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It can be incredibly difficult to find a harvested game bird during a waterfowl hunt, especially if you are hunting early in the morning or right at dusk. One of my hunting partners has a gun dog, a Labrador retriever and she is an important member of our team.

We take great pride in being able to bring back our harvested game birds, but also about being safe and ethical hunters, every year our families have a wild game dinner.

She is a strong swimmer, and with her great sense of sight as well as smell, she brings back bird after bird and the only price I pay, is a muddy, wet truck with a happy dog sitting in the back seat.

However when I am out on my own either sitting in my ground blind or in my canoe it becomes a little more challenging because you are no longer just taking the shots and letting the gun dog complete the retrieval process. You are now also focusing on what I call the follow through and not just for the shooting aspect.

Being able to retrieve a duck or goose and bring it back home for a meal is a wonderful feeling; I have included a link to the Government of Canada, Justice Law Website and section for the Migratory Birds Regulations concerning retrieving birds.

I also would like to share some of the techniques I use when retrieving my migratory game birds without a gun dog. Once the game bird has fallen into the water or the wetlands vegetation after the shot and I have decided the retrieval process has begun, safety becomes my number one priority.

For me safety is represented in several flavors: Firearm safety, once I have taken the shot and harvested the game bird and made the choice not to down additional birds, I unload my shotgun immediately before starting my retrieval process.

Wearing my life-jacket is another, when I am in my canoe or on foot depending on the depth of the water; it is also about not taking unnecessary risks, understanding the importance of using a boat when the water is too deep or when current is very strong. Life jackets are so important!

Even with chest waders or being a great swimmer it can be very dangerous in the wetlands or along major rivers. The water may look shallow but you can easily sink into the mud getting stuck and even below the surface in a flash. And the water is very often cold. Using a long pole or paddle can help with judging the depth of the water or strength in the mud islands.

Last year I bought myself a pair of ice picks attached to a rubber cord; this is designed to pull yourself out of the water in the event you break through the ice in December.

Being aware of other hunter positions and their awareness, it is possible that you are not the only waterfowl hunter in the area and you want to ensure that they are aware of your presence. I use the same principles as turkey hunting for alerting others, since we are not wearing orange during the waterfowl season; I use my voice, rather than stand and gesture with my hands and arms.

Duck hunting can be a very fast and exciting sport and it takes just one trigger happy hunter to ruin your day.

Once my shot has been taken and the bird has fallen, I do not take my eyes off the bird and I follow it visually until it is on the ground. I then look for a prominent object which is directly in line with the possible position of the game bird, such as a distinct bush, tree, building in the distance. In the fall a tree may have all yellow leaves, and this can be used as a great reference point if the surrounding trees are shorter or if their leaves are red.

In the wetlands sometimes the vegetation and the small water channels create unique looking mini islands or water ways which can aid with placing an imaginary reference point. In some cases, when I am shooting from a ground blind, I will walk towards the shore and then place a stick into the mud to mark off the direction. Once I get into my canoe and start paddling toward the game bird, I use the stick as a reference point while heading in the direction where the bird fell.

Judging the right distance is also very important, during the retrieval process, I know that the majority of my shots will never exceed twenty-five meters, and knowing this aids with the retrieval because it allows you to visually break up the ground between you and the bird into sections in the event you do a type of box search.

Just like tracking  a blood trail for big game like deer, in some cases you can find a large bunch of feathers at the exact point of impact in the water. This can point you in the right direction. Also depending on the depth of the water and the density of the weeds below, look to see if the bird got stuck below the surface in the roots, all my ducks and geese have floated and only once did I have a mallard break through the ice during landing and get stuck underneath. Mallards and black ducks can be very difficult to see in murky water filled with weeds, their feathers make them almost invisible. For geese I look for the large white feathers on their underside. I compare it to the tail of a white tail deer; it is quite visible from far and can assist during the spotting of the bird. For mallards, I look for the blue on their wings and the green heads with white band in the necks for the drakes.

If there are two of you in the canoe, you can have one person stabilize the boat and you can have the second hunter stand and scan the area around the boat for the game birds. Beware of the winds and current.

There are several methods that can be used to develop your skills on how to judge distances. Conduct research on the Internet using key word searches in any major search engine or read books, you can also purchase portable laser range finders if your budget permits. During your annual patterning exercise with your shotgun prior to the waterfowl season at the range, you can use the resources available on site at the shooting club to learn the distances and take mental notes of the sizes of certain objects at certain distances.

