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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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Fresh dirt in front of the den

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Quick Tom

The truck drove slowly up the long dirt road between the north and south-western hay fields carefully avoiding the mud holes. The creaking sounds of the suspension faded into the country music that was playing low on the radio. Once we reached our spot, the driver put it into park and stopped at the top of the eastern ridge on the forest edge.

It had been raining for a few hours now and the temperature was starting to drop at about six degrees Celsius, we had lowered our windows, so that we could hear the nightly sounds and hopefully get a gobble or an owl hoot. I then carefully swung my door open, stepped out into the mud and moved my way to the back to the truck, unzipped my hunting bag and grabbed my crow caller.

It had been dark for about thirty minutes now and we were slowly sinking further into darkness. I cupped my hands around my mouth and started with a few owl calls and then waited a few minutes, then called again with my crow caller. This went on for a few minutes and would stop, listening with my hands cupped around my ears, and then I would start calling again. I was anticipating a call back from a gobbler but instead I heard crickets, geese from the lake nearby and some other nocturnal animals. The farmer had said that the field on our left was full of turkeys during the week and so we were attempting to find their roost.

After a few failed attempts, we packed up and made our way back to the cabin for the night. It was going to be a short sleep because we wanted to be back on site about half an hour before sunrise in order to get the best setup. Since I had not located the roost, we decided that in the morning we were going to still-hunt along the edge of the fields just like Ray Eye had done in his book. You must exercise a great deal of discipline while moving through the woods and fields, know your terrain, be patient as well as have a good eye.

Turkeys can hear and see extremely well and it is absolutely critical that you know and understand the game you are pursuing.

It was now five in the morning and I awoke to some nice song birds. Within minutes we had eaten breakfast, which was a few pieces of toast and a cold glass of milk, and then we loaded the gear into truck and drove back to the very same spot. My good friend was carrying my decoys in a bag, along with green mosquito netting for cover. I had my Quaker Boy slate caller around my neck, a set of binoculars and my pump-action Remington 870.

The hunt was on and we were extremely excited, we slowly moved our way east through some copse of trees between the east and western fields and as we broke the forest edge two deer leapt into the tree line to our right and disappeared. We decided to go up the left hand side of the field north-east of the truck and then cut across about half way through as there was a crest in the field leading to a point which offered a great shooting spot.

As we slowly made our way up the forested edge of the third field, I went down on one knee and completed Wade Bourne’s Fly down Cackle hitting my hat against the tree bark and boy it sounded authentic.

I must have alerted some animals nearby because within an instant of finishing my call a coyote came trotting along the field to our right and then when he saw us he disappeared just as fast as the two does. We did however find his meal left over’s which was a porcupine carcass. Several minutes had gone by and now after having seen some wildlife our senses were set to high gear and then almost every dark object in the fields looked like an animal.

We must have taken around forty more steps and had stopped by a pile of logs when my friend tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to our left. We instantly took a knee and stared at the large black mark in the center of the field down in the low ground. As we looked on, I noticed that it was lifting and lowering its head but it was too far out to make out what it was. I whispered “It looks like a coyote” but my friend was not so sure, so I handed him my binoculars and he focused on the animal. He was several hundred yards away down in the low ground. Behind him was a beautiful valley and on its crest there were very large trees mixed with pine and aspen, oak and birch.

To his north there was a very large hay-field and a small lake behind some more trees which formed a sort of barrier between the two features. To his south there was another field and it was on its southern edge where my point and best shooting spot was located. By the time my friend handed me the binoculars to have a look, he had already whispered back that it was a very large tom and he had a huge smile on his face. It seems that my calls had worked and he was spreading his wings in a feathered dance then moving slowly into the direction of my calls. He was all alone with no other turkeys in sight.

We kept very low and slowly moved back toward the southern edge and decided to place the two decoys twenty-five yards from the brush. My friend walked back to the logs some thirty yards to the west providing me with a safe and wide shooting arc. Ideally, I needed to be further east on the point but I could no longer move as the tom was closing in on my decoys and would have instantly seen me.

