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Snare2

Snare2

The early morning air that surrounded me in the woods was crisp and cold. It was almost like time was standing still and every sound in the forest was amplified. The trees had a pure white coat on them after a light January snow fall at dawn.

The temperature was thirty below and the twenty gauge wire that I was working with for my snares was burning my hands as they slowly went numb. I had been tightening the wire around a broken support branch that I had placed overtop my hare lead at its narrowest section.

After carefully placing twigs creating a funnel cone toward the opening of my snare, it was now time for me to tie up my trail marker tape identifying the second snare spot. I was only on my second setup and my goal was to have five more completed by mid morning.

At about eleven o’clock all my snares were in place and had been inspected. A friend and veteran snare hunter had taught me that after the holidays around mid January it was a good idea to adjust your snare openings. Making them slightly larger than the size of your fist and instead of having the wire around five-finger widths from the ground, he suggested it be around three.

Satisfied with my snares, I packed away my gear and prepared myself for the drive home; the anxiety for the next morning’s potential harvest was slowly consuming me. As an avid hunter my excitement level was about the same as someone would experience while waiting to open their gifts on Christmas day. It was now time for nature to take the lead no pun intended.

For those who are familiar with nature, especially North American animals there is a belief that badgers have an interesting relationship with coyotes. This relationship gets even more interesting when they are hunting for food together. Let us imagine they were pursuing a ground dwelling rodent, the badger would attempt to dig him out. The coyote on the other hand would simply wait at one of the escape holes and grab the rodent as it escapes.

Now it is also a known fact that coyotes are smarter than foxes. The question is then: Is it just smarts or is it simply theft? Another interesting fact about this relationship is why the badger doesn’t just kill the coyote that is stealing or trespassing during the combined hunt. Opportunistic or instinct, is it theft or just survival?

The following morning had come and the temperature on the thermostat was showing twenty-four below zero. My goal was to get to the site before nine in the morning, check all my snares and then plan to be home in time for lunch. So I loaded up my gear and headed out to the woods, which was about an hour drive north.

My first snare was intact and although there were fresh tracks in the new snow, they did not lead to my opening, so I slowly removed the wire and marker and placed it in my pocket and prepared myself to move to the second snare. I had put on my yellowish tint shooting glasses, which offer such a visual advantage during the winter when sifting through pine and cedar. I also brought along my .22 bolt-action Savage in the event that a hare may break into a full chase, so with this in mind I decided to stalk between my snare spots.

When I got up to my second snare, I instantly noticed the scattered blood droplets on the white snow and branches. There were obvious signs of a struggle, I also saw several droppings scattered on the fresh snow and there were tuffs of fur stuck on the branches and the log nearby.

My shiny twenty gauge wire had been torn and was still tied off to the main log. I tirelessly looked for a blood trail around the leads but the hare had just vanished and although there were three other leads heading up the ridge there was no sign of blood.

I did however notice prints in the snow heading north-west that looked like coyote tracks; they were headed directly into heavy cedar underbrush and into an area that was quite dark even in daylight. I spent the next forty-five minutes searching the area around the second snare site but did not see any sign of my hare. I gathered up my remaining snares and prepared myself for a challenging season.

The tell-tale signs indicate that I had successfully snared my first hare this year but ended up getting badgered by the local coyote. This most definitely adds a more positive spin to my snowshoe hare and small game season this winter because I now have an added challenge ahead of me.

I do not wish to be badgered again.

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There was a light snow fall covering our surrounding wilderness with its white coat. The whole scene was quite picturesque and very serene. My tracking buddy and I were standing still in the low brush having a rest; he looked down at his watch and checked the time. It was only two in the afternoon and yet the sun was quite low, only a few inches over the evergreen tree line if we looked southwest. I removed my hunting hat with my bare hands and whipped off the sweat from my forehead and then we set off again. 

We had been in the woods since eight in the morning tracking some hare leads and just appreciating being out in the elements. Throughout the morning we were checking other animal tracks too and had a ruffed grouse fly out just a few feet in front of us. The bush was extremely thick and at times I was down on my hands and knees looking under the pine and cedar for hiding spots or simply pushing on through branches on very steep ridges. There was a deer trailing us for a while because we heard large branches crack and snap under its hooves but it never came within range for us to see her. 

The hare tracks we discovered in the morning were slowly disappearing under the snowfall. Now after several hours of tracking some more leads we eventually climbed the southern ridge near the gravel pit and headed into some heavy pine between the goose lake and a farm field to the west.

