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Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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The cool autumn morning air swirled into the truck as I rolled down the country road with my window down listening to John Anderson “Seminole Wind”. It was still dark out and I had planned to drive out and arrive at the farm just before sunlight to have an edge on the ducks, hares and grouse. At dawn they might still be moving about looking for food.

As I got closer to the farm, I turned off the radio and could now only hear my tires on the gravel road along with a few song birds. I took my foot off the gas pedal to slow down without breaking and then turned up the main road to the barn.

By the time I unhooked the electrical fence and drove up the lane way to park the vehicle at the top of the ridge my friend was already outside ready to greet me. We had a hot cup of coffee, and then chatted away about the local news. The sky was pink now and the rock doves were flying just a few feet above us heading south dancing in the wind. To the west a rafter of eastern wild turkeys were playing around in the fresh cow dung looking for seeds, actually they were pretty close to the cattle but that did not seem to bother the young bulls too much.

It was going to be a perfect day with a mixture of sun and cloud, maybe even slight rain but that kind of weather is great for ducks and the temperature was sitting at about thirteen degrees Celsius. On my way in, I had been preparing myself mentally for the approach and having a good hunt, not focusing too much on what I was going to harvest but rather just try to enjoy this time I was going to have alone through the trails in the woods and along the creek.

The fall colors were brilliant, bright reds and yellows surrounded you with the forest just glistening with diamond like light flashes as the water seeped through the cracks of the leaves, rocks and deadfall on the forest floor.

I had decided to start off the morning with grouse, heading west toward higher ground and following some of the trails up to the top of the hill through the woods. So, I packed up the truck put on my gear grabbed a few shells along with my 870 and cut across the western hay-field.

The panoramic view at the top of the hill was stunning and offered a full view of the two southern hay fields where the cattle herd was gathered, the creek running west to east and then the swamp. When hunting grouse I find that the still-hunting method works best for me; essentially I am walking-up the grouse both to get them to burst into flight or get them to drum, so that you can spot them and shoot.

Sometimes if you get lucky you can see them sitting high on a stump or just off to the side of the trail near the forest floor just meters in front of you. If this should happen to you don’t try to get up too close in which case you will scare them into flight and render your shot a difficult one. Try to take the shot from where you’re standing and avoid fast movements. It sometimes depends on which kind of shotgun shell shot you use and how far you are from the bird. # 6 works well for me and I have harvested grouse that were a fair distance away.

Still-hunting requires a lot of focus and careful stalking, which in my case is very slow walking through jagged rocks and deadfall that are hidden under the leaves. It can be slippery and at times dangerous for your ankles. So, after a nice hike through the trails, I decided to turn south and head through the woods down to the creek and follow it back to the barns to the east and try to harvest some rock doves.

The descent was steep, so I unloaded my shotgun and moved my way down the side of the ridge sometimes pushing up against trees so I would not fall over. By the time I got to the edge of the creek, I reloaded my shotgun with some #2 shells and started to walk leisurely to the east through some tall grass and over the beaten down mud trail that the cattle used to navigate back and forth between the fields. 

This part of the creek was wider and you most definitely needed waist-high waders to go through the water, so I chose to stay on the northern side. I had to pull my boots out of thick mud several times and make sure that I stepped on solid ground to avoid falling over. My boots once removed from the muck would release the swamp gas odor into the air.

I started to still-hunt again now that I was closer to the wider part of the creek and further away from the tall grass. I was scanning all around with my 870 at the ready in my shoulder looking into the small brush piles along the sides of the creek, I had only taken four more steps when all of a sudden a “Splash” sound came from my right, I turned my head and saw two black objects shoot up from the water and burst into flight towards the west. I swung my body around one hundred and eighty degrees and identified them as two mallard ducks; I instinctively chose the bird to my right as I was taught. When there are several birds, pick only one out of the group and focus on it for the shot and if you are fast enough then aim for another. The one on my right was closer.

The duck was about fifteen yards away now and about four feet from the ground; I pushed my safety catch off and fired a single shot of #2 into the bird. The duck turned upside down and the wings seem to freeze and the duck fell down to the ground. The mallard flapped its wings a few more times and then lay still. I put my 870 on safe, ran over to the duck and hooked it onto my belt and headed back to the truck.

I made my way east a little further along the edge of the creek in case there were more ducks and turned north toward the truck. At the truck I unlocked the tailgate and laid my gear down along with the mallard and had another chat with my friend. A few minutes had gone by and I was getting ready to head home and call it a morning. There were three curious cows that came to the front of the truck not far from where we were standing, one of them began licking the headlight on the driver side.

This made us laugh as we continued to talk, when all of sudden my friend yelled out and ran frantically over to his tractor which began to smoke. There had been an electrical short in the wiring and there were flames coming from the motor. I ran over as well and noticed that the flames and smoke were intensifying.

We fought the fire for what seemed to be only a few seconds and had it out fairly quickly, allowing us to detach the battery connections. I suppose then that being in the right place at the right time applies to hunting and farming too.

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This is a painting of my first duck hunt for the 2011 season. The techniques, I wish to improve on this year are the following:  Try to stay very still and wait for the ducks to come in much lower, before I take my shots.

I also want to improve my accuracy and aiming technique when taking a shot at a duck in flight, using the half bead aim & shot. Here is what it is: Aim your shotgun at the duck in flight, provide them with sufficient lead and aim your shotgun bead sight right at the bird then bring it down to about half the bead width. If this is done right, then your cloud of shot has a better chance to scatter and hit the bird. It worked for me last year and I hope to harvest as many ducks and geese as I did last year.

