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Posts Tagged ‘mallards’


I was sliding in and out between the dense cedars bows and small swamp trees pushing forward, raising my hand at about the height of my face to prevent the branches from poking me in the eyes. I have had this happen to me many times before with a random sharp branch either hooking my toque knocking it into the mud below or either spiked me right in the eye. Not a very pleasant experience at all, it felt like I had scratched the inside of my eye then pushed it back. When ever I placed my finger on the particular eye to check for damage or blood I always felt a deep throbbing.

Upon arrival at the farm I heard loud quacks coming from the wetlands and I knew that several mallards had made this their home, their numbers ranged between five and twelve. The cattle were moving across the creek toward the Southern fields to my left thus blocking my access to the wetlands from the eastern side, so I chose to cut through the dense brush on my right and move in a South-Westerly direction. The approach that I chose would make me crest the wetlands from the northern side along the edge of the massive beaver dam, where it connects with the edge of the forest.

My kayak was still in the truck bed back at the barn over six hundred meters away, I often use it to retrieve my birds that are downed in the deeper parts of the wetlands but the bush was too thick for me to pull it through. The forest floor was soaked and full of hundreds of streams and its current was moving very fast because the heavy rains we have had in the last several days which broke part of the dam and created a natural spillway which was feeding into the forest floor.

It was very treacherous, even with hip waders you had to be very sure where you were going to place your next foot step, so that you did not go under or get stuck. For this, I always grab onto a large branch and if at all possible step on a fallen log, which acts as a mini bridge. You could also use large roots or little mud islands formed by grass mounds that were partially submerged. Manoeuvring was very tricky, because I had to make sure my 870’s sling did not get stuck in the low hanging trees or avoid a slip and put mud into the end of the barrel.

The deeper I pressed on into the woods the thicker the brush got and I was following my simple curved line pattern between the trees to ensure I was always heading in the right direction. With the principles of still-hunting, I would stop and listen for the duck calls then orientated myself toward the sound and kept on moving forward. Once you set off in this type of bush, you can not let your imagination run wild or let panic set in, you must stay sharp and not let any detail out of your mind.

Sometimes, there are large black areas at the base of fallen trees, they can look like a wolf den or a black bear standing still. But most often than none it is a dead tree rotting its way back into the earth. Now when you hear a large branch cracking close by, then this I believe deserve a second look, it could be a deer moving around you or any other large mammal. After several minutes of struggling to through the last muddy parts, I could now see the dam through the trees.

I stopped for a moment took a few deep breaths and then started to slow down my approach even more up to the dam wall. Not only did this make it quieter but it also allowed me to listen for the Mallard hen calls and close in accordingly for the potential shots. Once I reached the dam periphery, my boot placement was even more calculated because, one false move and I was going to fall into the cold waters and with waders it is like having a weight belt around your waist.

In addition, I could not place myself on the dam wall because the ducks would surely spot me, so I had to walk along its edge on the opposite side of the water dam and use the overgrown wild grass as cover. You see, Mallard ducks will call out if there is danger but they might not necessarily fly away immediately like wood ducks, in some cases they will swim further away from the sound of danger and only take off if it is physically visible.

This is exactly what the group of Mallards did and I had to move quicker along the edge to keep up with them, and wait for them to swim back within range or move and place myself in a better position from the shore. All that walking in water caused my socks to slip off inside my boots which is a common problem in waders, I think next time I would rather wear socks that sit higher around my knees and this would prevent them from sliding off, I would also place a bandage on the inside of each leg to prevent the boot lip burn on the inside of my leg which is caused by the inner rubbing of the boot edge.

It was a wonderful fall day, with the singing winds and dancing leaves with their absolutely stunning colours and the sound of the cool waters passing through my hands as I placed them deep into the beaver dam to grab a perfect carved stick for balance. Here I was, in the heart of the Canadian wilderness sneaking up to the Mallards with only them and I hidden amongst the swaying golden swamp grass. I had finally spotted the ducks and was now readying myself for the shot. My right hand was grasping the cold steel of my Remington 870, and I was one hundred percent absorbed in the moment and felt and incredible sense of joy and pride of being Canadian. A feeling of total mastery of the woods.

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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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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 pigeons flew in very fast over head from the south in a flock of seven or more, circling around and breaking apart into smaller teams of two or three and then eventually the lead bird flying ahead for a few seconds, playing in the winds, maneuvering with skill and grace.