Also recreating the shooting scenario from your ground blind or shooting position can assist. A few weeks ago, I shot a Canada goose which was very high above me but towards my far left, I had to really turn to shoot and but it was a successful harvest, the bird fell in very high grass and it was extremely foggy. I thought to myself, I will never be able to find the bird; I unloaded my shotgun, told my partners I was going to retrieve the bird and started walking towards where I thought the bird had landed. I was totally off. So, I walked back to my ground blind and using my arm as the shotgun, I recreated the shot and kept my arm pointing in the direction of my harvest, I walked twenty meters and the goose ended up being one meter to my right hidden behind a fallen tree.

I wish you all a great waterfowl season!

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September twenty-eighth was going to be one of my most amazing waterfowl hunts to date and I did not even know it yet. Just like the duck hunting commercial seen on television, I was already dressed and practically geared up, while still lying in bed at about four in the morning. The canoe was on the roof of my vehicle, strapped down just hours before on Friday night.

Time is of the essence because I still had a two-hour long drive heading north where I was supposed to meet my veteran waterfowl hunting friends by the bridge in their home town. They got permission from a neighbor who was allowing us to launch our two canoes from their shoreline, which was extremely generous but it was also a more strategic launch point giving us the advantage not only for the ducks and geese but we would be higher on the river with the current in our favor.

The fog was incredibly thick on Saturday morning and made for quite an interesting drive. On occasion I was able to use my head lights and this allowed me to see a little further which helped a lot because only twenty kilometers into my drive, I spotted a deer in the ditch to my right about to come out onto the road.

It was a large doe and she was turned sideways, her silhouette is what allowed me to see her with the fog because with the color of her fur she was practically invisible. As deer get older, their fur seems to have traces of grey, which makes them harder to see.

Once I got to the bridge we had not time to waste, so we drove to their friend’s place right away and had the canoes unloaded and filled with our kit and ammunition in no time at all. We were divided in teams of two and we began opening the farming gates and carrying the canoes down to the shoreline. This was all done in the dark, it is so important to have a working headlamp. My preference is the set which has red light option; it is not as hard on the eyes but just as efficient.

The fog was very thick, just like pea soup and we could barely see a few meters on the water surface, but this was familiar territory to us, so we climbed in and pushed off then paddled into the emptiness. The water below was black and very cold, we could hear the geese in the corn fields across the river, so we paddled a little faster and headed west directly for the island.

My hunting buddies had told me that there wasn’t as much duck traffic as per usual and that the Canada geese where much more active also that they had harvested two on Friday morning. The plan for the first part of the hunt was that each hunter would cut across the island from the eastern shore to the western side putting us directly into a dis-tributary which bordered a corn field in behind the very tall tree line.

So once we reached the eastern shoreline, we quickly disembarked, unloaded the canoes and cut across the island, the distance we had to cover was about fifty meters through tall grass and small brush. Every hunter had chosen their spot to put their kit and setup, our spots gave each one of us a wide; also a safe shooting arc. Now the waiting began. By now we were well within the legal time-frame of being able to shoot, which is a half an hour before sunrise, actually we were way beyond that time but the fog was so thick that it was still seemed dark.

When I was finally sitting still in my natural blind made up of tall grass and small brush on either side of me, it was quite neat to be able see the fog dissipate with the heat of the sun but it wasn’t hot enough yet to clear it all up. It was a very eerie morning and the fog ended up staying very thick until about ten thirty in the morning which was about the time our hunt ended.

The foggy ceiling was made up of several layers and the highest one was direct inline with the tree tops. You could hear the geese calling out and depending on the height of their V-shaped formation you would not see them until they broke the top of the tree line. I would complete a few duck calls and then some geese calls, I remember reading a book about goose hunting which said that Canada geese that are used to hunters and being hunted are not as vocal as younger birds or geese that are not used to being hunted. So I adjusted my calls accordingly by not over calling.

I could hear a gaggle coming in from the corn field to the west and so I called aggressively and called again about four times and then stopped. Our group could hear them now very clear, but it was difficult to tell which direction they were coming in from, then all of a sudden a group of twenty would fly in from the south-west and appear immediately through the fog. We carefully waited for the gaggle to come into shooting range and then we released a volley of shot, the geese dispersed. I had two shells left, so I pumped my action and three geese broke formation again and headed behind me, I swiveled around toward my back, released my shot pumped and released my last shell.

The lead bird fell hard, they were incredibly high and it was without a doubt my farthest shot into the sky this year and a successful harvest. It was an extremely large bird a beautify shot indeed. More geese came in every few minutes and we reloaded our three shells and released our shots repeatedly for several geese formations. More geese fell in confirmed harvests.

