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The sun was high in the sky and it was simply a beautiful drive out to the farm with only a slight breeze coming in from the West. The truck slowly made its way up the dirt road like it has a hundred times. During the spring time though I had to carefully manoeuvre the steering wheel, so that the tires did not veer off forcing the truck into the mud fields to the East. The pre-existing tire tracks had two miniature creeks developing right down the middle of each one from the melting snow, this made it a delicate drive. At the main gate of the farm, the electric fence had already been opened, making it a little easier to get to my favorite parking spot.

This was also indicative that the cows were out in the field and not sitting around the main barn, this was positive. When I get to the farm, I always like to know the cattle whereabouts because they can impact the choice of a shot or not, especially when hunting rock dove. Too close is a no go for a shot.

Rock doves can fly in and adjust their flight path to their entry spot into the landing zone. They are always checking for potential danger and maneuvering accordingly. For example if I am standing by the main gate with my orange hunting vest and they spot me, they will circle in from the North and come in from the forest edge using the cover to mask their approach for the landing. Rock doves can fly in straight overhead or often circle in from either side from where you are standing completing wide arcs.

I like to try to harvest them while high in flight or when they are really close to the ground. About an hour had passed since I got to the farm and I was already walking along the edge of the forest when I came upon an old kitchen chair. I fixed the back rest placed it near a large tree and sat down for a few minutes. It was heavenly and I was taking in the view of the valley and low ground of the farm and also watching the cattle graze. When you take the time to observe cattle, you realize how remarkable they truly are as animals.

While sitting and looking out a thought crossed my mind. I told myself, I just have to be patient and maybe the rock doves will come back as they had flown away while I was sneaking through the woods earlier. Speaking from experience, it is more challenging for a young hunter to stalk the pigeons and take shots for a harvest, but it can also be done using patience and concealment, just sitting and waiting. Very similar to duck hunting, you can walk and flush them or you can set up and sit by the edge of the swamp and the ducks will eventually fly in and offer a shot. Sure enough two rock doves came in, looped around over head and I just sat very still and waited.

Once they circled directly in front of me to the south, I waited for the first one to come within two feet of the ground and I released my shot. He fell into the mud and small feathers floated into the air at the point of impact. I was pleased with my first harvest of the day and was anxious to go pick him up. I cleared my Remington 870, stood up and made my way toward my harvest, I carefully stepped over the electric fence which was just about waist high and climbed over. I walked for about another four meters and all of a sudden my boots hit a slippery spot and up I went. It all happened lightning quick. I was in a horizontal position almost still in the air with my back facing the ground and then I came down hard and landed on my full right hand side.

I was completely soaked in a soup of mud, urine, water, cow manure and hay. I could not believe it, this was my first fall in a long time and I was drenched in cow soup. After a good loud laugh and a quick check over for injuries, I got up and just like a cow getting a good scratch on the barn walls, I walked along one of the old barns and rubbed the gunk off my clothing as best I could.

I had my first harvest alright for the day but I also had a manure filled soup to go with it!

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Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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The strong winter winds blew south, across the front field picking up the soft snow which lay on the surface of the ice crust. It spun it around like a dust cloud, the white powder spiralled into the air a second time, then it was violently brought down to the shores of the creek. I was standing in my kitchen looking out at the creek, when I all of a sudden I noticed a large black object surface in the middle of the black waters current and climb with ease onto the ice surface through an opening.

Nature was calling, and I had a good idea who it was but I was being drawn out anyways, I had to go outside and check it out, even if it was wickedly cold. I always take a long stick or a ski pole just in case he may lunge at me because they do have that ability. If you get too close it just takes one slap of the tail and he is up close and fast. Just listen to the archived CBC interview of Penn Powell from Port Hope. It does not matter what size the animal is, I always get excited and either I use my binoculars for a close look or I just simply walk out to the creek and investigate. The large beaver was out, he was busy cutting branches off of a smaller tree and then bringing the sticks under water and jamming them into the bottom of the creek to feed at a later time.

It is going to be a busy spring for this fellow, and for now he can continue his evening work but I will be looking for the signs and if a dam is built, good old trappers will need to get to work.

If you have had the privaledge of seeing how a dam is built, then you quickly realise how remarkle this builders truly are.

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Life has been moving so quickly these days with so much going on in the early part of two thousand and seventeen, that I haven’t really been able to digest the passing of my great-aunt. And when I speak with colleagues at work about life in general, it seems to be the same for them, this early period of the year is throwing everything it has at us and we are put to the test with deaths in the family, some with financial or others health issues.

My great-aunt took great pleasure in feeding the local wildlife in her yard and this gave her comfort and countless hours of pleasure. It was a way to break away from the constant distractions of life. And in her final days this is where she chose to be, in her home close to the squirrels that she fed. Her family was never far from our beautiful North-American wilderness and she knew her trees and wildlife very well.

Many years ago she owned a cabin in the woods where she would spend some time away from the town, there she was free to spend hours with the local wildlife. On my second last trip to go see her, we sat in a park surrounded by tall evergreen trees and we had nice talk about the importance of nature and the history of the woods in her region.

I remember her telling me “The forest is my church” and these words will for ever be etched in my memory when I think of her. Last weekend shortly after breakfast, I fed my local crows and squirrels, and I could not put it into words how I felt. The excitement and joy I experienced when the crows came flying in answering my calls as they fed, it was rewarding and calming.

Almost every morning over the past few days, when I looked out my kitchen window and stare into the woods, I took a few deep breaths and thought about my great-aunt feeding her squirrels and I can hear her voice talking about her love of nature and enjoying the simple things like feeding them.

I will continue the family tradition of feeding the local squirrels and will take time to think of her in doing so, because the very same forest that is spread right across our great nation is my church as well.

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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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With my fingers slowly going numb, and my wool gloves socked from holding onto the drenched icy cold rope attached to the bow of the kayak. I kept pushing forward, my legs were burning with pain from pulling the kayak through the narrow frozen creek and breaking through the ice along the banks.

The wind was blowing in from the north, blinding me with its blizzard like snow flakes being carried along transforming the horizon into a greyish white haze, the trees in the distance had become just a black patch of nature. The darkness was moving in like a mist.

Ducks took flight around me as the ice cracked below my boots and the ice sheets cut into my shin bones. The sweat on my forehead dried instantly with the cold winds as my wind tears rolled down my cheek, it was now time to make my way home alone after a brutal few hours in this November weather.

You could smell the fresh waterfowl flesh from the birds lying in bowels of my boat, and as the kayak slid over the frozen mounds, the dirty water and weeds inside its hull would rock from bow to stern, moving the birds in a bloodied bath along with empty shells and the paddle blades.

The wind howled around me like a mad spirit and brought with it the smell of burning firewood from a distant shack. To me this was soothing and awoke old memories, from years ago, when my family would drive into my grandfathers home town. It would be in the middle of the night after a long highway drive, only a few days before christmas and quite often during a snow storm. The colourful seasonal lights were glowing in the dark from the nearby homes and the smell the burning wood fires filled the neighbourhood air.

Only one mile left and I would get closer to those glowing lights in the distance and to the warmth of the truck after an incredible afternoon of water fowling.

True comfort in the air indeed, just like the song by Jim Reeves “The Blizzard.”

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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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