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Posts Tagged ‘mallard’


There I was standing in the middle of a forest with its floor filled with watering holes, it would have been heaven for wood ducks but the woods were empty. The autumn coloured leaves sparkled underneath the crystal surface of the water, it was just magical. The winds were extremely powerful blowing in from the West and as it enveloped the forest there was howling winds through the trees emitting strange eerie sounds. With the rattling of the branches and the trunks rubbing up and down against each other.

There was an intense cold with snow drifts sweeping in, I kept my eyes not only on the edge of the wetlands for ducks but also on the trees, as it was the perfect conditions for tree limbs to come down. I was scoping this part of the forest because of its proximity to the shore of the river and only meters away was the edge of the wetlands.

The dominant species of duck in my area are teal and mallards, but the teal do not always land in my zone, they rather fly nervously in groups of ten or more and then loop back to the very deep parts of the water and well out of reach, I might have a chance if I snuck up with my kayak. But the mallards it is a different story, they are extremely resilient to the cold and are found until late in the season even if there is lots of snow on the ground, they are generally hidden close to shore in the tall grass. If you are a jump shooter type of hunter, then walking along the shores in a stealthy fashion you are sure to get a harvest or two.

When I set off on a hunt from my house later in mid-season, I have to pass over a bridge in my community and there is a beautiful waterway which snakes all the way to the river and I always sneak a peek over the barrier down on the muddy shores near the golden grass and if I can spot a few mallards, this is usually a good sign for my hunt on the river.

I have been coming to this area for several years now, and I used to be able to go just a few meters with my kayak and then launch off and start jump shooting from my boat. But since the beavers have moved in and with the changes to the environment this whole area is becoming a mush of swamp grass and only small segments of open water. A couple of years ago, I was out in a large area body of open water and I was able to climb out of my kayak and stand on my own two feet without sinking. I was standing on a mud island and over time it was very physically challenging to paddle in this soup. A paddle was now useless, what I needed was a long push pole.

Once I cleared the edge of the forest, I was now facing the Eastern side of the wetlands and I knew there were mallards dabbling further down, because if I were a mallard this is where I would have wanted to be about thirty meters from the shore. There was a small body of open water in the shape strange looking shoe. It was surrounded by golden coloured tall grass and some small wetland brush with several crane nest sticking out of the surface like oversized ant hills but they generally have a large ring of deep water around them and can be very dangerous with waders on.

Today I was going to try something new with my approach, I was not going to come in from the southern banks of the river and then circle around to the north to sneak up on the ducks, I was going to come cut diagonally from my start point, but this meant cutting off the top edge of the wetlands on foot, which meant he depths could range from my hips to the my knees with hidden pockets of dangerous depths. But my knowledge of the area helped me navigate and with over an hour of tracking through the muck, and pulling myself forward and out using large vegetation, I made it to my starting area.

At one point, I was startled by a small crane species and I raised my shotgun and was ready to release my shot but my experience caught me and I had identified the species within milliseconds which caused me to lower my shotgun. This is a skill that you will master even while off-season, find unique identifiers about each species of bird and learn to identify them before they are out of sight and you will see that in time you will be very accurate.

As I approached the edge of the bank, I took a short break, all that sloshing around was physically demanding and my breathing was very heavy. I looked over to the northern side and spotted several large dark animal like movements in the dark waters. They looked like dabbling ducks but I could not make it out for sure, I had to get closer.

I knew my approach was going to be a difficult one as I was already up to my knees in water surrounded by tall grass and small waterways which had depths unknown. It had begun, my sights were now on that body of open water beyond the tall grass well over thirty meters out. I would lift one foot ensure it was on a secure mud base then move the next leg forward, it was without a doubt treacherous.

I pushed forward and when I lost my balance from the suction of the water and mud vacuum on my waders, I would pull hard on a clump of tall grass and pull myself forward and out back onto a solid mud base. All the while keeping a low profile and my shotgun out of the water.

My backpack was not heavy but the straps were getting tight on my shoulders and causing them to get fatigued. There was no dry place to put down my pack, so I slowly slid it off my shoulders and down into the water and it bloated with water and stayed a float. I took note of the unique vegetation around it, so that I could spot where I had left it as I made my way closer to the edge of the open body of water which was now only ten meters away.

Only a few more steps forward into the dark unknown and now the weeds were wrapping themselves around my arms and shotgun like daemons wanting to take me down to the depth of the bowels of the dark waters. Combined with my sheer fatigue, I would force my shotgun forward which tore the weeds free.

