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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canine Trail

Canine Trail

The first hare lead that I decided to track on this particular day was without a doubt one of the toughest this winter. Even though it had been much warmer over the past couple of days and it had also rained, the most recent snow fall had left the nearby field and swamp with waist deep snow rendering my progress slow. There was a slight overcast in the sky and the temperature was three below zero. Once in a while as the clouds would clear the sun would break through and momentarily warm my face and hands.

I had no choice but to leave the car parked at the main entrance of the property and set off on foot in an easterly direction down a small slope onto the frozen swamp. The snow was just too high on the road. The swamp was located on the northern edge of the main country road and the trees nearby created a natural canopy of pine and cedar mixed in with straw sticking out of the snow and the area was littered with tracks.

Right away I noticed a trail that looked like it belonged to a mink or even a fisher. It had very distinct claw marks in the snow similar to that of raccoons. So I pressed on until I hit the western edge of the hay-field on the northern side, still following the lead. I took advantage of the change in vegetation to stop and catch my breath also to observe. On my left there was a large pine tree, surrounded by smaller bushes. I was looking left and right looking for any sign of snowshoe hare activity. This is when I spotted several more tracks and noticed some fur and then a blood trail.

The ravens above me were being very loud and kind of gliding just above me like turkey vultures. At the base of the tree there were carrion remains and a large skull. It was not a sight for the faint of heart as there was some muscle and fat tissue still attached and all its teeth were intact. A farmer had told me that the hide alone could weigh in at around one hundred pounds and that it would take several coyotes or wolves to drag that away but it was nowhere to be found. I had wanted to hunt hare in the morning and then try for rock dove after lunch, but after a sight like this and being in the bush alone my instinct was telling me that maybe I should move on.

There were canine tracks everywhere in various sizes and the tracks that I found were only a few hours old. I then decided to move north back to the eastern side of the quarry, where I had harvested my last hare and continue to search for more leads. As I left the swamp and the wood line near the road across the field to the south, I saw additional tracks and followed them some more and this is when I found large droppings as well as a well-traveled trail filled with paw marks. There was set in particular that was very large. There wasn’t just one canine with me in the woods like there was a few weeks ago, it was now more like two or three.

The paw tracks were almost too large to be that of a coyote, perhaps a timber wolf. So, I followed the trail some more because there were also fresh hare tracks nearby leading to the creek. When the forest cover got too thick and the snow was still knee-deep, especially with carrion around, I did not dare venture deeper into the darker part of the wilderness.
There were scattered pockets of evergreen, old wooden planks resting up against a barbed wired fence, offering plenty of cover. By this time I was now experiencing a strong feeling, that I was no longer alone and I also felt I was not necessarily a wanted presence.

I slowly turned toward the heavily travelled trail full of paw marks to the west and took several photos before heading back to the car for lunch. You know, a couple of days have passed since this feeling that came over me in the woods and yet while I am sitting on the bus going to work a part of me that is truly curious wanted to seek beyond the darkness in that evergreen.

By mid afternoon, I had made my way to the farm and met up with the farmer who was tending to his cattle and he had granted me the right to attempt to harvest some rock doves that were eating his grain. He had scattered some feed for his cows and then brought several buckets of water to the calves that were taking shelter in one of the smaller barns. He had mentioned to me that the rock doves were clearing out the grain on the ground and that it could start getting expensive. So, some assistance with this would be appreciated.
 
Even though rock doves are the same bird we see in the city, out in the country their behavior is quite different and this is to be expected. They see very well and if spooked they do not just fly a short distance away to safety then come back. Sometimes they will fly away over the forested ridge and not come back for several hours or not return at all.
 
For me there was a flock of five birds in my sights. One of the strangest occurrences that I had experienced was several weeks prior I set out to harvest the farm pigeons. I made the mistake of pointing to them and talked about my approach with another hunter out loud and the birds immediately flew away and did not return for two days according to the farmer.
 
This time it was going to be different, very different. I started by walking over to the car and continued to talk to the farmer and not pay attention to the birds at all. They were sitting on the trim of the barns roof. And a precision shot was out of the question. I had only packed my 870 with me and did not bring my .22.
 
Down on the southern ridge there were two older barns and the rock doves had made their nest inside. So, I slowly walked up to the gate at the cow enclosure and the opening to the southwestern field.
 
I stood there for a moment watching for rock dove activity. Sure enough within a few minutes a group of three flew in and landed nearby. I slowly moved back to car to get into a better shooting position but failed and spooked them and they took off circled in the air and descended to the second barn on the southern ridge.

It was very difficult to move about and align a shot. The birds were easily spooked and I could not shoot at the barn roof, I had to watch for the trucks, tractors and finally the cattle.
 
I slowly re-positioned myself and used an old tractor for cover and managed to get down the slope and enter the first abandoned barn from the northern side. There was a small window and a door on the southern edge and I had a clear shot on the pigeons, but there was one problem. I was carrying my 870 and I could shoot the roof.
 
