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There I was kneeling on the cold forest floor, with my feet neatly tucked away. It reminded me of a child’s sitting position when they are playing with their favourite childhood toy. Amidst their imagination, there they sit for hours and are only surrounded by the calming environment of their own.

I slowly raised my head and took in a deep breath and absorbed my surrounding, there was a mixture of swampy air with a slight touch of the cedar and pine from the nearby vegetation along with some rotting logs sitting in the mud.

To my left I had my shotgun shell pouch zipped closed, along with my binoculars laying on the wet wild grass and to my right, was my cold steel Remington 870. The workhorse of my many hunts.

I live here now in this moment but deep down, I have a deep connection with the land around me and know that I could have been born in a time of the past. Sometimes, when I browse vintage black and white photos of hunters, either from my family heritage or from other great Canadian tales, I believe that I can share their emotions and stories that they captured in that very moment the photograph was taken and in a sense relive their experiences, such as the disappointments and successes of their hunts.

In the cold dark waters to my front were two mallard drakes and three wood ducks swimming around quite a distance out, too far for a clear shot. I sat there patiently to see if they would move closer to the edge of the swamp, but my experience had taught me that if there are ducks, always assume they are more than the eyes can see.

I carefully repositioned myself for a better look at the ducks moving around the eastern side of the pine tree that I was using as cover and noticed something white flash on my left, it turns out it was a group of about fifteen Canada geese dabbling in the water, all silent like ghosts.

They quickly became my main focus, I picked up my 870 loaded three shells, two “BB” and one number three, then half unzipped my pouch for quick access to more shells without the danger of them falling out during my approach. I was so excited that it practically took the breath right out of me, which was not a good thing for the physical work I was going be doing over the next few minutes.

I pushed off my feet and got onto my hands and knees and started to move north through the mud around very small brush like a fox using stealth, until the vegetation got too low at which time I had to leopard crawl through the mud, carefully placing my 870 ahead then lifting my body off the forest floor in a plank movement and move over logs and around small bushes. My goal was to get as close as I could to the edge of the water without alerting the spotter geese.

I might have only covered a distance no more than twenty meters but my lungs were going to burst and it felt as if I had sprinted the whole length of a football field. Once it position, I stood up on one knee and took the group by surprise and let off two shots into the closest birds. Unfortunately the birds were not as close to the edge as I had wished and my shots were not as effective as I would have liked. The flock burst into flight as I pumped my last shell into the chamber to release my final shot before a reload. One of the largest birds who took some shot from my first release was wounded and attempted to fly to the east with two others and I took just enough lead with my full choke and released the shot and the goose plunged into the waters below.

With all the commotion the ducks burst into flight and headed north-west. It took me a while to recover my goose harvest as the swamp was so dirty and full of rough vegetation. I had to retrace my shot from the shoreline and follow the white feather trail in the water to find the goose.

I was hoping to harvest a duck or two as well but for now there were all gone. I have learned that over time, that when you are setup in your blind on the edge of the water sometimes it seems that ducks will not alway show up unless you setup decoys combined with calling. Or simply luck, will dictate if they fly and land in front of you.

It is not uncommon for me to leave the shoreline and go back to the barn or truck to take a break away from the water’s edge almost like I am pretending to leave and more often than none the ducks will fly back in. Sometimes you won’t even see them from a distance and when you get back to the shore there are more mallards and wood ducks.

The mallards always seem to have better sight on you moving in close, where as the wood ducks you have to be quite visible for them to fly off. Usually followed by a few whistles and then a fast burst flight.

So, following my break, I setup a little closer to the edge of the water and within minutes a female wood duck flew in right in front of me coming in for a low landing, I instantly released a single shot and got my second harvest of the day.

I may not have achieved my bag limit but it was another incredible end of day full of memories that will never grow old, nor will I tire of sneaking up to the famed Canada goose “the feathered fox” as one author put it.

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I have written about it, I have filmed it and I have lived it a hundred times over, yet I find myself sometimes coming back disappointed that I was unable to capture the true experience of spending a cold December evening with the chin straps along the cold black waters of the river. The reality is that when you live it, you are in a sense writing about it when you think about the words that you will use to describe the whole experience. Your mind is in fact filming it too and transforming it into an incredible memory. But it is an exclusive film that only your eyes capture and sharing through stories I find does not always do it justice.

The sun down time today was at four twenty in the afternoon which meant I could hunt until ten to five. This usually means full darkness at this time of year but with the moon coming up this evening it was simply out of this world and was lighting up the whole river bank toward the West. I wanted to ensure I had a long enough hunt, so for this I left the house at around two in the afternoon, thus giving me enough time to get to my spot and setup. Today I brought along my kayak and rigged up a harness for me to pull it like a sled behind me, at least until I got to the water’s edge. This way I can also retrieve birds that fall in to the water a quite a distance.