On my final step, I slowly lifted my head and confirmed my findings, there were in fact about twenty ducks dabbling, I carefully selected the mallards closest to me. Then I lowered myself back behind the weeds and golden grass, I carefully slid my pump-action just a few millimetres in order to glance at the loaded shell in the chamber and then slid another shell into the magazine for a total of three ready.

I looked down at the water took a few deep breaths and got myself ready for the shots, then in an instant I raised myself above the grass and caught the ducks completely by surprise, they stretched their necks out called out and burst into the air, in a single motion, I pushed off the safe and released my shot into the closest bird and the mallard spun forward and flipped back into the water, I released a second shot and missed the group.

In a matter of a few seconds, it was all over, I had harvested my first mallard but the others were now sky-high heading east. The recovery was a tricky one indeed with water up to my chest, my Remington 870 was completely submerged in water but I was not going to let my orange foot duck be swallowed up by the black waters.

Once I got back to the safety of the river bank with my mallard in hand, soaking went and fatigued, there was no more humbling experience than this moment, it was just me and the northern elements. I am not sure where your imagination takes you when you think of folkloric tales of our great Canadian wilderness. I had just lived it, the cold dark waters all alone surrounded by raw wilderness and I not only mastered it but it was now flowing in my very veins.

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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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The headlights of the truck lit up the dirt road as we made our way down the hill toward the boat launch site on the northern shore of the river.

Just a few minutes had passed now and we were already parked and unloading our gear, decoy bags, shotguns and our backpacks. Prior to stepping out of the truck, I always check and make sure that my LED head lamp is placed over top my tuque and that I turn it on during morning duck hunts because we often work and get ready in the dark until we get to our hunting spots.

We removed the straps holding down the canoe to the roof of the truck, then lifted and spun it around at the same time placing it on the ground. We carefully filled it up with our gear and carried the canoe down to the water’s edge. It was a cold morning with the temperature sitting at around minus five degrees Celsius but there was no wind and the water was dead calm not a ripple in sight. The sky was very clear and had a purple color to it with the sun sitting just below the horizon, you could also see all the prominent stars.

I stood up by the canoe picked up my life jacket and turned it inside out, so that the black inside part was facing out and I then climbed into the bow of the canoe which was now facing directly south and being held by the other hunter.

We pushed off quietly and started paddling across the wider part of the bay; our plan was to cross the larger part of the bay and head in a south-easterly direction. On the other side there was a steep embankment with a trail that we could use to get to the small inner islands and end up in distributaries.

Once we reached the other side of the bank and worked our way through the trail pulling the canoe by its strap, we noticed that our primary waterway was frozen over with around an inch of ice. We now had to prepare our decoy placement, so the canoe was pushed onto the ice and as we climbed in our weight it caused the canoe to break through the thin layer of ice and then we started paddling and breaking our way through the ice moving toward the center of the waterway.

Once in the middle using just our paddle blades, we broke the ice into a very large circle shape and then placed our decoys and electronic duck Mojo into the water on its twelve-foot pole. With the decoys setup in a scattered formation, we slowly made our way back to the shoreline and to our respective shooting spots. We were about fifteen meters apart, now in a kneeling position; I collected some deadfall and several broken branches and built a small blind in front of me along with some foliage.

This would create a natural looking barrier between the duck decoys and my shooting position; if needed I could lower myself in behind the shelter so that if the ducks flew in for their initial fly over, they would not see me. One thing that I have observed is that if you call out several duck calls and attract ducks toward your decoys, mallards will fly in from several directions and quite often they are in groups of two or three and sometimes more depending on your location. I have seen twenty mallards all bunched up together in flight.

So stay low and wait for them to come in within shooting range. You need to study their flight pattern and within a few seconds judge whether you will have a close shot or you may have to take a long shot. It may seem like at times that you are anticipating and trying to interpret what direction they may take, their wings formation and shape in flight can tell you a lot about their next move. We waited for the half an hour mark before sunrise and then whispered to each other that it was now time, we started calling hard with some combo calls letting out comeback calls and feeding calls. Within minutes two mallards flew in from the south-west and came in low between me and the decoys about fifteen meters out.

I quickly lined up my bead site and released a shot of #4 my first mallard fell onto the ice surface and slid a few inches then stopped.

We kept on calling and more ducks flew in but then gained altitude and landed further to the east near the shoreline where the ice was thinner and had open spots. The other hunter on my left decided to work his way up the bank to the east and attempt to harvest the ducks that landed minutes earlier on our left.

