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The black waters of the Ottawa River were quite visible with its ice only forming on its shores. The waterfowl season was still very active and only closing in just a few weeks. Now that the temperatures have started to drop the only visible ducks were American Black ducks, Mallards along with scattered groups of Canada geese found in the open areas of the marsh and river.

There were also Barrow’s Golden eye ducks but they had a tendency to move rapidly to the middle and deeper parts of the marsh.

I was out on the banks heading east along the northern side closest to the marsh and it was just an incredible experience, mallards and black ducks were flying in and landing just meters to my front. I had to get right down low in order to stalk, using the trees and tall grass in an attempt to get closer.

I had my sights on a mallard couple which had landed on the edge of the ice; I managed to get up really close. I was readying myself for a shot, when all of a sudden I spotted a group of five mallards to the west or right. They were floating down toward me heading east, and I could see them appear and disappear between the trees, they were in a better position.

There was a very cold wind blowing in from the south on the river; yet my hands were warm as they are conditioned for the cold, besides I do not like wearing gloves when I am shooting, especially when working with the safety. Once I got moving my hands would feel like they are swelling up and then they eventually warm up within minutes they felt like mittens.

I stood up and moved closer to the pathway leading to the right, once in position, I stood up lightning fast and the ducks burst into flight, I selected one duck and released my shot.

A female mallard tumbled down to the water; it was my first harvest of the day. I retrieved the bird and continued down the shore of the river. I was really happy with my harvested duck, and was planning on heading further east when I spotted a flock of twenty or so Canada geese, floating near some dead trees which were submerged.

I set my sights on the geese and like a fox I got even lower and started my really slow stalk. What I did not realize is that there were a few mallard’s just meters in front of me in a small channel in behind the tall grass. I would have walked right on top of them heading toward the geese hadn’t I seen them.

So instead I carefully moved forward and stood up once I was within a fair shooting distance, unfortunately a well hidden duck which was on my left spotted me first, let out a call and the group took off and heading north.

I stood still and watched as they circled and came right back to my left, heading west. I moved really slow careful not to startle them further west or higher.

When I flushed the ducks, they didn’t seem to be bothered so much by the sound of breaking ice under my boots but rather by what they saw as a potential danger in the movement around them. If you were seen, the ducks would burst into the air in seconds; what was interesting is that they circled around across the marsh to the north then came right back at me. I was now standing and I repositioned myself but I did not move fast as to scare the birds higher and out of range.

I noticed behavior similarities between mallard ducks and snowshoe hares, they both circle when flushed and both seem to wait until the last second before bursting into flight or leaping away. Almost like they were hoping you would walk or paddle right by them during their freeze pose.

Sure enough they came looping right back off to my left, I slowly raised my shotgun lined up my bead sight with a duck and released my shot.

The bird froze its flight in mid-air and crashed into the water below. It was a brilliant harvest and a great way to end my afternoon. That night we had pan-fried duck with Montreal steak seasoning.

The marsh in the winter time is a magical place.

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When you are out hunting turkey in the Spring or in the Fall depending on which country or province you live in, there are some colors that should be avoided..which colors are they?

Easter Wild Turkey Head

RED, WHITE, BLUE and BLACK!

For more information about turkey hunting visit the following sites:

The National Wild Turkey Federation

La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs

Le ministre des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune

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In two days, I will be heading back into the woods and I can barely contain my excitement. I will have spent almost the whole week preparing my gear and rifles for the day trip. It is very difficult to describe this strange magnetic draw I feel toward the wilderness.
 
In Dianne Macmillan’s book “Life in a deciduous forest” she writes about energy and how it is transformed into food when it pertains to the relationships between the sun, the North American biome and its ecosystems, which also include wildlife.
 
She describes the different levels of a forest from high above in the canopy down through the understory and finally to the forest floor; there is in fact energy and not just at the solar or nutrient levels. She writes the following on page six: “A constant exchange of matter and energy creates a natural balance.”

It is all it takes just a few hours in the woods and I am able to grasp the balance I need. Although the majority of us live in urban areas, we are very much part of the link and this relationship that the author writes about, futhermore at the end of the book she provides websites and suggestions on activities and practices that are great for the environment.

