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Upon my return from work today, I completed a little walk around the house checking up on my flowers that I had planted just a few days ago. As I approached the front window well, I heard a few sharp whistles and I knew right away it was out-of-place, it was some sort of distress call from a bird. At first it was quite faint but then, as I approached the basement window, I could hear it again and this time it was much clearer.

I was expecting to find a young common house sparrow, but when I looked down amongst the stones, there he was a golden treasure. It was a small gosling only a few weeks old, it had a beautiful yellow coloration and its web was black and oily with nice sharp claws.

This gosling was a beauty, and just as soon as I stepped into the window well, it approached my foot almost instantly. We had a connection; I picked it up in my hands in order to return it to the creek but that was not the safest place for a little goose. The creek near my place is full of predators, I knew that the female was sitting on her nest down the creek by the beaver dam but I did not want to disturb her.

So, I walked down to the creek with the gosling calling out sharp bursts of chirps. I placed it in the water, it called out and swam away, then turned right around and came right back to me. I started talking to it in a soft voice and told it to swim up the creek near its nest but the bugger did not want to have anything to do with the water.

So I decided to help it out even more, I knew that the nest was only one hundred meters down the creek, so I picked up the gosling and placed it further up in the creek toward the south-east. This was going to be an experiment, so I placed the gosling back into the water and it started to call out again this time there were two different types of chirps, several short and then one long and the longer call was sharp and loud.

I whistled a few times to provoke the female and attempted a few clucks and then sure enough after a few attempts I got a faint response coming from the tree line just meters from the edge of the creek but on the other side, further down on my left from where I was standing.

At first the gosling started to swim back and head onto the bank toward me but when the female goose let out a few short faint calls, it was enough to catch the attention of the gosling who used its loud longer chirp and it was followed by the female short honk. The gosling then responded with the loud longer chirp and this went back and forth for about four times.

This was perfect my gosling placement along with its long distress chirps, the female goose called back from its roost but never broke the tree line; her call was working. That gosling headed straight for her call near the beaver dam and I had successfully reconnected the gosling with the female.

This was an extremely rewarding treat. I may be a seasoned waterfowler but that brief encounter with the gosling was so mesmerizing and observing nature communicating was simply amazing. It made me appreciate even more the work that “Ducks Unlimited” and many other similar organizations achieve every day.

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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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photomania-86e404f0c9383d7d7134359ff451344aThe morning fog was still very thick and the sun was trying hard to push through, it was an incredible view, especially with the steam fog coming up from the creek. The time of day was perfect to get ready for my approach toward the Mallards that were dabbling at the creek crossing. I could not head directly south through the field because the birds would surely spot me coming down the ridge out into the open giving me no chance of getting within a fair shooting range. Also I could not come in from the West along its tree line to my right because there was only one single large piece of old farming machinery with a single wheel and a metal seat left, which would provide no cover for an approach.

I had decided that the best way would be to sneak up and come in the from the left going along the electric fence shaping the letter “L”. So I got my kit ready and started to move away from the truck toward the bushes over the electric fence and started a slow jog along the first side of the hedges. By the time I reached the first corner of the field, I had slowed my pace down to a stalk, the ground is very wet filled with thousands of small mud islands and knee-high grass. This is perfect habitat for the common snipe and woodcock, who often burst into flight just feet in front of you and zig zag and usually land only meters from you but in very difficult places to spot them.

By the time I reached the creek on the Eastern side, I hugged the electric fence and dense hedges and started the laborious work of still hunting the Mallards. It is not just about not making noise and not being seen. You are walking on uneven ground, which is full of mud traps and you can not afford to slip with your shotgun even if it is unloaded because you do not want to get mud in the mechanism or barrel end. You are always having to control your breathing to not allow yourself to get too excited or out of breath from covering large distances such as farm fields. These factors will impact your shot accuracy.

In addition, if there are ducks dabbling nearby and you have spotted them, be sure that there are others that you haven’t seen and they will trigger an alert to the others. You must be constantly be scanning every piece of brush and the waters and especially if it is a Mallard hen, they blend in so well into their surroundings due to their brown coloration. By now I had covered well over two hundred meters and had finally reached the largest tree and final bush between the ducks and I.

In order to get the best angle for the shot, I had to move away from the brush line and out into the field to form and arc, all the while moving into position I loaded my three shells and placed one into the chamber sliding the pump-action forward, my finger was resting on the trigger guard only milliseconds from taking my shots. My barrel was aimed toward the ground but the 870 was already well shouldered.

I slowly raised my barrel and spotted the Mallard drake through the thin brush, I swung out two steps to the right and the three Mallards burst into flight, I released my first shot and the drake spun forward in mid-air and came down crashing, I quickly pumped the 870 action and released my second shot into the second bird which was a Mallard Hen but she spun in mid-air and I missed her, by the time I chambered the last shot it was too late. Their distance was too great between then and I now and that this point I would be only sky busting, so I made the shotgun safe.

I crossed the creek picked up my first harvest of the day and continued on toward the wetlands.

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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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There is nothing better than spending a few hours along the river on an early Sunday morning for a waterfowl hunt. Especially after an incredibly stressful work week. I was a bit disappointed though because I was not going to be able to bring my kayak along with me. My truck was getting repaired. I knew this would limit my ability to get closer to the ducks, and I would be forced to stay on the muddy banks.

