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Posts Tagged ‘birds’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The waterfowl season duration in the province of Quebec is just shy of four months long, roughly from early September to almost Christmas. But it doesn’t mean that as soon as the season is over and you drop your gear that you need to stop thinking about waterfowl for the rest of the year.

After all this is one of the main reasons for my blog’s existence, on the contrary you keep on learning by observing all year-long. And in some cases keep on hunting other smaller game like pigeons and crows both are hunted using the same skills and techniques.

Every day while driving to work I go by several farming fields and watch the geese fly in during the early morning hours from the safety of the river where they spent the night.

One thing that never changes in their physical behaviour, is that they always pick the middle ground, right dead center of every field. This is indeed a perfect spot, and in every sense of the choice, it provides a clear view of any danger coming in for the spotter geese and also a large landing area as well as plenty of food.

I love hunting geese from my kayak, canoe or from a blind. But I also enjoy the challenge of stalking them like a human fox. But usually the numbers in harvest are not as great as if you were in a blind.

For the stalking method, I start on the edge of the field and move my way in and get all covered up with my Real Tree jacket and gloves and lay down flat on my belly and crawl as close as I can to the birds, once in position I snap to my knees and send them into flight and attempt to harvest them.

Knowing where they land and how they setup in the middle ground allows me to study the ground and have a successful stalk and potentially a harvest.

I don’t own enough decoys yet to set up in the field with a decoy spread but if I did, the middle ground is where I would potentially be setup for my blind or in a surrounding zone aiming toward the center.

I love the summer but I can’t wait until September!

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I drove carefully through the creek, it was going to be a quick crossing; just minutes before I had put on my Allen waders and walked across it to see how deep it was, this also let me find the sharp rocks sticking out of the muddy bottom.

As the tires pushed through the creek, three mallards that were hidden in the dense grass burst into flight heading westward, they were climbing gradually but their flight lightning fast, one drake and two hens. I was heading to the edge of the marsh to the south-east.

When I first arrived at the farm I noticed the southern field was empty with no Canada geese in sight. I wasn’t sure how my hunt was going to turn out on this fall day but I always try to be creative and remain optimistic.

The cows were scattered all around the barns and open fields, I was hoping for a good day but there were no birds in sight. I took a few deep breaths and with my binoculars in hand, I started to scan the landscape. Over a kilometer away in a south-westerly direction, I noticed long black objects poking out the swamp grass, they were moving very little but just enough that I could make out the difference from the tree stumps left by the beavers and a goose neck.

I stood there on top of the ridge for a few more minutes, raised and lowered my binoculars several times trying to get a better look at the thin black sticks. Once I cleared the creek, I turned toward the west and moved along the ridge driving in the low ground, and my plan was to park away from my start point for my stalk.

With the truck now parked exactly where I wanted it, I opened the driver door and stepped out onto the moist field. It was a cold windy day, so I put on my Remington hunting jacket and zipped it up just below the chest pouch fitted with a magnetic strip of my waders giving me easy access to my shells.

With my 870 ready and placed on the field floor I took three Challenger shells and loaded them and pumped one into the chamber and placed the safety on. The whole time I was kneeling beside the truck, I kept my eyes on the cattle more particularly the big black bull.

They were only a few meters away and I only had small spruce trees and dead tree stumps, between them and I and they got pretty weary with me crawling around them.

I now had to move my way closer to the water’s edge without triggering any panic among the geese, especially the one’s on watch. As I came around the front of the truck and headed to the water, I would sneak up behind some trees, then move my way around to freshly cut stumps left by the beavers. The ground beneath me was transforming into a muddy sludge mixed in with rotten pieces of wood and rock.

With my green balaclava pulled over my face; every few steps I would stop and check my alignment with the spotter geese and then adjust my movement forward, so that they could not see me.

I was now only twenty meters away but it felt like a longer distance than this as I could no longer finish my approach slouched forward. I had to get down on my hands and knees, and with every pace forward, I would meticulously place my shotgun onto swamp grass mounds just high enough to keep my barrel cleared of the muck.

