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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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The truck edges forward in its slow advance rolling over the sharp rocks, you can hear the rubber under stress from the weight of the truck. But then seconds later it is all over and the truck is brought to a complete stop. I swing it into park, unlatch the door, jump out and land on my two feet. It is a perfect landing, I have done this a thousands times before and then I look around my surroundings, stretch out my arms on either side taking in a deep breath.

Finally I was back where I belong in the Canadian countryside surrounded by farm fields, forests and the wetlands. My eyes see it all, I do not miss a thing, my soul absorbs its substance. Many years have gone by now and I have learned that I too have a special connection with nature. Today is my fourth time out this season for waterfowl but on this very day things seemed quite different, my knowledge reveals itself in my stature, calm and confident and as for nature well it just lives.

It is true that skill as a waterfowler will aid you in your hunts but it will never be the deciding factor on whether or not you harvest. I tell myself every time that it is what nature will offer you on that particular sortie, this is part of the excitement and challenge. The Canada geese may be in the fields waiting or not, they might be in the swamp or maybe not, the ducks might be hiding along the edge of the creek or not.

Yes for sure there will be game out there but where this is the true experience. After a great conversation with my farmer friend and getting the lowdown of the area, I step back into my truck and drive down the southern field across the creek heading toward the wetlands. Recently I have started to try something different, rather than spending several hours out in the bush, instead I leave later in the day with just two hours before sunset to set myself up in my kayak blind with my back to the forest on the northern side of the swamp.

My plan is to sit still in the boat until the ducks come in for the evening and attempt to harvest my limit before the time was up. Last year I wrote about the magical last thirty minutes of hunting which is the final thirty minutes after sunset. On my third time out this year, I barely had the time to push off the shore with my kayak and it was already raining wood ducks, some landing just feet from me. Hearing their wings swish through the air is just an incredible feeling followed by their landing splash.

I usually park several meters from the swamp, put on my waders and get my kit ready, I then sneak up to the shore to see if there are any birds. The small bushes and trees provide great cover for this, sometimes I harvest one of two birds and then go back to pick up the kayak to retrieve them. Sometimes I have to move in and around the beaver dams through the maze of swamp grass to find them. After this is when my waiting game begins, I will bring all the kit I need into the kayak and then paddle out through the swamp and setup. Generally, I choose a spot with tall grass or dead bushes or trees.

When the darkness finally covers the swamp and the fog moves in, it becomes a magical place. The shadows of the evergreen in the horizon create amazing silhouettes. The water below comes to life with beavers, bugs and fish. Strange sounds come out from the nearby woods and if you are a person with a rich imagination, it is enough to give you the shivers. It is a beautiful place with no words that can truly describe what your senses experience with every ounce in my body is filled with joy.

Then they start to flying in, woods ducks in small groups of three of four with the swish of their wings against the air as they circle all around, you slowly raise your shotgun and fill the sky with muzzle blasts of fire.

There is one thing that rings true, you are a Canadian woodsman.

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A few nights ago on a dark and raining evening I sat down and began to browse the Internet, I was looking up vintage hunting paintings and sketches as well as black and white photos. Some were trophy photos and others told stories. Stories of time long ago, a way of life, experiences that I have shared and lived in my own way.

There was one sketch in particular that struck me more than the others, it was titled “Chasing a Cripple” it is a black and white drawing by W.L Wells. I found that this image like many others captures the true essence of a duck hunter attempting to retrieve his crippled game.

I stood there looking at every detail in the drawing and I found myself re-living a moment from last years season, when I was retrieving my crippled teal duck and then I began to type what I felt deep at the core.

“The darkness and the cold envelops you like a blanket, the wind howls and makes sounds like that of wicked spirits calling out. Tis the season of toxic mud gases and weeds that weigh a ton, and wrap themselves around your paddle like mad fingers who wish to pull you down into the depths of the black waters. A few more powerful strokes and the harvest might be yours or not, it is unyielding and painful yet so rewarding. It is healing, it is medicine for the soul.”

The season starts in two days and I can not wait.

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Environment Canada is doing a great job with its migratory bird program and for me purchasing my migratory bird permit has become a very important tradition in September.

One can purchase it online but I still love the feeling of walking into the post office downtown.

