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During my migratory bird season, when the Canada geese usually fly in toward the farm where I hunt, more specifically the South side, they quite often choose the two best spots in that area. Either they land across the creek on the edge of the ridge at the start of the hay-field or they land on the North side just shy of the tree line close to the creek.

Both positions offer a great view of the surrounding open ground, which enables the spotter geese to identify a threat and call out if danger is approaching. But it is also near the creek and the swamp which is in the back toward the South-West. In addition there is plenty of food.

It is not by coincidence that they select these two preferred spots and this is why is pays off to be observant. As a waterfowl hunter once you have chosen your approach plan, you can use this knowledge to your advantage and adapt to get close enough to your birds for a harvest.

In my last post, I mentioned that I like to change some things during my hunts to see what works and what doesn’t, this also includes changing my plan of approach during my still-hunts. Just like the geese, I too have a preferred path which I use to close the gap between the geese and I when I stalk them and this is always done on my knees or leopard crawling.

On this particular hunt, I noticed that only six geese came in and flared their wings and landed near the creek facing north. I decided that coming in from the East would be very challenging, having noticed where the spotter geese were standing. So, I changed up my approach plan and worked my way in from the West completing the top part of my approach heading down a ridge and coming up from the opposite side of my usual approach path.

There I lined myself up with an old barn that I used to cover in order to gain more ground. From a bird’s-eye view try to picture a perfect slice of pie superimposed over the field and the tip being where the geese are located, by this time I had now traced the outline of the triangular slice and was coming up the one of the side legs of the triangle heading toward the tip.

The only problem was that now there was nothing but open ground and still several meters to the geese. Once I reached the corner of the barn, I looked through the board gaps and studied the geese position and the spotter geese and decided that coming from the Eastern side would be best. So, I looked to the ground and took several breaths, took three shells and slid them in the buttstock holder and placed the rest in my right pocket and buttoned it shut.

I lowered my face mask then got down on my belly and started to crawl forward toward the East. The first few meters were extremely tough and it was incredibly warm, also making my way over a log. Every few meters, I would stop and place my face into the ground and breathe in a rhythm to control my breathing and not allow myself to get too exhausted.

Once in a while I would slowly lift my head about five inches and check my alignment to ensure I was still in line with the birds. The farm field is full of uneven ground which is perfect to slip into a small trench and gain more ground. On my final approach, I was only pushing with the ball of my feet to propel myself forward and then using my elbows to lift my body of the ground and push ahead.

I was able to get within twenty-five meters of the birds and slide in behind an old upside down claw foot bath tub, which was most likely used to for the cattle to drink a long time ago. I loaded my three shells and pumped the action and placed the 870 on safe. Now I had to figure out how to get to my knees without getting too high and giving away my position. After a couple of minutes, I raised my barrel and rested it on the tub and aligned myself for the first shot.

It did not take long for the birds to call out and burst into the air and with just inches from the ground, I released my shot into the closest goose and it tumbled to the ground with a broken wing. I had to release a second shot into the same bird and while pumping the action to release the second shell and load the third, the spent shell jammed before I could clear it for the third shot and possibly another harvest. It was too late and the others had already set considerable distance between them and I. Quite often with my Remington 870 even if cleaned and pumping the action properly, I find that the shorter shells extract better with my pump-action; one day I hope to be able purchase the new Versa max. This will for sure eliminate the expended shell jams and with the semi-auto action I might be able to release my shots quicker and possibly harvest two or three geese in one single approach.

Just the same I was extremely satisfied with this harvest and the approach. It can be said that in a blind setup, one can harvest a greater number of birds yet I find that still-hunting is so much more rewarding and so far it has proven to be a very positive start of the season with this feathered fox.

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My boots entered the cold muddy waters as I stepped through the creek heading in the direction of the southern field; I was closing the gap between the large boulders and I. For today the weather network had called for thunder showers along with strong winds but this hadn’t materialized yet and I still had some time to be out in the open, while walking up the ridge. I arrived at the farm late in the morning just before noon and had a great chat with my farming friend, we talked about family and the farm.

With the incredible amounts of rain that we have had this past spring and summer, there has been lots of growth and abundant hay but not necessarily quality hay. I am always concerned for the cattle and that they will have enough food for the winter. Once I reached the southern field, I leaned forward while walking to give myself a lower profile. When ever I come up to large boulders or groupings of small trees, I keep a sharp eye for small brown objects which move quickly, and these can be a woodchuck.

I raised my head from time to time to get a better look, a nice breeze came in and I instantly picked up the scent of the wet cedar, it was awesome. It was natures way of providing its form of aromatherapy. I kept pressing on and once I caught my breath I walked right through the green curtain of trees following a well used cattle trail.

I barely had the time to lift my head again and I had already triggered an alert with the first woodchuck of the day, who dove into his hole. In this situation, I usually wait a few minutes, as they tend to come back out and investigate in order to identify if you are in fact a threat or just another animal.

I stood tall and placed my shotgun perpendicular to my body and slipped in behind a wide tree. Every few seconds, I would take a deep breath and tilted only my head forward and glanced at the woodchuck. The woodchuck was coming out again, but only its head was out of the ground and it was not a sure harvest shot. I wanted a clean harvest because I was planning on having a great meal later in the evening.

