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Posts Tagged ‘ice’


My wadders hang silently in the garage by the d-ring, empty shells lay in a cracked red bucket on the cold cement floor. The shotgun now locked away in its cabinet with a fresh coat of gun oil, the smell flowing through room and being absorbed into the wood of nearby furniture.

As I look on at a vintage photo of goose hunters, I wished that objects had voices, so that they could tell stories, that if not shared would be lost in the space which surrounds us. Stories that are worth sharing, cause it is part of who we are as waterfowlers and for me a proud Canadian outdoorsman.

Those are the very same wadders I wore on a special spring snow goose hunt north of Quebec City a few years ago with good friends. It was early in the afternoon and we had just brought down a few snow geese into the fields but one bird fell into the St Lawrence river and was being carried away.

The current was roaring to the south and the bird would disappear down on its shores, I could not let this one go. It was quite a ways out and amongst the huge ice blocks, but I had to retrieve the goose. So I stood up from my blind, unloaded my shotgun and left it behind with the other guys and ran after my bird.

First I headed toward the shore, cut through some brush and within seconds I was all alone. I kept on running along the banks for several minutes, like a boy chasing a plane. The terrain was getting more difficult to navigate and I was having to jump up and down ridges, sinking into the mud and eventually I jumped over a couple of tributaries.

All the while running after this famed goose, I could see that the current spirals were spinning the goose toward the shore but still quite a ways out. When I could, I reached out for a large twig that I had found on the ground which had a long enough branch and two angled branches at its end like human fingers.

Finally when the current slowed because of the huge ice blocks, I leapt into the St Lawrence dark waters up to my waist prodding at the bottom of the river to make sure I was not stepping into emptiness. Now only within a few meters, I managed to catch the goose with the wooden claws and pulled in the harvest.

On my way back when I breached the brush line and raised the bird into the air showing the boys that I had got it. I was a proud fellow and they burst out into a joyful laughter. These are memories of a lifetime, better yet this is a story that will not remain locked into those Allen wadders for eternity.  

 

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Two weeks ago when I set off on my last hunt, I started to sing as I was driving my truck, rolling up and down over the hills on the road. It was liberating, heck my window was all the way down and I was singing so loud. I am sure I looked quite silly but this mattered not. I believe there is more to it, then just the song and the joys of singing. I was asking the powers to be all around me to provide a great harvest and positive vibes. Almost like a prayer, after all there is no shame in this.

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The words go like this “Oh Lord of the skies give me a great harvest, give me a Canada Goose, or a Mallard Drake or maybe a Green Wing Teal” Then I go on asking for solid shooting and good wishes and about how thankful I am about being able to hit the wetlands, all the while trying to rhyme, so that it sounds fair.

You know the darn thing is, that it seems to be working, and I think I shall continue this new tradition of mine. Anyhow today was an exceptional day in the snow, it was so mild with the temperature sitting at about five degrees celsius. The wetlands were simply incredible. And once again I was all alone, absolutely no-one. Like I wrote in my earlier blog entry, as soon as the deer season is over, and the winter moves into the forest along the river and the nearby wetlands the area becomes deserted. I don’t understand it, because there are less geese no doubt but the duck season is still open for until the start of the month of January. There was a slight rain fall and the fog was starting to move in by early afternoon as I made my way to the pathway between the bays.

The pass was almost all frozen over because normally the water level comes up to your waist and in some places even higher and you have to wade through the water carefully because there are sometimes 2 x 4’s with nails from blinds that were built the year before. There’s a local beaver that has moved in and began building along the pathway, which now makes it easier because it makes a land bridge. Today was incredibly mild and as I was walking through the pass I can see the cranes takeoff and fly away from their nearby nests.

My objective was to get to my new hunting spot where I’ve been before, this spot is quite beautiful but the most strategic part about it is that there is an opening from the river which leads to a large creek that moves inland. Mergansers and Mallards seem to like this spot and if I call properly, they usually come in flying or swimming along. There are also large trees that create a natural fence line between me and the river, so on my way up to the natural blind, I can jump shoot all the way along. Mergansers will fly in and then dive under and look for food, this is the perfect time to move into position from large tree to tree.

