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Upon my return from work today, I completed a little walk around the house checking up on my flowers that I had planted just a few days ago. As I approached the front window well, I heard a few sharp whistles and I knew right away it was out-of-place, it was some sort of distress call from a bird. At first it was quite faint but then, as I approached the basement window, I could hear it again and this time it was much clearer.

I was expecting to find a young common house sparrow, but when I looked down amongst the stones, there he was a golden treasure. It was a small gosling only a few weeks old, it had a beautiful yellow coloration and its web was black and oily with nice sharp claws.

This gosling was a beauty, and just as soon as I stepped into the window well, it approached my foot almost instantly. We had a connection; I picked it up in my hands in order to return it to the creek but that was not the safest place for a little goose. The creek near my place is full of predators, I knew that the female was sitting on her nest down the creek by the beaver dam but I did not want to disturb her.

So, I walked down to the creek with the gosling calling out sharp bursts of chirps. I placed it in the water, it called out and swam away, then turned right around and came right back to me. I started talking to it in a soft voice and told it to swim up the creek near its nest but the bugger did not want to have anything to do with the water.

So I decided to help it out even more, I knew that the nest was only one hundred meters down the creek, so I picked up the gosling and placed it further up in the creek toward the south-east. This was going to be an experiment, so I placed the gosling back into the water and it started to call out again this time there were two different types of chirps, several short and then one long and the longer call was sharp and loud.

I whistled a few times to provoke the female and attempted a few clucks and then sure enough after a few attempts I got a faint response coming from the tree line just meters from the edge of the creek but on the other side, further down on my left from where I was standing.

At first the gosling started to swim back and head onto the bank toward me but when the female goose let out a few short faint calls, it was enough to catch the attention of the gosling who used its loud longer chirp and it was followed by the female short honk. The gosling then responded with the loud longer chirp and this went back and forth for about four times.

This was perfect my gosling placement along with its long distress chirps, the female goose called back from its roost but never broke the tree line; her call was working. That gosling headed straight for her call near the beaver dam and I had successfully reconnected the gosling with the female.

This was an extremely rewarding treat. I may be a seasoned waterfowler but that brief encounter with the gosling was so mesmerizing and observing nature communicating was simply amazing. It made me appreciate even more the work that “Ducks Unlimited” and many other similar organizations achieve every day.

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As a kid growing up in central Africa in the ninety eighties was an experience that changed me for ever. I realize now even as an adult more than thirty years later that it was an absolute privilege to have lived on the periphery of the “Cite” in a row house, which was in an area where the majority of the locals lived. My life experiences were not just limited to living in a large home along the ocean with its extremely high walls or in the confines of the housing compounds owned by oil companies.

This meant going for days without electricity or running water but experiences like these enabled you to grow as a person and appreciate the true meaning of life. I learned the local language in less than a year and soon I was running free for hours into the neighbourhoods and shanty towns bare feet with my brothers. My parents were teachers and my father taught biology at one of the local high schools.

You got it, this meant that during the school year he needed to collect toads for the dissection classes; this was my job. So at a very young age, I would collect an empty can of powdered milk, a rake and a machete, then head out on my adventures to find toads. Now why would you need a rake and machete for that? Well where you found toads there were almost always pit vipers. I knew exactly where to find toads, under rocks or the papyrus or bamboo forests.

I would lean into the brush or flip a rock, if there was a viper, I would pin the snake with the rake and neutralize it with my machete, and then collect the toads. My best friend and I would normally be greeted by a snake hiss. There were all kinds of species of snakes but the most common was the pit viper and their hiss was a warning indeed and I learned to understand their body language. But ultimately it was more than just a sound of the tongue once it had left the Jacobson gland, it was a form of snake communication, “You reach in for the toad and I will bite”.

In the years that followed, upon returning from a weekend jungle trip, my parents had bought my brothers and I, a young crocodile as a pet, it was less than a meter in size. We kept it in the back yard and its temporary residence was a large empty sail boat hull. My brothers and I had best attempted to re-create its natural habitat along with a mud bank and water inside the boat. If we wanted to transport it out, for our friends to see, we would place the rake in the water, and as the crocodile would bite down on the metal part along with a fierce splash of water, and once its jaws had a good grip, we would lift it out of the boat and let it roam around the yard for a few hours.

If our dogs got too close, the crocodile would bend its body bringing its tail around for a strike and soon it would let out the infamous hiss. It was a fascinating pet and as long as you stayed away from its jaws, life was just normal in central Africa. Crocodiles are ordinary reptiles and I soon discovered that the hiss was not just a verbal warning like the pit vipers but also of course a form a communication because it did not always result with the animal clapping it jaws, it simply communicating.

Now this makes for wonderful childhood stories but what does this have to do with small game hunting in north America? Well for the past couple of years now in the spring, we have had two resident Canada geese setup a nest just across the creek from our home in the country and well where do think they feed? On my lawn. As long as they do not get too aggressive, I am fine with having two natural lawn mowers. And just like a coyote if you physically show them you are more dominant through verbal or physical gestures then they leave you alone. I suppose I should write don’t try this at home.

All wildlife adapt to their environments and with my family running around the back yard, this has become their new norm. The Chin Straps stay only lasts a few weeks and once the goslings are old enough they move along… well until the next year. The male’s role is to keep watch and you guessed it, if you get too close, he lets out a hiss, just like the snake and crocodile but the Canada also lets out some deep soft honks from his throat with it bill partially opened.

For the Canada geese, just like communicating with a child, I usually get down on my knees to limit my physical expression as aggression, putting myself at the same level as them and in this case the wild goose and then imitate his soft deep honk and hiss and I have confirmed something once again about this “hiss” it does not always trigger a physical response, it can be interpreted as aggression but a rather a form of warning.

Many outdoorsman/woman are some of the most experienced conservationists and have a deep understanding wildlife behaviour and communication, some without even noticing it, it is just another piece of the puzzle in our sport.

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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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