Now with the woodchuck standing half outside the hole, I carefully raised my 870, loaded a shell pumped the action and fired my shot. I had my first confirmed harvest of the day and loaded the woodchuck in my game bag. I pumped the action again and ejected the empty shell then looked up at the sky to check out the darker cloud formation coming in from the West. I headed right toward the opening in the field and made my way back to the creek, this is when I spotted another woodchuck further up the ridge to the south-west.

He was positioned in front of the large boulder but it was too late, he had made me and ran back into his hole. I had considered circling and coming around from the back using the tree line and the high ground but it was too late. I finally decided to go back to the truck place my first harvest into the cooler then try for a second try at the large boulder woodchuck.

Thirty minutes had gone by and I was now lighter with the first harvest in the cooler, had a drink of water and set off again. I was keeping my eyes open for the cattle, because I did not want to cross the creek with them too close to me. I stepped over the electric fence surrounded by tall wild grass and headed down another cattle path between two barns and back across the creek.

This time, my plan was to circle to the right, heading toward the swamp and using the low ground and small bushes as to cover more ground without being spotted. I had stopped just prior to the creek and used my binoculars to confirm that he was back on top of the boulder. He was indeed and facing the north-east with this back to my front. This was perfect, I moved through the low ground winding in and out of the brush and finally hit an open area. He had spotted me and jumped down from the boulder and back around the front back into his hole. My initial approach worked for a while but he keen eyes had spotted me.

I still pressed on and bent forward again and got really low to the ground, I was now on his right and about twenty meters out. I got down on my knees and placed my 870 in my left hand and used my right hand as support as I crouched and moved up to a large bush growth on a smaller boulder just meters before the woodchuck hole. It provided great concealment and now with my controlled breathing, I raised my head like a periscope and noticed the woodchuck had come out and turned sideways just a short distance from the opening of his hole.

I dropped a shell into the breach slid the action forward instantly locking a shell then slid the push safety on. I raised my head once more and then carefully positioned myself into a good firing position, pushed released the safety off, then let out my shot. The second harvest of the day was confirmed and just in time because the storm had moved in and the presence of lightning was my queue to head home for the day.

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Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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The strong winter winds blew south, across the front field picking up the soft snow which lay on the surface of the ice crust. It spun it around like a dust cloud, the white powder spiralled into the air a second time, then it was violently brought down to the shores of the creek. I was standing in my kitchen looking out at the creek, when all of a sudden I noticed a large black object surface in the middle of the black waters current and climb with ease onto the ice surface through an opening.

Nature was calling, and I had a good idea who it was but I was being drawn out anyways, I had to go outside and check it out, even if it was wickedly cold. I always take a long stick or a ski pole just in case he may lunge at me because they do have that ability. If you get too close it just takes one slap of the tail and he is up close and fast. Just listen to the archived CBC interview of Penn Powell from Port Hope. It does not matter what size the animal is, I always get excited and either I use my binoculars for a close look or I just simply walk out to the creek and investigate. The large beaver was out, he was busy cutting branches off of a smaller tree and then bringing the sticks under water and jamming them into the bottom of the creek to feed at a later time.

It is going to be a busy spring for this fellow, and for now he can continue his evening work but I will be looking for the signs and if a dam is built, good old trappers will need to get to work.

If you have had the privaledge of seeing how a dam is built, then you quickly realise how remarkle this builders truly are.

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Life has been moving so quickly these days with so much going on in the early part of two thousand and seventeen, that I haven’t really been able to digest the passing of my great-aunt. And when I speak with colleagues at work about life in general, it seems to be the same for them, this early period of the year is throwing everything it has at us and we are put to the test with deaths in the family, some with financial or others health issues.

My great-aunt took great pleasure in feeding the local wildlife in her yard and this gave her comfort and countless hours of pleasure. It was a way to break away from the constant distractions of life. And in her final days this is where she chose to be, in her home close to the squirrels that she fed. Her family was never far from our beautiful North-American wilderness and she knew her trees and wildlife very well.

Many years ago she owned a cabin in the woods where she would spend some time away from the town, there she was free to spend hours with the local wildlife. On my second last trip to go see her, we sat in a park surrounded by tall evergreen trees and we had nice talk about the importance of nature and the history of the woods in her region.

I remember her telling me “The forest is my church” and these words will for ever be etched in my memory when I think of her. Last weekend shortly after breakfast, I fed my local crows and squirrels, and I could not put it into words how I felt. The excitement and joy I experienced when the crows came flying in answering my calls as they fed, it was rewarding and calming.

Almost every morning over the past few days, when I looked out my kitchen window and stare into the woods, I took a few deep breaths and thought about my great-aunt feeding her squirrels and I can hear her voice talking about her love of nature and enjoying the simple things like feeding them.

I will continue the family tradition of feeding the local squirrels and will take time to think of her in doing so, because the very same forest that is spread right across our great nation is my church as well.

