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By the time we crossed the creek, heading South-West toward the edge of the wetlands, the sun was already out with the winds blowing at a steady pace. This was a pretty neat experience for my bud as this was my buddy’s first ever waterfowl season, although he was a deer hunter, we even went to purchase our waterfowl stamps/permits together at the Post office.

This was a big deal for me too, being able to share my passion with a good bud and yet once again I got a chance to be a guide, sharing all my knowledge about ducks and geese. Moments before, I had mentioned to him that sometimes Canada’s can fly in for a landing without ever letting out a single call, and to keep an eye in the sky for they may fly in undetected and this is exactly what happened.

My bud had brought a second pair of  boots to wear for crossing the creek and then left them by a large boulder for later and switched to a lighter pair of boots to make his advance. During this exact moment, three Canada’s flew in from the South-East and headed straight for the wetlands, almost right over head. They completed one fly over doing a half circle then tucked in their wings and dove down into the dark waters behind large bushes.

I waited for my buddy to come up by my side, as I was ahead and then we both caught our breaths and discussed our approach based on their current position. We knew they had landed in the water but did not have any idea in which area of the wetlands. Once ready, I got up and started running in the low ground with him following behind, along the creek and moving closer to the brush using small pine trees as cover. We stopped again just before the water and loaded our shotguns and then left our small kit bag by a tree to make ourselves lighter.

I knew from experience that when Canada’s land in the wetlands and if I am able to stalk them, I almost always have a successful harvest, and the hunter who positions himself on the Western edge always has the upper hand, just by the contour shape of the wetlands periphery.

By now we had to get down on our knees as we continued our advance on all fours, still using the brush as cover. I purposely let him circle around and position himself to my left or West. This time was his and I was going to pour all my waterfowl knowledge and experience into his every move and direct him through whispers.

We were now directly inline with the waters edge facing North and now we had to find the Canada’s exact spot. We carefully took turns looking up while standing inline with a pine tree trunk, within seconds we spotted them about thirty seven meters out, I had numbered the birds verbally and had instructed my bud to take the one on the left first then work his way down.

We got back down on the ground in the prone position and chose our own parallel paths on the muddy floor and started to press towards the waters edge even closer, I looked over often to ensure that my buddy, was always up on me by a few meters. When he moved, I stopped and looked, then I would move forward and he would get ready, this went on for about four meters. And just like a Python, I lifted my body off the muddy ground and slid over a log and got right into my final position.

Following a thumbs up signal, he slowly made his way up to his knees and got into a good shooting position, on my second hand signal, he sprung up and sent the birds into a flight frenzy, he released his first shot and I followed with a second and the first bird spun forward and landed back into the waters, the two remaining Canada’s took flight in opposite directions.

I kept my eye on the one to my right, who eventually completed a large circle, I immediately took out my caller and began to call out aggressively and the bird swung around and came right back over top. I yelled out that the goose was coming back around. In all the excitement, I grabbed a shell from my pocket and attempted to load it and it fell in the water. My buddy kept his aim at the bird the entire time and once in range, released another shot, by then I had chambered, aimed and fired my shot and the goose, froze in mid air tucked in its wings and came crashing down from high above within meters of the first harvest. It was an incredible explosion of water, it was a massive bird.

By now the third bird had also circled around giving us the chance to reload and fire two additional shots right ahead of the bird and we can see that it took the hits with bursts of white feathers flying out, but the Canada kept on going in the direction of the Easter field high above the tree line, I could see that the bird was going down but it was well out of sight by now. I yelled out to my buddy telling him that the Canada will come down for sure, and that we will need to find it.

He was so excited also, he climbed the small muddy ridge and went after it and ended only half way to the creek and soon started to make his way into the tall grass to start the search. I laughed out loud and told him, the bird is much further away. Just like you would in deer hunting, if you do not see the animal after your shot, allow yourself a few minutes to calm down before you go searching the harvest or you will get lost in the brush and tall grass.

With my waders on, I pushed into the wetlands and collected the two harvests and set off to join my buddy near the creek crossing, we decided to start a box search following a planned break but upon making our way across the creek, there he was several hundred meters from the wetlands directly on the edge of the Easter field.

It was a great harvest no doubt, but I was more overwhelmed with pride and happiness for my buddy. He was exceptional and knowing that we shared this first waterfowl hunting experience together is simply awesome. It was his time and it belonged to him!

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The sun rays were beating down on our arms and the nape of our necks. It was twenty-five degree Celcius and the heat was intense, you could feel the heavy air. Deer flies and wasps flew around in their frenzied flights; and the silence that surrounded us was suddenly broken by crow and red wing black bird calls.
 