Then when they resurface, I freeze and hold, then when I get close enough, I jump out and they burst into the air for a quick harvest. Within the first two hours I had harvested two birds. The tricky part was retrieving the birds when they fell back into the cold waters, the ice sheets attached to the shore were already several inches thick and when I stepped out onto the ice I would break through to my knees, this was no problem but when the current brought the sheets of ice back in, they would crash into my shins.

So, I leaned forward and pushed them off, some pieces were as large as a dining table, now two birds in the bag by mid afternoon the fog started to thicken and was quite a sight. The black tree trunks and branches would zig zag through the fog like veins in an arm and it was quite something to see, my gut instinct was telling me that it was now time to start making my way back to the truck. I still had about a forty minute hike through rough terrain with water traps. Besides, I was not alone there were three large coyote paw marks and no other human boot tracks to be seen.

As I broke the tree line and headed toward the bay, I swung around to look back at the forest and it was completely engulfed with white fog. This sight would make the hair on any man’s neck rise. My inner senses and timing could not have been any better, it was as if the wilderness was closing its doors on me, even with time to spare before legal shooting time was over, the message was clear.

Once over the beaver dam, I started following another smaller creek along the way, attempting to jump shoot one more duck before the end, but as I made my way north, my eyes spotted a white tail and slight brown colour moving lightning fast along the water edge. It was a cottontail, I swung around instantly and the rabbit took two more hops and dove into a bush with just its hind legs coming out the back.

I released my shot and it was all over in just a few seconds. I was so excited to retrieve the Cottontail, I unloaded my 870 and leapt through the creek right over the bush and just about fell over in the snow and mud. There is no better way to end the day, it is moments like these when we can truly take the time to appreciate what nature has offered and it makes up for the times that one can be discouraged and have doubts in one’s abilities as an outdoorsman or outdoors woman.

I wish you all the best on your back-end of the waterfowl season and a great small game season!

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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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The strong winter winds blew south, across the front field picking up the soft snow which lay on the surface of the ice crust. It spun it around like a dust cloud, the white powder spiralled into the air a second time, then it was violently brought down to the shores of the creek. I was standing in my kitchen looking out at the creek, when all of a sudden I noticed a large black object surface in the middle of the black waters current and climb with ease onto the ice surface through an opening.

Nature was calling, and I had a good idea who it was but I was being drawn out anyways, I had to go outside and check it out, even if it was wickedly cold. I always take a long stick or a ski pole just in case he may lunge at me because they do have that ability. If you get too close it just takes one slap of the tail and he is up close and fast. Just listen to the archived CBC interview of Penn Powell from Port Hope. It does not matter what size the animal is, I always get excited and either I use my binoculars for a close look or I just simply walk out to the creek and investigate. The large beaver was out, he was busy cutting branches off of a smaller tree and then bringing the sticks under water and jamming them into the bottom of the creek to feed at a later time.

It is going to be a busy spring for this fellow, and for now he can continue his evening work but I will be looking for the signs and if a dam is built, good old trappers will need to get to work.

If you have had the privilege of seeing how a dam is built, then you quickly realize how remarkable this builders truly are.

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With my fingers slowly going numb, and my wool gloves soaked from holding onto the drenched icy cold rope attached to the bow of the kayak. I kept pushing forward, my legs were burning with pain from pulling the kayak through the narrow frozen creek and breaking through the ice along the banks.

The wind was blowing in from the north, blinding me with its blizzard like snow flakes being carried along transforming the horizon into a greyish white haze, the trees in the distance had become just a black patch of nature. The darkness was moving in like a mist.

Ducks took flight around me as the ice cracked below my boots and the ice sheets cut into my shin bones. The sweat on my forehead dried instantly with the cold winds as my wind tears rolled down my cheek, it was now time to make my way home alone after a brutal few hours in this November weather.

