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Posts Tagged ‘pigeon’


My snowshoe aluminium claws broke the silence in the woods, when they crushed through the ice and into the softer snow below the crust. I was well over a kilometer away from the nearest barn and I was surrounded by evergreen trees. They stood tall with their majestic winter coats and seemed on the verge of collapse because of the weight of the snow.

January 15th, 2016 marked the last day of sharp-tailed grouse for my hunting zone. I thought to myself it would be amazing to maybe get a harvest on the last day of their season. I was out hunting snowshoe hare, grouse and maybe if time permitting a few rock doves over by the farm.

Still-hunting for snowshoe hare and grouse are very similar in technique, it is basically scanning the hidden dark spots at the base of spruce bows and fallen logs, walking slowly and frequently stopping to look and try to identify shapes and colors that don’t fit in.

Hares have black tips on their ears and are generally straight up listening for danger, as for their black shiny eyes these are easily spotted with a keen sight.

Grouse can either be sitting at eye level on small branches in a tree or at ground level tucked away in a ball puffing out their feathers to stay warm during the winter months. Or just simply walking about like a domestic chicken, in short but quick bursts.

Once you see one, lock your eyes on them and stay with them because they can lose you in an instant as they dash around foliage. If you decide to follow, then make sure you are well versed in the use of a compass because they will bring you further into the brush but they will always stay in their circuit. Which is invisible to us unless you follow their tracks in the snow.

After about two hours of following hare leads, I was slowly making my way back to the farm, when something caught my eye at the base of a pine tree on my right about twenty meters in from the main trail.

There was a dead fallen log leaning diagonally under the pine tree up against its trunk and the pines lowest branches were buried with its tips buried under the icy snow forming a natural skirting almost all around the base of the tree.

What struck me was this black circle just sitting under the fallen log, I mean it was a perfect black circle. Deep down I had a feeling it was a grouse but I was not sure yet and couldn’t decide if it was a malformation on the tree, like a large accumulation of sap on the log in the shape of a ball.

It would have been unpracticed and unsafe for me to take a shot at the dark object without truly knowing what it was. I was excited and yet physically I remained calm in my decision, I had no choice but to move in closer for a good confirmed shot.

I loaded two shells into the shotgun and pumped one in the chamber then instantly clicked it into safety on position. I lifted my left leg and started to make my way toward the tree through the deep snow and dense brush.

My first two steps through the snow aroused the grouse with a thrashing sound which caused it to turn its head to the right, I had my final confirmation, it was a grouse.

My shot was going to be a very difficult one with over twenty meters between us through several thin branches. In addition while aiming I had to point low below the log where the grouse was hiding. I only had about a five-inch diameter to make the shot and the bird was on the move toward the north.

To make matters worse, my snowshoes had failed me and I went through the snow on the edge of the trail and sunk down to my waist. I was using the more modern pair of snowshoes, my Michigan’s would have kept me at the surface of the snow crust.

Once I got myself into a descent shooting position I shouldered my 870 and fired a shot, aiming to high and missing my shot completely.

The grouse jumped out to the right and made his way north and then back around the front of the tree heading west.

I saw him through the greenery but it was not a clear shot. I tried to chase it but sunk even further into the snow.

I was instantly broken and felt and incredible amount of frustration. Gosh!! I love the winter woods but it can be a tough environment. You might live incredible hunts but you will also have days like these.

I tried to circle around but the grouse he was gone and my hunt was also done as it was getting close to dark.

I know there will be next year’s season but this one was a bust, this is when you must dig deep and find the positive in the experience and not find things to blame.

Like there could have been less snow, I should have used different shot or a different shotgun.

Next fall will remedy this and for now I can continue to pursue pigeon and snowshoe hare and hope to make up for this day.

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The cold enveloped me like a blanket as a strong breeze blew in from the south through the trees making sounds similar to that of distant whispers of the men that have passed before me in these dark wintery woods. I was all alone. My boots were crushing through the thin crust of snow and then sinking into the cold waters of the creek below; I was alive in this Canadian wilderness stalking the elusive hare.

Following their leads, I was pushing deeper into the darkness. Then suddenly to the south, I saw white and silver flashes in the sky through the cedar. Just in front of me were fifteen wild turkeys foraging for food through the snow, but to them I was invisible, having stalked within meters.

I was hoping to see the dark eyes of a snowshoe hare staring right at me amidst the evergreens, but now my curiosity was drawn to the flashes in the sky which turned out to be five rock doves. They circled several times and finally landed in the dead tree just twenty meters away. My left hand was cradling the cold steel of my great uncles break-open Iver Johnson sixteen gauge shotgun. My right hand having just adjusted my tuque which got caught in a low branch was now moving toward the pocket of my orange vest in order to grab a #6 paper shell.

Now that my focus was on the Rock doves, I had to figure out how to move further south to get into the best position to harvest a bird. I wanted to get a safe shooting position as to not hit any wild turkeys because they were out of season. There was a large broken tree just ahead and a large rock formation behind me. If I passed around the front of the tree, they would surely see me and fly off, so I had to make my way around the north side without breaking off any small branches coming out of the log.

