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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.

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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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Two weeks ago when I set off on my last hunt, I started to sing as I was driving my truck, rolling up and down over the hills on the road. It was liberating, heck my window was all the way down and I was singing so loud. I am sure I looked quite silly but this mattered not. I believe there is more to it, then just the song and the joys of singing. I was asking the powers to be all around me to provide a great harvest and positive vibes. Almost like a prayer, after all there is no shame in this.

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The words go like this “Oh Lord of the skies give me a great harvest, give me a Canada Goose, or a Mallard Drake or maybe a Green Wing Teal” Then I go on asking for solid shooting and good wishes and about how thankful I am about being able to hit the wetlands, all the while trying to rhyme, so that it sounds fair.

You know the darn thing is, that it seems to be working, and I think I shall continue this new tradition of mine. Anyhow today was an exceptional day in the snow, it was so mild with the temperature sitting at about five degrees celsius. The wetlands were simply incredible. And once again I was all alone, absolutely no-one. Like I wrote in my earlier blog entry, as soon as the deer season is over, and the winter moves into the forest along the river and the nearby wetlands the area becomes deserted. I don’t understand it, because there are less geese no doubt but the duck season is still open for until the start of the month of January. There was a slight rain fall and the fog was starting to move in by early afternoon as I made my way to the pathway between the bays.

The pass was almost all frozen over because normally the water level comes up to your waist and in some places even higher and you have to wade through the water carefully because there are sometimes 2 x 4’s with nails from blinds that were built the year before. There’s a local beaver that has moved in and began building along the pathway, which now makes it easier because it makes a land bridge. Today was incredibly mild and as I was walking through the pass I can see the cranes takeoff and fly away from their nearby nests.

My objective was to get to my new hunting spot where I’ve been before, this spot is quite beautiful but the most strategic part about it is that there is an opening from the river which leads to a large creek that moves inland. Mergansers and Mallards seem to like this spot and if I call properly, they usually come in flying or swimming along. There are also large trees that create a natural fence line between me and the river, so on my way up to the natural blind, I can jump shoot all the way along. Mergansers will fly in and then dive under and look for food, this is the perfect time to move into position from large tree to tree.

Then when they resurface, I freeze and hold, then when I get close enough, I jump out and they burst into the air for a quick harvest. Within the first two hours I had harvested two birds. The tricky part was retrieving the birds when they fell back into the cold waters, the ice sheets attached to the shore were already several inches thick and when I stepped out onto the ice I would break through to my knees, this was no problem but when the current brought the sheets of ice back in, they would crash into my shins.

So, I leaned forward and pushed them off, some pieces were as large as a dining table, now two birds in the bag by mid afternoon the fog started to thicken and was quite a sight. The black tree trunks and branches would zig zag through the fog like veins in an arm and it was quite something to see, my gut instinct was telling me that it was now time to start making my way back to the truck. I still had about a forty minute hike through rough terrain with water traps. Besides, I was not alone there were three large coyote paw marks and no other human boot tracks to be seen.

As I broke the tree line and headed toward the bay, I swung around to look back at the forest and it was completely engulfed with white fog. This sight would make the hair on any man’s neck rise. My inner senses and timing could not have been any better, it was as if the wilderness was closing its doors on me, even with time to spare before legal shooting time was over, the message was clear.

Once over the beaver dam, I started following another smaller creek along the way, attempting to jump shoot one more duck before the end, but as I made my way north, my eyes spotted a white tail and slight brown colour moving lightning fast along the water edge. It was a cottontail, I swung around instantly and the rabbit took two more hops and dove into a bush with just its hind legs coming out the back.

I released my shot and it was all over in just a few seconds. I was so excited to retrieve the Cottontail, I unloaded my 870 and leapt through the creek right over the bush and just about fell over in the snow and mud. There is no better way to end the day, it is moments like these when we can truly take the time to appreciate what nature has offered and it makes up for the times that one can be discouraged and have doubts in one’s abilities as an outdoorsman or outdoors woman.

I wish you all the best on your back-end of the waterfowl season and a great small game season!

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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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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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Hang on! Before I start typing, let me turn on Kane Brown -Heaven on “Youtube”…ok now I am ready.

Like many outdoorsmen and women out there, I love to watch videos about hunting, my favourite one’s have to be about waterfowl, either from ground blinds or jump shooting from a canoe or kayak.

Not only do I pick up on new tips and tricks but I also really enjoy watching some of the great hunts that have been captured on film, in addition I love having some great laughs, especially when watching “Outlaw” videos on Dippin’ and Huntin’ geese.

It brings back memories of dippin’ with my buds when I was younger, sharing awesome moments.

Many of those videos out there often host a guide or two and their role is vital to a successful hunt with regards to the harvesting of game. I am normally the hunter out there and it has been like this for years and I have also made some great vids too with my GoPro but in the past couple years, I have had several opportunities to be a guide. I always had my doubts about my abilities as a guide but after having taken several buds on successful duck and Canada goose hunts and now this weekend turkey hunting, I am slowly transforming into a seasoned guide.

Knowledge is definitely a large part of being a great guide, but also having the right equipment for example turkey decoys, a tent/blind and a good turkey caller is key, especially for my upcoming weekend. Then there are other attributes like having confidence about your decisions, and having a great understanding of the game that you are pursuing and its environment.

There are many other important factors to being a guide, like having the ability to take responsibility for the mistakes made because in some cases even if it may not always be said, the hunters will lay the blame on you as the guide for their unsuccessful harvests, even if it was mother nature’s doing.

My whole life I have been surrounded by institutions that solely exists based on theories and this just does not work out in the field. Part of being a guide is also earning confidence and trust from the hunters, and this is easily obtained by being modest and having proven field experience, this can be as easy as having great stories based on field time or a simple picture of you with a harvested Turkey or geese in your den.

This will not be my last blog about being a guide because it is simply an intriguing subject and so vast. Until next time remember to be respectful of your guide and keep in mind their proven field experience and learn to trust their instincts.

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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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