I took a quick look around and above then called again, several comeback and feeding calls, soon more ducks came in very high from the south-west, so I released another shot, it was a miss, pumped the action and fired a second shot hitting the last duck in the group of four; the duck froze in mid-air and plunged several meters into the ice surface piercing a hole the size of the bird then got stuck below the surface.

I called again with a very loud comeback call and then waiting around ten minutes and called again with some feeding calls. Two more ducks came in from the south-west then dropped down circling around into the water hole were the decoys were floating. I fired another shot and hit a mallard hen, the bird froze in the air, dropped and landed on the opposite shore line of the water way. It was my longest shot this season and a successful harvest.

It was a fantastic hunt!

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Several hours had passed now and I was still tucked away between three trees on top of a ridge of rock overlooking a clearing to my left, a swamp directly to my front and dense brush to my right mixed with pine, cedar, birch and various other trees, very soon it was going to be time to start heading back to the motor boat before it got too dark.

The wind would pick up; brush along the forest ceiling and create a ghostly sound right above me and then a few branches would crack and you kept as still as possible just in case a buck came out within shooting range for the last few minutes of daylight. I know that deer are intelligent enough to move only when the sound of the breeze covers the sound made by their steps especially in the dry autumn leaves and twigs.

Last year in my tree stand I turned my head for a second while the wind was blowing and when I looked toward my shooting spot, a doe was standing there as if she had dropped out of the sky, unfortunately for me I did not have a doe tag.

The red squirrel in the tree nearby kept me company and was busy rustling through the leaves and would call out if something moved. The blue jays also sang as they foraged through the forest floor and then flew away hastily to the nearest tree offering just enough height to keep them away from the danger below.

I could now hear more branches cracking on my left about one hundred yards out and it was getting louder and then I saw a bright orange square, which turned out to be a hunting vest. It was one of my hunting partners and he had been scouring through the eastern ridge all afternoon to see if he could still-hunt a trophy buck.

If you are a composed, experienced hunter and not an eager beaver full of piss and vinegar bouncing with nerves, you can make out another hunter pretty easily and the orange vest is really visible. I slowly unloaded my rifle and then made my way down the ridge where we met up and then started to make our way back to the boat. He was in the lead and with fifteen yards between us; we were scanning the whole way back looking for any sign of white-tailed deer.

The country was breath-taking with steep ridges, mixed and pine forests, sometimes the trees were quite far apart and the forest floor was littered with timber wolf scat, deer scrapes and droppings. It was without a doubt one of my favorite hunting areas and heaven for any outdoorsman/woman. This land was magical, and comparable to the forest scenery from the movie “Lord of the Rings”.

Once our gear was all packed up in the motor boat, we took our twenty-minute boat ride back to the truck, leaving the dark forest behind us and then drove another forty minutes or so through winding dirt roads back to the hunting camp. We were going to be spoiled after having spent an awesome day in the bush; we now had a delicious warm supper waiting for us that had been cooking in the Crock Pot. One of the guys had prepared some black bear that we ate with fries and melted cheese curds and gravy.

After having spent a couple of hours at the dining table and playing darts, sharing stories and laughter, we all jumped in our beds and went to sleep fairly early because we were going to have yet another early rise.

The alarm rang for five and by six we were all up and ready to go, breakfast and all. The radio was turned on and we were listening for the days forecast. It was snowing and we had a strong westerly wind blowing across the lake with the temperature at minus one degree Celsius. We thought that the water would be a little too rough at the bigger lake to use the boat in order to get across to our hunting grounds, so we decided to go duck hunting instead in the morning.

Because deer season was still on, we wanted to stay clear of the farmer fields and nearby forests, so we chose to hit the narrow river crossing with the canoe. The only problem was that we had left the motor boat at the other spot along with the paddles. But this was not going to deter avid duck hunters like us. The river crossing was not very wide and we only wanted to make our way to the island in the middle. This was prime duck property. So, we loaded up the canoe on the trailer with our boat safety jackets and made our way to our drop off spot and we each had our own shovels as paddles. It worked like a charm but I would not recommend it for anyone who does not have experience with Canadian canoes and no white water skills. Within the hour we had harvested two common mergansers and one mallard. We were proud shovelers but not the duck!

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The cool autumn morning air swirled into the truck as I rolled down the country road with my window down listening to John Anderson “Seminole Wind”. It was still dark out and I had planned to drive out and arrive at the farm just before sunlight to have an edge on the ducks, hares and grouse. At dawn they might still be moving about looking for food.

As I got closer to the farm, I turned off the radio and could now only hear my tires on the gravel road along with a few song birds. I took my foot off the gas pedal to slow down without breaking and then turned up the main road to the barn.

