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Posts Tagged ‘field’


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 choice, and in every sense of the choice it is 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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Kit & George Harrison wrote in their book “The Birds of Winter” “that pigeons and doves are not really gallinaceous (chicken like) birds. They are plump birds with short necks, small heads, and short bills that are ideal for pecking at seeds, which account for 98 percent of their diet. Strong fliers, they can evade predators on the wing. The fact that they are gregarious and are often found in large flocks in winter is undoubtedly a survival tactic to facilitate finding food and cover and to avoid predation.”

The majority of us might recognize them as pigeons or pests, with black, grey and sometimes even white feathers but to me the rock doves are an awesome bird and a very enjoyable small game hunt, gregarious and evasive indeed.

What I really like about rock dove hunting is that it’s open all year round in Quebec under small game and it can be a really fun and a challenging sport. It involves careful still-hunting, great stalking skills and also approach tactics when dealing with your advance to your shot.

Sometimes, I find myself at my friend’s farm hunting duck, grouse or even snowshoe hare but either the weather is not cooperating or other negative factors can affect my choice of game, such as large farming equipment or dogs making noise. One thing I can always count on as a backup activity is rock dove hunting. Easily scared off, they will often fly away for twenty minutes or more but they will always come back.

At the farm, they will normally stay close to a barn where their nests are located and then they will fly around feeding on seeds near the cattle. For my approach, I like to pretend that I am going about my normal business chatting with the farmer or just walking around, actually what I am trying to do is place myself strategically for my advance to my shooting spot. Just like crows, they are watching you and they see very well. Once they burst into flight, it takes a skilled shot gunner to get a confirmed harvest as they are extremely quick and almost seem to dance around your shot.

I find that one rock dove is plenty of meat for one meal with an average size of 11 to 13 inches but with several rock doves you can make very nice dishes such as: Salmis De Pigeons. I have included a picture of a rock dove that I field dressed for supper.

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The sun rays were beating down on our arms and the nape of our necks. It was twenty-five degree Celcius and the heat was intense, you could feel the heavy air. Deer flies and wasps flew around in their frenzied flights; and the silence that surrounded us was suddenly broken by crow and red wing black bird calls.
 
Thermos in hand I slowly walked down the dusty path up to the gate between the two old barns where Ron was standing. I slowly untwisted the lid and poured a fresh cup of coffee. As the steam rose, I leaned forward and rested my forearms on the upper bar of the gate. I then let out a relaxing sigh and began talking about a home building job he had been working on with a friend.
 
Time was of no importance, I had the whole afternoon, besides the days were much longer now. Once in a while I would look up at the largest boulder in the western field about two hundred meters away. Ron then turned to me and said “I swear I see something at the entrance of the boulder but it is very hard to tell from here.”
 
So, I raised my head once again, had a look and agreed that there was definitely something moving in and out of the den. The only color I could make out, which was different from the fresh dirt at the base of the rock was the reddish fur under its chin.
 
During our conversation the farmer shared with me some woodchuck hunting tips that he employed when he was younger. He would still-hunt then sneak up in behind the den’s entrance and shoot through the roughly two inches of dirt and target the nape of the neck while the woodchuck was exiting the den. This may seem like an easy method but it is quite common for woodchucks to dig at the base of large rocks and boulders making it difficult for predators to dig them out, thus making it a challenging shot at close range and potentially dangerous with the possibilities of a ricochet.

Well, it was now time for me to set off toward the boulder, I walked over to the car picked up my binoculars, the shotgun and a few shells then turned back toward the gate and headed into the field. The farmer had also seen several other woodchucks to the left of the large boulder in another group of rocks.

I passed the gate and then headed down the ridge between some hay bales and then moved around the northern edge of the swamp separating the woods from the barns. This time I made sure there were no bulls around. Normally on very warm days the cattle crossed the creek and stayed along the wood line on the southern edge of the hay fields.

By the time I reached the swampy waters, the ground became very uneven and I had to be careful when placing my boots down not to twist an ankle. I slowed my pace right down and began still-hunting up the western ridge toward the large group of rocks on my right. My plan was to keep as low as I could so that the woodchuck would not see me coming up over the crest and this would lead me to the right hand side of the largest boulder.

