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870 & Chuck

My hip was carefully placed up against the tailgate of the truck in an attempt to avoid shaking too much, so that I could focus better with my binoculars. I was looking toward the eastern field and standing just meters from the farm-house; scanning north to south and concentrating in and around the new hay bales which were freshly cut and rolled.

It was thirty-one degrees Celsius and the heat was almost unbearable. The cattle were down by the creek getting some shade under various deciduous trees, while others waded through the cool waters. Once in a while some cloud cover would move in and with it a fresh breeze would blow in, changing the colors of the various weeds and hay.

Earlier in the morning, I had climbed over the electric fence then headed down diagonally through the northern field closest to the farm-house and cut across the hedge row near the creek, just meters from the road. I then looped around to the south-east back into the other field where there was an opening for the tractors.

I had noticed the groundhog several weeks ago in the field to the east but the weather did not roll in my favor with heavy rains. I was forced to abandon my hunt because the groundhog had retreated below the ground.

The network consisted of two main den entrances at the start of the slope toward the west and with two other escape holes one near the fence to the east and the other in the center of the field where the grass was much darker and just high enough to provide good cover.

Only a few minutes had passed and finally I made out what I thought was a small brown animal on its hind legs. So, I adjusted the center focusing wheel on the binoculars and confirmed my findings. I slowly unzipped my right pocket on the orange hunting vest and pulled out my cell phone and checked the time, it was almost three in the afternoon and it was now going to be cooler and the animals would start coming out now; birds too since I had only seen two yellow warblers and four grackles.

I packed away my phone and binoculars, zipped up my pocket and then grabbed a single shell from my ammunition box on the tailgate and headed down the road to the north. I had to move quickly because I did not want the chuck to move underground.

As I made my way over to the eastern field, I was studying the low ground and aligning the groundhog with each hay bale, thus identifying which bale offered the closest shot and then chose the right bale to use as cover.

I decided on the second bale since it was slightly further away from the groundhog but directly in line with me. I moved in through the tractor opening for the second time of the day and turned in toward the low ground. Once in a while I would stop, catch my breath, because I was speed walking and crouched over. I normally pace myself and take about five to six steps then stop, listen and observe, breathe then set off again.

I was closing in on the groundhog and he still couldn’t see me. By the time I reached the first hay bale, I was only thirty meters out and the shot was possible one but I could not guarantee a confirmed harvest. I also wanted my shot to end up in the dirt and not go over the fence toward the tree line.

So, I stopped, took a knee along with a few deep breaths and prepared myself for the shot that would soon come. I leaned over to the right hand side of the bale and noticed that the groundhog was still standing on watch with its head very high above the hay. I then turned back in toward the center of the hay bale and got down on all fours and leopard crawled over to the hay bale to left or east.

I would crawl, and then stop; look up just popping my head above the hay line to make sure the groundhog was still there and then I would inch forward again. Twice I had to wipe the sweat from my forehead with my hunting hat. My forearms were cut and burning because of the grass blades and various insects. It was only six meters away but it took me a while to get across to the other bale.

Once I reached the second bale, I slowly stood up and had a look over the top of the bale and checked that the groundhog was still there. This time it heard something and let out a whistle but did not move instead it stretched its head further up for a better look much like me.

I loaded one shell into my Remington 870, lined up the bead sight with the target using the hay bale as a stabilizer and focused on my breathing. Once I was ready, I took the weapon off safe using the quiet push method, and then slowly squeezed the trigger…Vlam! Grass and dirt spat up, the groundhog was ejected from the den and fell flat on its back side.

I had harvested one of the largest groundhogs this year and it was now time to head back to the truck and find the groundhog on the southern field near the second barn. I took the time to reflect on the hunt and feeling good about having helped a farmer with his varmints. I decided to bury this harvest using one of the abandoned holes in the field closets to the fence.

My painting of Ron's Coyote

A couple of hours had passed and I was now back at the truck having a drink of water planning my next hunt in the southern field. The cattle had moved in closer to the barns for the evening, therefore shooting was no longer an option at least in the southern field; I had to prepare myself and maybe pack up for the day and head home.

I checked my 870 for a third time after my initial shot and cleared it to make it safe, then I carefully placed it on the ground near the truck on its cloth gun case. I then pulled out a granola snack bar and began to relax.

