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Opening in the Woods

Opening in the Woods

Every inch forward was laborious as I slowly lifted up my legs readying them for the next step; my boots were cutting through the thin crust of snow and then systematically sinking to the depths of my knees. I could feel my heart racing and my breathing was getting heavier, not only from the fatigue but also because of the excitement of tracking a fresh hare lead that was shadowed by a coyote and that of a grouse. After having made my way up the dirt road going west for about thirty yards, I turned to my right, walked up the ditch and headed north onto the western farm field along the edge of woods.

Experience had taught me that it was much easier to stay close to the base of the trees because the snow was not as deep and more compacted thus making easier to walk. Unfortunately for me I was not as light as the hare or coyote and on this particular day I did not pack my snowshoes as part of my kit. So it was slow-moving, which was ideal because you do not want to plow through the woods or the hares would rush ahead and the white ghost would live up to its name.

I followed the first hare lead I found until it wandered off to my left, for that particular moment I was more interested in the coyote tracks, which seemed to be that of a large male and they were bunched together close to the tracks of a grouse. I carefully followed both tracks for about twenty yards and as I got to a large pine tree, I noticed the coyote tracks had stopped, so did the grouses but there were also ten scratch marks in the snow in groups of five. It was like someone had spread their fingers and dragged them through the snow. It was clear to me that this was the spot where the grouse lifted off, because only a short distance away as I continued to follow the coyote tracks I was suddenly startled by the grouse, which took off only a few feet in front of me heading deeper in the woods.

The temperature was fifteen below zero and there was a cold north-westerly wind that chilled the air. Once in a while my shooting glasses would fog up and I needed to stop then clear them before I could follow the leads again. A couple of hours had passed and I was still on the western side of Goose Lake and in just a few more hours it was going to be lunch time. I started to make my way back to the car following two more leads in an out of the cedar and pine, leading up over a very high ridge.

I wanted to take a much-needed break and so I chose the strange-looking tree at the top of the ridge on the western side. I found the dead tree standing in the middle of the ridge surrounded by small bushes, tall grass and deadfall. Its trunk was dark brown and all the bark was stripped off, the branches had fallen around it forming a natural wooden cage.
It was quite unusual to see wood naturally fall like this creating similar shapes to that of mangled barbed wire. It reminded me of the scene from the movie “The Edge” when the bear was chasing Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) through the woods and the actor was able to jump into a similar pile of wood and seek shelter without being reached.

Some of the branches were held up at a forty-five degree angle and big enough to walk on, with the upper part still connected to the tree. So, I went up one of the larger branches and stood two meters off the ground. I had a full view of the south-east and western side of the area and I was scanning the area looking for any small game activity.

I stood there for about fifteen minutes, just listening and watching over the vast area and for that moment I felt a great sense of high and freedom being so high off the ground and feeling the elements all around me. Here I was in the dead of winter, alone, surrounded by wilderness and I was being absorbed by it all.

The land owner had told me that this particular male coyote was posing a threat to his three new calves. Not only this, I had been badgered by the very same one a few weeks prior with my hare I had snared.

Therefore he had asked me to help with this endeavor. I gladly accepted as I had just purchased a new three caller kit from “Quaker Boy” and was anxious to try it out. I know he was around because I had seen his fresh tracks all morning on both sides of Goose Lake.

When I got back to the sand quarry, I setup on one of the highest knolls and sprayed some synthetic rabbit urine and let out some distress calls and then various coyote calls. After about an hour of on and off calling, I decided to continue my chase for the elusive white ghost.

On the north-eastern side of the farm there is an old barn that is surrounded by dense woods and by its entrance there were old washing machines and snow blowers and various machine parts. This is heaven for rabbits and hare and I remember reading about this in one of my books. So I found a fresh lead and followed it in and out of the woods and the old machinery.

This was becoming fun and after having had lunch and a short break, I was now ready to actively chase again. This lead and its tracks were very fresh and for the first time in a while, I had a very strange feeling come over me, it was kind of like some form of energy, hunter intuition that surrounded me like I knew this lead was not dry but there was something for sure nearby if not at its end.