I was able to make my way to the forest edge and tuck myself under the famous tall pine and kneel down behind some rocks. I now had two choices, take a twenty meter shot from under the tree at the woodchuck once it stuck its head out or attempt to close the gap for a closer shot and maybe even come in from behind.

I chose the second choice as it was the more challenging of the two, still-hunting and being able to sneak up on your game without it spotting you is quite rewarding indeed. So, I loaded my 870 with a single shell and stood up very slowly and starting stalking toward the boulder on leveled ground.

I waited for the woodchuck to come out and stop, he was about half way out of the den, he was not moving out any further. The woodchuck could sense that there was something around because when I was more than two hundred meters away, he had come right out and was sun bathing on the top of the large rock.

The forest edge was on my left and the grass around the woodchucks den was knee-high, I was being very careful to walk on the edge of my boots and slowly pushing down on the grass and looking to see if there were small branches that I could avoid. I slowed my breathing right down and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.

I made it within six meters and the woodchuck finally spotted me and sunk back into his hole but he did not go very deep, because he started to thump and whistle and this went on for about ten minutes or so. Therefore I decided to take a closer look and came around the front of the den and see down into the hole.

He was down there alright because the thumping sound was very clear, and he was not going to come out until I was far enough away. So, I turned around and headed back to the large pine and planned on sitting and waiting it out. By the time I got back to the large pine and got down with a clear western view of the boulder the thumping and whistling had ceased but there were still some bugs hanging around the den entrance.

Sometimes what I like to do is find a large rock and sit on it, so that I am elevated off the ground this way I am sure not to cause any vibrations or sounds on the forest floor or ground thus alerting the woodchucks. I must have waited a good twenty minutes or so and I kept a watchful eye around me the whole time but mainly on the large boulder and the den entrance.

To my south there was a small slope leading to the swamp and between us there was another large group of rocks. I wanted to make sure the cattle were still on the southern fields across the creek, so that they would not come between me and the barns on my way back and this is when I noticed “tick bag”. He was standing right up on his two hind legs and was keeping watch on me. It was indeed tick bag lookin’ the shape of his head and the reflection of the sun on his fur made him look like a rock.

I immediately turned around took my 870 off safe and began my slow stalk down the small slope to that rock formation. Tick bag, did not move and then he skipped on his two hind legs and started to thump, let out another whistle and darted under the biggest rock which looked like a large vertical dagger just above this hole.

I came around its left and in behind the third and fourth rock which was part of this rock fortress. I managed to sneak up from behind just like the farmer had done in the past and was able to line up my bead sight with the nape of the woodchuck who was inching out to check if I was still to its north or my right. This hole was deep and in the vertical and I did not have another chance for a second shot, if I missed or just wounded the chuck, tick bag would disappear underground.

I was now crouched over in a perfect shooting position with the 870 sitting tightly in my shoulder; I slowly raised the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Vlam! The shot rang out and once the dust settled the woodchuck lay very still under the large dagger like rock.

I removed the woodchuck from the den then placed the rocks back into a safe position blocking the hole, so that the cattle could not come near it. I then layed the woodchuck on its back so that it was resting on a patch of fresh grass allowing me to inspect its size while using my hunting knife to raise it front legs. And noticed its chest was full of ticks and fleas. He was without a doubt a tick bag and he sure was lookin’ right at me. One thing I have learned while hunting woodchuck is that there will always be an escape or spy hole, and if they can -they will be watching you too, so do not just focus on the one den once you’ve spotted the woodchuck but constantly check all the nearby holes and sometimes look right into the woods near the forest floor if the den is close to its edge.

There is one thing that is clear -the’re are always eyes on you when you are hunting.

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I was standing very still with my binoculars surveying the low ground over on the eastern field, trying to find any early signs of woodchuck presence. I set out to the farm shortly after lunch knowing that the groundhogs preferred to come out and move later in the afternoon. The wind was blowing hard in a north-easterly direction and the low dark clouds moved quickly through the sky and caused the field to change color. The spots where there was fresh dirt turned over or where a broken fence post lay played visual tricks on your eyes.