Opening those large metal doors and walking in amongst the attractive people in suits and dresses, my walk is poised and confident, a proud outdoorsman. The interior of the building is simply majestic with its high ceilings and beautiful framed historical stamps fill the walls. 

I stand in line and wait for my turn, some are sending money, others letters and me purchasing my migratory bird permit.

It is not just about paying and getting a piece of paper with a stamp, it is a privilege. After filling out the forms and paying, I walk out and hit the sidewalk with pride. I am excited about the season ahead about sharing it with great friends and family.

My harvests could be in lush fields or the dark waters of the river, either way it is a powerful experience that those before me have lived, cherished and shared for centuries. It is a sacred activity that goes beyond first impressions and judgement; it is exclusive and very personal.

In the confines of your family you become a legend with life experiences and stories that are worthy of campfires and passed through the generations.

Last weekend I went through my backpack, my Remington and got everything sorted and cleaned, I am hoping to have an incredible season.

We have good friends coming for a visit soon and I wish to offer them some great tasting sausages and Rillettes.

So in closing, I hope that your permit purchase this year is as special as mine and I wish you all a safe season and wonderful harvests. 

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This afternoon I was standing in my kitchen staring out the glass doors like I do almost every day. Checking to see if there was anything new down at the creek. Yesterday, I had spotted two muskrats swimming around and courting in the water, fighting the currents with their fine tails and hind feet. It was so neat watching them swim up, staying along the shoreline, never swimming up the middle and once in a while stepping up onto a mud flat and then returning back into the water.

Their little shiny brown eyes did not miss a thing, I tried sneaking up to them a few days ago and they dove instantly and did not resurface like a loon meters away; they were gone for a while and it really took a while to spot them again. It was the little V-shaped waves on the surface of the water that gave them away as they are usually just below the surface, like beavers.

All of a sudden a mallard drake and hen flew in circling around the tree tops and then breaking their wings heading West. I don’t think I can ever get tired of watching them coming in for a landing, everyone is unique, they are more than fine pilots they are artists in their executions.

When they finally hit the water, I heard the splash and then almost in an instant I lost sight of the hen. The drake was swimming right toward where I was standing behind the glass door, coming down the creek hidden behind some small trees and bushes. I carefully slid the door open and starting stalking the drake, and using the trees as cover trying to get a closer look at the couple down by the water’s edge.

My heart was racing, I was so excited to be able to get so close. I believe that every time I sneak up and observe them, I learn something new that can help me during my waterfowl seasons. I was so mesmerized by the drake that I was startled when out of nowhere the hen started a crazed wing dance on the surface of the water, coming right at me. She was jumping in and out of the water, repeating the up and down motion, it was so violent, she was moving right toward to the bend in the creek. Beating her wings and using her feet to lift. Water was splashing everywhere, it reminded me of a Canada Goose cleaning ritual.

What ever she was doing it was working, she caught me totally off guard and I found myself chasing her along the shore. For a moment I was confused, I had just seen her fly in, and now she was acting like she had just been shot and was wounded unable to fly. She crashed landed into a mud flat then struggled into the grass.

Damn, I was so convinced, I was running after her, I swore I could have caught her in my hands. Then without warning she took off again, keeping a very low profile to the ground and crossing the dirt road diagonally then landing in the creek on the other side. For a second I lost sight of her again, so I too crossed my front lawn and headed to the creek, then boom. She shot up and went straight toward the sun and then twisted to the east in athletic form and headed right back to where she had started her crazed dance and landed.

From across the road, I watched her land and moments later she headed into the muddy grass flats and seconds later she came back out toward the water with six ducks behind her. I stood there, threw my hands into the air and burst into laughter. She had just played me and I fell for her. She drew me away from her little one’s with the wounded dance and it worked like a charm.

She had just distracted me, then made me chase her putting some distance between us and her ducklings. In the end she was off and back into the water headed toward the old beaver dam all in the safety of the depths before I could ever reach them again.

Nature is brilliant!

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There was a strong breeze coming in from the west that brought with it some cold air; for a moment I felt a chill down my back while descending the ridge toward the creek. The sun was out and the birds were singing and you just felt this renewed source of energy in the air, what an incredible day I had chosen to visit my friends farm and hunt small game.

I was on the lookout for woodchucks and rock doves. By the time my descent had finished I was now standing at the edge of the creek, the water was still incredibly cold with the water levels higher than usual caused by the melting snow and ice.