They wanted to land in the mud filled with corn but they were hesitant after spotting my truck with the canoe strapped to its roof and I had just opened the driver’s side door. This sent them even higher into a panicked flight, circling two more times near the southern barns before setting off to the east and over the tree line.

I would have to wait now a few minutes for them to come back and attempt to harvest a few. So, I jumped out of my seat and began unpacking my kit for the morning hunt and laying it out neatly on the tailgate.

I reached into my backpack and took out my new Tasco binoculars which I had purchased just a week ago at SAIL. I brought them up and focused in on the low ground and open fields near the creek to the south. The cold air and winds were in my favor today but there were no geese down in the low ground near the creek, this was their usual spot, but I did hear a few of them call out from above but were too high for a shot.

I continued scanning the ground and I immediately noticed the ripples in the water close to where the cattle cross the creek and there were three mallards dabbling in the water.

My initial plan for the day was to try for pigeon and then check out the open areas south of the third barn near the creek and look for woodcock, duck or geese. Now that I spotted the three mallards, two drakes and one hen, I knew that I had the time needed to come up with a plan of approach as long as something did not scare or alert the birds.

I zipped up my jacket, put on my balaclava and then loaded three shells into my Remington 870 and stood still for a few minutes looking at my two approach options, either coming in from the west from the low ground in behind the third barn and potential harvest a duck from the western corner of the barn. Maybe… I thought, but a few weeks ago, I got stuck in this same situation and the geese spotted me and flew away and had plenty of time to put some distance between me and them. There was too much open ground to cover for this choice.

So I chose to come in from the east and run up the shrub line along the creek and move my way up along its shore to the cattle crossing area. Almost a year earlier I had harvested a mallard hen in the exact same spot.

I checked over my pockets and kit and then slipped under the electric fence and started my way down through the rough terrain and across the field moving away from the ducks circling around from the east. It was quite a detour but it allowed me to move in from the left. I made about forty steps and as soon as I got into the wet grass, I flushed a woodcock which flew directly in front of me but I did not take the shot because the mallards were more interesting for a meal being a larger bird. The shot would send them flying away into the air.

Now that I had reached the shrub line and was right on the edge of the creek, I slouched forward and slowed my pace right down. I was now in the final approach and did not want to spook them into flight. My shoulders were at the same height as the tallest bushes and this provided me with the cover that I needed to close the gap between them and me.

I must have covered around thirty meters, before I had a chance to straighten up for a look, and a mallard I hadn’t seen let out a two quacks then burst into flight. This set off a second duck which was only two meters in front of me and both flew away incredibly fast. I loaded a shell into the chamber pushed the safety on and started running after the ducks for about four meters and aimed but they were too far, then all of a sudden splash another mallard shot up on my left and started to gain some distance. I aimed and released my first shot at the bird and it dropped, swerved and then flew even higher.

Now around twenty meters away, I pumped and released my second shot. In my mind I thought this shot was too far and that the mallard will get away and as soon as my shot reached the bird its head leaned forward and the duck tumbled to the ground below. I could not believe the shot.

I made my 870 safe and ran through the shallow part of the creek and started to look for the bird because it fell in the high grass. I applied what I wrote in my last blog and traced back my shot from where I was standing using my arm as a pointer and then completed five back and fourths sweeping the grass, the duck was lying in a small recess in the ground. It was a magnificent mallard drake with beautiful coloration.

A great harvest and a sure long shot!

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Mallard Creek

The rocks were spitting up into the wheel wells releasing sharp metallic sounds into the air, as I rolled down the dirt road. The morning was cool with the temperature sitting at around minus one degrees Celsius and the sky was starting to have a nice blue color to it with very little clouds. I was surrounded by farm fields with lush forest on their edges displaying its bright yellow and red colors mixed in with the evergreen. There were rock formations and endless rolling hills along with small lakes; the view was just stunning and very calming. The sun was just high enough, so that I could take in every sight and sound of the country side.

There were three deer in the field behind the wired fence with its weathered wooden posts on my right to the north-east feeding close to the tree line; it was a doe and two fauns. There were also kit of pigeons circling around some barns; I could also hear the calls of Canada geese as they flew over the trees heading south.

If you choose to hunt duck in the morning and wish to use the darkness as cover, then this can prove to be a very rewarding harvest indeed and advantageous because you are already in position when the ducks fly in. However getting up at four in the morning and being on the shores of the rivers and lakes, for the half an hour mark prior to sunrise is great but it is not entirely necessary.