The air was chilled and the temperature was at about plus two degrees Celsius, the weather station had predicted about two centimeters of snow and this definitely was not ideal weather for the chucks. But I had seen about four others in nearby fields located at the other farms. As soon as it started to snow, the ice pellets started bouncing off the mud and the car parked on the side of the road, the sky got dark quite fast.

I had no choice but to sit and wait it out until the sky cleared. Twenty minutes had passed and the sun finally broke though. Still no sign of the woodchucks and I did not blame them especially with this weather being so un-predictable.  So, I decided to turn my focus on the Red Wing black birds and Rock Doves.

The farmer had scattered some grain for his cattle along with a few hay bales and this had drawn in a flock of Red wing black birds; this presented a fun challenge as they can be a difficult bird to harvest because they are easily alarmed and they travel in flocks so if you startle one bird they all disperse.

On the southern field and its northern side of the creek, were three old barns where I had harvested one of my first woodchucks of last summer. The first two barns were smaller and bunched together with only a few meters apart resting on the slope but the third barn was about thirty meters away and closer to the creek on leveled ground near the forest’s south-western edge.

The pigeons, red wing black birds along with robins and starlings were all gathered in the flooded field to the south of the third barn. So, I decided to descend the southern ridge and move my way along the electrical fence between the first two barns and begin a very slow and muddy stalk to the third barn towards the birds.

Earlier in the afternoon I had noticed the cattle were still feeding on the north side of the western field which was connected to the southern field with no fence separating the two. If you were to include the eastern hay field combined they would create a “U” shape around the main farming complex. As a general rule and as a question of respect, I always kept a safe distance from the cattle especially since they had several new calves this year and I was quite aware that this could change the whole dynamics of my current situation.

As I carefully stalked toward the third barn, I was constantly keeping watch for the larger bulls that were part of the drift of cattle. I made sure; I was stepping on solid ground and not sinking into the mud and always watching up the ridge to my right. The only time I did not have control over my position was between the second and third barn. So as I approached the western side of the second barn and made my way over a worn out wired fence. I positioned myself so that I could see the eastern side of the third barn to my front, the creek to my left and on my right the southern edge of the western field where the mob of cattle were feeding.

After several minutes of hard stalking I was now inching into position, and the birds were now within shooting distance lined up in my sights. Unknown to me for the first few seconds, I was also being stalked and considered a moving target. My right eye caught some movement and when I turned my head, I found myself face to face with a two thousand pound bull and he was only forty meters away.

He had seen me come down the ridge on his left and he had subsequently moved in parallel into the middle of the field were there was a slight depression and caused him to disappear momentarily; from there he could protect his drove of cattle and calves.

We were both looking right at each other and for those who thought cattle can not see very well; I just proved it they sure can. He lowered his head and was swinging it aggressively left to right letting out these incredible huffs that came from deep within the beast. He had this thick white saliva dropping out of its nose and from around its mouth and I can assure you it did not take me long to get the message. Just like in the Spanish Corrida de Torros, he dug his front legs into the fresh mud and lifted large chunks of dirt and then would lower his head into the mud and rub the saliva into the ground.

The charge was coming but I had anticipated this and only had six meters to cover back to the second barn or a fifty meter dash to the tree line to the west, so I slowly moved backward to the northern side of the barn and took cover behind the old wired fence and made my way back around the first barn and then behind the electrical fence.

Once I showed the bull, my intentions were to stay clear and move away, he just locked his eyes on me and continued to move large chucks of dirt under his hooves, letting out huffs and puffs.

I finally circled the bull from the east behind the protection of the electrical fence, and then I talked to him in a gentle voice complementing him on the way he protected his drove. He was an absolute stunning bull, pure black, the true definition of power and I will never forget his huffing and puffing, it was so deep like a fog horn and it made every bone in my body shake.

Awareness is so important during any hunt.

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I was now lying on my back, my upper body propped up slightly by the seat in my layout blind with my Remington 870 resting by my side. The ammunition boxes were neatly stowed by my right thigh along with my camera and digital recorder. The sky was filled with a bright reddish pink color and the sun was now slowly rising.