The trail is not an easy one to navigate through its waist deep watering holes and large broken ice sheets but I always seem to make it just fine. Once on the river’s edge I paddle up the river heading East for about one kilometer, which is what I did today. There was a strong wind and light snow fall, and the whole experience was magical. The waters were a little choppy but I made sure to stay close to shore, and it did not take long for the river to come to life with a bufflehead which flew with lightning speed down the edge of the river to my right but he was too quick for a side angle shot.

The advantage of having my kayak as well is that there are a few spots where I can almost always harvest some Mallard ducks but you can only access it using a boat, however once on the other side of that bank, you can easily hide amongst the tall swamp grass and sneak up to the ducks for a good shot. Quite often I get down on all fours and move forward through the brush sometimes even placing my bare hands into cold water puddles of ice. But it is well worth the reward.

I have blogged a few times about the golden half an hour before sun rise and after sun down and I can not emphasize enough how amazing those time of days are. If you do your research and observe where the birds fly in and you have a good shot, your chances of a harvest during this time is most definitely greater. This time a year, I find that number 3 and 2 shells are not sufficient and I prefer using BB or triple B, in addition while hiding amongst the tall grass do not move and let the geese come in for a close approach this will sometimes guarantee a harvest.

At around four thirty the geese started to fly in by the hundreds from fields to the South to the safety of the river but remained on the other side, it was a hypnotizing sight much like I have experienced during my snow geese hunts near Quebec city. After a few more minutes passed, small groups of chin straps were now starting to cut across within shooting range and it was simply mind-blowing. The sights and sounds were phenomenal and when I called out a few short calls the geese would drop altitude with the sharp ninety degree bank turn and head right toward my natural blind. I never tire of watching a flock of geese flying into range and each bird taking turns completing a sharp bank turn which allows them to drop altitude faster that is if they are coming in for a potential landing. I have also seen them complete this type of aerobatics if they also fly over tree lines where they know they might get shot at, almost like evasive flight manoeuvres.

It was simply amazing!

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I believe that our ability to observe is more than just a skill which can be learned; and that for some it is truly natural; being able to process what we see differently and sometimes seeing what others around us can not.

Our sight combined with our other senses can enhance our hunts and give us the advantage we need in being able to harvest.

I am always trying to find ways to improve my observation so that it becomes almost instinctive. I really enjoy taking friends along on a hunt and quite often they simply come out for the pure enjoyment of nature and its wonders, from the deciduous forests in the valley to the wetlands along the Ottawa.

When we are out, I often point out a dark shadow or some movement in the swamp and almost always there is a grouse or a duck hidden away and sometimes it is quite a distance away. Being observant can really add some great flavor to the time spent in the wilderness.

Movement or shadows which are out-of-place help in being able to observe and identify game but also knowing patterns and habits. Just a few days ago a group of European starling flew in and landed right on my lawn then started working away at the worms and ants.

There is one particular red ant hill near the front of my property which is quite large and six of the starling bounced over right onto the ant hill and started to do a very strange wing flicking dance.

They took turns jumping inches off the ground like their feet were in hot water and then plucking down into the dirt with an ant in their bill. They then turned their heads into their wings as if to break the ant before eating it.

Now this is the first time I have observed this, I could not tell if they were preventing ants from coming up their wings or if it was some ritualistic dance to kill the ants before consuming them. It was fascinating to observe.

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Last Sunday, I went out to the farm on the lookout for groundhogs and rock doves, but there was no such activity; however there were quite a few black birds. Upon my arrival, I stood in the mud facing the southern fields looking over the partially flooded areas from recent the snow melts and showers.

It was a very windy day and the rain which was predicted by the weather network had turned into a mist, and the sun was also much stronger early in the afternoon bringing up the overall temperature.

I was hidden between a hay bale and a cattle wagon, the fields to my front and sides combined made the shape of the letter “T”. Separated by a creek and mixed trees, I had a very clear view of the southern part. Several minutes had passed and I could now hear a flock Canada geese calling out, short but numerous confident calls, every bird in the flock were calling out; in this first wave I counted fifteen geese.

They flew in from the northwest and flew in around my front to the south and landed in the field to the east, they had cupped their wings and ended up all facing the flooded area in the adjacent field. They were strategically placed in the high ground allowing them to see the flooded area over the tree tops.

Within seconds a second wave of four geese flew in calling out with the same sharp shortened calls and completing a full circle scan of the fields and headed straight down on the flooded area.

