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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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