I had taken a mental picture of this spot from the last time I was out about a month earlier and wanted to save it for the final hours of the day. I knew that this pine forest was a gold mine and we just had to walk the hares. So, we followed the first lead nearest to us and continued until we found the principle trail with several other tracks, I often call this the “super highway” as it acts kind of like a main artery.

My tracking buddy was in the lead and I was trailing behind him about twenty feet to his left. Once it a while he would stop and so then I would take a knee look around under every tree, hole and tall grass. A few minutes would pass and then we were pressing forward again. About fifteen minutes had gone by and we came up to an island shaped brush pile full of pine filled with trails and droppings. By the time we got to the other side of the pile, there were two large pines bunched together to our front and just as soon as my buddy was about to push through, he set off “Big Grey.” The chase was on.

He barely had time to call my name and he leaped forward into the air between the two large trees and faded like a ghost leaving nothing but a cloud of snow. It was text-book, the hare took off like a bullet moving at about fifty-five kilometers an hour and he zigzagged dashing left and right and then completed a large circle to the left. The chase had begun and our adrenaline was pumping like mad. My tracking buddy said he was a fat grayish white hare and he would be an amazing harvest.

I stayed put and waited for the hare to circle as my buddy pushed forward and flushed “big grey” out. I was totally focused and looking for any kind of movement, I moved a few feet left making my way around the brush pile for a second time. It was very quiet and there was no sign of movement. I moved forward once again on a few feet and as I was stepping over a fallen log, swish, the hare sprinted directly to my front going from right to left in what seemed to be a second and then disappeared under the snow and brush before I could get a shot off. He was heading west to the edge of the western field and my tracking buddy shortly found his fresh tracks and so we joined up and pushed forward together.

We placed ourselves side by side and continued flushing left like a rake through the tall grass and searched until we completed a full circle but to no avail. The chase had lasted about an hour and it was one of the best hare hunts I had experienced.

“Big Grey” beat us today but we will be back on his track.

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CSGH Hare Hunting Technique and Tips:

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

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Here is a story I wanted to share with you written by a good friend and fellow hunter while he was deer hunting:

Bit of a heartbreaking start to the day. I left my spot alone as I have been traveling and just plain busy. Got in the bush mid day and hiked into my Stand. I have been excited to get out knowing there was a good dusting of snow, real helpful for someone with my tracking skills.
 
Got to my spot and there was nothing on the ground, nothing. I was pretty disappointed, I gathered up the camera, stand is still there and planned to spend the rest of the day looking for yet another spot.
 
In about half an hour I came across survivor-man’s shack speed tied and duck tape.
 
Hiked out about two kilometers and had a thick track crossing the trail so I went in the bush deeper. This is where I started to have some fun. I decided to pay more attention to the sound I was making. I always am aware but I really wanted to work on being quieter… it was good fun. Wind was cutting into me and I kept working through a swampy area followed by thick bunny filled hanging pine.
 
Then I found a really weird mound. Very flat bush and this mound was about thirty meters around and there was ever type of track you can imagine going to the top only a ten foot rise. The most pronounced and recent was moose. I made out two different tracks near the top and decided to follow one.
 
The bush got much thicker and my travel much slower. For another hour I worked through the bush and I came across a spot that just looked different. Scrub opened up a bit, more hanging pine, bent low with the bit of snow. I liked it. Not long and my moose trail crossed 3 or 4 deer. I trailed off on one track and shortly found a huge pile of droppings that was not that old.
 
I walked that track out and found another heap.
 
Then… boots. I came across boots a few hundred yards from there…. relatively fresh snow, I was bummed. Someone else knew what I just learned.
 
Too late to replant my stand, I decided to walk out and keep working on my noise. I had a sit about a one kilometer down (and yes had a smoke). Almost dozing off, as I like to do, about ten minutes later I hear a deep and nasty growl behind me. It felt like it was right behind me….scared the crap out of me. Frozen with my back to a tree I did nothing but drop the safety on my X Bow. I stayed as still as I could manage and heard nothing more than a twig snap. When I went looking, I could not find any track but I did not look far….
 
The great white poseur had another great day. I had a few recent posts running through my head as I spent some quality time with myself. I thought a lot about while I am out there.
 
I live in a world of consultants and bullsh**t, not much is very real.

For the few hours I am in the bush, I am a different guy. More aware of my surroundings, more aware of my heartbeat and happier than I can explain. I don’t hunt for meat but I can’t wait to be able to share it, I don’t hunt to brag but you will hear from me when I am successful.
 
