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There I was standing in the middle of a forest with its floor filled with watering holes, it would have been heaven for wood ducks but the woods were empty. The autumn coloured leaves sparkled underneath the crystal surface of the water, it was just magical. The winds were extremely powerful blowing in from the West and as it enveloped the forest there was howling winds through the trees emitting strange eerie sounds. With the rattling of the branches and the trunks rubbing up and down against each other.

There was an intense cold with snow drifts sweeping in, I kept my eyes not only on the edge of the wetlands for ducks but also on the trees, as it was the perfect conditions for tree limbs to come down. I was scoping this part of the forest because of its proximity to the shore of the river and only meters away was the edge of the wetlands.

The dominant species of duck in my area are teal and mallards, but the teal do not always land in my zone, they rather fly nervously in groups of ten or more and then loop back to the very deep parts of the water and well out of reach, I might have a chance if I snuck up with my kayak. But the mallards it is a different story, they are extremely resilient to the cold and are found until late in the season even if there is lots of snow on the ground, they are generally hidden close to shore in the tall grass. If you are a jump shooter type of hunter, then walking along the shores in a stealthy fashion you are sure to get a harvest or two.

When I set off on a hunt from my house later in mid-season, I have to pass over a bridge in my community and there is a beautiful waterway which snakes all the way to the river and I always sneak a peek over the barrier down on the muddy shores near the golden grass and if I can spot a few mallards, this is usually a good sign for my hunt on the river.

I have been coming to this area for several years now, and I used to be able to go just a few meters with my kayak and then launch off and start jump shooting from my boat. But since the beavers have moved in and with the changes to the environment this whole area is becoming a mush of swamp grass and only small segments of open water. A couple of years ago, I was out in a large area body of open water and I was able to climb out of my kayak and stand on my own two feet without sinking. I was standing on a mud island and over time it was very physically challenging to paddle in this soup. A paddle was now useless, what I needed was a long push pole.

Once I cleared the edge of the forest, I was now facing the Eastern side of the wetlands and I knew there were mallards dabbling further down, because if I were a mallard this is where I would have wanted to be about thirty meters from the shore. There was a small body of open water in the shape strange looking shoe. It was surrounded by golden coloured tall grass and some small wetland brush with several crane nest sticking out of the surface like oversized ant hills but they generally have a large ring of deep water around them and can be very dangerous with waders on.

Today I was going to try something new with my approach, I was not going to come in from the southern banks of the river and then circle around to the north to sneak up on the ducks, I was going to come cut diagonally from my start point, but this meant cutting off the top edge of the wetlands on foot, which meant he depths could range from my hips to the my knees with hidden pockets of dangerous depths. But my knowledge of the area helped me navigate and with over an hour of tracking through the muck, and pulling myself forward and out using large vegetation, I made it to my starting area.

At one point, I was startled by a small crane species and I raised my shotgun and was ready to release my shot but my experience caught me and I had identified the species within milliseconds which caused me to lower my shotgun. This is a skill that you will master even while off-season, find unique identifiers about each species of bird and learn to identify them before they are out of sight and you will see that in time you will be very accurate.

As I approached the edge of the bank, I took a short break, all that sloshing around was physically demanding and my breathing was very heavy. I looked over to the northern side and spotted several large dark animal like movements in the dark waters. They looked like dabbling ducks but I could not make it out for sure, I had to get closer.

I knew my approach was going to be a difficult one as I was already up to my knees in water surrounded by tall grass and small waterways which had depths unknown. It had begun, my sights were now on that body of open water beyond the tall grass well over thirty meters out. I would lift one foot ensure it was on a secure mud base then move the next leg forward, it was without a doubt treacherous.

I pushed forward and when I lost my balance from the suction of the water and mud vacuum on my waders, I would pull hard on a clump of tall grass and pull myself forward and out back onto a solid mud base. All the while keeping a low profile and my shotgun out of the water.