Any sound or sudden movement would send them into flight. After several minutes of hard work, I was now in a good spot for taking a shot, angled just a few feet above the horizon directly in line with the large branches that they were resting on.

I loaded the shell which slid right into the chamber and then swivelled the gun shut, bought it up to my shoulder and then with my right thumb pulled back on the hammer. With my cheek pushed up against the comb, I lined up the bead sight and released my shot. The whole forest instantly came to life, the turkeys flew in every direction and the pigeons pushed off toward the south, except for the bird I chose.

Time seemed to have slowed down and the pigeon puffed open toward the sun, spread its wings and floated down like a parachute along with the snow flakes to the surface of the snow on the ground. I opened my mouth to exhale and as my breath condensed into a mist I could taste the smell of the old paper shell which had just been fired, awakening moments of past hunts by previous generations.

The rock doves circled around yet again and came right back to another dead tree to the east. The woods were silent once again.

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It had been several weeks since I had gone to the farm to hunt pigeons; and I was really looking forward to spending some time in the woods. The past few times I was out the birds were either too fast for my shot on that particular day or they would simply spot my orange safety vest and then fly away to the neighboring farm even before my kit was ready. If this occurred I would not see them again until it was time for me to head home.

This past winter, we had several days in a row when the temperatures dropped below normal and it was a wicked cold. As a result the farmer would wear a heavier coat which happened to be orange. Part of his daily routine was to feed grain to some of the younger cattle; he would come out with a white bucket and wore his orange vest.

Within minutes of this feeding routine, the pigeons would fly in, swarm the cattle then help themselves to the grain. This pattern occurred daily for quite some time without interruption and the pigeons got used to the routine and the color orange.

So, on the day that I arrived and put on my orange vest, they did not pay too much attention to me, in fact they were quite bold. This allowed me to sneak in and line up several precisions shots and by the end of the afternoon I had harvested two large pigeons and enjoyed a good pan-fried feast that night with maple syrup and Montreal spices.

Color, habits and patterns are very important elements to hunting and its success if applied well. If you are out hunting a specific type of game and it is not working, do not be afraid to change-up your game and adapt to their habits, habitat and remember always wear orange vests.

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It has only been a short while now yet time still feels incredibly strange. Just a few hours ago I was driving into a hidden part of Mexico. What an amazing country! I found myself driving through dangerous mountain roads, heading deep into the arid mountain jungles and for a moment I was re-living my childhood all over again in Central Africa.

Here I was still in the Americas but when I closed my eyes, I felt this incredible bond with the land and its people. The connection intensity was identical to the energy that is felt when the African continent gets its claws piercing into your soul. You never want to leave.

When I am out in the Canadian wilderness practicing our beloved sport, I live something powerful, a sense of pride in being a Canadian outdoors-man, it is raw. It is like I breathe the same air that Samuel Hearn took in.

My day trip into the jungle was set on visiting a coffee factory and there I met one of the founders son’s, it was very interesting to see the harvesting and processing of coffee but what also caught my eye was an amazing piece of history on their wall. It was his grand father’s hand made black powder shotgun that he used for small game.

He told me it was used for hunting pigeon in the jungle; no need to write more the connection was sealed.

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Golfers standing at their first hole just know when he or she has hit a great ball. You can hear the ping sound as your curved wood follows through the air chasing the perfect ball right after contact. You can also feel a slight vibration come up the pole and into your hands. Your swing was flawless and your muscles are totally relaxed yet in full control.

It is a wonderful feeling to see the ball fly directly into the air dead center down your lane. Your game no matter what the score feels great.

It is in fact incredible to finally see that your skill is showing and that you have mastered the stroke. But then there is this unexplained bit. Almost faith; you have taken the shot and you expect to hit something but it could be a slice or maybe not. You know one thing it felt right!

On my last rock dove hunt just a couple of weeks ago, I was walking up the western ridge of the farm heading east. I spotted four pigeons flying around in a spiral formation and then landing out of sight to my front. I kept on walking slowly toward them, and made my way over the gate between the two barns and then reloaded my Winchester 97 pushing a shell into the tubular magazine below until I heard the click and then pumped the action to chamber the shell. It is a beautiful piece of history made of steel and wood.

Now only thirty meters away but well within sight, the rock doves burst back into flight in a diamond shape going south, I shouldered my shotgun and lined up the bead sight directly in line with the last pigeon and moved it one inch to the front of its beak just as Robert Stack had recommended to do in his shotgun book.

I slowly squeezed the trigger and released my shot. This all happened within a few seconds. And once the smoke cleared, I released the action pushing on the slide lock release plunger pin, and the empty shell ejected and spun through the air leaving a spiral of smoke, just like a cigarette would when you flicked it out of your fingers before stepping on it.

The rock dove tumbled and dropped like a stone, I knew it was an incredible shot, part of this success was skill and experience but there was a little bit of faith. After all hunting is never a guarantee.