Two weeks ago, I was out waterfowl hunting and I had arrived later in the morning. I was calling in a flock of geese when suddenly about ten mallards burst into flight about twenty meters behind the geese in the tall grass and it was already about half past nine in the morning.

After about an hour-long drive, I was now at the farm and ready to start my day.

The field to the south-west of the farm which was connected to a large swamp had been partially flooded by the rising waters from the rain and from the beaver dams. And the last time, I was out I did not have my canoe with me, therefore I was unable to push deeper into the marsh or even to retrieve any birds I may have harvested; so my shots were well calculated, this way the birds landed on solid ground. Oddly enough, I went home that day having harvested two pigeons.

I was better prepared for shots over water on this trip having brought my canoe with me, now the only tricky part was figuring out how to get my canoe down to the creek alone with all my gear. I knew that I was very capable of portaging on my own for very long distances but this terrain was very difficult.

So, once I got to the farm, I decided to open the metal gate and drove down the muddy truck trail down the hill closer to the creek in the south. By now the cattle had started to gather around me, as they are very curious animals, so I waved and called them through in front of me offering me some space to work with and then once they were a safe distance away near the electric fence, I unloaded my canoe, collected my kit and moved down to the creek a few meters away.

My plan was to place the canoe at a very narrow part of the creek and work my way up in a south-westerly direction toward the larger body of water in the marsh. This way I could shorten my portage distance and this would also offer me the element of surprise over the ducks because the brush was much thicker on the northern side of the south-western field. This was also the spot where I would come out to the mouth of the open water section in the marsh. It would also enable me to damage the beaver dam on my way up the creek in order to check for beaver activity in preparation for my trap line setup which would take place in about three weeks.

So, I flipped the canoe off my shoulders having carried it from the truck and then throwing my hips into the opposite direction I carefully lowered the canoe into the water with the bow end first and then the stern. I then placed my shotgun near the front of the canoe with the barrel facing to the front and with my paddle put across both gunwales I lowered myself into the middle part of the canoe sitting on my knees and then pushed off the shore with my left hand pulling on a large branch. The creek was only a few feet wide and a few inches deep with very thick mixed woods canopy right over me consisted of alder and other swamp trees. Although I had my paddle and did make use of it, I was able for the most part inch forward simply by pulling myself along grabbing various tree stumps with beaver teeth marks and thicker branches hanging over my head and my side.

It was tough work and the branches and leaves were breaking off and filling the bowels of the canoe as I continued forward though the dark cold water, I had to constantly duck my head down and even with my valiant efforts, I got several branches go right up my nostrils or slap me across the face. I would put my paddle down to my left and grab the thick vegetation on both sides and like a rower arm gesture, I pulled myself forward. Sometimes the bow would get caught on a thick root and I had to push myself or backstroke really hard with the paddle, and then push forward again. The water swirled and bumbled up with its air pockets like boiling water and as the bottom of the canoe scraped the wood below the surface it let out a screeching sound.

I felt like Charlie Allnut from the movie “African Queen” fighting my way through thick brush and up the creek, except I was all alone just me and the raw Canadian wilderness. I fought my way up forty meters or so then I made it to my first real obstacle, the beavers had built a series of dams, which were packed up like a wall of mud and sticks several inches high, so I would grab my paddle and take two or three hard stokes and I would ram the dam wall with the bow until it lifted the front of the canoe and then I would jump out placing my right or left foot onto the sticks and pull the canoe using the gunwales over the mud wall and back into the elevated part of the creek once again in the water. All the while keeping my eyes open for the beavers, because they have a nasty bite and can jump at your legs, just like Penn Powell described in his CBC Archive interview about his beaver attack.

After battling the creek for well over an hour and crossing four more dams, I finally got to open water of the marsh and I was slowly floating only meters from the beaver lodge. While crossing the last dam, I used a very large pointed boulder which I found in the mud, stepped out the canoe onto the last dam wall and punctures a hole into the mud and sticks then the water instantly started to flood and water the pressure did the rest of the work which flowed from west to east into the creek below, which would make my return a little more enjoyable.   I continued to paddle closer to the beaver lodge, holding the paddle carefully with both hands and taking very gentle strokes, now I had to focus on my silent approach through the wider part of the marsh and the open water. In doing so, I paddled my way through the wider part of the marsh and after thirty meters or so; I noticed that even after I called out a few greeting and feeding duck calls, there were no ducks or geese in this area. So, I decided to make my back down through the creek to the other lake, this time with the help of the current, it was much quicker and less work.