My backpack was not heavy but the straps were getting tight on my shoulders and causing them to get fatigued. There was no dry place to put down my pack, so I slowly slid it off my shoulders and down into the water and it bloated with water and stayed a float. I took note of the unique vegetation around it, so that I could spot where I had left it as I made my way closer to the edge of the open body of water which was now only ten meters away.

Only a few more steps forward into the dark unknown and now the weeds were wrapping themselves around my arms and shotgun like daemons wanting to take me down to the depth of the bowels of the dark waters. Combined with my sheer fatigue, I would force my shotgun forward which tore the weeds free.

On my final step, I slowly lifted my head and confirmed my findings, there were in fact about twenty ducks dabbling, I carefully selected the mallards closest to me. Then I lowered myself back behind the weeds and golden grass, I carefully slid my pump-action just a few millimetres in order to glance at the loaded shell in the chamber and then slid another shell into the magazine for a total of three ready.

I looked down at the water took a few deep breaths and got myself ready for the shots, then in an instant I raised myself above the grass and caught the ducks completely by surprise, they stretched their necks out called out and burst into the air, in a single motion, I pushed off the safe and released my shot into the closest bird and the mallard spun forward and flipped back into the water, I released a second shot and missed the group.

In a matter of a few seconds, it was all over, I had harvested my first mallard but the others were now sky-high heading east. The recovery was a tricky one indeed with water up to my chest, my Remington 870 was completely submerged in water but I was not going to let my orange foot duck be swallowed up by the black waters.

Once I got back to the safety of the river bank with my mallard in hand, soaking went and fatigued, there was no more humbling experience than this moment, it was just me and the northern elements. I am not sure where your imagination takes you when you think of folkloric tales of our great Canadian wilderness. I had just lived it, the cold dark waters all alone surrounded by raw wilderness and I not only mastered it but it was now flowing in my very veins.

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This year there has been an increase of waterfowl hunters in my area, which is positive. After all it is an excellent way to spend some time outdoors in the fall and it also helps with the local economy and the let us not forget with managing overabundant species and maintaining a healthy environment.

I usually hunt at my friends farm or on the river, the challenge with the river is that even if it is considered public land, some areas are only for Duck Unlimited members, it can be difficult to get a spot of your own. Many waterfowlers put up wooden signs to reserve their spots and I do not mind this practice as long as there is room for fairness and courtesy.

Tonight when I set off to the river, it was much cooler and this I like not only for the bird activity but there are less hunters because not everyone has the tolerance for the wet and cold weather which can be miserable. I personally do not mind it and rewards are great.

I slowly drove up the dirt road near the edge of the bay where I usually start off and there was only one other car parked with a young fellow sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette, waiting for the best time to hit is blind. I got my kit ready and was about to set off, when the young man approached me and we had a friendly chat about the area. I asked him where he was going to set up for the evening and he pointed out a medium-sized tree right on the edge of the water on the north-eastern side of the bay.

Last week, I had planned to set up on the North-eastern side as well on my next hunt as I had noticed some areas in the bay where there was more bodies of water visible which was best for the birds to land in. I figured, if you setup on the side where the birds come in for landings then you are in a good spot indeed, in addition there was a tree line behind you which provides cover for birds coming in from the north.

I told the young fella that I was going to be on the same side but that I would move further down toward the east, this was perfect and it worked out for both of us. The first part of the trail was already cleared up by four wheelers and previous hunters but the final bit got trickier with hidden water holes and a rather large creek that needed to be cross and I did not bring my kayak along this time.

I walked through the knee-deep water surrounded by very high grass, all the while keeping my eye on the tree line so I did not head into dangerous areas, and soon after I found a beaver dam which was well packed down, so I used it as a land bridge over the large creek and this opened a whole new area where I hadn’t been this year.

There are some places on this earth and not necessarily far away that are simply magical, there I was standing in water up in the middle of a forest, the leaves were bright yellow and red and there was total silence, just me, the wind and birds. I continued to the edge of the bay and I had found my sweet spot. I noticed in the distance there was a strange green plastic object half buried in the mud and it turned out to be an outdoor chair with one missing broken leg.