You could smell the fresh waterfowl flesh from the birds lying in bowels of my boat, and as the kayak slid over the frozen mounds, the dirty water and weeds inside its hull would rock from bow to stern, moving the birds in a bloodied bath along with empty shells and the paddle blades.

The wind howled around me like a mad spirit and brought with it the smell of burning firewood from a distant shack. To me this was soothing and awoke old memories, from years ago, when my family would drive into my grandfathers home town. It would be in the middle of the night after a long highway drive, only a few days before christmas and quite often during a snow storm. The colourful seasonal lights were glowing in the dark from the nearby homes and the smell the burning wood fires filled the neighbourhood air.

Only one mile left and I would get closer to those glowing lights in the distance and to the warmth of the truck after an incredible afternoon of water fowling.

True comfort in the air indeed, just like the song by Jim Reeves “The Blizzard.”

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The black waters of the Ottawa River were quite visible with its ice only forming on its shores. The waterfowl season was still very active and only closing in just a few weeks. Now that the temperatures have started to drop the only visible ducks were American Black ducks, Mallards along with scattered groups of Canada geese found in the open areas of the marsh and river.

There were also Barrow’s Golden eye ducks but they had a tendency to move rapidly to the middle and deeper parts of the marsh.

I was out on the banks heading east along the northern side closest to the marsh and it was just an incredible experience, mallards and black ducks were flying in and landing just meters to my front. I had to get right down low in order to stalk, using the trees and tall grass in an attempt to get closer.

I had my sights on a mallard couple which had landed on the edge of the ice; I managed to get up really close. I was readying myself for a shot, when all of a sudden I spotted a group of five mallards to the west or right. They were floating down toward me heading east, and I could see them appear and disappear between the trees, they were in a better position.

There was a very cold wind blowing in from the south on the river; yet my hands were warm as they are conditioned for the cold, besides I do not like wearing gloves when I am shooting, especially when working with the safety. Once I got moving my hands would feel like they are swelling up and then they eventually warm up within minutes they felt like mittens.

I stood up and moved closer to the pathway leading to the right, once in position, I stood up lightning fast and the ducks burst into flight, I selected one duck and released my shot.

A female mallard tumbled down to the water; it was my first harvest of the day. I retrieved the bird and continued down the shore of the river. I was really happy with my harvested duck, and was planning on heading further east when I spotted a flock of twenty or so Canada geese, floating near some dead trees which were submerged.

I set my sights on the geese and like a fox I got even lower and started my really slow stalk. What I did not realize is that there were a few mallard’s just meters in front of me in a small channel in behind the tall grass. I would have walked right on top of them heading toward the geese hadn’t I seen them.

So instead I carefully moved forward and stood up once I was within a fair shooting distance, unfortunately a well hidden duck which was on my left spotted me first, let out a call and the group took off and heading north.

I stood still and watched as they circled and came right back to my left, heading west. I moved really slow careful not to startle them further west or higher.

When I flushed the ducks, they didn’t seem to be bothered so much by the sound of breaking ice under my boots but rather by what they saw as a potential danger in the movement around them. If you were seen, the ducks would burst into the air in seconds; what was interesting is that they circled around across the marsh to the north then came right back at me. I was now standing and I repositioned myself but I did not move fast as to scare the birds higher and out of range.

I noticed behavior similarities between mallard ducks and snowshoe hares, they both circle when flushed and both seem to wait until the last second before bursting into flight or leaping away. Almost like they were hoping you would walk or paddle right by them during their freeze pose.

Sure enough they came looping right back off to my left, I slowly raised my shotgun lined up my bead sight with a duck and released my shot.

The bird froze its flight in mid-air and crashed into the water below. It was a brilliant harvest and a great way to end my afternoon. That night we had pan-fried duck with Montreal steak seasoning.

The marsh in the winter time is a magical place.

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