Now several minutes had passed and all went silent over the river again, we called out some duck calls and seconds later three mallards flew in for a fly pass and I released two shots and harvested one of them which landed to the north-east. My hunting partner to my left harvested a wood duck moments later.

This was waterfowl action like I had never seen before, the skies were extremely active. Silenced moved in again and occasionally we could hear crows calling out and flying in, there were also flocks of rock doves flying around in groups of thirty or more.

I sat still staring toward the top of the tree line, thinking about the birds which had just flown in, when all of a sudden a gaggle of twenty geese flew in coming from the south going east and flying right over me and not one goose called out. It was an incredible sight, just hearing the swish of their wings as they broke through the thick fog.
I released a shot into the lead bird but missed and my second shell jammed causing a stoppage. By the time I cleared it, pumping my action back then forward, it was too late.

It was almost like time was frozen and to see all these geese coming through the fog was like an illusion.

When I was younger my father took me to a Cirque du Soleil show and I remember we were sitting several rows up and watching the start of the show. The center of the stage was filled with white smoke and actors, dancers came onto the stage doing somersaults under the fog and you could see the fog move around with the movement of the dancers.

There were no words to describe it, magical perhaps, well I was living the same moment over and over again with the Canada geese flying in from all directions in and out of the fog, it was simply incredible and dream like.

It is not just about the waterfowl hunt and the harvests, there is something more powerful taking place in this rich Canadian wilderness. After several successful harvests, we decided to pack up and walk the rest of the island on foot heading north-east. Another hunter had harvested a goose and it landed in the water, so I volunteered to walk up the shore and get a canoe to retrieve the bird, while I was walking three geese flew in lightning fast at water level and I swung around instinctively pushed released my safety, and put a slight lead on the last goose and released my shot harvesting the bird and it crashed into the water.

At our mornings end we our group of four hunters had harvested nine Canada geese and two mallard ducks and one wood duck. It was an incredible waterfowl experience!

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Canada Goose

With the four doors open, I carefully removed each strap which was holding down the canoe to the roof; releasing their individual locks with my key for the ammunition box because the lever locks were too tight to unlock with my fingers. I then placed the straps inside the cab and climbed up into the back of the flatbed, setting myself under the canoe facing the cab rear window. With my knees slightly bent I then picked up the canoe onto my shoulders placing them exactly into the grooves of the yoke stabilizing the bow and stern with both hands on each side of the gunwales. I then spun the canoe around in the air, made my way to the back of the truck and once I was facing the river to the south, I jumped off the tailgate onto the wetlands muddy ground. I threw my hips once again into the opposite direction pushing up with my right arm, then lowered the canoe onto my thighs and gently placed it into the swamp grass to my left.

It took me just a few minutes to load my paddle, shotgun, life jacket and backpack with all the necessary my kit I would need into the guts of the canoe. I moved toward the bow and grabbed its carrying strap, and started pulling the canoe through the tall grass heading south-east.

When I first got to the wetlands, I carefully scanned the sky, tree line and marsh, which included two large bodies of open water. There was a very strong wind mixed with rain blowing in my direction of travel. I knew that it would be tough work coming back once the hunt had ended. I finally chose to go to the large body of water to my left, which had lots of vegetation which had grown in since the previous year; it was filled with swamp grass, mud islands and concentrations cat tail.

Once I reached the edge of the water, I set off with one foot in the canoe and the other outside the boat and pushed myself along using the small mud islands and vegetation as steps. It was hard work but I managed to find and follow a larger water trail which had formed in the middle. There were thousands of small water trails like a maze. With the strong winds and freezing waters any mistake could prove to be deadly.

After several hundred meters of pushing and paddling, I finally reached my first large portion of open water. I now had the time to orientate myself using two large distinct trees found near the river and a community water tower to the north. I programmed my global positioning system along with my compass then put them back into the backpack. The wind had turned the canoe diagonally towards the south but I was still going into the direction I was aiming for because I had seen about six teal ducks fly around very quickly and then land on the northern edge of the marsh.

I grabbed a hold of my paddle, took control of the canoe and made my way another fifty meters. I Passed a large patch of grass mixed with cattail to my right, it resembled a small island and the grass was high enough I could not see through. On the other side directly to my front was an even larger space of open water leading to the river with just a small river bank separating the two. There were also hundreds of small mud islands and patches of grass with thick weed roots.

