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I stood there very still for a moment in time on top of the valley of my dear friends farm; waiting as the cool air from the southern breeze made its way up the ridge toward me. Once it enveloped me it felt as though it had cleansed me of all life’s impurities and in doing so, it showed me that no matter from our modern world had any significance in the wild. I was free and the feeling was an overwhelming sense of joy and mixed emotions.

In the woods being surrounded by its raw beauty and ruthlessness, I was free of judgment, free to roam its narrow passages through the dense brush and the dark black waters of the nearby creeks, all the while my soul was being lured further in by the diving beaver as it made its way to the dam.

All my senses were at a heightened state, the sound of the flowing water and the calls of Red-Winged black birds pulled me deeper into the bowels of this vast wilderness. Though my stay as a guest was only for a few short hours, I returned home refreshed.

The smell of smoke from a distant chimney blew in over the vast open fields and as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, for a moment in time, I found myself standing back in the dark rolling valleys of the Balkans with the sounds of distant gunfire stamped into my memory for all of eternity.

patrol

I love the wilderness for it provides all the ingredients for a sound soul. For I can not wait to return again and in time, I too will become part of this very same southern breeze, and possibly have the chance to share my wisdom through a whisper for the next generation of Canadian outdoor enthusiasts.

I am an old soul and for this I am sure and I feel it through my bushcraft, I have come to realize that I may live now amongst us today but my being is that of a time long ago.

This blog entry is dedicated to all veterans and their families from all over the globe.

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My wadders hang silently in the garage by the d-ring, empty shells lay in a cracked red bucket on the cold cement floor. The shotgun now locked away in its cabinet with a fresh coat of gun oil, the smell flowing through room and being absorbed into the wood of nearby furniture.

As I look on at a vintage photo of goose hunters, I wished that objects had voices, so that they could tell stories, that if not shared would be lost in the space which surrounds us. Stories that are worth sharing, cause it is part of who we are as waterfowlers and for me a proud Canadian outdoorsman.

Those are the very same wadders I wore on a special spring snow goose hunt north of Quebec City a few years ago with good friends. It was early in the afternoon and we had just brought down a few snow geese into the fields but one bird fell into the St Lawrence river and was being carried away.

The current was roaring to the south and the bird would disappear down on its shores, I could not let this one go. It was quite a ways out and amongst the huge ice blocks, but I had to retrieve the goose. So I stood up from my blind, unloaded my shotgun and left it behind with the other guys and ran after my bird.

First I headed toward the shore, cut through some brush and within seconds I was all alone. I kept on running along the banks for several minutes, like a boy chasing a plane. The terrain was getting more difficult to navigate and I was having to jump up and down ridges, sinking into the mud and eventually I jumped over a couple of tributaries.

All the while running after this famed goose, I could see that the current spirals were spinning the goose toward the shore but still quite a ways out. When I could, I reached out for a large twig that I had found on the ground which had a long enough branch and two angled branches at its end like human fingers.

Finally when the current slowed because of the huge ice blocks, I leapt into the St Lawrence dark waters up to my waist prodding at the bottom of the river to make sure I was not stepping into emptiness. Now only within a few meters, I managed to catch the goose with the wooden claws and pulled in the harvest.

On my way back when I breached the brush line and raised the bird into the air showing the boys that I had got it. I was a proud fellow and they burst out into a joyful laughter. These are memories of a lifetime, better yet this is a story that will not remain locked into those Allen wadders for eternity.  

 

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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 then 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 conditions were incredible today, with a slight breeze blowing in from the North. By the time we rolled up the dirt road to the farm, a flock of rock doves flew over head but quickly continued over the tree line to the West. One thing was clear on this day, is that the rock doves were not going to give us a chance to harvest one of them. I have been hunting rock doves for years now on the farm and they have learned to recognize my truck and when they see people standing around the truck or the nearby barns they will disappear and not fly in for any grain until I am gone.

Our goal was to set out into the farmland and attempt to harvest some Canada geese in the pre-season for our sector, both Cackling and Canada geese are open until the twenty-first of the month in farmland then the full waterfowl season opens on September 22, 2018 on the rivers. After a few minutes of chatting with my farming friend we opened the cattle gate and drove down through the fields across the creek and over to the larger farmland fields. Parked the truck near the tree line providing us with some cover.