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My watercolor of “Pigeons burst into Flight”

It was an incredibly hot day with the temperature sitting at around thirty-one degrees Celsius with a humidex reading of thirty-six. It was so warm that the entire herd of cattle was taking shelter to the south on the far edge of the field, hidden amongst the trees. I had been at the farm now for well over two hours and had already harvested a very large groundhog on the southern ridge just over the creek. I was curious to see whether or not the pigeons had returned to the barn during my absence near the barns in the morning.   These pigeons see and hear very well, therefore any sound or movement sends them into the flight; very early into the sport, and I learned to master the skill of using the terrain such as low ground, vegetation such as trees and buildings such as barns to my advantage. As I stood behind the parked truck, I reached into my pants left pocket and pulled out the key for the tailgate and then unlocked it and once opened, I lowered gate carefully with both hands to avoid making any sharp sounds. The blackbirds did not seem too bothered by all my activity and they just flew around tree top to the barn and back again, all the while calling out.

I safely unloaded the Browning T-Bolt, secured the trigger lock and then laid it down in its respective gun case which was opened at the back. I then switched to my Remington 12 gauge along with a box of #6 shot and made myself ready. I turned my head to my left in order to check out the groundhog den in the eastern field, when all of a sudden I saw four silver feather like objects fly through the air and land to my left hand side very close the northern barn about forty feet away, tucked in behind the electric fence down below a sandy ridge and then they were quickly out of sight.

It was perfect, I tucked away my binoculars in my hunting bag and closed the tailgate, and then loaded three shells into my Remington; pumped one into the chamber then placed it on safe. I turned quickly toward the west and then moved between the two barns which hold the western gate. I was crouching and walking at a face pace and my rubber boots were pinching the back of my leg as I kicked up some dust, my first objective was to place myself at the back of the third barn, which was directly in line with the pigeons across the dirt road.

From there, I could get a closer look from the north-western edge of the barn, just leaning out enough enabling me to see the eastern side and the sandy ridge. The pigeons were still out of sight and I did not know if they had flown away while I circled the third barn. Still no pigeons in view, it was now time to move down along the northern side of the barn, getting as low as I physically could, almost duck walking across the road with my head just below the edge of the ridge. Luckily the farmer had left an old three drawer dresser that he was going to give away at the top of the ridge on the one side.

This now became my second objective, if I could get behind the dresser; I could slowly come up and take very clear shots down onto the pigeons. Minutes, later and after carefully moving into position, I was kneeling behind the piece of furniture now focusing on catching my breath. It was not easy breathing my chest tightened from walking crouched over. I lifted my Remington into a shooting position pulling the butt into my shoulder and slowly used the push method to unlock the safety without making the click sound, then slowly came up into a standing position.

Darn, there were no pigeons, had they gone? I inched my way around the dresser and moved up to the sandy ridge and then all of sudden boom, the pigeons burst into the flight, two on my left, one directly to my front and the other headed south to my right.

I aimed at the pigeon in the middle and took a shot of #6, the bird seem to almost fly on its side as it flared to miss the shot, in an instant I pumped and released another shot leading the bird. It all happened lightning fast, and the bird seemed to have dropped down slightly but continued to fly away and cleared the closest southern field and over the tree line and creek. I thought to myself this is it, he got away and then just as he cleared the trees the pigeon started losing altitude and fell into middle of the second field.

I never took my eyes off the bird once, it is very important to follow through with your eyes to see where the bird is going even more so with grouse. It was a great harvest indeed!

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Kit & George Harrison wrote in their book “The Birds of Winter” “that pigeons and doves are not really gallinaceous (chicken like) birds. They are plump birds with short necks, small heads, and short bills that are ideal for pecking at seeds, which account for 98 percent of their diet. Strong fliers, they can evade predators on the wing. The fact that they are gregarious and are often found in large flocks in winter is undoubtedly a survival tactic to facilitate finding food and cover and to avoid predation.”

The majority of us might recognize them as pigeons or pests, with black, grey and sometimes even white feathers but to me the rock doves are an awesome bird and a very enjoyable small game hunt, gregarious and evasive indeed.

What I really like about rock dove hunting is that it’s open all year round in Quebec under small game and it can be a really fun and a challenging sport. It involves careful still-hunting, great stalking skills and also approach tactics when dealing with your advance to your shot.

Sometimes, I find myself at my friend’s farm hunting duck, grouse or even snowshoe hare but either the weather is not cooperating or other negative factors can affect my choice of game, such as large farming equipment or dogs making noise. One thing I can always count on as a backup activity is rock dove hunting. Easily scared off, they will often fly away for twenty minutes or more but they will always come back.

At the farm, they will normally stay close to a barn where their nests are located and then they will fly around feeding on seeds near the cattle. For my approach, I like to pretend that I am going about my normal business chatting with the farmer or just walking around, actually what I am trying to do is place myself strategically for my advance to my shooting spot. Just like crows, they are watching you and they see very well. Once they burst into flight, it takes a skilled shot gunner to get a confirmed harvest as they are extremely quick and almost seem to dance around your shot.

I find that one rock dove is plenty of meat for one meal with an average size of 11 to 13 inches but with several rock doves you can make very nice dishes such as: Salmis De Pigeons. I have included a picture of a rock dove that I field dressed for supper.

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