A few weeks earlier I had observed my cat stalking some common house sparrows in the tall grass. Everyone of her muscles were moving in a calculated fashion then very often she would stop and just watch, then adjust her position again and move forward with only her front legs and then minutes later she would bring in her bag legs forward, thus allowing her to jump forward with the maximum reach allowed. It was incredible that a large black object like her could move ahead closer to the birds without sending them into flight.

I was now knee-deep in the cold waters, my hands were breaking through the very thin layer of ice and then sinking into the muck, my fingers were starting to burn because of the cold waters but I was so focused on my approach that I did not give much thought to my uncomfortable movement.

I finally got into the position but my left boot was stuck in the mud, I had to figure out how to shift my hip forward and get into a good shooting position without getting too high. I grabbed a chewed beaver stump placed my fingers carefully around tip and pulled myself up.

This was all done in an exaggerated slow motion, so that I did not alert the spotter geese. I could hear one of them calling out nervous short calls. But before I could shoot, I needed to get one final look at the main group of geese in behind the marsh grass and ensure that my first shot was going to be perfect and safe.

The group formed a sort of broken circle with three geese lined up with two on each side. I took several deep breaths then looked down into the water, my heart was beating like crazy and I was breathing like I had just run several kilometers.

I was ready and had all my shots planned out, I did the slow controlled push-off of my safety button just like Wade Bourne had shown in one of his videos. I slowly raised myself up behind thin branches of a dead tree that came up out of the water like a cypress tree in the shape of the letter “y”, my ruse worked for a few seconds until the geese started calling out aggressively and pushing off into flight. I released my first shot when the birds where just inches off the water and my shell shot snapped the first three geese and brought them down. I aimed for the head and neck just like turkey hunting.

I could not believe it, I had just brought down three geese in one shot, the first one fell hard into the water and the two others spun and flipped back into the water right after, the first two were down but the third tried to fly again and I released a second shot.

With three harvested, I turned to my right or north-east and released another shot and hit a fourth bird and it fell and spiralled hard into the water. I had to reload, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out two more shells and loaded them then pumped and twisted to my left now in a full standing position I released another shot and brought down the largest bird of my harvest.

Once the water calmed below my feet and the empty shells floated near my boots, I had five Canada geese lying in front of me and I could not believe what had just happened.

I had just reached my daily bag limit in a matter of seconds and I was in total disbelief, my years of work to becoming a better waterfowler had just materialized before me and the future could only be brighter.

It took me several minutes to get the birds back to the truck and then drive back to the barn on my way home. While loading my kit in the back of the truck, six rock doves flew in from the east heading west over the barn by the cattle gates.

I grabbed my 870 and snuck in behind the southern barn and made my way around the front, the pigeons where flying just two meters above the ground in formation. I loaded one shell of number three and released a single shot into the flock, taking down two birds.

I have gone weeks without a single harvest but days like these taught me to never give up and learn as much as you can and spend as much time as you can in the field. It does not matter where you are in the world, after all it is in our blood and I understand!

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Casting the Creek


A good friend mine who also appreciates the outdoors asked me what I was doing after work today and so I told him I was going fishing in the creek near my home. I had a very big smile on and so did he. I could not wait for the work day to finish. I never catch much but the fish do bite and it is a great way for me to learn different techniques.

My grandfather had left me two Canadian Tire fishing rods and an amazing fishing box with vintage hooks and lures; actually it is full of treasures. I was all set now, having picked up my permit just a few days ago and the weather was also cooperating with a slight breeze and nice cool air blowing in from the east and the temperature sitting around twenty-two degrees Celsius.

It is such an addictive feeling when the fish bite and you feel the rod handle tilt in the palm of your hand. I try letting the line loose, then pull up little at a time, or slowly reel it in and see the fish come up to the surface. Sometimes, I open my hand right up and barely hold on to the rod and when the fish bite or poke at the line, I can feel the slight tug, what an incredible feeling it is.