The chase was on and this lead was making me work hard, it eventually came up to the road heading north on the eastern side of Goose lake, I found two more leads, one going north and the other south. So, I slowly walked through an opening in the woods towards the lake and then headed south to the quarry.

Earlier in the year during the month of October, I had seen a mound that was about sixty feet long at the edge of the woods facing south and on the side facing the woods there was a series of hollow openings offering great shelter for small game. I had also noticed droppings and urine stains plus well-travelled leads. That particular area was filled with low cedar and it was very dark inside and I knew that it could be promising habitat.

So this time around, I began to scan very slowly to my left as I was walking by the cedar and this is when I spotted the black shiny eye. There wasn’t a sound just this very still Canadian snowshoe hare looking right at me in his freeze pose. There was no doubt that he was well hidden behind this natural screen of cedar leaves and branches. He was as white as the snow in his background with only a touch of grey on the top of his hind legs.
 
We made instant eye contact and yet neither of us moved, then I re-adjusted my eyes quickly and focused on him again. This time the rest of his silhouette was now clear. I only had a few seconds to react. I quickly raised my 870 and in one single motion unlocked the safety and fired a clean single shot.
 
The leaves and branches of the cedar shield disintegrated and when the snow settled my harvest was confirmed.

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There was a light snow fall covering our surrounding wilderness with its white coat. The whole scene was quite picturesque and very serene. My tracking buddy and I were standing still in the low brush having a rest; he looked down at his watch and checked the time. It was only two in the afternoon and yet the sun was quite low, only a few inches over the evergreen tree line if we looked southwest. I removed my hunting hat with my bare hands and whipped off the sweat from my forehead and then we set off again. 

We had been in the woods since eight in the morning tracking some hare leads and just appreciating being out in the elements. Throughout the morning we were checking other animal tracks too and had a ruffed grouse fly out just a few feet in front of us. The bush was extremely thick and at times I was down on my hands and knees looking under the pine and cedar for hiding spots or simply pushing on through branches on very steep ridges. There was a deer trailing us for a while because we heard large branches crack and snap under its hooves but it never came within range for us to see her. 

The hare tracks we discovered in the morning were slowly disappearing under the snowfall. Now after several hours of tracking some more leads we eventually climbed the southern ridge near the gravel pit and headed into some heavy pine between the goose lake and a farm field to the west.

I had taken a mental picture of this spot from the last time I was out about a month earlier and wanted to save it for the final hours of the day. I knew that this pine forest was a gold mine and we just had to walk the hares. So, we followed the first lead nearest to us and continued until we found the principle trail with several other tracks, I often call this the “super highway” as it acts kind of like a main artery.

My tracking buddy was in the lead and I was trailing behind him about twenty feet to his left. Once it a while he would stop and so then I would take a knee look around under every tree, hole and tall grass. A few minutes would pass and then we were pressing forward again. About fifteen minutes had gone by and we came up to an island shaped brush pile full of pine filled with trails and droppings. By the time we got to the other side of the pile, there were two large pines bunched together to our front and just as soon as my buddy was about to push through, he set off “Big Grey.” The chase was on.

He barely had time to call my name and he leaped forward into the air between the two large trees and faded like a ghost leaving nothing but a cloud of snow. It was text-book, the hare took off like a bullet moving at about fifty-five kilometers an hour and he zigzagged dashing left and right and then completed a large circle to the left. The chase had begun and our adrenaline was pumping like mad. My tracking buddy said he was a fat grayish white hare and he would be an amazing harvest.

I stayed put and waited for the hare to circle as my buddy pushed forward and flushed “big grey” out. I was totally focused and looking for any kind of movement, I moved a few feet left making my way around the brush pile for a second time. It was very quiet and there was no sign of movement. I moved forward once again on a few feet and as I was stepping over a fallen log, swish, the hare sprinted directly to my front going from right to left in what seemed to be a second and then disappeared under the snow and brush before I could get a shot off. He was heading west to the edge of the western field and my tracking buddy shortly found his fresh tracks and so we joined up and pushed forward together.

We placed ourselves side by side and continued flushing left like a rake through the tall grass and searched until we completed a full circle but to no avail. The chase had lasted about an hour and it was one of the best hare hunts I had experienced.

“Big Grey” beat us today but we will be back on his track.

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