This blog is not just about small game and varmint hunting but also about conservation, if you leave a room -shut off the light. This simple yet great gesture will indirectly affect your hunting environment in a positive way allowing you and future generations to benefit from the wilderness as well.

I highly recommend this book as it was an enjoyable read, so much so that I finished it in just two hours. The book is extremely informative and helps you better understand life in a deciduous forest and there are some great points about its wildlife such as the black bears, ruffed grouse and other small game.

Education and awareness are key, thank you Dianne!

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I was standing very still with my binoculars surveying the low ground over on the eastern field, trying to find any early signs of woodchuck presence. I set out to the farm shortly after lunch knowing that the groundhogs preferred to come out and move later in the afternoon. The wind was blowing hard in a north-easterly direction and the low dark clouds moved quickly through the sky and caused the field to change color. The spots where there was fresh dirt turned over or where a broken fence post lay played visual tricks on your eyes.

The air was chilled and the temperature was at about plus two degrees Celsius, the weather station had predicted about two centimeters of snow and this definitely was not ideal weather for the chucks. But I had seen about four others in nearby fields located at the other farms. As soon as it started to snow, the ice pellets started bouncing off the mud and the car parked on the side of the road, the sky got dark quite fast.

I had no choice but to sit and wait it out until the sky cleared. Twenty minutes had passed and the sun finally broke though. Still no sign of the woodchucks and I did not blame them especially with this weather being so un-predictable.  So, I decided to turn my focus on the Red Wing black birds and Rock Doves.

The farmer had scattered some grain for his cattle along with a few hay bales and this had drawn in a flock of Red wing black birds; this presented a fun challenge as they can be a difficult bird to harvest because they are easily alarmed and they travel in flocks so if you startle one bird they all disperse.

On the southern field and its northern side of the creek, were three old barns where I had harvested one of my first woodchucks of last summer. The first two barns were smaller and bunched together with only a few meters apart resting on the slope but the third barn was about thirty meters away and closer to the creek on leveled ground near the forest’s south-western edge.

The pigeons, red wing black birds along with robins and starlings were all gathered in the flooded field to the south of the third barn. So, I decided to descend the southern ridge and move my way along the electrical fence between the first two barns and begin a very slow and muddy stalk to the third barn towards the birds.

Earlier in the afternoon I had noticed the cattle were still feeding on the north side of the western field which was connected to the southern field with no fence separating the two. If you were to include the eastern hay field combined they would create a “U” shape around the main farming complex. As a general rule and as a question of respect, I always kept a safe distance from the cattle especially since they had several new calves this year and I was quite aware that this could change the whole dynamics of my current situation.

As I carefully stalked toward the third barn, I was constantly keeping watch for the larger bulls that were part of the drift of cattle. I made sure; I was stepping on solid ground and not sinking into the mud and always watching up the ridge to my right. The only time I did not have control over my position was between the second and third barn. So as I approached the western side of the second barn and made my way over a worn out wired fence. I positioned myself so that I could see the eastern side of the third barn to my front, the creek to my left and on my right the southern edge of the western field where the mob of cattle were feeding.

After several minutes of hard stalking I was now inching into position, and the birds were now within shooting distance lined up in my sights. Unknown to me for the first few seconds, I was also being stalked and considered a moving target. My right eye caught some movement and when I turned my head, I found myself face to face with a two thousand pound bull and he was only forty meters away.

He had seen me come down the ridge on his left and he had subsequently moved in parallel into the middle of the field were there was a slight depression and caused him to disappear momentarily; from there he could protect his drove of cattle and calves.

We were both looking right at each other and for those who thought cattle can not see very well; I just proved it they sure can. He lowered his head and was swinging it aggressively left to right letting out these incredible huffs that came from deep within the beast. He had this thick white saliva dropping out of its nose and from around its mouth and I can assure you it did not take me long to get the message. Just like in the Spanish Corrida de Torros, he dug his front legs into the fresh mud and lifted large chunks of dirt and then would lower his head into the mud and rub the saliva into the ground.

The charge was coming but I had anticipated this and only had six meters to cover back to the second barn or a fifty meter dash to the tree line to the west, so I slowly moved backward to the northern side of the barn and took cover behind the old wired fence and made my way back around the first barn and then behind the electrical fence.

Once I showed the bull, my intentions were to stay clear and move away, he just locked his eyes on me and continued to move large chucks of dirt under his hooves, letting out huffs and puffs.