I tucked myself into the bushes on the edge of the forest my back facing south with my decoys slightly to my left to the west about fifteen yards out. I carefully placed my Remington 870 aiming directly to my front and lifted my slate caller and let out a few cutts, yelps and purrs. I would then lift my binoculars, look for the tom’s position and reaction.

At first I could see him moving toward me but then he would fade into the low ground, and I thought to myself “Damn! He saw me.” Then I would see this very long neck pop up like a submarine periscope and then disappear again behind the grassy knoll. It was quite comical. What I found very neat is that he never once communicated with me, not even a few clucks or a gobble.

There was one thing which was clear and this is that this tom was quick and he was in a hurry to see my hen decoys. He was now fifty yards out to my right, I had tucked myself away into a ball and pulled my camouflage hood over my head, I looked like a Real Tree bush with just my eyes moving, he was moving quickly but cautiously towards my two decoys. He would complete another feather dance which was just breath-taking and you could see his beard dragging along the ground. He would then tuck his head back in and move forward a few more steps, then stop and move yet again.

My heart was racing like crazy and I kept on going through my shot scenarios and wanted to insure I chose the best time to take my shot, so I waited for him to walk directly to my front, I slowly raised my Remington 870 and unlocked the safety using the slow push technique which Wade Bourne had shown on his video. It made no sound at all, took my breaths and when he was twenty-five yards out, I lined up my bead sight with his head and neck and let out a shot of number four.

It struck him by surprise and made him jump into a winged frenzy, I instantly leapt out of the bushes and while on my second step toward the bird I fired a second shot. Upon the second impact he spun around and the twenty-three pound beast fell to the ground. I had just harvested my turkey on the second day of this year’s season and it was all over in less than two hours. Brilliant!

I may never meet Wade Bourne, Ray Eye and Preston Pittman in my lifetime but they were all present during my hunt. Thank you!

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The first hare lead that I decided to track on this particular day was without a doubt one of the toughest this winter. Even though it had been much warmer over the past couple of days and it had also rained, the most recent snow fall had left the nearby field and swamp with waist deep snow rendering my progress slow. There was a slight overcast in the sky and the temperature was three below zero. Once in a while as the clouds would clear the sun would break through and momentarily warm my face and hands.

I had no choice but to leave the car parked at the main entrance of the property and set off on foot in an easterly direction down a small slope onto the frozen swamp. The snow was just too high on the road. The swamp was located on the northern edge of the main country road and the trees nearby created a natural canopy of pine and cedar mixed in with straw sticking out of the snow and the area was littered with tracks.

Right away I noticed a trail that looked like it belonged to a mink or even a fisher. It had very distinct claw marks in the snow similar to that of raccoons. So I pressed on until I hit the western edge of the hay-field on the northern side, still following the lead. I took advantage of the change in vegetation to stop and catch my breath also to observe. On my left there was a large pine tree, surrounded by smaller bushes. I was looking left and right looking for any sign of snowshoe hare activity. This is when I spotted several more tracks and noticed some fur and then a blood trail.

The ravens above me were being very loud and kind of gliding just above me like turkey vultures. At the base of the tree there were carrion remains and a large skull. It was not a sight for the faint of heart as there was some muscle and fat tissue still attached and all its teeth were intact. A farmer had told me that the hide alone could weigh in at around one hundred pounds and that it would take several coyotes or wolves to drag that away but it was nowhere to be found. I had wanted to hunt hare in the morning and then try for rock dove after lunch, but after a sight like this and being in the bush alone my instinct was telling me that maybe I should move on.

There were canine tracks everywhere in various sizes and the tracks that I found were only a few hours old. I then decided to move north back to the eastern side of the quarry, where I had harvested my last hare and continue to search for more leads. As I left the swamp and the wood line near the road across the field to the south, I saw additional tracks and followed them some more and this is when I found large droppings as well as a well-traveled trail filled with paw marks. There was set in particular that was very large. There wasn’t just one canine with me in the woods like there was a few weeks ago, it was now more like two or three.