Thermos in hand I slowly walked down the dusty path up to the gate between the two old barns where Ron was standing. I slowly untwisted the lid and poured a fresh cup of coffee. As the steam rose, I leaned forward and rested my forearms on the upper bar of the gate. I then let out a relaxing sigh and began talking about a home building job he had been working on with a friend.
 
Time was of no importance, I had the whole afternoon, besides the days were much longer now. Once in a while I would look up at the largest boulder in the western field about two hundred meters away. Ron then turned to me and said “I swear I see something at the entrance of the boulder but it is very hard to tell from here.”
 
So, I raised my head once again, had a look and agreed that there was definitely something moving in and out of the den. The only color I could make out, which was different from the fresh dirt at the base of the rock was the reddish fur under its chin.
 
During our conversation the farmer shared with me some woodchuck hunting tips that he employed when he was younger. He would still-hunt then sneak up in behind the den’s entrance and shoot through the roughly two inches of dirt and target the nape of the neck while the woodchuck was exiting the den. This may seem like an easy method but it is quite common for woodchucks to dig at the base of large rocks and boulders making it difficult for predators to dig them out, thus making it a challenging shot at close range and potentially dangerous with the possibilities of a ricochet.

Well, it was now time for me to set off toward the boulder, I walked over to the car picked up my binoculars, the shotgun and a few shells then turned back toward the gate and headed into the field. The farmer had also seen several other woodchucks to the left of the large boulder in another group of rocks.

I passed the gate and then headed down the ridge between some hay bales and then moved around the northern edge of the swamp separating the woods from the barns. This time I made sure there were no bulls around. Normally on very warm days the cattle crossed the creek and stayed along the wood line on the southern edge of the hay fields.

By the time I reached the swampy waters, the ground became very uneven and I had to be careful when placing my boots down not to twist an ankle. I slowed my pace right down and began still-hunting up the western ridge toward the large group of rocks on my right. My plan was to keep as low as I could so that the woodchuck would not see me coming up over the crest and this would lead me to the right hand side of the largest boulder.

I was able to make my way to the forest edge and tuck myself under the famous tall pine and kneel down behind some rocks. I now had two choices, take a twenty meter shot from under the tree at the woodchuck once it stuck its head out or attempt to close the gap for a closer shot and maybe even come in from behind.

I chose the second choice as it was the more challenging of the two, still-hunting and being able to sneak up on your game without it spotting you is quite rewarding indeed. So, I loaded my 870 with a single shell and stood up very slowly and starting stalking toward the boulder on leveled ground.

I waited for the woodchuck to come out and stop, he was about half way out of the den, he was not moving out any further. The woodchuck could sense that there was something around because when I was more than two hundred meters away, he had come right out and was sun bathing on the top of the large rock.

The forest edge was on my left and the grass around the woodchucks den was knee-high, I was being very careful to walk on the edge of my boots and slowly pushing down on the grass and looking to see if there were small branches that I could avoid. I slowed my breathing right down and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.

I made it within six meters and the woodchuck finally spotted me and sunk back into his hole but he did not go very deep, because he started to thump and whistle and this went on for about ten minutes or so. Therefore I decided to take a closer look and came around the front of the den and see down into the hole.

He was down there alright because the thumping sound was very clear, and he was not going to come out until I was far enough away. So, I turned around and headed back to the large pine and planned on sitting and waiting it out. By the time I got back to the large pine and got down with a clear western view of the boulder the thumping and whistling had ceased but there were still some bugs hanging around the den entrance.

Sometimes what I like to do is find a large rock and sit on it, so that I am elevated off the ground this way I am sure not to cause any vibrations or sounds on the forest floor or ground thus alerting the woodchucks. I must have waited a good twenty minutes or so and I kept a watchful eye around me the whole time but mainly on the large boulder and the den entrance.

To my south there was a small slope leading to the swamp and between us there was another large group of rocks. I wanted to make sure the cattle were still on the southern fields across the creek, so that they would not come between me and the barns on my way back and this is when I noticed “tick bag”. He was standing right up on his two hind legs and was keeping watch on me. It was indeed tick bag lookin’ the shape of his head and the reflection of the sun on his fur made him look like a rock.

I immediately turned around took my 870 off safe and began my slow stalk down the small slope to that rock formation. Tick bag, did not move and then he skipped on his two hind legs and started to thump, let out another whistle and darted under the biggest rock which looked like a large vertical dagger just above this hole.