I finally circled the bull from the east behind the protection of the electrical fence, and then I talked to him in a gentle voice complementing him on the way he protected his drove. He was an absolute stunning bull, pure black, the true definition of power and I will never forget his huffing and puffing, it was so deep like a fog horn and it made every bone in my body shake.

Awareness is so important during any hunt.

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Try to imagine that we were conducting a study on human behavior, about how a person would behave when entering their car as well as the steps involved in preparing themselves for a drive. This study would have to be completed by doing research on thousands of drivers from all over the world; and it could take months or even years to complete. Time we do not necessarily have.

We would need to be recognized as experts in the field of human behavior thus allowing us to know where to begin the study and what to observe. We would have to be educated in that particular field allowing us to be respected by the public in the event we wanted to publish. We would also need to be prepared to defend our work against critics.

The steps of getting into a vehicle might be: First a person might unlock and open the door, get seated, adjust their seat and mirrors if needed, then fasten their seatbelts. Place their keys in the ignition then starting the car, and then maybe turning the radio or music player on.

This could become a complex study but the fact remains we are pretty predictable and even a young child could act out these steps while playing. I have to admit that this form of human behavior has become fairly common and it would not be difficult to write-up a thesis on this process of entering a car.

Now one might ask what the heck does this have to do with small game hunting. The fact remains that as small game hunters in North-America, almost every time we step into the wilderness depending on where we live, we are entering Grizzly or Black Bear country. When we do, we need to bring with us our best weapon every time we step out into the woods and that is, our minds. This is exactly what Stephen writes.

As a small game hunter, I do not have months or years to spend on this type of research and besides it is no longer about my example but rather about animal behavior and more specifically about bears and their attacks. What are the causes and avoidance? Can we become experts in predicting behavior or just be prepared?

In Stephen Herrero’s book “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and avoidance,” he has provided us with a great resource, combining the experience and research completed over three decades. He is by definition an expert. As a result after having read this book I can go out hunting in my case in black bear country with a more elevated sense of awareness and have more tools at my disposal.

I still believe it to be almost impossible to predict animal behavior especially bears. For me it is about taking the wealth of tips and information that Stephen has provided us and applying it to your experience. This is a great book but I must warn you that the first four chapters are very descriptive with concerns to real life incidents of attacks and may be difficult for some people to read.

This is not meant to be a book review by a long shot but rather a thank you note to the author for writing such a book and sparing us the years of work and providing us with tools that may make our hunting experience that much more enjoyable as we now become more aware.

I wanted to share some of the tips and information that I consider important and that Stephen has written and recommends:

-Go to naturalist talks on bears or attend a bear awareness sessions
-Study “Field Signs” such as feeding or bedding areas, areas near rivers (droppings, scrapings on trees, crushed logs, turned over rocks, fresh digging holes for roots or insects)
-Know the difference between the two types of bear attacks, defensive and predatory.
-Playing dead is your best bet for minimizing injury during defensive attacks, but you must be able to tell the difference between a defensive and a predatory attack.
-Fighting back, using any available weapon is essential in a predatory attack. Most serious or fatal attacks by black bears have been predatory.
-Certain bears used to feeding on people’s food and garbage become dangerous nuisances and in worst cases have killed people.
-Stay away from carcasses found on trails or near river beds, also be aware that there might be bears nearby if you see scavenging birds.
-Bears like to use already used game trails, roads and open areas near river banks, be aware of this and attempt to avoid possible in making any sudden contacts.
-When hiking through the woods, always be aware of the wind direction and try to be positioned down wind from the bears if you see one.
-Make sure you get first aid training and always carry a kit with you on your trips.
-Bring along spare food and water in case you may be stranded while waiting for rescue to come.
-Exercise and remain physically and mentally fit and prepare yourself mentally in preparation for injury. (There is a bear attack story in the book, where mental strength saved a woman’s life when she was certainly facing death.)
-Travel with alertness and attention in your immediate area.
-If the bear is aware of you and nearby but hasn’t acted aggressively, slowly back away, talking in as even tone as possible to the bear while slowly waving your arms. Don’t stare at the bear.
-Carry a gas-powered boat horn or pepper spray as these both have been tested and can be successful in an encounter.
-Sometimes your first indication that a bear is near is sound. A crashing in the bushes may indicate that you have come too close to a bear, deer, or moose. (This has happened to me with deer)
-When you encounter or see a bear, you want to know not only the species but also whether it is a female with young.
-Be aware that if a bear sees or hears something, it will often move downwind to get more information. (Bears have great sense of smell)

The author put a Native American saying in his book on page 137 and I read it and instantly memorized it: “A pine needle fell. The eagle saw it. The deer heard it. The bear smelled it.”

