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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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My plan was to get to my friends farm early enough in the morning, just before the geese fly and land into the farmland to feed for the day. When I left the house, I had loaded up all my kit into the truck and I was just glowing. I was ready for my outing. I hadn’t even gone up the road past the local Tim-Horton coffee shop and I was already feeling like I had just won the lottery, and this was without a harvest yet.

I have been driving these road for several years now and I know every bend in the road and do not miss any of its fine details; my truck was slipping in an out of the dips in the road like a soft sheet floating in the breeze. It is in times like these when you learn to let go of the weights of every day stress as you head deeper into the country side. An hour or so had gone by and I was now nearing my destination. About a kilometer out, I had noticed about twenty Canada geese in the neighbouring fields but none in the area where I was going to be, yet I did not let this discourage me and continued on.

I like to try different techniques and tricks during my hunts, so that the experience is never the same and I learn what works and what doesn’t. On this particular day I was going to use my goose caller and call a heck of a lot and see if I would trigger something or attract geese. After having rolled up the dirt road and jumped out of the truck, I noticed four rock doves fly in and land in the low ground to the North-West right near the tree line on the right about three hundred meters out. Without any geese the in the farmland, I decided to set off toward the pigeons and attempt to harvest one of two before the geese flew in, I had to circle around coming in from the East just a few meters in from the tree line, the problem was with all the rain we had this summer, my hip waders were getting stuck in the mud and making a suction sound every time I freed myself from the mud.

I did not want to trigger and alarm the birds and send them into flight, it was hard work and I was breathing heavy by the time I got within shooting range. The doves were higher than me on a ridge and it was not a safe shot, I had to wait for them to come down lower and close the gap between them and I. They would feed and zig zag in an out of the thorn bushes and then fly around nervously and land only meters from where they took off, if you can successfully stalk rock doves in farmland, then you have what it takes to sneak up to Canada geese in an open field.

I now had a clear shot on the first pigeon and was only seconds from taking my shot, when all of sudden the time had come, I heard goose calls coming in from the tree tops and then they flew right over my position headed directly south past the creek and then landed in the southern field on top of its ridge. Their honk calls were short and repeated quickly in repetition, with their feet out and floating down to earth with the inward curved wing formation, it was a beautiful sight. I quickly, unloaded my two fast steel shells, placed my Remington on safe, sprung up and started to sprint in the direction of the geese. This sent the pigeons into flight and they quickly flew off over the forest heading east to the neighbours farm, we would meet again but for now the geese a larger and more rewarding harvest.

They had all landed by now and were hidden across the creek behind the tall hay, they were on the ridge but heading for dead centre in the fields. With only a few hundred meters apart now, I slowed down my pace and knelt forward to have a lower profile, once again my waders were sticking in the mud as I got closer to the edge of the small creek. Just like a Nile crocodile stalking wildebeest, I allowed myself to slip into the creek and moved across keeping a very low profile, never once taking my eyes off the Canada geese spotters. The geese did not stay in the same spot for long, they were scattered across the ridge and were heading over the ridge deeper into the farmland.

As the last bird sunk below the horizon near a large boulder, I climbed out of the creek and moved into the fields and managed to close the gap with the geese. I got into a good shooting position and released my first shot into the last bird but missed and the group took flight and disappeared to the East. It was quite frustrating to have missed but it happens especially in open ground, I picked up my empty shell. I then let out a few goose calls; stood up and turned back towards the creek and started to head back to the truck for a break, when all of a sudden a group of twenty geese responded to my calls and came in over head from behind heading directly north. I spun around and loaded three shells rapidly loading the last one directly into the chamber then sliding the pump-action forward and releasing my three shots into the birds, individually selecting them and leading each one based on the height and speed. The last one tilted backwards aggressively reacting to the shot but kept on flying. The first two shots out of the three were extremely close but a miss just the same. Experience has taught me to keep watching the flock as they continued their flight and sure enough the last goose started to lose altitude and drop like a world war two bomber that had been badly damaged, it dropped some more and barely cleared the tree tops and crashed into the neighbouring hay-field landing near a hay bale.

