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Last Sunday I took advantage of some spare time and drove out to the river to see if I could spot a few ducks in open water. With not very many days left in my waterfowl season, I wanted to see if mother nature would give me a last go, until next fall.

After having spent about two hours walking along the shores of the river and through the wetlands, it was clear that my waterfowl was nearing its end. The ice was getting thick and the open waters of the river were well out of range with the ice about forty meters wide from the edge of the shore and about two inches thick.

There was no doubt that the view was spectacular and the wind blowing in was refreshing and complimented the snowy banks of the river, just a perfect match. It is always a bitter-sweet feeling, knowing that my waterfowl season is coming to a close.

The year’s season was an interesting one and to be honest, as I went out on all my outings during this season, I seem to have lost count of my harvests and had the impression that I hadn’t had as good as season as last year, especially with the warmer weather lingering longer at the start of the season.

On my drive home from the river, I was happy about the idea of getting back into a warm spot but knew I would miss my days on the river until next fall. Over the next few days, I took out my harvests out of the freezer and let them defrost and then marinated the meat over night and began the lengthy process of making our Rillettes.

It is pretty neat to feel how much pride comes from making delicious traditional Rillettes with your own harvests, and also being able to share it with friends and family who appreciate them, especially during the holiday season.

Twenty one jars later and a clean kitchen, I can now look back on all the great moments of my season with satisfaction and pride as well as the lessons learned and only hope for the best next fall.

Remember to be safe and happy new year to all of you who share this passion of ours.

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This year there has been an increase of waterfowl hunters in my area, which is positive. After all it is an excellent way to spend some time outdoors in the fall and it also helps with the local economy and the let us not forget with managing overabundant species and maintaining a healthy environment.

I usually hunt at my friends farm or on the river, the challenge with the river is that even if it is considered public land, some areas are only for Duck Unlimited members, it can be difficult to get a spot of your own. Many waterfowlers put up wooden signs to reserve their spots and I do not mind this practice as long as there is room for fairness and courtesy.

Tonight when I set off to the river, it was much cooler and this I like not only for the bird activity but there are less hunters because not everyone has the tolerance for the wet and cold weather which can be miserable. I personally do not mind it and rewards are great.

I slowly drove up the dirt road near the edge of the bay where I usually start off and there was only one other car parked with a young fellow sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette, waiting for the best time to hit is blind. I got my kit ready and was about to set off, when the young man approached me and we had a friendly chat about the area. I asked him where he was going to set up for the evening and he pointed out a medium-sized tree right on the edge of the water on the north-eastern side of the bay.

Last week, I had planned to set up on the North-eastern side as well on my next hunt as I had noticed some areas in the bay where there was more bodies of water visible which was best for the birds to land in. I figured, if you setup on the side where the birds come in for landings then you are in a good spot indeed, in addition there was a tree line behind you which provides cover for birds coming in from the north.

I told the young fella that I was going to be on the same side but that I would move further down toward the east, this was perfect and it worked out for both of us. The first part of the trail was already cleared up by four wheelers and previous hunters but the final bit got trickier with hidden water holes and a rather large creek that needed to be cross and I did not bring my kayak along this time.

I walked through the knee-deep water surrounded by very high grass, all the while keeping my eye on the tree line so I did not head into dangerous areas, and soon after I found a beaver dam which was well packed down, so I used it as a land bridge over the large creek and this opened a whole new area where I hadn’t been this year.

There are some places on this earth and not necessarily far away that are simply magical, there I was standing in water up in the middle of a forest, the leaves were bright yellow and red and there was total silence, just me, the wind and birds. I continued to the edge of the bay and I had found my sweet spot. I noticed in the distance there was a strange green plastic object half buried in the mud and it turned out to be an outdoor chair with one missing broken leg.

So, I dug it out and placed it in my natural blind, jabbing the three remaining legs into the mud which stabilized it. There I was sitting down as content as one can be staring into the open wilderness enjoying all that was around me. I called out a few times with my duck and goose callers and waited for some birds to come in.