Then a third wave of two geese cupped their wings and dove sharply then landed right next to the second wave, beating their wings aggressively seconds before setting foot, slowing them right down for a smooth landing.

It was fascinating to watch, because when the first wave had seen the second and third waves land and some of them had already started swimming in the shallow waters with a couple of mallard ducks.

The first wave immediately called out with the long goose calls which we are all familiar with, then they lifted off, completing a full circle over the three fields and ended up right near the flooded area for their final approach for the landing. Bring all three waves together in the same area.

Now many of us have seen Canada geese fly in for a landing, and it is a beautiful thing to watch unfolding but the majority of us might not put that much more thought into what had actually occurred in front of us.

Observation is an incredible tool during the off-season, and it is the small details that can help improve your hunts.

The geese were constantly communicating with one an other, if at anytime danger presented itself, all the birds would be alerted and would take flight immediately.

Some of the geese once on the ground had already stretched out their heads and were keeping watch for the rest of the birds. Also these Canada’s came in three groups; each wave doing its own aerial scan of the ground below prior to landing and the first wave in particular landed in the adjacent field to the east using the high ground to watch for danger even before second and third wave had landed.

So, if you are a still hunter or even hunting from a blind, you do not want to be caught moving around right away because although some birds may have landed there is a good chance there are others.

Listen to the calls and watch their body language, if the Canada geese start swimming around or laying down in the ground, they are starting to get more relaxed or trying to get warm or now shifting their focus on rest and feeding. If you can identify the birds on watch thus avoiding them if possible and you get closer for your shot, then a time like this would be best. This way if they burst into the flight, they will not be as far and as high allowing for straight and effective shots.

With practice you will be able to interpret their calls by the length, type and by the loudness of it whether or not they have detected your presence.

Observe, listen and take notes, soon enough you will start seeing patterns which will benefit your approach and hunts.

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My painting of Canada Geese

The Canada goose also named Branta Canadensis is one of my favorite types of waterfowl hunting. For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere and witness those large “V” formations in the spring flying over head along with the sound of their calls, makes for a very powerful experience and my sense of pride for the North-American wilderness is enriched.

In the province of Quebec, Canada geese may be hunted during their respective hunting season which is always during the fall months, with the exception of Snow Geese that can be hunted during a special spring hunt.

In Quebec, a hunter needs to have in his or her possession, the waterfowl permit plus the stamp (included) and also have their provincial small game permit for that year both for fall and the spring hunts. Waterfowl hunting is managed by Environment Canada; and all the information needed may be found on their site.

During the summer months, when I am not out hunting rock dove or groundhog, I like to take canoe trips to nearby lakes not only to enjoy the lush wilderness around me but also study the Canada geese that flock by the thousands and setup their nests by the shores.

It is now the middle of the month of June for the year of 2012 and the goslings that I had seen weeks before now have grown in size but still stay close to their parents in the water and shores. Being out in nature, studying the waterfowl is one of the best ways to learn about their habits, habitat but also their language and behavior. This knowledge is essential not only for conservation but also as a hunter.

During my last outing, I turned my canoe bow toward the northern edge of the lake and started to slowly paddle along the shore in order to get as close as I could to two groups of Canada geese. There were four adults which included two males that can weigh up to thirteen pounds and about twelve goslings that were already starting to lose the yellow plumage and turn grey. They were scattered, two adults in one group to the east and the other two adults to my left or north-west of the lake and the goslings were also scattered with three on the shoreline and the rest in the water.

The birds never sounded off an alert call as I closed the gap between them and me and this I found surprising. At the start of the waterfowl hunting season when it is open in farming areas first, quite often a few geese standing guard in the farming fields will sound off loud danger calls and soon the flock will fly away hastily in the face of danger.

Now just four meters away the male nearest to me, started to shake his head and upper part of his neck what seemed like a rhythmic dance, then the adult female soon followed and did the same, within a couple of seconds the three goslings on shore came into the safety of the water, then the entire flock came together in one tight group and starting swimming away to my left or west very quickly. I was being watched very closely, the other two adult geese to my right or east, started the head dance as well, first the male then the female both shaking their heads in this rhythmic dance and then they swam off towards the shore then caught up with the other geese.

It was clear to me that the rhythmic head shake was a clear message that danger was near but that it was not considered life threatening and that all geese and goslings should come together in a tight group and move away fast without making a single sound.

This would indeed be a perfect defense against a fox or coyote that is raiding the shorelines of the lakes and waterways. If the predator was spotted but the flock did not want to give away their position, they could send a silent alert signal to the rest of the flock to get into the safety of the water and stay close together thus giving the impression of strength in numbers. A veteran hunter once told me that the males can really pinch with their bite if you get too close, and their flapping wings can be intimidating.

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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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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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