the duck calls then orientated myself toward the sound and kept on moving forward. Once you set off in this type of bush, you can not let your imagination run wild or let panic set in, you must stay sharp and not let any detail out of your mind.

Sometimes, there are large black areas at the base of fallen trees, they can look like a wolf den or a black bear standing still. But most often than none it is a dead tree rotting its way back into the earth. Now when you hear a large branch cracking close by, then this I believe deserve a second look, it could be a deer moving around you or any other large mammal. After several minutes of struggling to through the last muddy parts, I could now see the dam through the trees.

I stopped for a moment took a few deep breaths and then started to slow down my approach even more up to the dam wall. Not only did this make it quieter but it also allowed me to listen for the Mallard hen calls and close in accordingly for the potential shots. Once I reached the dam periphery, my boot placement was even more calculated because, one false move and I was going to fall into the cold waters and with waders it is like having a weight belt around your waist.

In addition, I could not place myself on the dam wall because the ducks would surely spot me, so I had to walk along its edge on the opposite side of the water dam and use the overgrown wild grass as cover. You see, Mallard ducks will call out if there is danger but they might not necessarily fly away immediately like wood ducks, in some cases they will swim further away from the sound of danger and only take off if it is physically visible.

This is exactly what the group of Mallards did and I had to move quicker along the edge to keep up with them, and wait for them to swim back within range or move and place myself in a better position from the shore. All that walking in water caused my socks to slip off inside my boots which is a common problem in waders, I think next time I would rather wear socks that sit higher around my knees and this would prevent them from sliding off, I would also place a bandage on the inside of each leg to prevent the boot lip burn on the inside of my leg which is caused by the inner rubbing of the boot edge.

It was a wonderful fall day, with the singing winds and dancing leaves with their absolutely stunning colours and the sound of the cool waters passing through my hands as I placed them deep into the beaver dam to grab a perfect carved stick for balance. Here I was, in the heart of the Canadian wilderness sneaking up to the Mallards with only them and I hidden amongst the swaying golden swamp grass. I had finally spotted the ducks and was now readying myself for the shot. My right hand was grasping the cold steel of my Remington 870, and I was one hundred percent absorbed in the moment and felt and incredible sense of joy and pride of being Canadian. A feeling of total mastery of the woods.

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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 the 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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