So, I dug it out and placed it in my natural blind, jabbing the three remaining legs into the mud which stabilized it. There I was sitting down as content as one can be staring into the open wilderness enjoying all that was around me. I called out a few times with my duck and goose callers and waited for some birds to come in.

I have been out a few times since the opening day and I decided to use a full choke this year and it did take some getting use too and even missing a few great opportunities for birds, which made me doubt my shooting abilities and was considering going back to a modified choke. But being the learner that I am, chose to give my full choke one more try to if I were to miss today, I would go back to my modified.

All of a sudden four geese flew in from the south heading north right to my left, I stood up and prepared myself and called them in and started working with them as they were calling back. I could see them banking toward me but soon disappeared above the trees and out of sight, I stood fast and called out a few more times than aimed into the air and was waiting for them to break through and re-appear.

It was only for a few seconds but it seemed like an eternity waiting for them to break the trees and circle back to the south. Then in a flash the moment came, I had been scanning the whole tree line and the four came directly overtop of me about thirty yards up, I chose the goose farthest to the right hit its wing and it took the whole impact of the full choke single shot.

The goose froze in mid-air, tumbled forward and came down hard on a downward angle into the water only about ten yards to my right. This was a big goose and upon impact it let out a huge thump. This was a clean, hard full choke harvest and I know there will be many more now.

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There I was kneeling on the cold forest floor, with my feet neatly tucked away. It reminded me of a child’s sitting position when they are playing with their favourite childhood toy. Amidst their imagination, there they sit for hours and are only surrounded by the calming environment of their own.

I slowly raised my head and took in a deep breath and absorbed my surrounding, there was a mixture of swampy air with a slight touch of the cedar and pine from the nearby vegetation along with some rotting logs sitting in the mud.

To my left I had my shotgun shell pouch zipped closed, along with my binoculars laying on the wet wild grass and to my right, was my cold steel Remington 870. The workhorse of my many hunts.

I live here now in this moment but deep down, I have a deep connection with the land around me and know that I could have been born in a time of the past. Sometimes, when I browse vintage black and white photos of hunters, either from my family heritage or from other great Canadian tales, I believe that I can share their emotions and stories that they captured in that very moment the photograph was taken and in a sense relive their experiences, such as the disappointments and successes of their hunts.

In the cold dark waters to my front were two mallard drakes and three wood ducks swimming around quite a distance out, too far for a clear shot. I sat there patiently to see if they would move closer to the edge of the swamp, but my experience had taught me that if there are ducks, always assume they are more than the eyes can see.

I carefully repositioned myself for a better look at the ducks moving around the eastern side of the pine tree that I was using as cover and noticed something white flash on my left, it turns out it was a group of about fifteen Canada geese dabbling in the water, all silent like ghosts.

They quickly became my main focus, I picked up my 870 loaded three shells, two “BB” and one number three, then half unzipped my pouch for quick access to more shells without the danger of them falling out during my approach. I was so excited that it practically took the breath right out of me, which was not a good thing for the physical work I was going be doing over the next few minutes.

I pushed off my feet and got onto my hands and knees and started to move north through the mud around very small brush like a fox using stealth, until the vegetation got too low at which time I had to leopard crawl through the mud, carefully placing my 870 ahead then lifting my body off the forest floor in a plank movement and move over logs and around small bushes. My goal was to get as close as I could to the edge of the water without alerting the spotter geese.

I might have only covered a distance no more than twenty meters but my lungs were going to burst and it felt as if I had sprinted the whole length of a football field. Once it position, I stood up on one knee and took the group by surprise and let off two shots into the closest birds. Unfortunately the birds were not as close to the edge as I had wished and my shots were not as effective as I would have liked. The flock burst into flight as I pumped my last shell into the chamber to release my final shot before a reload. One of the largest birds who took some shot from my first release was wounded and attempted to fly to the east with two others and I took just enough lead with my full choke and released the shot and the goose plunged into the waters below.