I hunt because it is a connection to something very real for me. I see, hear and feel more crisply…. now I have to bring that to the rest of my life…

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The skyline was bright pink and the sun wasn’t fully up yet but my hunt had already started a half an hour before sunrise. I was all geared up and ready to go. The car was locked and then I carefully placed my magazine into the Enfield rifle and started my way up a dark forested trail surrounded by fog. This was familiar territory for me as a small game hunter still-hunting up the trail but this stalk though was quite different from the others and it was only going to last a few minutes because my sights were not on a snowshoe hare or grouse but rather on a buck. Over a period of three weeks, I was going to spend a total of twenty-eight hours in my tree stand at the trails end.

The author Larry Koller wrote about snowshoe hare hunting and said that it was reserved for the tougher individual, who was able to withstand the cold for long periods of time during the winter months and that without dogs it was almost an impossible harvest. Also that getting close enough to hare for the shot was even more difficult. I had to be the judge of this and find out for myself and with concerns to the cold, well I am from northern Ontario. Several hunts later, I finally found the white on white ghost and harvested one in the dead of winter without the use of dogs.

Furthermore he wrote about hunting from a tree stand or sitting on a stump and said it had “no connotation of skill” and that it was not in a sense a true form of hunting. Once again I had to find out for myself what he truly meant. So, I signed up with a local outfitter for this year’s deer season.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and some of us who have the privilege of being able to write about it and even sell books are truly lucky but not necessarily right. Sure, if we want to keep the hunt “raw” or in its purest form; still-hunting a deer and harvesting is really something to be proud of but I believe there are more risks involved. The truth is safety is a factor and when you have thousands of anxious hunters that head into Crown land trying to harvest a deer; in which case your orange vest may not suffice to protect you unless it is made of Kevlar.

Tree stand hunting does have its dangers such as the risk of falling asleep or accidentally slipping while coming up and down the stand. During my first ten hours in my tree stand, I was told by a property owner that on the same weekend a hunter had fallen in his stand and that his rifle which was by his side and loaded with no safety on went off and almost struck him in the head and he could have lost his life. I still believe that tree stand hunting has its advantages when you are considering safety.

When you sign up with an outfitter and are assigned a tree stand, that area is yours and if there is someone else there besides you, they are trespassing and are most likely a poacher. Therefore the risk of accidentally shooting another hunter is lower compared to still-hunting through the woods, especially if you look and study your target before you shoot and know what is beyond it.

I was standing very still in my tree stand for about an hour, with my arms resting on the front cross-bar and aiming directly to the north across from my blind. I moved my head slowly to look toward the west after hearing some branches crack off to my left and when I turned back to my original aiming spot a deer was standing right in front of my stand about one hundred yards out. She had made her way down the trail heading east and she gave me the impression that she had just dropped out of the sky. My crosshairs from the scope were perfectly aligned and right on target but she had no antlers, she was a doe, so this was a no shot for my tag.

So, I put down my rifle and I took out my mini binoculars and watched her for about three-quarters of an hour and then she disappeared behind some pine trees just on the edge of the swamp to the east. Tree stand hunting can give you the impression that you are playing the lottery and it is a once in a million chance but with the use of bait and a lot of time your chances of success are increased. You are not out of the woods yet, because you are still at the mercy of the deer.

If the weather is not right such as being too windy then the deer will not roam as their scent is being spread around and it is one of their weaknesses with concerns to predators such as wolves, bears and coyotes. If you fail to mask your scent they will not come either and deer do look up, so do not move around too much. The skill levels required to still-hunt may be slightly different from tree stand hunting but having skills, such as the ability to remain still, mask your scent and ultimately and taking an effective shot does require some level of skill and it is in fact still hunting.

I have about eight hours remaining in my stand with still a chance to harvest a buck, but whether the small gamer like me succeeds or not, I have learned that patience and skills are most definitely things you want to have with you on the stand.

The link below was really great for techniques: Outdoor Adventure Network

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After having made some final adjustments to the way he placed his boots in the dirt, there he was standing very still in what seemed to be a comfortable shooting position. He was breathing in normally and with his left hand carefully gripping the underside of the forestock, he then pulled the butt plate tight into his right shoulder in anticipation for the shot. Click! The safety went off, three breaths went in and on the third one he let out half a breath, his index finger was straight pointing down range resting on the trigger guard.