Once in a while, I would look toward the south then over to the east. The birds were singing louder now, the red wing black birds and grackles were flying in low to feed off the grain on the ground nearby.

I took another drink from my water bottle then placed it down on the tailgate and this is when something caught my eye to the south-east. I could not make it out at first as it stealthy made its way out of the tree line to the south just behind the fence about forty meters from where my harvest was buried. It blended in perfectly with the hay color.

As it got closer and within range I was now able to identify my visitor, I could see its ears were straight up and its fur had a healthy golden shine. The animal would stop; look with its tail straight down near its hind legs. It was incredible! I had seen this animal many times before but I was fascinated, this time it was much different.

It was only two hundred meters away just on the other side of the fence, she moved with such grace and prudence. Coyotes are very intelligent and extremely beautiful animals with an incredible sense of smell. It had picked up the scent of my harvest and she was going to get a free meal; this is something that I love about nature. The simple fact that nothing goes to waste and I was quite aware that my harvest would not last long in the soil.

The coyote was moving in toward my harvest and I snapped to; so I grabbed my binoculars and headed down to the creek to circle around. We were like two cowboys in a duel moving in toward each other but by the time I got to the edge of the creek, amid the excitement the coyote caught my scent and disappeared into the hay, through the fence and into the wilderness.

I did not consider this encounter a failure but rather an awesome experience with an amazing animal. For that very moment I was proud as always to be part of this northern wilderness with this Canis Latrans.

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Humility is the right antonym in every sense of the word when dealing with vanity. If Bert Popowski practiced humility while hunting, then he would not be the rightful author of the book that I just finished reading today: The varmint and crow hunter’s bible.

When it comes to reading books on hunting, especially small game, it does not take me long to reach the back cover, but for some reason this book took me longer than usual and it was not because it was a difficult read but rather due to the fact that I considered its text quite rich.

As I was reading, it would be comparable to a person with a sweet tooth eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake and wanting to enjoy every mouthful rather than just polish it off with great speed. Knowledge is what I seek and this book most definitely delivered.

I particularly enjoyed the following chapters: The Canny Coyote, Woodchucks for Rifleman, Cow Pasture Pests, Those Canny Crows as well as the Lesser Bird Pests as the author named them. Also near the ending of the book are two other great chapters: Shotgun Efficiency and Varmint Cartridges which focus on rifle and shot gunning. Both chapters enable you to understand some of the science behind the art of shooting when dealing with varmints.

As an avid varmint hunter, I highly recommend this book. Throughout the pages the author brings out very specific hunting knowledge and skills that are a must know if you wish to be a successful hunter. For example when hunting woodchucks “depending on the elevation, temperatures and food supplies they take the air during the idyllic months of spring and summer.” (Page 10)

“The average mature woodchuck offers a sizeable hunk of target. He owns so tough a hide that, in the days of ox-, horse-, and mule-drawn transportation, a strip of it was often used as the “popper” at the tip of the skinners’ whips. His body, even when encased with considerable fat in preparation for hibernation, is of solid and muscular flesh. And, what is most important, he has considerable life tenacity. He must be hit well -often with power enough to stop a yearling deer-to be dropped in his tracks.” (Page 14)

If you wish to be in business for hunting crows learning the three basic calls: The distress, come-back and mourning calls amongst other great information on crow hunting is well covered in “Those Canny Crows” chapter.

The Canny Coyote”
“A light wind helps conceal what sounds the hunter normally makes, plus hiding the natural movements of mounting the call and his gun. However, if the wind blows up around 10 miles-per-hour, such velocity severely limits the caller’s range of coverage.” (Page 92)

“Coyotes that are thoroughly sold on the authenticity of the dying-rabbit squall have been known to run in almost atop concealed caller-hunters. That’s why some hunters carry both rifles and shotguns. If the tolled critter gets in within 10 to 30 yards the shotgun is ample weapon for clean kills-if loaded with Number 2’s or coarser pellets. But a hesitant, undecided or suspicious ki-dog may have to be taken from 75 to 125 yards, when a scope-sighted rifle is the only suitable weapon.” (Page 93)

Mr. Popowski has now joined the ranks of what I consider to be the authentic authors on the subject of hunting and the outdoors. In doing so he has provided me with the knowledge that will enable me to fine tune my skills as a small game hunter and enjoy many seasons to come. I sincerely hope this book may do the same for you.

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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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