There had been a slight snow fall mixed with isolated showers between two and four in the morning and the temperature was now one degree Celsius but the sky was beginning to clear with very little clouds. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing; since we had now lost some of our cover. After all concealment was a key factor toward our success that we could not leave out.
 
We had just spent the last hour setting up hundreds of decoys in the shape of a large tear drop along with our digital callers. And it was now time for a rest and wait for the guide’s queue. I must admit, I was so filled with anticipation the night before that I only slept for an hour or so therefore I took advantage of these precious few minutes to get some shuteye.

So I laid back and shut my layout blind flaps and stared directly into the sky through the mesh, took a few deep breaths then shut my eyes. Once in a while I would open them and a have a look at the vast sky. I would spot a few Canada Geese flying in at about two hundred feet and then land in the field to the south. At first it was a gaggle of six or so birds, then twenty but within a few minutes as the sun got warmer the numbers increased to the hundreds.

The goose calls intensified as the morning went on and soon the sound broke the early silence, and with this so did their numbers almost to the point where I could no longer hear the coyote calls from the field to the east. Goose calls could drive a man mad if they were to be exposed to the sound over several days.

I slowly turned my head to the left and stared at the farm-house over a kilometer away to the North West. I could see a very faint dark cloud, it was drawn out over the silo and then over the forest on the northern edge of the farm field. It did not take long, and then eventually the entire horizon was teeming with these dark clouds some in the distinct “V” shape, others made up of a series of overlapping “V” shapes.

I was wordless and electrified, we now had thousands of birds flying some three hundred feet above us and some were starting to circle and call back to our decoys and callers. I took a quick glance to the north-east and noticed this winged vortex; it spanned from the top of the tree line to several hundred feet in the air, I was dazed. It was as large as a cumulonimbus cloud.

As the birds would turn into the sun this black cloud would become instant white and the effect was extremely hypnotic. It was the famed snow goose. Some of the bird’s right above us were now circling over head like vultures and dropping altitude tucking in their wings just like ducks. I would compare their aerial dance to someone who was stepping into a hot bath pointing the ball of their feet into the boiling water as if they were testing the temperature.

Once convinced, a few more birds would drop and circle yet again now just a few hundred feet above us. I could feel my heart wanting to burst, I felt so focused, and it was like living a dream, it seemed so unreal. Then a smaller gaggle of seven birds turned aggressively and dropped down some more now their wings were turned inward and very tight to the bodies floating directly into our shooting arcs.

As soon as they were in range the guide called out and our flaps opened with lightning speed the first volley of shells rang out and our first two white wing black tips dropped in the field.

If you are willing to see, the great migration has a lot to teach us.

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2 Hounds and Bear

I wanted to thank the author Olaus J. Murie and everyone who assisted him in producing this great book from the “Peterson Field Guide Series” on animal tracks. It has now joined the rest of the books I have read on my OKB page, which I consider to be a digital treasure shelf.

I also wanted to include a quote that Olaus put in his book by Henry David Thoreau: “If I were to make a study of the tracks of animals and represent them by plates, I should conclude with the tracks of man.” Now I am pretty sure what he meant as a philosopher, was indeed his interpretation of the evolution of man. I wanted to share this quote from the book because as a tracker it is important to have an open mind, add some flavor of philosophy and abstract thinking to your skill.

Tracks are signs of life and confirm the presence of a species in its respective geographic area, basically its habitat. Animal tracks ignite a curiosity in all of us, and as a hunter it does for me even if it means that sometimes I may not harvest even though I have found a set of tracks. It is the joys of constant learning!

Droppings, tracks, scrapping on trees, small nibbling off a bush all tell a story. My belief is that a good tracker can piece together clues and then interpret actual events and if you are also a good hunter ultimately you could potentially find the game that you are pursuing.

So when hunters type the following key words in a search engine “Small Game Tracks” what is it they are looking for? Technical information or the philosophy behind tracking? If this question can be answered but also be understood, then they may start the hunt following animal tracks and conclude the hunt with the tracks of man.

Check out my Photo Gallery page for my growing collection of animal tracks and droppings.

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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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