I crossed over to the other side choosing my path carefully stepping on the large boulders just below the surface of the crystal clear water, high enough to prevent my socks from getting wet, also not to allow the water to reach the top of the boot which was just below the knee.

It was now time for the climb to the rock formation at the top of the southern ridge, it is a really enjoyable walk but I am alway cautious passing through the wall of evergreen, because the cattle have carved out pathways that they use frequently and I would not want to surprise a young bull into a face to face encounter.

As the years go by and as you spend more time outdoors hunting small game it is inevitable that you will make mistakes which causes you to lose out on a few harvest opportunities. I find the trick is once the frustration has been released through a few swear words and licking your wounds; you then decide to learn from them. Observe and then you promise yourself that you will not be doing this twice. The mistakes I mean.

One example of this is, a few years ago I was walking up the whole length of the creek in late October trying to flush ducks and after several hundred meters I was starting to get discouraged and tired of still hunting. Not one duck in sight, as soon as I let my guard down and started walking tall and ordinarily, I scared off two mallards and they got away before I could get a shot off because of the tough angle of the shot.

This has happened to me with Grouse, Woodcock and also Woodchucks. I walked right into their still stance trap and then boom in an explosion of speed they were gone. Once you become an expert in their habitat I believe you get to know when you should flick the on switch for still hunting alert mode.

So on this particular day I put my theory to the test, I made my way through the cattle trail and got up to the rock formation. I could have walked right up to the crest and looked around and gaze over the horizon like a king over his kingdom but every single game would fly off or run for cover. Of course the red squirrel and crow alert calls wouldn’t help.

So, instead I leaned forward and just popped my head over the crest and I found myself practically staring into the eyes of a woodchuck who was sun-bathing just meters in front of me. I put myself in reverse fairly quickly and lowered myself into the low ground and took a few deep breaths. Loaded a shell into my 870, clicked the safety on and then started to lift the top part of my body just above the crest looking right back into the woodchucks eyes.

Lined up my bead sight with the vitals, completed my three breaths then slow pushed my safety off. Moments later I released my shot and harvested my first spring woodchuck. That night I pan-fried some nice thighs in maple syrup with Cajun cowboy spices from Canadian Tire. It was delicious.

Two years ago, I guided a friend duck hunting in my canoe, he was in the front ready to shoot and I was paddling us through a maze of weeds, but because I had learned so much about ducks and their habitat and knew the swamp extremely well, I had also observed like a hawk and mentally recorded certain gold pot spots. I had it down to a science. I knew exactly when he should shoulder his shotgun and be ready. On this day we did not make same mistake twice. Instead we made nice Mallard dishes.

Take your time still hunting on foot or paddling through the weeds, when you feel it, you will know when to flick on the switch and be extremely observant and be ready.

The results are very rewarding and a confirmation that you are learning. Observation just like conservation is paramount.

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Last Sunday I was out on a duck hunt at one the familiar bay’s where I have been hunting for the last five years. I usually park my truck on the side of the muddy road which leads to a canal I then drag my kayak to the waters edge and paddle into the bay.

Once I get paddling through the water and amongst the tall grass it is simply one of the most incredible feelings in the world, sneaking up to the ducks or geese. If I get the right amount of paddle strokes in, I can slide along the waters surface with my shotgun in my shoulder ready to release a shot into a duck that has just been flushed feet in front of me.

But over the past two years, I have noticed a very severe decrease in the water levels in both bays and it is quite worrisome. Here I was in the middle of bay and I was stuck on a mud flat right near a cranes nest, actually there are hundreds of them along with two beaver lodges.

The weeds created a massive web of vegetation which was hidden just inches below the surface and made it impossible to move forward with a simple paddle stroke. I now had to push off with my paddle forced into the mud. Moving only inches at a time, I was either brave or just plain mad, I had to climb out of the kayak and walk on water, and may I remind you that I am in the middle of a bay.

And if you have ever experienced it, it is one of the most physically demanding exercises out there. It took me almost an hour to get out of the mess, and as you can imagine my noise flushed every single duck.

I love seeing the rain because it means a few more millimeters and when the river is higher it can spill over the banks where there is an opening and feed the bay but beside that the larger openings are blocked on the western side of the bay by a beaver dam.

At this rate, in the next couple of years, I will no longer need a kayak and the ducks will move out unless something is done.

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