I have been out a few times since the opening day and I decided to use a full choke this year and it did take some getting use too and even missing a few great opportunities for birds, which made me doubt my shooting abilities and was considering going back to a modified choke. But being the learner that I am, chose to give my full choke one more try to if I were to miss today, I would go back to my modified.

All of a sudden four geese flew in from the south heading north right to my left, I stood up and prepared myself and called them in and started working with them as they were calling back. I could see them banking toward me but soon disappeared above the trees and out of sight, I stood fast and called out a few more times then aimed into the air and was waiting for them to break through and re-appear.

It was only for a few seconds but it seemed like an eternity waiting for them to break the trees and circle back to the south. Then in a flash the moment came, I had been scanning the whole tree line and the four came directly overtop of me about thirty yards up, I chose the goose farthest to the right hit its wing and it took the whole impact of the full choke single shot.

The goose froze in mid-air, tumbled forward and came down hard on a downward angle into the water only about ten yards to my right. This was a big goose and upon impact it let out a huge thump. This was a clean, hard full choke harvest and I know there will be many more now.

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As the cold rain drops fell all around me they made thousands of ticking sounds as they hit natural objects and finally the mud below, some drops managed to flow into my balaclava and drip into my eyes, I slowly raised my fingers and wiped them clear. With my every breath there was a faint mist forming in front of my mouth and then soon after it faded away like smoke from a pipe. For a brief moment it reminded me of my great uncles cherry flavoured tobacco. After having parked the truck on the muddy western side of the fence, I spotted thirty geese in the centre of the field, with no vegetation nearby that would provide cover for me to get close enough for a harvest. I had observed that when Canada geese land in fields, they always place themselves in the centre of the field giving them an all around view of their surroundings.

It was a beautiful fall day with its leaves bursting into bright red and orange colours. The wind would pick up once in a while and let out this loud whooshing sound as the breeze rolled down the slopes toward the southern creek. I made my way around the back of the truck in order to pick up my kit and prepare for my first still hunting approach, when all of a sudden I spotted six more geese on the northern side of the barn closer to my position. I was hoping to be able to use this third barn as cover to get as close as I could for a shot but this was no longer an option.

With my camouflage jacket now on and carrying my 870, I knelt forward and made my way across the muddy field down toward the tree line, kinda circling around their position. The spotter geese immediately saw me and began calling out short sharp alert calls but had not yet sounded a panicked call to set off a wave of flight. Instead the lead bird walked faster to the front of the barn and out of sight soon after the others followed.

Once the group was out of sight, I took advantage of this precious time and ran further down the slope with my boots sliding in the mud, while moving in and around some thorn bushes. I was in position in seconds, having followed a beaten down path of mud in the final stretch where the cows pass through. I had chosen the southern corner of the barn to take my shot.

I closed my eyes took two deep breaths to calm myself from all the excitement, then loaded my three Challenger BB shells, and pumped one into the chamber then pushed it on safe almost instantly. I slowly swung around the edge of the barn exposing just half of my face, this enabled me to spot the geese and register their new positions. Confident of my shot, I selected the largest bird of the group and raised up my barrel from a downward aim to the horizontal one in line with the ground. Very quickly I stepped out from behind the barn and this sent the whole flock into the air, when they were only a few feet off the ground I slow pushed the 870 off safe and released my shot.

Once the smoke and sound cleared the sky filled with geese, my harvest twisted in flight and fell back to the ground. I pumped the action all the way back to release my last shot shell but the expended shell casing jammed because of the plastic end expanding and this caused a few second delay and by the time I cleared it and was ready for another shot but it was too late, the group was gone.

With my 870 now unloaded, I ran out to the field and picked up my first goose harvest of this season. I was now ready to head back to the truck and drive over to the wetlands and setup for this late afternoon hunt to continue. My plan was to park on the opposite side of the rock formation from where I usually park, this would give me better cover for the vehicle which was now closer to the towering evergreen trees.

Moments later and now only meters from the water’s edge, I unloaded my kayak and decided to paddle through the swamp in an attempt to flush some Mallards or Wood ducks. I took out my callers and let out a few geese calls, wood duck and mallard calls.