I had to re-load the canoe back into the truck and drive fifteen minutes away to another larger lake, and this time I decided to leave the canoe in the truck bed for now. I stealthily made my way to the shore of the lake using the vegetation as cover, reloaded three shells in the Remington 870, chambered a round and placed it on safe and this is when I spotted the beautiful hooded merganser directly to my front about twenty meters away, swimming along then occasionally diving and coming back up to the surface almost at the opposite side of the shore line to the west. He had a beautiful black and white color.

I skillfully lined up my bead sight with the merganser; with just my barrel sticking out of the tall grass, pushed off the safety catch and released my first shot. “Vlam!” As soon as the steel shot hit the water surface the merganser dove and disappeared below the surface. It was a miss!

The noise of the first shot startled four mallards which immediately took flight on my right hand side going south toward the left and flew right over just a few feet above surface of the water where the merganser had dove right in line with my arc of fire. So I applied the “Majority Method” lead or forward allowance as written in John Brindles’ book Shotgun Shooting and techniques and technology.

The mallards were in a diamond-shaped pattern in the air and so I took aim at the front of the last bird and released my second shot after pumping the action, ejecting the empty shell and the bird tumbled into the air, it was like time was still, almost in slow motion, the bird fell to the water surface below splashing crystal like drops into the air, creating shock waves over the calm lake surface. Once it resurfaced with its bright blue colored feathers and white and brown underside it looked very healthy. I cleared my shotgun of the last and remaining shell and then paddled over to pick up the mallard with my canoe.

It was a great harvest!

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I was now lying on my back, my upper body propped up slightly by the seat in my layout blind with my Remington 870 resting by my side. The ammunition boxes were neatly stowed by my right thigh along with my camera and digital recorder. The sky was filled with a bright reddish pink color and the sun was now slowly rising.

There had been a slight snow fall mixed with isolated showers between two and four in the morning and the temperature was now one degree Celsius but the sky was beginning to clear with very little clouds. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing; since we had now lost some of our cover. After all concealment was a key factor toward our success that we could not leave out.
 
We had just spent the last hour setting up hundreds of decoys in the shape of a large tear drop along with our digital callers. And it was now time for a rest and wait for the guide’s queue. I must admit, I was so filled with anticipation the night before that I only slept for an hour or so therefore I took advantage of these precious few minutes to get some shuteye.

So I laid back and shut my layout blind flaps and stared directly into the sky through the mesh, took a few deep breaths then shut my eyes. Once in a while I would open them and a have a look at the vast sky. I would spot a few Canada Geese flying in at about two hundred feet and then land in the field to the south. At first it was a gaggle of six or so birds, then twenty but within a few minutes as the sun got warmer the numbers increased to the hundreds.

The goose calls intensified as the morning went on and soon the sound broke the early silence, and with this so did their numbers almost to the point where I could no longer hear the coyote calls from the field to the east. Goose calls could drive a man mad if they were to be exposed to the sound over several days.

I slowly turned my head to the left and stared at the farm-house over a kilometer away to the North West. I could see a very faint dark cloud, it was drawn out over the silo and then over the forest on the northern edge of the farm field. It did not take long, and then eventually the entire horizon was teeming with these dark clouds some in the distinct “V” shape, others made up of a series of overlapping “V” shapes.

I was wordless and electrified, we now had thousands of birds flying some three hundred feet above us and some were starting to circle and call back to our decoys and callers. I took a quick glance to the north-east and noticed this winged vortex; it spanned from the top of the tree line to several hundred feet in the air, I was dazed. It was as large as a cumulonimbus cloud.

As the birds would turn into the sun this black cloud would become instant white and the effect was extremely hypnotic. It was the famed snow goose. Some of the bird’s right above us were now circling over head like vultures and dropping altitude tucking in their wings just like ducks. I would compare their aerial dance to someone who was stepping into a hot bath pointing the ball of their feet into the boiling water as if they were testing the temperature.

Once convinced, a few more birds would drop and circle yet again now just a few hundred feet above us. I could feel my heart wanting to burst, I felt so focused, and it was like living a dream, it seemed so unreal. Then a smaller gaggle of seven birds turned aggressively and dropped down some more now their wings were turned inward and very tight to the bodies floating directly into our shooting arcs.

As soon as they were in range the guide called out and our flaps opened with lightning speed the first volley of shells rang out and our first two white wing black tips dropped in the field.

If you are willing to see, the great migration has a lot to teach us.

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