My tip for this post is the following: If you are sitting still by the water in the early morning hours and you can hear the ducks moving in while you are trying to spot them. Do not limit yourself to one specific visual area, look all around you, do not lose focus, be constantly aware and at the ready.

On this hunt, I had ducks flying in from the woods behind me to the east and from the large pond in front of me coming in from the north. Remember when hunting with other waterfowlers; give yourselves enough distance between each other and offer respect and courtesy.

Have a great season & safe hunting!

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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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I must admit that this is one of the toughest choices anyone can be faced with, even for those who consider themselves experts. The simple reason is that there are so many factors, just like a vehicle purchase. You need to identify what you are looking for and what are your requirements. Examples of this are: Speed, looks, color, make, functionality, practicality, performance, load capacity and most of all keeping the law in mind.

Here are lists of tips that may help you with your purchase in choosing the best firearm for small game hunting:

1. Federal & Provincial regulations for hunting small game with concerns to the gear being used and its caliber or shot size, pellet sizes and speed with concerns to air guns. (Quebec)

2. Budget, my Remington 870 which is my work horse for migratory bird and small game/Varmint cost me just under $400.00 Cdn. The next firearm on my list to acquire is the Browning T-Bolt Composite Target/Varmint using 17 HMR ammunition and it is listed at $780.00 US. Now if you are new at small game hunting, you can get a fantastic firearm that meets all your needs without spending over $200.00. (Hunting magazines and your local hunting store is where you can find great firearms used or new for low prices, if you are just starting out.)
3. “Versatility” This is one of my favorite words because for me it represents savings, practicality, durability and ultimately outstanding performance. Example: I can change my shotgun shell shot size and hunt rabbit, then the next day put back the plastic plug that allows for a total of three shells in the shotgun chamber and tubular magazine then I am ready for Waterfowl. Heck, the 870 can be used for Black bear.
4. Ammunition, shot sizes & ballistics. It is important to know the difference between center-fire and rimfire. Knowing the distances and shot needed to be a successful and accurate small game hunter, is very important. The author Larry Koller mentions this in his book “Treasury of Hunting” he once used a .22 LR and shot a game through the chest cavity but it kept on running and got away. He suggested then using .22 rimfire with hollow point and it contained the shocking power he needed.
5. Action types and ease of disassembly and assembly when cleaning the firearms. I have cleaned bolt-action rifles, shotguns and various other types of weapons in my lifetime and the bolt-action and the shotgun were by far the easiest to clean.
6. Noise, kickback/recoil. Many web articles, books and experts suggest a .22 rifle, bolt-action or semi automatic or even combo guns such as the shotgun and .22 combined for the first firearm. There is practically no recoil on the one’s I listed and they are very accurate, especially with the addition of a scope and they are cheap. (Savage, Remington, Browning, Marlin are all great name brands) It really depends on the buyer, also look for a .22 that allows you to use various .22 Long Rifle or Short.
7. Know the game you will be hunting and study which ammunition would be most effective with the type of game you will be hunting.
8. Safety, Safety, Safety. If you buy a second-hand rifle or shotgun or an old military firearm, make sure it is usable and safe. Inspect the barrel for damage, the safety mechanism and also check the fore-stock or any external components for damages on the firearm.
9. Fitting. Make sure you hold the firearm in the shooting position with the assistance of a professional making sure the rifle or shotgun butt length is the right fit for you. Check the barrel length and make sure it meets the Federal  & Provincial Regulations.

On my “Kit List” page I have listed the firearms that I use for small game and varmint hunting. My Remington 870 pump-action is my latest addition to my collection of hunting tools and is without a doubt one of the shotguns I use the most when I hit the woods or farmland.

In his book “Treasury of hunting” the author Larry Koller did a fantastic job in giving us a few choices of rifles and shotguns for each type of game. List of his suggested firearms are separated into game type.

Small Furred Game: Hare, Rabbits
Remington Model 572, .22 rim-fire
Savage Model 94, all gauges
Savage Model 24 Combination-.22 WMR and 20 Gauge-Magnum
Mossberg Model 500 Pump Gun, in 12 gauge

Guns for Varmints: Coyotes
Winchester Model 70 Varmint Rifle
Browning Safari-grade Sporter
Savage Model 110
Sako Varminter, heavy barrel
Winchester Model 275 Deluxe, .22 WMR

Guns for Upland Birds: Grouse, Pheasant
Winchester Model 21
Winchester Model 59
Winchester Model 1200
Daly Commander, over/under
Browning Superposed, over/under
Remington Model 11-48

Guns for Wild Fowl: Geese, Ducks
Browning Superposed 12 Gauge, 3-inch Magnum
Remington Model 1100 autoloader
Remington 870 Pump Gun
Savage Model 750 Autoloader
Savage Model 30 Pump Gun
Winchester Model 1400 Autoloader
Ithaca Model 37 Deluxe Pump Gun
Winchester Model 101, over/under

In Canada in order to acquire/purchase a firearm you need to be certified and have successfully completed and passed the Federal Firearms Safety Course for the firearm categories you have selected during the registration of the course. Non-restricted is the most common category. You will need your firearms card in order to purchase a firearm and ammunition.

In order to hunt in Quebec with a firearm as a resident, you will also need to successfully complete the hunting course and obtain a passing grade. You will also need to purchase a small game permit at any hunting store that prints them. Migratory bird hunting will also require a permit that can be purchased at any Post Office across Canada and also Online. In Quebec it is important while hunting migratory bird to have your small game permit and Migratory bird permit + Stamp on hand at all times.

Local hunting stores, SAIL, Canadian Tire and many other locations are great places to start. Happy shopping!

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