With all the commotion the ducks burst into flight and headed north-west. It took me a while to recover my goose harvest as the swamp was so dirty and full of rough vegetation. I had to retrace my shot from the shoreline and follow the white feather trail in the water to find the goose.

I was hoping to harvest a duck or two as well but for now there were all gone. I have learned that over time, that when you are setup in your blind on the edge of the water sometimes it seems that ducks will not alway show up unless you setup decoys combined with calling. Or simply luck, will dictate if they fly and land in front of you.

It is not uncommon for me to leave the shoreline and go back to the barn or truck to take a break away from the water’s edge almost like I am pretending to leave and more often than none the ducks will fly back in. Sometimes you won’t even see them from a distance and when you get back to the shore there are more mallards and wood ducks.

The mallards always seem to have better sight on you moving in close, where as the wood ducks you have to be quite visible for them to fly off. Usually followed by a few whistles and then a fast burst flight.

So, following my break, I setup a little closer to the edge of the water and within minutes a female wood duck flew in right in front of me coming in for a low landing, I instantly released a single shot and got my second harvest of the day.

I may not have achieved my bag limit but it was another incredible end of day full of memories that will never grow old, nor will I tire of sneaking up to the famed Canada goose “the feathered fox” as one author put it.

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The paddle blades cut through the cold waters, one stroke at a time, water dripping onto the hull of the kayak then rolling off back into the dark waters, it was incredibly peaceful. The bow of the kayak was gliding through the tall grass; ever so often I had to pull hard on one side to keep the boat aligned with my chosen spot for this waterfowl hunt. On the Northern side, there was a wooded area between me and the large wetlands and to the South was the river.

I like this area very much because you can only access it by boat and you do not get a lot of other hunters too close to your natural blind. And it is the place where I shared a great hunt last year with other passionate waterfowlers, along with great stories and laughter. After a final push, I slid right into the large fallen tree.

I Leapt out of my kayak and tucked it under the gap just above the water’s surface and the lower part of the tree with the kayak locked into the muddy bottom . With the boat secure it was now time to prepare myself for the hunt. I quickly moved around the tree, climbed over the easiest section and got tucked away behind the largest part. The fallen tree is large on one side, and get smaller near the East, I can stand behind it and three-quarters of my body is hidden. Then I simply lean forward with my 870 in position and place three shells at the ready on top of the log, which is wide enough to be a natural table.

The view is spectacular and as the day slowly comes to its end, the lights across the river sparkle like Christmas lights in the distance, with bright yellow and orange, reds and whites. With still an hour and a half of daylight, I was in heaven and ready for the harvest. Now that I was nice and settled in, I started to call out with a few goose and duck calls and also observed several few geese and ducks flying about along with several seagulls.

Within minutes the shots started to ring out, especially the newer hunters who were shooting into the air and made it sound like I was back in the Balkans; birds were flying scattering and ending up in every direction. I kept on calling and then after a few minutes took a break and just observed.

I was thinking about my last hunt on farmland and how I missed a bird that was close range above the trees using my new full choke. It does take getting used to, even with experienced shooters. As mentioned in the videos, that I posted on my Twitter account, with a full choke under a forty yard shot you want to keep the bead directly on the bird and not lead too much compared to a Modified choke which I had been using for the past few years, where you tend to lead as much as five inches from the birds bill.

After a few minutes of keeping an eye on the horizon and a few more calls, I finally got my break with a Canada moving in from the North-West to my right, he was about twenty-seven yards out, I instantly shouldered my 870, pushed it off safe and released the shot in one single motion.

There is no doubt that there was some practice and patterning that had taken place with the pigeons over this summer but it paid off, I love my full choke. My goose tumbled forward and into the dark waters and I had harvested my first bird of the season, this is it, I was finally off to a great start.

I better get my Rillettes jars ready!

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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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