This means jumping over medium size distributaries and sometimes crossing wider parts of the river that is chest high and in icy cold waters. In situations like these, I usually find a large fallen tree several meters long that was left over by the beavers. I push it across at the narrowest part of the river, then I use the log as support in the deeper parts of the water. Once I am done I then move the logs out-of-the-way in case some boats come through after me. On occasions I can find recently built beaver dams and cross over them like a land bridge. I also sometimes use a walking stick for balance and to check the depth of the water before stepping in. Experience and good judgement have allowed me to continue to blog about it, even after having spent several minutes in icy cold water.

I am always very excited about getting a few hours to myself in nature, especially this time a year. The river and marshes this time of year are just spectacular along with the light snow fall. Also it gets so cold that fewer people come out later in the season. This makes it safer since there are less hunters and it also provides more available hunting spots to set up. You can also still hunt and attempt to flush the ducks for a couple of kilometres without ever meeting anyone.

I am always so appreciative to be able spend time outdoors and release the stress from our daily lives, but with hunting comes reality and this means that you will not always be guaranteed a harvest. The Canada geese have been hunted in this area of mine for several years now and as a result as soon as they clear the tree line along the river’s edge they increase their altitude and makes it a no go for shots.

As the Canada geese numbers decrease this time a year with only five weeks left to the season, I focus my attention on mallards, black ducks and teal. But these birds like to land in very isolated parts of the marsh where it is still open and not yet frozen over and these spots are quite often only accessible by water. So, after having spent the good part of an hour stalking the shores of the river, I turned toward the marsh and circled around its perimeter forming the shape of a ring. This is in knee-deep water and also sometimes using little mud islands that look like thousands of crane nests as land steps around the deeper parts.

I had taken a few shots at some ducks and missed, I soon realized after a few hours that this hunt was a total bust as far has getting a harvest, yet this was my reality for this Sunday. This can be extremely discouraging for any waterfowl hunter as well as exhausting. I knew that I was blessed having spent some amazing time outdoors and being able to shed the stress from the week, but rather disappointed about not harvesting.

What I found can be challenging to accept is the fact that on days like these, even after having spent time outdoors, you were still not able to harvest. Also even though you will have other times to go out, it is just simply discouraging. I find myself fighting against the negative energies of disappointment about not having harvested. Because ultimately every waterfowl hunter wants to bring home some birds. This I find can be especially hard on new members to the sport, because you want to harvest and not necessarily put your current abilities in question.

I will be going out again next weekend and this time I will be bringing my kayak. I am hopeful that I will be able to remedy this harvesting situation, in addition to continue my never-ending pursuit of being able to find the true balance between time at the marsh and having a successful harvest. Family and friends will consider you very lucky about having spent time alone in the great outdoors. But unless they share your passion for the sport they will not always be understanding to the fact that you are disappointed in your performance and that it may take a few hours to digest this fact. Then you ask yourself the question, is getting a harvest the definition of a successful hunt? Or are you simply a very lucky person to have had some time to yourself?

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Every year when spring comes upon us, the tributary near our house brings all kinds of life to us in its winding ripples; hooded mergansers, beaver and Canada geese but also a lot of water.

With the snow melt, the water rises rapidly and within just a few days our point is lost to the cold currents, and if I am lucky a few logs are washed up onto the property, which turn out to be great firewood. This year was an exceptional year, and in just one short week we got two days of rain then some snow melted lightning quick, which resulted in even higher water levels.

The grass on the edge of the waterway still has its mix of light and dark brown colours, and of course lots of mud between the snow patches but it makes for good nesting. European Starling, Red wing blackbirds right down to your common house sparrow are eating away, mating and getting their nests ready.

I have a bird feeder on the edge of the property that I keep filled with wild bird food and thanks to the common grackles that are such messy eaters they put some all over the ground. This of course has attracted other critters, such as chipmunks and squirrels.

It has also caught the attention of a pair of Canada geese, I named respectively Charlie and Charlotte. Every morning, I put out the left over bread from our breakfast to my crows. I usually throw the bread out the back door and then call out three times. The crows come flying in from all directions, land out at safe distance, call out back at me and to the other crows and then come in for the bread. If I forget to feed them, they fly over my roof to the front of the house and around our car and call me out.

The geese have watched me feed the crows over a period of two days and then once they have considered me no longer a threat, they decided to come in and enjoy some bread as well. The male would keep watch as the female fed hastily, then they would take turns on watch duty.

After a few days the Canada geese feeding pattern changed again, they would swim up the creek and come up the bank to feed at the bird feeder but this time around seven in the evening just before dark and feed for only a few minutes then disappear back into the dark waters.

One more week has gone by and right on schedule the Canada geese show up on the bank near the feeder right about seven in the evening and feed on the left over seeds and grain.

Yes, if you feed birds they will come and they will get used to you, but there is much more to it, then just feeding. These Canada geese impress me with their impeccable timing, and I know it is not instinct. There is a hidden science to their ability to base habits with time, because at seven in the evening at this time a year there is still a good hour of so of light.

It may be a question of time but I will figure out their understanding of timings.

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