Within minutes a single young goose who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere was now just above the tree line to my left, I lowered my paddle and placed my ready shotgun into my shoulder from its carrying rack, then pushed it off safe and using the pull-away lead technique I released my shot and the bird tumbled but kept its flight for over fifty meters in the shape of a downward arc and crashed into the top of a dead tree knocking off a piece of bark and hitting the ground moments later. My second harvest was confirmed. It was a very difficult shot because I was leaning sharply to my left in a sitting position with my body partially twisted.

I let out a few more goose calls and barely had time to get back to the shore to retrieve my harvest and place it in the truck when two more geese came in from the West flying in just over the tips of the highest pine trees coming right at me. Now standing on muddy soil, I selected the last bird. I knew this was going to be a frontal shot and for this I used the swing-though lead and released my shot with the bird tumbling and falling just meters from me and the water’s edge.

I was about to head back toward my kayak when another lone goose came flying in from a distance but toward my calls, this gave me sufficient time to get into a better standing shooting position, I was careful not to move too fast as to give away my position. I released another shot and my third harvest tumbled down into the thorn bushes below.

I repeated my third shot once again with yet another lone Canada goose who was also responding to my calls but this goose was actually calling back in short bursts compared to the others who flew in without a sound. My shotgun was empty having used up my three shells. Time seemed to have slowed down by now, so I loaded another single Challenger BB shell, pumped the action, shouldered the 870 then released my shot almost instantly with a pull away lead and my fourth and last goose of the day tumbled to the forest floor.

I was one bird short of my daily bag limit by the time my hunt ended. They were all incredible harvests and this magical afternoon will be with me for a very long time.

That night we enjoyed home-made Mallard and Canada Goose sausages.

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Every year when spring comes upon us, the tributary near our house brings all kinds of life to us in its winding ripples; hooded mergansers, beaver and Canada geese but also a lot of water.

With the snow melt, the water rises rapidly and within just a few days our point is lost to the cold currents, and if I am lucky a few logs are washed up onto the property, which turn out to be great firewood. This year was an exceptional year, and in just one short week we got two days of rain then some snow melted lightning quick, which resulted in even higher water levels.

The grass on the edge of the waterway still has its mix of light and dark brown colours, and of course lots of mud between the snow patches but it makes for good nesting. European Starling, Red wing blackbirds right down to your common house sparrow are eating away, mating and getting their nests ready.

I have a bird feeder on the edge of the property that I keep filled with wild bird food and thanks to the common grackles that are such messy eaters they put some all over the ground. This of course has attracted other critters, such as chipmunks and squirrels.

It has also caught the attention of a pair of Canada geese, I named respectively Charlie and Charlotte. Every morning, I put out the left over bread from our breakfast to my crows. I usually throw the bread out the back door and then call out three times. The crows come flying in from all directions, land out at safe distance, call out back at me and to the other crows and then come in for the bread. If I forget to feed them, they fly over my roof to the front of the house and around our car and call me out.

The geese have watched me feed the crows over a period of two days and then once they have considered me no longer a threat, they decided to come in and enjoy some bread as well. The male would keep watch as the female fed hastily, then they would take turns on watch duty.

After a few days the Canada geese feeding pattern changed again, they would swim up the creek and come up the bank to feed at the bird feeder but this time around seven in the evening just before dark and feed for only a few minutes then disappear back into the dark waters.

One more week has gone by and right on schedule the Canada geese show up on the bank near the feeder right about seven in the evening and feed on the left over seeds and grain.

Yes, if you feed birds they will come and they will get used to you, but there is much more to it, then just feeding. These Canada geese impress me with their impeccable timing, and I know it is not instinct. There is a hidden science to their ability to base habits with time, because at seven in the evening at this time a year there is still a good hour of so of light.

It may be a question of time but I will figure out their understanding of timings.

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This year the Canada goose season in my hunting district for the province of Quebec started on the 6th of September for farmland only until September 18th and will open in the wetlands on the 19th of September until January 2nd, 2016. The second set of dates starting the 19th also includes ducks and other birds like Snipe. For more information on the dates and bag limits you can consult the Environment Canada website.