In chapter 16, –Bears and people in rural and remote areas, there is a section on firearms and it is very informative on the types of rifles or shotguns including shot that should be used for hunting or in self-defense. If you plan on defending yourself with a firearm against a charging bear, then you better have a lot of practice and know exactly where to shoot the bear and be a highly skilled marksman.

This book and its author Stephen Herrero have provided me with more insight and awareness that will make my hunting journeys into black bear country that much more enriched.

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The Snowshoe hare or “Varying hare” is definitely one of my favorite small game species to hunt. The season is one of the longest starting in Mid-September until the end of March. It is also an extremely enjoyable and challenging pastime to attempt to find and harvest a hare and that is with or without dogs. It can also be very cold in the dead of winter, so be well equipped and dressed. I once spent five hours hunting in the forest with the temperatures at -20 degrees Celsius. The cold was so intense that when you laced up your snowshoes with your bare hands it left you with the sensation that you were wearing big puffy gloves as your hands started to go numb. Some leads or trails may be found where the snow is very deep and snowshoes may be necessary. Practice extreme caution with your rifle or shotgun and do not take any unnecessary risks.

Starting in late September and all through the winter months the hare in eastern Canada will begin to go white as its fur changes color, except for its ear tips that remain black and also their hind legs that have a yellowish stain to them. If you have keen sight look for their black shiny eyes, if you are skilled and you identify the hare while it is in its freeze pose, you may harvest. Remember you are looking for a hare, white on white with about an average size of sixteen to twenty inches.

The varying hare is a very shy animal and during the day it spends most of its time concealed under evergreen trees and hollow logs or a recess in the ground. You can often find them in coniferous forests, relatively close to swamps or marshes. Hares will also sometimes be sun bathing on eastern facing slopes in order to capture some warmth later in the afternoon.

As the title indicates the hare is from the Lagos Morphe order and looks like your common rabbit with the long distinctive ears, which sometimes act as heat deflectors on hot days, carrying the heat away from its body as well as helping them hear and identify dangers.

The hare can also reach speeds of up to fifty kilometers per hour and will use this to break away from predators; they also have the ability to swim over small bodies of water while escaping capture.

Hares will feed on pussy willow and similar twigs, leaves and shrubs. During the winter months they will feed on buds, pine needles and chew the bark off smaller trees. Hares will also practice reingestion of fecal pellets, which are soft and green and still contain plant nutrients’ this is normally done during rest periods.

The two types of pellets that I have come across are the dark solid ones and the soft green ones. If you find yourself following a hare lead or snow tracks and you identify the soft green pellets chances are they are not far. 

I have always been successful in finding active signs of hare presence or actually harvesting a hare while following these next few steps. Study the habitat and range such as thickets or swamps, and then look for signs of hare presence such as hare droppings or branches with chew markings.  Once you have found a lead, follow it using the “Still hunting”  method. Walk a few steps stop and look under every tree and recess and when setting off into the woods avoid making any noise because most mammals have incredible hearing. Wear clothing that does not make too much noise and have colors that match the environment. If there is a strong breeze or if it is raining slightly, I tend to listen carefully and move once the wind picks up so that it covers the noise of my movement. Do not wear deodorants and use specially made soaps that reduce scents for you and your clothing because mammals also have a great sense of smell. Keep in mind the wind direction and try to keep yourself down wind.

If you “Walk the hare” or cause it to sprint, wait a few seconds as it may circle around and freeze once it believes the danger is no longer present. Remember also that during the winter months you are not the only hunter and be aware of your surroundings at all times especially if you see Coyote tracks. I remember very well that on one of my hunting trips I could sense a presence in the forest and my hunting partner heard growling in behind the evergreen out of sight and we soon found four tracks. Safety is paramount. Enjoy your hunt!

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