I came around its left and in behind the third and fourth rock which was part of this rock fortress. I managed to sneak up from behind just like the farmer had done in the past and was able to line up my bead sight with the nape of the woodchuck who was inching out to check if I was still to its north or my right. This hole was deep and in the vertical and I did not have another chance for a second shot, if I missed or just wounded the chuck, tick bag would disappear underground.

I was now crouched over in a perfect shooting position with the 870 sitting tightly in my shoulder; I slowly raised the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Vlam! The shot rang out and once the dust settled the woodchuck lay very still under the large dagger like rock.

I removed the woodchuck from the den then placed the rocks back into a safe position blocking the hole, so that the cattle could not come near it. I then layed the woodchuck on its back so that it was resting on a patch of fresh grass allowing me to inspect its size while using my hunting knife to raise it front legs. And noticed its chest was full of ticks and fleas. He was without a doubt a tick bag and he sure was lookin’ right at me. One thing I have learned while hunting woodchuck is that there will always be an escape or spy hole, and if they can -they will be watching you too, so do not just focus on the one den once you’ve spotted the woodchuck but constantly check all the nearby holes and sometimes look right into the woods near the forest floor if the den is close to its edge.

There is one thing that is clear -the’re are always eyes on you when you are hunting.

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Snare2

Snare2

The early morning air that surrounded me in the woods was crisp and cold. It was almost like time was standing still and every sound in the forest was amplified. The trees had a pure white coat on them after a light January snow fall at dawn.

The temperature was thirty below and the twenty gauge wire that I was working with for my snares was burning my hands as they slowly went numb. I had been tightening the wire around a broken support branch that I had placed overtop my hare lead at its narrowest section.

After carefully placing twigs creating a funnel cone toward the opening of my snare, it was now time for me to tie up my trail marker tape identifying the second snare spot. I was only on my second setup and my goal was to have five more completed by mid morning.

At about eleven o’clock all my snares were in place and had been inspected. A friend and veteran snare hunter had taught me that after the holidays around mid January it was a good idea to adjust your snare openings. Making them slightly larger than the size of your fist and instead of having the wire around five-finger widths from the ground, he suggested it be around three.

Satisfied with my snares, I packed away my gear and prepared myself for the drive home; the anxiety for the next morning’s potential harvest was slowly consuming me. As an avid hunter my excitement level was about the same as someone would experience while waiting to open their gifts on Christmas day. It was now time for nature to take the lead no pun intended.

For those who are familiar with nature, especially North American animals there is a belief that badgers have an interesting relationship with coyotes. This relationship gets even more interesting when they are hunting for food together. Let us imagine they were pursuing a ground dwelling rodent, the badger would attempt to dig him out. The coyote on the other hand would simply wait at one of the escape holes and grab the rodent as it escapes.

Now it is also a known fact that coyotes are smarter than foxes. The question is then: Is it just smarts or is it simply theft? Another interesting fact about this relationship is why the badger doesn’t just kill the coyote that is stealing or trespassing during the combined hunt. Opportunistic or instinct, is it theft or just survival?

The following morning had come and the temperature on the thermostat was showing twenty-four below zero. My goal was to get to the site before nine in the morning, check all my snares and then plan to be home in time for lunch. So I loaded up my gear and headed out to the woods, which was about an hour drive north.

My first snare was intact and although there were fresh tracks in the new snow, they did not lead to my opening, so I slowly removed the wire and marker and placed it in my pocket and prepared myself to move to the second snare. I had put on my yellowish tint shooting glasses, which offer such a visual advantage during the winter when sifting through pine and cedar. I also brought along my .22 bolt-action Savage in the event that a hare may break into a full chase, so with this in mind I decided to stalk between my snare spots.

When I got up to my second snare, I instantly noticed the scattered blood droplets on the white snow and branches. There were obvious signs of a struggle, I also saw several droppings scattered on the fresh snow and there were tuffs of fur stuck on the branches and the log nearby.

My shiny twenty gauge wire had been torn and was still tied off to the main log. I tirelessly looked for a blood trail around the leads but the hare had just vanished and although there were three other leads heading up the ridge there was no sign of blood.

I did however notice prints in the snow heading north-west that looked like coyote tracks; they were headed directly into heavy cedar underbrush and into an area that was quite dark even in daylight. I spent the next forty-five minutes searching the area around the second snare site but did not see any sign of my hare. I gathered up my remaining snares and prepared myself for a challenging season.

The tell-tale signs indicate that I had successfully snared my first hare this year but ended up getting badgered by the local coyote. This most definitely adds a more positive spin to my snowshoe hare and small game season this winter because I now have an added challenge ahead of me.

I do not wish to be badgered again.

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