Every year, I head to my friends farm and come back with a few birds depending on the weather for the start of the season. However this year I wasn’t so lucky, so for now I will wait for opening day in the wetlands.

However this did not prevent me from attempting to call in some geese and try to communicate with them. There was something which was really interesting this time and this was that when I was calling in from the field nearby the mallard hen ducks in the marsh several hundred meters away would call back every time I finished my goose calls.

At first I was not convinced so I let out a few more Canada goose calls in three separate segments then waiting almost ten to fifteen minutes between calls and sure enough the ducks would call back. It was a very low pitch quack, it sounded like two to three long quacks.

Now I might speak duck and goose but I sure do not understand, however I can interpret and if I were a goose then the ducks message was telling me that if I needed a place to stay for the evening with water and food, well I have come to the right place.

This was very neat and if I was a goose who was beat then it would be a great place to spread my wings and land.

I wish everyone a great season!

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GooseThe winds on the banks of the Saint Lawrence river were incredibly strong; with hundreds of birds flying over head. The sights, smells and noises were so powerful and something out of this world.

I was about to start my two-hour treat alone, all the other hunters including the guide and his chocolate lab went back to the camp for a quick nap.

They asked me if I wanted to come along but I pleasantly declined. The Saint Lawrence with its strong currents, ice flows all such beautiful scenery, the basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré it was all mine to savour.

The decoys were well placed and the digital callers were calling out, doing their jobs attracting waves of birds.

I looked around, starting applying all the basics techniques of a stand up blind hunting.

A group of thirty snow geese flew in overhead and then swung around and came back heading north right above me.

Then three birds dropped down lower and swung around losing height.

When I noticed that one of the birds came even lower, I swung out from underneath the burlap and fired right into the bird’s chest.

It flipped over and flew fifteen meters to my left and landed in the high grass.

I unloaded and existed the blind and went to retrieve my harvest.

Sometimes it all happens so fast if you do not see your bird landing in the bushes below, for a moment you are not sure if you lost it or not, this is without the dog of course.

Now back in the blind with my harvest, I stood for a few more minutes for what seemed an eternity then a group of forty snow geese flew in from the north, right over top and not one bird called out.

So I stood still and bent my knees to get lower, then another gaggle came up along the west side and almost hovered over my spot.

I waited for the perfect opportunity, looking up in an awkward fashion, with my upper body twisted.

I moved away from the front part of the burlap and set myself in a good shooting position and then I unloaded in the bird which was the closest. It tumbled in the air, kept on flying and landed in the river.

The tide was out now about sixty meters and large pieces of ice which covered the dark waters just weeks before broke apart and littered the bottom of the Saint Lawrence creating a maze of ice and mud, rendering it incredibly dangerous to retrieve my harvest. I marked off the spot where the bird landed on the edge of the Saint Lawrence and called on the guide and his dog.

It was an amazing thing to watch, the relationship between the guide and his dog and within fifteen minutes the dog completed several section searches disappearing into the ice and mud sometimes out of sight for several seconds and then there he was with my beautiful white bird in its mouth.

It was a proud moment for many, nature is so fascinating.

 

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It can be incredibly difficult to find a harvested game bird during a waterfowl hunt, especially if you are hunting early in the morning or right at dusk. One of my hunting partners has a gun dog, a Labrador retriever and she is an important member of our team.

We take great pride in being able to bring back our harvested game birds, but also about being safe and ethical hunters, every year our families have a wild game dinner.

She is a strong swimmer, and with her great sense of sight as well as smell, she brings back bird after bird and the only price I pay, is a muddy, wet truck with a happy dog sitting in the back seat.

However when I am out on my own either sitting in my ground blind or in my canoe it becomes a little more challenging because you are no longer just taking the shots and letting the gun dog complete the retrieval process. You are now also focusing on what I call the follow through and not just for the shooting aspect.

Being able to retrieve a duck or goose and bring it back home for a meal is a wonderful feeling; I have included a link to the Government of Canada, Justice Law Website and section for the Migratory Birds Regulations concerning retrieving birds.