By the time I unhooked the electrical fence and drove up the lane way to park the vehicle at the top of the ridge my friend was already outside ready to greet me. We had a hot cup of coffee, and then chatted away about the local news. The sky was pink now and the rock doves were flying just a few feet above us heading south dancing in the wind. To the west a rafter of eastern wild turkeys were playing around in the fresh cow dung looking for seeds, actually they were pretty close to the cattle but that did not seem to bother the young bulls too much.

It was going to be a perfect day with a mixture of sun and cloud, maybe even slight rain but that kind of weather is great for ducks and the temperature was sitting at about thirteen degrees Celsius. On my way in, I had been preparing myself mentally for the approach and having a good hunt, not focusing too much on what I was going to harvest but rather just try to enjoy this time I was going to have alone through the trails in the woods and along the creek.

The fall colors were brilliant, bright reds and yellows surrounded you with the forest just glistening with diamond like light flashes as the water seeped through the cracks of the leaves, rocks and deadfall on the forest floor.

I had decided to start off the morning with grouse, heading west toward higher ground and following some of the trails up to the top of the hill through the woods. So, I packed up the truck put on my gear grabbed a few shells along with my 870 and cut across the western hay-field.

The panoramic view at the top of the hill was stunning and offered a full view of the two southern hay fields where the cattle herd was gathered, the creek running west to east and then the swamp. When hunting grouse I find that the still-hunting method works best for me; essentially I am walking-up the grouse both to get them to burst into flight or get them to drum, so that you can spot them and shoot.

Sometimes if you get lucky you can see them sitting high on a stump or just off to the side of the trail near the forest floor just meters in front of you. If this should happen to you don’t try to get up too close in which case you will scare them into flight and render your shot a difficult one. Try to take the shot from where you’re standing and avoid fast movements. It sometimes depends on which kind of shotgun shell shot you use and how far you are from the bird. # 6 works well for me and I have harvested grouse that were a fair distance away.

Still-hunting requires a lot of focus and careful stalking, which in my case is very slow walking through jagged rocks and deadfall that are hidden under the leaves. It can be slippery and at times dangerous for your ankles. So, after a nice hike through the trails, I decided to turn south and head through the woods down to the creek and follow it back to the barns to the east and try to harvest some rock doves.

The descent was steep, so I unloaded my shotgun and moved my way down the side of the ridge sometimes pushing up against trees so I would not fall over. By the time I got to the edge of the creek, I reloaded my shotgun with some #2 shells and started to walk leisurely to the east through some tall grass and over the beaten down mud trail that the cattle used to navigate back and forth between the fields. 

This part of the creek was wider and you most definitely needed waist-high waders to go through the water, so I chose to stay on the northern side. I had to pull my boots out of thick mud several times and make sure that I stepped on solid ground to avoid falling over. My boots once removed from the muck would release the swamp gas odor into the air.

I started to still-hunt again now that I was closer to the wider part of the creek and further away from the tall grass. I was scanning all around with my 870 at the ready in my shoulder looking into the small brush piles along the sides of the creek, I had only taken four more steps when all of a sudden a “Splash” sound came from my right, I turned my head and saw two black objects shoot up from the water and burst into flight towards the west. I swung my body around one hundred and eighty degrees and identified them as two mallard ducks; I instinctively chose the bird to my right as I was taught. When there are several birds, pick only one out of the group and focus on it for the shot and if you are fast enough then aim for another. The one on my right was closer.

The duck was about fifteen yards away now and about four feet from the ground; I pushed my safety catch off and fired a single shot of #2 into the bird. The duck turned upside down and the wings seem to freeze and the duck fell down to the ground. The mallard flapped its wings a few more times and then lay still. I put my 870 on safe, ran over to the duck and hooked it onto my belt and headed back to the truck.

I made my way east a little further along the edge of the creek in case there were more ducks and turned north toward the truck. At the truck I unlocked the tailgate and laid my gear down along with the mallard and had another chat with my friend. A few minutes had gone by and I was getting ready to head home and call it a morning. There were three curious cows that came to the front of the truck not far from where we were standing, one of them began licking the headlight on the driver side.

This made us laugh as we continued to talk, when all of sudden my friend yelled out and ran frantically over to his tractor which began to smoke. There had been an electrical short in the wiring and there were flames coming from the motor. I ran over as well and noticed that the flames and smoke were intensifying.

We fought the fire for what seemed to be only a few seconds and had it out fairly quickly, allowing us to detach the battery connections. I suppose then that being in the right place at the right time applies to hunting and farming too.

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