I quickly unloaded my Remington, placed it on safe and ran through the creek then several hundred meters in the southern field past the wall of brush between the two fields in the East to retrieve my harvest. I was extremely tired but very grateful for my first harvest of the day.

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My boots entered the cold muddy waters as I stepped through the creek heading in the direction of the southern field; I was closing the gap between the large boulders and I. For today the weather network had called for thunder showers along with strong winds but this hadn’t materialized yet and I still had some time to be out in the open, while walking up the ridge. I arrived at the farm late in the morning just before noon and had a great chat with my farming friend, we talked about family and the farm.

With the incredible amounts of rain that we have had this past spring and summer, there has been lots of growth and abundant hay but not necessarily quality hay. I am always concerned for the cattle and that they will have enough food for the winter. Once I reached the southern field, I leaned forward while walking to give myself a lower profile. When ever I come up to large boulders or groupings of small trees, I keep a sharp eye for small brown objects which move quickly, and these can be a woodchuck.

I raised my head from time to time to get a better look, a nice breeze came in and I instantly picked up the scent of the wet cedar, it was awesome. It was natures way of providing its form of aromatherapy. I kept pressing on and once I caught my breath I walked right through the green curtain of trees following a well used cattle trail.

I barely had the time to lift my head again and I had already triggered an alert with the first woodchuck of the day, who dove into his hole. In this situation, I usually wait a few minutes, as they tend to come back out and investigate in order to identify if you are in fact a threat or just another animal.

I stood tall and placed my shotgun perpendicular to my body and slipped in behind a wide tree. Every few seconds, I would take a deep breath and tilted only my head forward and glanced at the woodchuck. The woodchuck was coming out again, but only its head was out of the ground and it was not a sure harvest shot. I wanted a clean harvest because I was planning on having a great meal later in the evening.

Now with the woodchuck standing half outside the hole, I carefully raised my 870, loaded a shell pumped the action and fired my shot. I had my first confirmed harvest of the day and loaded the woodchuck in my game bag. I pumped the action again and ejected the empty shell then looked up at the sky to check out the darker cloud formation coming in from the West. I headed right toward the opening in the field and made my way back to the creek, this is when I spotted another woodchuck further up the ridge to the south-west.

He was positioned in front of the large boulder but it was too late, he had made me and ran back into his hole. I had considered circling and coming around from the back using the tree line and the high ground but it was too late. I finally decided to go back to the truck place my first harvest into the cooler then try for a second try at the large boulder woodchuck.

Thirty minutes had gone by and I was now lighter with the first harvest in the cooler, had a drink of water and set off again. I was keeping my eyes open for the cattle, because I did not want to cross the creek with them too close to me. I stepped over the electric fence surrounded by tall wild grass and headed down another cattle path between two barns and back across the creek.

This time, my plan was to circle to the right, heading toward the swamp and using the low ground and small bushes as to cover more ground without being spotted. I had stopped just prior to the creek and used my binoculars to confirm that he was back on top of the boulder. He was indeed and facing the north-east with this back to my front. This was perfect, I moved through the low ground winding in and out of the brush and finally hit an open area. He had spotted me and jumped down from the boulder and back around the front back into his hole. My initial approach worked for a while but he keen eyes had spotted me.

I still pressed on and bent forward again and got really low to the ground, I was now on his right and about twenty meters out. I got down on my knees and placed my 870 in my left hand and used my right hand as support as I crouched and moved up to a large bush growth on a smaller boulder just meters before the woodchuck hole. It provided great concealment and now with my controlled breathing, I raised my head like a periscope and noticed the woodchuck had come out and turned sideways just a short distance from the opening of his hole.

I dropped a shell into the breach slid the action forward instantly locking a shell then slid the push safety on. I raised my head once more and then carefully positioned myself into a good firing position, pushed released the safety off, then let out my shot. The second harvest of the day was confirmed and just in time because the storm had moved in and the presence of lightning was my queue to head home for the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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