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I was sliding in and out between the dense cedars bows and small swamp trees pushing forward, raising my hand at about the height of my face to prevent the branches from poking me in the eyes. I have had this happen to me many times before with a random sharp branch either hooking my toque knocking it into the mud below or either spiked me right in the eye. Not a very pleasant experience at all, it felt like I had scratched the inside of my eye then pushed it back. When ever I placed my finger on the particular eye to check for damage or blood I always felt a deep throbbing.

Upon arrival at the farm I heard loud quacks coming from the wetlands and I knew that several mallards had made this their home, their numbers ranged between five and twelve. The cattle were moving across the creek toward the Southern fields to my left thus blocking my access to the wetlands from the eastern side, so I chose to cut through the dense brush on my right and move in a South-Westerly direction. The approach that I chose would make me crest the wetlands from the northern side along the edge of the massive beaver dam, where it connects with the edge of the forest.

My kayak was still in the truck bed back at the barn over six hundred meters away, I often use it to retrieve my birds that are downed in the deeper parts of the wetlands but the bush was too thick for me to pull it through. The forest floor was soaked and full of hundreds of streams and its current was moving very fast because the heavy rains we have had in the last several days which broke part of the dam and created a natural spillway which was feeding into the forest floor.

It was very treacherous, even with hip waders you had to be very sure where you were going to place your next foot step, so that you did not go under or get stuck. For this, I always grab onto a large branch and if at all possible step on a fallen log, which acts as a mini bridge. You could also use large roots or little mud islands formed by grass mounds that were partially submerged. Manoeuvring was very tricky, because I had to make sure my 870’s sling did not get stuck in the low hanging trees or avoid a slip and put mud into the end of the barrel.

The deeper I pressed on into the woods the thicker the brush got and I was following my simple curved line pattern between the trees to ensure I was always heading in the right direction. With the principles of still-hunting, I would stop and listen for the duck calls then orientated myself toward the sound and kept on moving forward. Once you set off in this type of bush, you can not let your imagination run wild or let panic set in, you must stay sharp and not let any detail out of your mind.

Sometimes, there are large black areas at the base of fallen trees, they can look like a wolf den or a black bear standing still. But most often than none it is a dead tree rotting its way back into the earth. Now when you hear a large branch cracking close by, then this I believe deserve a second look, it could be a deer moving around you or any other large mammal. After several minutes of struggling to through the last muddy parts, I could now see the dam through the trees.

I stopped for a moment took a few deep breaths and then started to slow down my approach even more up to the dam wall. Not only did this make it quieter but it also allowed me to listen for the Mallard hen calls and close in accordingly for the potential shots. Once I reached the dam periphery, my boot placement was even more calculated because, one false move and I was going to fall into the cold waters and with waders it is like having a weight belt around your waist.

In addition, I could not place myself on the dam wall because the ducks would surely spot me, so I had to walk along its edge on the opposite side of the water dam and use the overgrown wild grass as cover. You see, Mallard ducks will call out if there is danger but they might not necessarily fly away immediately like wood ducks, in some cases they will swim further away from the sound of danger and only take off if it is physically visible.

This is exactly what the group of Mallards did and I had to move quicker along the edge to keep up with them, and wait for them to swim back within range or move and place myself in a better position from the shore. All that walking in water caused my socks to slip off inside my boots which is a common problem in waders, I think next time I would rather wear socks that sit higher around my knees and this would prevent them from sliding off, I would also place a bandage on the inside of each leg to prevent the boot lip burn on the inside of my leg which is caused by the inner rubbing of the boot edge.

It was a wonderful fall day, with the singing winds and dancing leaves with their absolutely stunning colours and the sound of the cool waters passing through my hands as I placed them deep into the beaver dam to grab a perfect carved stick for balance. Here I was, in the heart of the Canadian wilderness sneaking up to the Mallards with only them and I hidden amongst the swaying golden swamp grass. I had finally spotted the ducks and was now readying myself for the shot. My right hand was grasping the cold steel of my Remington 870, and I was one hundred percent absorbed in the moment and felt and incredible sense of joy and pride of being Canadian. A feeling of total mastery of the woods.

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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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I made my way down through the tall grass and carefully stepped over the electric fence, all the while crouching forward in order to maintain the same height as the top of the old barn roof. The spotter geese were watching with their necks stretched out like periscopes. I was moving rather quickly toward the south because the Canada geese had just landed in the open field on the other side of the barn right by one of the natural trench lines in the field.

After just a few steps I got down on my knees. I stopped moving forward and looked around to make sure that there were no large cows moving in. Sometimes the cattle get curious and move in quickly toward me to see what I am doing, this can be tricky especially if I am laying down flat in a farm field. Cows move with great speed and see very well.

It only took a few minutes for me to make it on the opposite side of the barn and the geese were still scattered on the right side of the collapsed barn. Still on my knees and using both arms on either side, I carefully placed my 870 closer and closer to barn as I inched forward. Once I was up against the corrugated steel roof, I could lay my right hand against the cold steel and cool off as well as get a closer look at the geese just around the corner.