I had no idea how much activity was waiting for me on the other side, so I placed myself really low into the canoe, stopped paddling and rested the paddle on the yoke and my left thigh then loaded three shells into my Remington 870, chambered a shell and instinctively put it on safe using the push button.

My chosen spot for waterfowl was perfect; there was a mallard out into the open to my left but too far for a shot, two groups of teal flying around in circles right above me to my front and roughly thirty Canada geese to my right behind two large mud islands. My heart began to race and I could feel the pounding in my chest, my breathing was also going steady, but I had to control my excitement and focus on my approach. I made myself even smaller in the canoe and stopped moving.

The canoe was once again being pushed along in their direction with the wind blowing in from the north-west. I was afraid of making noise with my paddle, so I carefully reached in over the gunwale with my left hand and placed it into the freezing water, grabbed hold of some weed roots and pulled myself toward the geese. I was now very close only thirty meters away.

The feeling was incredible; I was like a fox stalking its prey, it was a very intense moment. With the wind pushing and pulling along the weed roots with my hand almost numb, I made it across a small part of the open water until I reached the opposite side of the island directly across where twenty of the geese were gathered. With the ducks flying nervously above me but too high for a shot, something alerted the geese which were on watch duty and two or three of them began to call out. I could hear splashing, I could see several of them through the tall grass moving away to deeper water and then soon after the whole flock burst into the flight.

They took flight in all directions but they did not know where I was, so it took them a few seconds to get organized and finally choose one set path and that happened to be directly over me circling to my left heading north-west.

Canada Geese are large birds and they are quick but not as fast as a duck, which gives you a few milliseconds more to react. I shouldered my shotgun twisted my body to the left and released a shot into the air, and missed a bird by the fraction of a feather. I pumped the action, took a quick breath and applied the skills I learned. Chose one bird out the flock; placed my bead sight directly in line with the chosen bird adjusting my forward allowance accordingly then releasing the second shot.

It was almost the exact shot placement which I used for the Eastern wild turkey that I had harvested. I was aiming directly for the neck and the shot filled the air and the bird which was twenty meters high froze in mid-air like a statue and with its head tilted toward the water it fell to the surface. It was a hard fall! I cleared the last remaining shell from the Remington 870 and then paddled over to recover the harvest.

It was a long hard paddle and push back to the truck against the strong winds, having at times to step out of the canoe with one leg or use the paddle as a push pole but in the end it was well worth the effort. I had just harvested a beautiful twelve pound Canada goose.

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The cold early morning water was splashing up against the side of the boat, with my left hand tight against my thigh holding the rope which was attached to the canoe being dragged at the back with its guts filled with our decoys and kit bags. The waves were very rough and we were all taking turns keeping an eye on the “V” shaped waves which formed and were slowly tempting the canoe almost caressing it, and then every few waves large amounts of water would almost fill up the canoe, and then the bow would lift up again and the deck plates would collect the crystal like water drops.

The river was filled with darkness and the water was freezing cold, it made you appreciate the comfort of the boat. It was still very dark out and we were moving right along the shore going North West up the river toward our duck hunting spots. The lights all around us were flickering orange, red and yellow surrounded by lush forest and swamps grass. I longed for the warmth of the fireplace and a nice hot drink but the excitement of the hunt was a much more powerful attraction indeed.

It had been raining now for the last two hours and it was slowing turning into a light drizzle. After our thirty minute boat ride, we finally reached the launching spot and the pilot brought the motor almost to a stop in order to coast toward the shore with the underside of the boat slowing down with the help of the thick weeds and tree stumps below the water’s surface. The hunter at the front leaped out into the water and pulled us in using the rope to the font of the boat and then stabilized it by pushing down on the tip of the bow with his two hands.  One at a time we hoped out of the boat and then got our shotguns out of their carrying cases, grabbed some shells and then got kitted up with our backpacks and decoy bags and prepared ourselves for the crossing over land to the embankment where our respective hunt spots had been marked.

There was a serpent shaped trail of tall grass which had been padded down by other hunters to get to the embankment, so two of us pulled the canoe onto the shoreline and slid it along like snow sled on the moist grass. It was hard labor but instead of complaining about the pain in our shoulders and arms, we focused on the prize and thought of the early French fur traders who must have suffered tremendously during similar portages.

An additional twenty minutes had passed and we were all in our shooting positions and now it was time to lay out your shells and prepare your kit for the hunt. I slowly unloaded my decoys from my duffle bag and launched them into the water and tall grass. Once they were in the position, I moved back into the high grass and created a natural blind and placed myself into a comfortable shooting position. I took a few breaths in order to relax and wait for dawn, when the sun just breaks the horizon.