With my .22, I could have taken a clear shot through an opening in the barn without exposing myself. This would have been a great shot under total concealment but this was not a possibility. I asked myself: What kind of approach could be used without scaring them? The only option was to jump shoot them, so I stood at the doorway and leaped outside, this seem to work since they hastily bounced into flight.
 
I took aim at the last one of the group and fired a shot, the bird swerved and dove and broke into an even faster flight and all three disappeared into the tree line to the east. It was a miss. Dang! I had to wait another forty minutes or so for them to come back, so I climbed the ridge and went back to the main gate.

Sure enough two rock doves flew in from the east heading west straight between the two smaller barns and over the gate and settled in the snow nearby. I quickly went down to my knees and crouched my way around the barn to the north and staying as low as I could I positioned myself in a kneeling position on the north-western side of the barn to my right.

The two birds were still feeding but never kept still, once the birds were not in the line of sight with the cattle, I rose my 870 and in one single motion, stood up and sent the rock doves into flight, Vlam! The shot rang out and I had harvested my first pigeon of the season.

Rock dove may not compare to big game trophies but it is most definitely an exhilarating hunt and great practice for the waterfowl season.

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CSGH Hare Hunting Technique and Tips:

Once I am in the woods, I try to find rabbit tracks in the snow and then work my way to the heavily traveled leads. I then follow the trail and attempt to find their hiding or feeding spots, often found near young trees that are budding. Very low cedar, pine trees are a very good place to look or even under fallen dead trees that create hiding pockets. There you should find urine stains, green and brown droppings. If they are hiding out and you know what to look for,  examples are yellow stained paws or the monocular shiny eyes and black stain ear tips. You may harvest unless you flush them out in which case they may circle, so stay where you are.

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The Snowshoe hare or “Varying hare” is definitely one of my favorite small game species to hunt. The season is one of the longest starting in Mid-September until the end of March. It is also an extremely enjoyable and challenging pastime to attempt to find and harvest a hare and that is with or without dogs. It can also be very cold in the dead of winter, so be well equipped and dressed. I once spent five hours hunting in the forest with the temperatures at -20 degrees Celsius. The cold was so intense that when you laced up your snowshoes with your bare hands it left you with the sensation that you were wearing big puffy gloves as your hands started to go numb. Some leads or trails may be found where the snow is very deep and snowshoes may be necessary. Practice extreme caution with your rifle or shotgun and do not take any unnecessary risks.

Starting in late September and all through the winter months the hare in eastern Canada will begin to go white as its fur changes color, except for its ear tips that remain black and also their hind legs that have a yellowish stain to them. If you have keen sight look for their black shiny eyes, if you are skilled and you identify the hare while it is in its freeze pose, you may harvest. Remember you are looking for a hare, white on white with about an average size of sixteen to twenty inches.

The varying hare is a very shy animal and during the day it spends most of its time concealed under evergreen trees and hollow logs or a recess in the ground. You can often find them in coniferous forests, relatively close to swamps or marshes. Hares will also sometimes be sun bathing on eastern facing slopes in order to capture some warmth later in the afternoon.

As the title indicates the hare is from the Lagos Morphe order and looks like your common rabbit with the long distinctive ears, which sometimes act as heat deflectors on hot days, carrying the heat away from its body as well as helping them hear and identify dangers.

The hare can also reach speeds of up to fifty kilometers per hour and will use this to break away from predators; they also have the ability to swim over small bodies of water while escaping capture.

Hares will feed on pussy willow and similar twigs, leaves and shrubs. During the winter months they will feed on buds, pine needles and chew the bark off smaller trees. Hares will also practice reingestion of fecal pellets, which are soft and green and still contain plant nutrients’ this is normally done during rest periods.

The two types of pellets that I have come across are the dark solid ones and the soft green ones. If you find yourself following a hare lead or snow tracks and you identify the soft green pellets chances are they are not far. 

I have always been successful in finding active signs of hare presence or actually harvesting a hare while following these next few steps. Study the habitat and range such as thickets or swamps, and then look for signs of hare presence such as hare droppings or branches with chew markings.  Once you have found a lead, follow it using the “Still hunting”  method. Walk a few steps stop and look under every tree and recess and when setting off into the woods avoid making any noise because most mammals have incredible hearing. Wear clothing that does not make too much noise and have colors that match the environment. If there is a strong breeze or if it is raining slightly, I tend to listen carefully and move once the wind picks up so that it covers the noise of my movement. Do not wear deodorants and use specially made soaps that reduce scents for you and your clothing because mammals also have a great sense of smell. Keep in mind the wind direction and try to keep yourself down wind.

If you “Walk the hare” or cause it to sprint, wait a few seconds as it may circle around and freeze once it believes the danger is no longer present. Remember also that during the winter months you are not the only hunter and be aware of your surroundings at all times especially if you see Coyote tracks. I remember very well that on one of my hunting trips I could sense a presence in the forest and my hunting partner heard growling in behind the evergreen out of sight and we soon found four tracks. Safety is paramount. Enjoy your hunt!

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