I was surprised to see that there was a smaller group that was much closer than I thought, this was perfect for my first shot. I picked up my 870, loaded my three shells and pumped one into the chamber and pushed the safety on instantly. I had to bring the barrel forward without alarming the spotter geese to my immediate left. I was so low against the boards that they did not spot me until the time was right.

I lined up my bead sight with the first goose and rose up high up on my knees, this sent them into flight and I harvested the closest bird with a single shot. I pumped and fired again but missed, the rest of the birds where quickly out of range, I cleared my shotgun and ran over to pick up my first harvest of the day.

I put the goose in my bag and continued on towards the creek to the South, because it is really rewarding to be able to flush Mallards that are hidden along the shores. But my shots that rang out earlier scared them off and the ducks flew several hundred meters to the shores of the wetlands deeper into the farmland.

Now standing in the middle of the field, I had to come up with an approach plan to make it as close as possible to the shore of the wetland, zig zag through the small brush and trees. So, I unloaded my 870, made it safe and started a slow sprint across the creek and heading West along the water way. I could see two mallard hens dabbling in the water close to shore but I have learned from experience, that if you focus on the initial ducks, you will surely miss the others that are close by and out of sight and they will alert the one’s you are focusing on.

So, you must put variety in your closing in, like moving around the trees from either side and stopping often to observe the whole zone, to see if there are others ducks. I was lucky, there were two mallard hen’s and three wood ducks moving swimming around. Once I got about ten meters from the mallards, I stepped out from behind the tree to raise my barrel and the mallards called out aggressively then took flight, I let out my two shots and both birds tumbled back into the cold dark waters. I retrieved my two ducks and placed myself back on the edge of the shore.

The wood ducks were flying in at a rate of one to two birds every fifteen minutes or so, I sat down on a log and stopped moving looking toward the ground as not to expose my face. Ducks always fly in but generally complete a fly over to see if it is good to land or if there are other ducks in the water, this is why decoys work if setup right combined with good calls.

I had no decoys on this hunt but I compensated with patience and being completely still. Sure enough within minutes two wood ducks flew in for a landing, first in flight was the male and then one female. I quickly raised my 870, gave some barrel lead using the break away method from the front of the birds bill and then released a shot and the male came tumbling in and forward flipped into the waters below.

The female instantly dropped dove into the water, instinctively waiting for the male. But she soon realized I was going to release my shot hearing the pump-action and as I took my second shot she dove under water and came back up within milliseconds following my shot which splashed on the surface and then she flew straight up and dove right. I fired my third and last shot and it was a miss. Her aerial acrobats outdid my last shot.

I quickly reloaded three more shells and all of a sudden another wood duck hen came in and landed as well as let out some whistles. I raised my 870 barrel and she burst into flight heading East. I swung around with her flight and gave her some more barrel lead; then released my first shot and missed. I pumped the action and released my second shot, once again with a good lead and she tumbled forward and landed on the edge of the beaver dam almost twenty-five meters away to my right. I quickly reloaded to have the three shells and placed the 870 on safe.

On occasions when I hunt without a kayak, I try to set up or visualize the trajectory outcome of my shots, so that the ducks land close to solid ground and make it easy for recovery. This shot was a textbook case. My first shot on this duck was over the water with a good lead, but my second shot was placed in a perfect spot, also taken over the water but she landed right on the edge of the beaver dam wall. When I go to retrieve my ducks that have fallen to the ground on in the water, I try to find an object such as distinctive tree or stump use them as points of reference to align myself with the area where my duck or goose have fallen. This makes is easier to find them.

It was an amazing shot and I was extremely pleased, my harvest for the day was four ducks and one Canada goose.

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The waterfowl season duration in the province of Quebec is just shy of four months long, roughly from early September to almost Christmas. But it doesn’t mean that as soon as the season is over and you drop your gear that you need to stop thinking about waterfowl for the rest of the year.

After all this is one of the main reasons for my blog’s existence, on the contrary you keep on learning by observing all year-long. And in some cases keep on hunting other smaller game like pigeons and crows both are hunted using the same skills and techniques.

Every day while driving to work I go by several farming fields and watch the geese fly in during the early morning hours from the safety of the river where they spent the night.

One thing that never changes in their physical behaviour, is that they always pick the middle ground, right dead center of every field. This is indeed a perfect spot, and in every sense of the choice, it provides a clear view of any danger coming in for the spotter geese and also a large landing area as well as plenty of food.

I love hunting geese from my kayak, canoe or from a blind. But I also enjoy the challenge of stalking them like a human fox. But usually the numbers in harvest are not as great as if you were in a blind.

For the stalking method, I start on the edge of the field and move my way in and get all covered up with my Real Tree jacket and gloves and lay down flat on my belly and crawl as close as I can to the birds, once in position I snap to my knees and send them into flight and attempt to harvest them.

Knowing where they land and how they setup in the middle ground allows me to study the ground and have a successful stalk and potentially a harvest.

I don’t own enough decoys yet to set up in the field with a decoy spread but if I did, the middle ground is where I would potentially be setup for my blind or in a surrounding zone aiming toward the center.

I love the summer but I can’t wait until September!

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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 thousand 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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