I must have spent about two hours by the creek and the mosquitoes sure had a feast but it did not bother me one bit, I was too focused on fishing and taking in the life of the creek as well as the incredible view of dusk.

Today I had a special visitor a rather large beaver swam up the middle of the creek and almost directly in line with my hook. I watched him swim right up from the east and I did not move an inch.

He didn’t see me until he was only a few feet from me, I then I pulled up my line let my hook splash the surface of the water to let him know I was there, he slapped his tail and dove instantly, and it was such an incredible experience, I watched him come up right up the creek.

This creek has so much life, I have personally seen over thirty species of birds including mallard ducks, hooded mergansers, cranes and herons. There are also resident muskrat, mink and squirrels, deer and wild turkeys.

It is not just the fishing that makes me feel refreshed and offers so much pleasure; it is also knowing that this creek puts on a spectacular show at the end of every day.

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I believe that our ability to observe is more than just a skill which can be learned; and that for some it is truly natural; being able to process what we see differently and sometimes seeing what others around us can not.

Our sight combined with our other senses can enhance our hunts and give us the advantage we need in being able to harvest.

I am always trying to find ways to improve my observation so that it becomes almost instinctive. I really enjoy taking friends along on a hunt and quite often they simply come out for the pure enjoyment of nature and its wonders, from the deciduous forests in the valley to the wetlands along the Ottawa.

When we are out, I often point out a dark shadow or some movement in the swamp and almost always there is a grouse or a duck hidden away and sometimes it is quite a distance away. Being observant can really add some great flavor to the time spent in the wilderness.

Movement or shadows which are out-of-place help in being able to observe and identify game but also knowing patterns and habits. Just a few days ago a group of European starling flew in and landed right on my lawn then started working away at the worms and ants.

There is one particular red ant hill near the front of my property which is quite large and six of the starling bounced over right onto the ant hill and started to do a very strange wing flicking dance.

They took turns jumping inches off the ground like their feet were in hot water and then plucking down into the dirt with an ant in their bill. They then turned their heads into their wings as if to break the ant before eating it.

Now this is the first time I have observed this, I could not tell if they were preventing ants from coming up their wings or if it was some ritualistic dance to kill the ants before consuming them. It was fascinating to observe.

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A strong wind from the east was blowing in toward west and then spiraling around through the copses of trees behind me. It was a perfect day at the farm and the temperature was sitting at about twenty-one degrees Celsius; it wasn’t warm but I was quite comfortable and very excited about my half day hunt at the farm.

As I walked through the tall grass and lifted one leg after the other to pass over the electrical fence heading south down toward the three barns, five rock doves circled round and landed on the first barn on the ridge of the roof.

They could see me but they did not move, some where facing south others north, but they were well aware of my presence. It wasn’t until I took a few more steps forward that they flew off toward the second barn and landed on the far side of its roof, closest to the edge of the forest.

The farmer had told me earlier during our conversation that there were five rock doves playing around but he did not know their whereabouts, however I know they seem to like the barns and that this was a likely place to start looking for them. The first barn was abandoned and broken, making it an ideal place to have a nest and to provide shelter, not just for the doves but also woodchucks and rabbits.

I took a few more steps, stopped and then looked around; I wanted to make sure I knew where all the young bulls were before I crossed the field in an attempt to harvest the rock doves at the second barn. The cattle were scattered all over the field and I always make sure I have a clear path to safety in case one the bulls comes running.

Once I had everyone in place exactly where I wanted them, I got down really low ran across the field and came up to the second barn from an angle using its gable roof as cover, the rock doves never even saw me sprinting across the open ground and by the time I caught my breath I was just beneath them.

I loaded a shell into the chamber of my Remington 870 and clicked it into safety, and shouldered my shotgun into a good firing position. I stepped away from the barn taking two steps backward and this movement sent the rock dove into the air, I focused on the one to my right, followed through and released my shot.

I was leaning right back and aiming directly straight up into the sky above me, the pigeon spun around in an incredible aerobatics display and flipped twice more and fell to the ground below only four meters to my right. It was a great harvest and a great start to an afternoon.

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