The paw tracks were almost too large to be that of a coyote, perhaps a timber wolf. So, I followed the trail some more because there were also fresh hare tracks nearby leading to the creek. When the forest cover got too thick and the snow was still knee-deep, especially with carrion around, I did not dare venture deeper into the darker part of the wilderness.
There were scattered pockets of evergreen, old wooden planks resting up against a barbed wired fence, offering plenty of cover. By this time I was now experiencing a strong feeling, that I was no longer alone and I also felt I was not necessarily a wanted presence.

I slowly turned toward the heavily travelled trail full of paw marks to the west and took several photos before heading back to the car for lunch. You know, a couple of days have passed since this feeling that came over me in the woods and yet while I am sitting on the bus going to work a part of me that is truly curious wanted to seek beyond the darkness in that evergreen.

By mid afternoon, I had made my way to the farm and met up with the farmer who was tending to his cattle and he had granted me the right to attempt to harvest some rock doves that were eating his grain. He had scattered some feed for his cows and then brought several buckets of water to the calves that were taking shelter in one of the smaller barns. He had mentioned to me that the rock doves were clearing out the grain on the ground and that it could start getting expensive. So, some assistance with this would be appreciated.

Even though rock doves are the same bird we see in the city, out in the country their behavior is quite different and this is to be expected. They see very well and if spooked they do not just fly a short distance away to safety then come back. Sometimes they will fly away over the forested ridge and not come back for several hours or not return at all.

For me there was a flock of five birds in my sights. One of the strangest occurrences that I had experienced was several weeks prior I set out to harvest the farm pigeons. I made the mistake of pointing to them and talked about my approach with another hunter out loud and the birds immediately flew away and did not return for two days according to the farmer.

This time it was going to be different, very different. I started by walking over to the car and continued to talk to the farmer and not pay attention to the birds at all. They were sitting on the trim of the barns roof. And a precision shot was out of the question. I had only packed my 870 with me and did not bring my .22.

Down on the southern ridge there were two older barns and the rock doves had made their nest inside. So, I slowly walked up to the gate at the cow enclosure and the opening to the southwestern field.

I stood there for a moment watching for rock dove activity. Sure enough within a few minutes a group of three flew in and landed nearby. I slowly moved back to car to get into a better shooting position but failed and spooked them and they took off circled in the air and descended to the second barn on the southern ridge.

It was very difficult to move about and align a shot. The birds were easily spooked and I could not shoot at the barn roof, I had to watch for the trucks, tractors and finally the cattle.

I slowly re-positioned myself and used an old tractor for cover and managed to get down the slope and enter the first abandoned barn from the northern side. There was a small window and a door on the southern edge and I had a clear shot on the pigeons, but there was one problem. I was carrying my 870 and I could shoot the roof.

With my .22, I could have taken a clear shot through an opening in the barn without exposing myself. This would have been a great shot under total concealment but this was not a possibility. I asked myself: What kind of approach could be used without scaring them? The only option was to jump shoot them, so I stood at the doorway and leaped outside, this seem to work since they hastily bounced into flight.

I took aim at the last one of the group and fired a shot, the bird swerved and dove and broke into an even faster flight and all three disappeared into the tree line to the east. It was a miss. Dang! I had to wait another forty minutes or so for them to come back, so I climbed the ridge and went back to the main gate.

Sure enough two rock doves flew in from the east heading west straight between the two smaller barns and over the gate and settled in the snow nearby. I quickly went down to my knees and crouched my way around the barn to the north and staying as low as I could I positioned myself in a kneeling position on the north-western side of the barn to my right.

The two birds were still feeding but never kept still, once the birds were not in the line of sight with the cattle, I rose my 870 and in one single motion, stood up and sent the rock doves into flight, Vlam! The shot rang out and I had harvested my first pigeon of the season.

Rock dove may not compare to big game trophies but it is most definitely an exhilarating hunt and great practice for the waterfowl season.

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