The setting was perfect, large open fields and clear blue skies, we left the city later in the afternoon because over time and accumulated experience you realize it is no longer necessary to set out on a full day hunt during waterfowl season, you learn to capitalize on the best time periods, early morning for example around seven-thirty in the morning and earlier or later in the afternoon until a half and hour passed sundown.

We took this time to prepare our kit, as we were not rushed, all the while taking in the beauty around us. Fall is coming and the colours are starting to pierce through. My friend had just purchase a new goose caller and was trying it out and within minutes small flocks of geese started to fly in but further out to the north and well out of reach.

Then we both started to call and take breaks between us then call again. There were Blue Jays and Norther Flickers and crows everywhere but no Canada’s for at least an hour or so, then our calls finally came through. I had stopped and was looking for my binoculars in my backpack, when all of sudden a group of twenty geese responded to my friends calls. He worked them directly into our shooting lanes but they were still high. We both crouch down as low as we could and waited for them to be within range and directly in the centre of the farm land.

They banked and started to break their wings to come in for a landing but turned rapidly and started to lift and get higher, and then they turned toward the East as they had come in from the North heading South. The weather was still warm, and their numbers are still not exceptional yet and I knew this was going to be our only chance.

I whispered out that this was our only chance as they going to complete a full turn and head South and that they were going to abort the landing. Both my friend and I were not in the greatest of positions and by the time we stood up and each released two shots it was all over. We both missed, I am not sure if it was our position or our lead or height of the birds but we were broken to say the least.

We are both seasoned waterfowl hunters and yet we missed our shots and we both shared the same frustration of the situation. Life is super busy with work and everything and when you set off for a Canada goose hunt on farmland and miss, it stings quite a bit.

On the way home, we talked and laughed about what happened to ease the pain but I can tell you, for a few minutes, I could have chewed on a stick to ease the frustration of having missed those shots.

Our official season will start on the twenty-second of this month, we know we will have many opportunities to redeem ourselves. Although this does not make for a very exciting entry in my blog, there is one thing that we all can appreciate and share and this is the frustration that comes with missing a shot and not harvesting.

Of course it is not the end of the world and there will be lots of opportunities but it doesn’t take away that today stung a bit and it is not a good way to start the fall season.

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There is no better way to treat your soul than spending time in the woods, it is not only refreshing but it also allows you to recharge your inner battery. You are free of all the city madness and its sounds. With the snow melt now in effect, and the sun coming out in full strength I couldn’t have asked for a better day to spend time in the elements.

I decided to bring a friend along and we were going to try our luck with rock dove and woodchuck, since their seasons are open all year round in my hunting zone in Quebec. The rock doves are incredible flyers and can perform amazing aerobatics in the air and sometimes can avoid shots thus making it a true challenge, pigeons also learn quickly and recognize danger and can fly away without offering a chance of a harvest.

After a couple failed attempts on the rock doves, I chose to give them a few minutes to calm down and swing back into our wooded area, so we set off to the other side of the creek and head south to try my luck at the woodchucks in the rock formations atop of a hill. The creek current was faster than usual with the water icy cold as there were still ice and snow chunks floating down along with a few Mallard ducks and three Canada geese.

The creek was too wide and we only had our hip waders on, and the depth of the creek was too deep. There were no boards available to make a makeshift crossing, but nature has a way of providing. And in our case it was a land bridge, made by one of the most impressive builders in the animal world, a beaver.

The dam is about eighty meters long and makes for a great land bridge, and it was only six hundred meters West of our current spot, the tricky part was getting there because the bush was extremely thick. I used this opportunity to share my knowledge of moving through the brush, looking for directional signs, such as the position of the sun and the vegetation, for example such as broken twigs, and on our way back we located our foot steps in the mud and snow as guidance.

The forest floor was saturated with snow and mud; sometimes you found yourself sinking into mud holes that resembled quick sand, holding on small trees and walking on the mud islands and downed trees worked great. Also early in the spring, if you are planning on following a creek I tend not to get too close to the edge as the ice sheets overlap the river and if you are not careful, there is nothing but water below the sheets of ice, that have become thinner with the increased temperatures in the spring.

It is a great idea to use a tall walking stick for balance, while crossing the dam wall and ensure that every step is on solid parts of the dam, being aware of the spillway. Once we had reached the other side it was simply magical, just the wind and birds keeping us company. The view overlooking the ridge was just breath-taking. Total mastery of the woodlands is not just a positive feeling but it is also incredibly rewarding. Their dams are not a barrier, but rather a passage.

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