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Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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There was a light snow fall covering our surrounding wilderness with its white coat. The whole scene was quite picturesque and very serene. My tracking buddy and I were standing still in the low brush having a rest; he looked down at his watch and checked the time. It was only two in the afternoon and yet the sun was quite low, only a few inches over the evergreen tree line if we looked southwest. I removed my hunting hat with my bare hands and whipped off the sweat from my forehead and then we set off again. 

We had been in the woods since eight in the morning tracking some hare leads and just appreciating being out in the elements. Throughout the morning we were checking other animal tracks too and had a ruffed grouse fly out just a few feet in front of us. The bush was extremely thick and at times I was down on my hands and knees looking under the pine and cedar for hiding spots or simply pushing on through branches on very steep ridges. There was a deer trailing us for a while because we heard large branches crack and snap under its hooves but it never came within range for us to see her. 

The hare tracks we discovered in the morning were slowly disappearing under the snowfall. Now after several hours of tracking some more leads we eventually climbed the southern ridge near the gravel pit and headed into some heavy pine between the goose lake and a farm field to the west.

I had taken a mental picture of this spot from the last time I was out about a month earlier and wanted to save it for the final hours of the day. I knew that this pine forest was a gold mine and we just had to walk the hares. So, we followed the first lead nearest to us and continued until we found the principle trail with several other tracks, I often call this the “super highway” as it acts kind of like a main artery.

My tracking buddy was in the lead and I was trailing behind him about twenty feet to his left. Once it a while he would stop and so then I would take a knee look around under every tree, hole and tall grass. A few minutes would pass and then we were pressing forward again. About fifteen minutes had gone by and we came up to an island shaped brush pile full of pine filled with trails and droppings. By the time we got to the other side of the pile, there were two large pines bunched together to our front and just as soon as my buddy was about to push through, he set off “Big Grey.” The chase was on.

He barely had time to call my name and he leaped forward into the air between the two large trees and faded like a ghost leaving nothing but a cloud of snow. It was text-book, the hare took off like a bullet moving at about fifty-five kilometers an hour and he zigzagged dashing left and right and then completed a large circle to the left. The chase had begun and our adrenaline was pumping like mad. My tracking buddy said he was a fat grayish white hare and he would be an amazing harvest.

I stayed put and waited for the hare to circle as my buddy pushed forward and flushed “big grey” out. I was totally focused and looking for any kind of movement, I moved a few feet left making my way around the brush pile for a second time. It was very quiet and there was no sign of movement. I moved forward once again on a few feet and as I was stepping over a fallen log, swish, the hare sprinted directly to my front going from right to left in what seemed to be a second and then disappeared under the snow and brush before I could get a shot off. He was heading west to the edge of the western field and my tracking buddy shortly found his fresh tracks and so we joined up and pushed forward together.

We placed ourselves side by side and continued flushing left like a rake through the tall grass and searched until we completed a full circle but to no avail. The chase had lasted about an hour and it was one of the best hare hunts I had experienced.

“Big Grey” beat us today but we will be back on his track.

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The final eight hours of my Virginia whitetail hunting season were filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement and fatigue. I had just spent almost the same amount of time perched up in a tree that I would have during an entire work week at the office. Over the course of my three weekends a total of four does; two fawns and a one year old buck came in within shooting range.

Even with the buck’s appearance during the last day of the season, I must admit I had a hard time seeing if the spikes were within the legal size of seven centimetres and if it was worth the risky shot. A well-known trick is often used in which you compare the spikes length to that of the ears but even this was challenging because he was constantly moving them about like radars trying to pickup sounds of danger.

The local farmers told me that there was a ten point buck not far from my stand to the south. The fact that he had not been harvested yet this year meant he will prove to be a positive sign for next year’s season as there roughly eight does in the same area.

As a varminter, I had to live the experience of tree stand hunting and with this I have to say there will most definitely be a next year’s season for me as this one comes to a close. I have learned so much about the art of tree stand hunting and have added to my knowledge about deer while being part of the woodlands.

On my last day the sun was going to set at four thirty and I could legally hunt until five but it got quite dark in the woods here and I had to climb down from the stand and walk several hundred meters to the car. This was a very dark wooded trail and being alone it was not a great idea because on that particular morning, I saw fresh timber wolf tracks close to where I was parked. So I wanted to give myself enough time while I could still see to get back to the car. But just as I moved to stand up I heard a large branch crack to my right and sure enough it was a doe, she had stumbled on a broken tree and was slowly making her way down to the water’s edge.

It was incredible to see how well she blended into the foliage and background of mud and trees. The most impressive part was her behaviour when I noticed she was not alone and that she was the first of three to be out in the open making sure that the area was clear of predators before the others bounced out and exposed themselves. She was acting like a scout in a feeding party and she slowly made her way to the other side of the ridge using their well-known game trail looking for food.
 
So what I learned from this was that if you see one deer there are great chances that there are others nearby especially if you are dealing with does and fawns or even other females. Males will also come out but normally alone and will show up later in the afternoon just before dark or in the morning between eightish and ten that is if they are hungry and depending on the cold weather. I proved to myself that for next year it is not necessary to get to your tree stand really early in the morning if there is no need for it.

It was unfortunate that in my particular tree stand area that there was not a lot of buck activity amongst other factors, so I may not have harvested a buck this season but I sure harvested a wealth of knowledge about deer and enjoyed being part of the wilderness and all its mysteries. You bet I will have to try again next year but until then I have full year of small game and bird hunting to get ready for with my tracking buddy.

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There we were in mid-afternoon driving up the middle of the dirt road heading north on our way up to the small lake located about half a kilometer north-west of the property. The land owner had told us that there were a few hundred Canada geese at the lake and we wanted to check it out and confirm where the flyway passed over head in order to prepare ourselves for the upcoming migratory bird season.

The Canada goose season for farmlands in our area had officially opened on the sixth of the month but all the fields were located on the south side of the farm and we did not see any geese for the most part of the day. We had spotted a large flock several weeks prior during the making of the woodchuck hunting documentary. They had left the safety of the water and flew right over us heading to a field to the east, which happened to be private land and out-of-bounds. We knew we would be able to come back on the twenty-fifth of September and start migratory bird hunting on lakes and the river soon enough.

On our way up, I stopped the car near the famous northern hay-field where the second most challenging woodchuck of the season and his “Condo” the tractor barn was located. This was the woodchuck I attempted the harvest weeks earlier during the filming of the woodchuck hunt and I missed my opportunity with him due to several factors but ended up harvesting another on the southern ridge.

While we were both sitting in our car seats, I could have sworn I saw a woodchuck come out from the south-western side of the barn to our right. It had been another warm day and the woodchucks were all finally coming out around five thirty in the afternoon and I was sure I was right; I did see a groundhog but he was not near the barn. He was on the south-eastern side at the edge of the field and it was my tracking partner with his excellent sight that confirmed there was a woodchuck but not where I was looking and it took me just shy of three minutes to spot him but only after I managed to get our binoculars out of the trunk.

He had quite an appetite and I had a lot of open ground to cover between him and I, so we drove up to the lake and then came back on foot and then I cut through the tree line from the north and this is where I began my stalk. This did not involve me getting down on my hands and knees or even crawling and a shot from a distance was out of the question. I simply moved forward a few steps and froze, once he stood up to look around between every feeding break, I froze then moved a little closer closing the gap between me and the woodchuck. He was not just any woodchuck he was the second most challenging woodchuck hunt this year.

I got within twenty-one yards, took off my safety and fired. Once the dust settled the field fell silent and I had harvested the “Condo King” all thanks to the eyes of the jackal.

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