We did not have to wait too long and the teal starting flying in from all directions, they were incredibly fast ducks and some were flying in very low to the water, then circling around and then coming in for a landing. Just like last year’s hunt the birds flew in over top and you could hear the feathers cut through the thin morning air right above you. They were beautiful; I would compare them to fighter jets flying over head in perfect unison.

Just one week before opening day, I watched a duck hunting video produced by Knight & Hale and my focus was to improve my “Call Back” and my “Feeding” calls based on their recommendations; and it worked like a charm, the ducks came in low, reacting to my calls and then as one of them came in low to touch down near my decoys I instinctively fired a Remington #3 steal shot into the air with a slight lead and harvested my first teal of the season. It was a brilliant hunt, they are fast birds indeed. Teal’s the Deal on opening day!

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Several hours had passed now and I was still tucked away between three trees on top of a ridge of rock overlooking a clearing to my left, a swamp directly to my front and dense brush to my right mixed with pine, cedar, birch and various other trees, very soon it was going to be time to start heading back to the motor boat before it got too dark.

The wind would pick up; brush along the forest ceiling and create a ghostly sound right above me and then a few branches would crack and you kept as still as possible just in case a buck came out within shooting range for the last few minutes of daylight. I know that deer are intelligent enough to move only when the sound of the breeze covers the sound made by their steps especially in the dry autumn leaves and twigs.

Last year in my tree stand I turned my head for a second while the wind was blowing and when I looked toward my shooting spot, a doe was standing there as if she had dropped out of the sky, unfortunately for me I did not have a doe tag.

The red squirrel in the tree nearby kept me company and was busy rustling through the leaves and would call out if something moved. The blue jays also sang as they foraged through the forest floor and then flew away hastily to the nearest tree offering just enough height to keep them away from the danger below.

I could now hear more branches cracking on my left about one hundred yards out and it was getting louder and then I saw a bright orange square, which turned out to be a hunting vest. It was one of my hunting partners and he had been scouring through the eastern ridge all afternoon to see if he could still-hunt a trophy buck.

If you are a composed, experienced hunter and not an eager beaver full of piss and vinegar bouncing with nerves, you can make out another hunter pretty easily and the orange vest is really visible. I slowly unloaded my rifle and then made my way down the ridge where we met up and then started to make our way back to the boat. He was in the lead and with fifteen yards between us; we were scanning the whole way back looking for any sign of white-tailed deer.

The country was breath-taking with steep ridges, mixed and pine forests, sometimes the trees were quite far apart and the forest floor was littered with timber wolf scat, deer scrapes and droppings. It was without a doubt one of my favorite hunting areas and heaven for any outdoorsman/woman. This land was magical, and comparable to the forest scenery from the movie “Lord of the Rings”.

Once our gear was all packed up in the motor boat, we took our twenty-minute boat ride back to the truck, leaving the dark forest behind us and then drove another forty minutes or so through winding dirt roads back to the hunting camp. We were going to be spoiled after having spent an awesome day in the bush; we now had a delicious warm supper waiting for us that had been cooking in the Crock Pot. One of the guys had prepared some black bear that we ate with fries and melted cheese curds and gravy.

After having spent a couple of hours at the dining table and playing darts, sharing stories and laughter, we all jumped in our beds and went to sleep fairly early because we were going to have yet another early rise.

The alarm rang for five and by six we were all up and ready to go, breakfast and all. The radio was turned on and we were listening for the days forecast. It was snowing and we had a strong westerly wind blowing across the lake with the temperature at minus one degree Celsius. We thought that the water would be a little too rough at the bigger lake to use the boat in order to get across to our hunting grounds, so we decided to go duck hunting instead in the morning.

Because deer season was still on, we wanted to stay clear of the farmer fields and nearby forests, so we chose to hit the narrow river crossing with the canoe. The only problem was that we had left the motor boat at the other spot along with the paddles. But this was not going to deter avid duck hunters like us. The river crossing was not very wide and we only wanted to make our way to the island in the middle. This was prime duck property. So, we loaded up the canoe on the trailer with our boat safety jackets and made our way to our drop off spot and we each had our own shovels as paddles. It worked like a charm but I would not recommend it for anyone who does not have experience with Canadian canoes and no white water skills. Within the hour we had harvested two common mergansers and one mallard. We were proud shovelers but not the duck!

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