I also would like to share some of the techniques I use when retrieving my migratory game birds without a gun dog. Once the game bird has fallen into the water or the wetlands vegetation after the shot and I have decided the retrieval process has begun, safety becomes my number one priority.

For me safety is represented in several flavors: Firearm safety, once I have taken the shot and harvested the game bird and made the choice not to down additional birds, I unload my shotgun immediately before starting my retrieval process.

Wearing my life-jacket is another, when I am in my canoe or on foot depending on the depth of the water; it is also about not taking unnecessary risks, understanding the importance of using a boat when the water is too deep or when current is very strong. Life jackets are so important!

Even with chest waders or being a great swimmer it can be very dangerous in the wetlands or along major rivers. The water may look shallow but you can easily sink into the mud getting stuck and even below the surface in a flash. And the water is very often cold. Using a long pole or paddle can help with judging the depth of the water or strength in the mud islands.

Last year I bought myself a pair of ice picks attached to a rubber cord; this is designed to pull yourself out of the water in the event you break through the ice in December.

Being aware of other hunter positions and their awareness, it is possible that you are not the only waterfowl hunter in the area and you want to ensure that they are aware of your presence. I use the same principles as turkey hunting for alerting others, since we are not wearing orange during the waterfowl season; I use my voice, rather than stand and gesture with my hands and arms.

Duck hunting can be a very fast and exciting sport and it takes just one trigger happy hunter to ruin your day.

Once my shot has been taken and the bird has fallen, I do not take my eyes off the bird and I follow it visually until it is on the ground. I then look for a prominent object which is directly in line with the possible position of the game bird, such as a distinct bush, tree, building in the distance. In the fall a tree may have all yellow leaves, and this can be used as a great reference point if the surrounding trees are shorter or if their leaves are red.

In the wetlands sometimes the vegetation and the small water channels create unique looking mini islands or water ways which can aid with placing an imaginary reference point. In some cases, when I am shooting from a ground blind, I will walk towards the shore and then place a stick into the mud to mark off the direction. Once I get into my canoe and start paddling toward the game bird, I use the stick as a reference point while heading in the direction where the bird fell.

Judging the right distance is also very important, during the retrieval process, I know that the majority of my shots will never exceed twenty-five meters, and knowing this aids with the retrieval because it allows you to visually break up the ground between you and the bird into sections in the event you do a type of box search.

Just like tracking  a blood trail for big game like deer, in some cases you can find a large bunch of feathers at the exact point of impact in the water. This can point you in the right direction. Also depending on the depth of the water and the density of the weeds below, look to see if the bird got stuck below the surface in the roots, all my ducks and geese have floated and only once did I have a mallard break through the ice during landing and get stuck underneath. Mallards and black ducks can be very difficult to see in murky water filled with weeds, their feathers make them almost invisible. For geese I look for the large white feathers on their underside. I compare it to the tail of a white tail deer; it is quite visible from far and can assist during the spotting of the bird. For mallards, I look for the blue on their wings and the green heads with white band in the necks for the drakes.

If there are two of you in the canoe, you can have one person stabilize the boat and you can have the second hunter stand and scan the area around the boat for the game birds. Beware of the winds and current.

There are several methods that can be used to develop your skills on how to judge distances. Conduct research on the Internet using key word searches in any major search engine or read books, you can also purchase portable laser range finders if your budget permits. During your annual patterning exercise with your shotgun prior to the waterfowl season at the range, you can use the resources available on site at the shooting club to learn the distances and take mental notes of the sizes of certain objects at certain distances.

Also recreating the shooting scenario from your ground blind or shooting position can assist. A few weeks ago, I shot a Canada goose which was very high above me but towards my far left, I had to really turn to shoot and but it was a successful harvest, the bird fell in very high grass and it was extremely foggy. I thought to myself, I will never be able to find the bird; I unloaded my shotgun, told my partners I was going to retrieve the bird and started walking towards where I thought the bird had landed. I was totally off. So, I walked back to my ground blind and using my arm as the shotgun, I recreated the shot and kept my arm pointing in the direction of my harvest, I walked twenty meters and the goose ended up being one meter to my right hidden behind a fallen tree.

I wish you all a great waterfowl season!

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