Under my careful instructions he slowly moved his finger onto the trigger with just the tip of his index touching the steel. “Simply release the shot and fight the anticipation.” I whispered and I could see the barrel moving slightly up and down in the final milliseconds. Crack! The shot rang out and then a tearing and a thumping sound followed as the bullet ripped though the paper target into the sand pit. It was a great shot with the bullet landing just one click to the right of the bull’s eye.

This was his first shot from a .22 rifle and several more shots were taken in preparation for his chance to harvest small game. I then set him up with the Remington 870 and he fired a few more shots from eighty feet away.  He was always on target with an average of three to five-inch groupings with the .22 and his patterning with the shotgun was very good as well. Once the shooting at the sand pit was completed and the rifles were zeroed, our plan was to hunt small game for the rest of the day, this meant Woodchuck, Rabbit or Grouse.

We were now getting ready to shoot the .303 British to make sure the bore sighting and mounted scope were in shooting order for the upcoming deer season. I was just about to take out the ammunition from its box when all of a sudden flying in from a southerly direction a flock of thirty geese flew in over us and systematically folded their wings to land on the small lake to the north which was to our right about one hundred feet up the dirt road. 

My hands locked up the .303 ammunition and rifle with lightning speed and we then grabbed our balaclavas and zipped up our mossy oak pattern jackets all the way up and ran up the road towards the hay bales, that were just feet from the water.

The wind was blowing in from a south-easterly direction bringing in a cool air, it was about ten degrees Celsius and the birds had just landed on the north side of the lake. So, once we reached the lake, I asked my young friend to sit tight by the boat on the eastern side of the lake and to keep a look out for geese. I made sure my Remington 870 was loaded with the right shot and then I moved my way north toward the geese on the eastern side of the lake.

It was not an easy lake to get around, the forest went right up to the edge of the lake and on the north side there was a swamp. So, I decided to move further away from the edge of the lake and attempt to flank and scare them into flight allowing me to take a great shot at the chosen bird’s underside. Once I reached the middle of the lake on the eastern side, I turned inward toward the water and started to stalk, it was such as difficult stalk because the forest floor was littered with dead leaves and branches and it was really tricky not to make noise. I had to focus on my breathing to make sure it was not too heavy and I was extremely excited. I got within one hundred and thirty feet and one of the birds spotted me between two pine trees and started to let out some honks, and then several of them let out some more honks and bunched together then moved to deeper water on the north-western side of the lake.

Damn! My first approach did not work and it was going to get more difficult for me to go around the lake because I now had to cut through the swamp and a small creek that was feeding the lake from the north-east.

Once my first plan  failed to work moreover lost my element of surprise, I decided to move back away from the water edge careful not to scare them into to flight and then I headed north-east again this time I was to go through the swamp and make my way around through the cattail and attempt my scare approach again. This took me the better part of an hour and I was already feeling my muscles screaming for oxygenated blood.
 
I jumped from the embankment onto a small mud island that was connected to another with a small log acting like a bridge. This crossing saved me some time, and once in a while I would look up and see where the geese were floating and then I would press forward again.
 
After a few leaps and hops through knee-high mud and quietly knocking about a few cattail I finally made it to the north side and now I had go down on my hands and knees because the bush was so thick. On my way to the ground I startled a grouse which in turn startled me the bugger. And if that wasn’t enough I went right under a cedar tree that housed a very upset chipmunk that was squeaking at me with great assertiveness. “Ok ok…I will leave you alone” I muttered and then inched forward some more and this is when the stalk became even more difficult. There was a very large tree stump separating me from the water and let us not fail to mention some mud piles and swamp brush.
 
So, you guessed it, I got down on my belly and leopard crawled over the log and to the water’s edge. I was now lying down facing south my feet pointing to the north and I had to wait for the birds to swim into range in order to jump shoot. This would send them into flight and I could take my shots.

After a few tense moments the geese to my left finally came into range. I lifted my barrel from the mud soaked ground cleared a few bushes in front of me and lined up my bead sight with the nearest bird. I immediately jumped up to my knees and it sent the flock into a crazed takeoff flight then switched the 870 off safe and took my first shot.

I had been trying some new ammunition and the patterning just did not work, the bird that I had lined up in my sight did not even flinch. I believe that throwing rice would have done a better job. By the time I got to a full standing position all the birds except one got away, which for some reason broke away from the flock and came circling around right above me, so I pumped my shotgun in a split second and pulled the trigger the loaded shotgun shell jammed in the breach and by the time I got it out the bird had gone.

The last goose got away and he let my own 50% chance drop on me like goose droppings but I will be back and there will lots of opportunities for my apprentice and me and I will most definitely change back to the ammunition I used before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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