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My snowshoe aluminium claws broke the silence in the woods, when they crushed through the ice and into the softer snow below the crust. I was well over a kilometer away from the nearest barn and I was surrounded by evergreen trees. They stood tall with their majestic winter coats and seemed on the verge of collapse because of the weight of the snow.

January 15th, 2016 marked the last day of sharp-tailed grouse for my hunting zone. I thought to myself it would be amazing to maybe get a harvest on the last day of their season. I was out hunting snowshoe hare, grouse and maybe if time permitting a few rock doves over by the farm.

Still-hunting for snowshoe hare and grouse are very similar in technique, it is basically scanning the hidden dark spots at the base of spruce bows and fallen logs, walking slowly and frequently stopping to look and try to identify shapes and colors that don’t fit in.

Hares have black tips on their ears and are generally straight up listening for danger, as for their black shiny eyes these are easily spotted with a keen sight.

Grouse can either be sitting at eye level on small branches in a tree or at ground level tucked away in a ball puffing out their feathers to stay warm during the winter months. Or just simply walking about like a domestic chicken, in short but quick bursts.

Once you see one, lock your eyes on them and stay with them because they can lose you in an instant as they dash around foliage. If you decide to follow, then make sure you are well versed in the use of a compass because they will bring you further into the brush but they will always stay in their circuit. Which is invisible to us unless you follow their tracks in the snow.

After about two hours of following hare leads, I was slowly making my way back to the farm, when something caught my eye at the base of a pine tree on my right about twenty meters in from the main trail.

There was a dead fallen log leaning diagonally under the pine tree up against its trunk and the pines lowest branches were buried with its tips buried under the icy snow forming a natural skirting almost all around the base of the tree.

What struck me was this black circle just sitting under the fallen log, I mean it was a perfect black circle. Deep down I had a feeling it was a grouse but I was not sure yet and couldn’t decide if it was a malformation on the tree, like a large accumulation of sap on the log in the shape of a ball.

It would have been unpracticed and unsafe for me to take a shot at the dark object without truly knowing what it was. I was excited and yet physically I remained calm in my decision, I had no choice but to move in closer for a good confirmed shot.

I loaded two shells into the shotgun and pumped one in the chamber then instantly clicked it into safety on position. I lifted my left leg and started to make my way toward the tree through the deep snow and dense brush.

My first two steps through the snow aroused the grouse with a thrashing sound which caused it to turn its head to the right, I had my final confirmation, it was a grouse.

My shot was going to be a very difficult one with over twenty meters between us through several thin branches. In addition while aiming I had to point low below the log where the grouse was hiding. I only had about a five-inch diameter to make the shot and the bird was on the move toward the north.

To make matters worse, my snowshoes had failed me and I went through the snow on the edge of the trail and sunk down to my waist. I was using the more modern pair of snowshoes, my Michigan’s would have kept me at the surface of the snow crust.

Once I got myself into a descent shooting position I shouldered my 870 and fired a shot, aiming to high and missing my shot completely.

The grouse jumped out to the right and made his way north and then back around the front of the tree heading west.

I saw him through the greenery but it was not a clear shot. I tried to chase it but sunk even further into the snow.

I was instantly broken and felt and incredible amount of frustration. Gosh!! I love the winter woods but it can be a tough environment. You might live incredible hunts but you will also have days like these.

I tried to circle around but the grouse he was gone and my hunt was also done as it was getting close to dark.

I know there will be next year’s season but this one was a bust, this is when you must dig deep and find the positive in the experience and not find things to blame.

Like there could have been less snow, I should have used different shot or a different shotgun.

Next fall will remedy this and for now I can continue to pursue pigeon and snowshoe hare and hope to make up for this day.

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There was a light snow fall in effect for my late afternoon walk back from work today. The scenery was stunning and the sun was only minutes from setting for the night, when all of a sudden I was pleasantly surprised by a cottontail rabbit on my pathway. He stood there for a few seconds and then hopped away back into the spruce bushes nearby leaving behind him the classic two dot tracks at the back combined with the two longer hind legs prints at the front in the direction that he was heading.

As a small game hunter I take great pleasure in seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and can spend hours observing them. What I find even more interesting is that this was only my second cottontail sighting in several months.

During last year`s small game season I did not harvest any snowshoe hares or cottontail which is quite unusual as I generally harvest one or two in a season. This is not exceptional numbers I agree but one thing to keep in mind is that I hunt quite often alone and with no dogs.  This season I was convinced that I was experiencing a decrease in numbers due to their natural life cycle for the area where I hunt.

Most books I have read mention this infamous ten-year cycle for rabbit and hare populations but based on my time spent in the field it seems more like a five-year cycle. This year while out on my waterfowl hunts at my favorite woodlands spot, I saw two red foxes and it had been well over five years, since I had seen any in the area, to me this is indicative that there must be food in the area. Could the lagomorphs’ population be on the rise again?

I will be hitting the woods in the next few weeks for pigeon, mourning dove and snowshoe hare; if a harvest is not a confirmation of my findings then I will need to continue my natural research, which I will gladly do since it is our passion. I have a good feeling; now let me reach for my rabbit foot.

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