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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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Canine Trail

Canine Trail

The first hare lead that I decided to track on this particular day was without a doubt one of the toughest this winter. Even though it had been much warmer over the past couple of days and it had also rained, the most recent snow fall had left the nearby field and swamp with waist deep snow rendering my progress slow. There was a slight overcast in the sky and the temperature was three below zero. Once in a while as the clouds would clear the sun would break through and momentarily warm my face and hands.

I had no choice but to leave the car parked at the main entrance of the property and set off on foot in an easterly direction down a small slope onto the frozen swamp. The snow was just too high on the road. The swamp was located on the northern edge of the main country road and the trees nearby created a natural canopy of pine and cedar mixed in with straw sticking out of the snow and the area was littered with tracks.

Right away I noticed a trail that looked like it belonged to a mink or even a fisher. It had very distinct claw marks in the snow similar to that of raccoons. So I pressed on until I hit the western edge of the hay-field on the northern side, still following the lead. I took advantage of the change in vegetation to stop and catch my breath also to observe. On my left there was a large pine tree, surrounded by smaller bushes. I was looking left and right looking for any sign of snowshoe hare activity. This is when I spotted several more tracks and noticed some fur and then a blood trail.

The ravens above me were being very loud and kind of gliding just above me like turkey vultures. At the base of the tree there were carrion remains and a large skull. It was not a sight for the faint of heart as there was some muscle and fat tissue still attached and all its teeth were intact. A farmer had told me that the hide alone could weigh in at around one hundred pounds and that it would take several coyotes or wolves to drag that away but it was nowhere to be found. I had wanted to hunt hare in the morning and then try for rock dove after lunch, but after a sight like this and being in the bush alone my instinct was telling me that maybe I should move on.

There were canine tracks everywhere in various sizes and the tracks that I found were only a few hours old. I then decided to move north back to the eastern side of the quarry, where I had harvested my last hare and continue to search for more leads. As I left the swamp and the wood line near the road across the field to the south, I saw additional tracks and followed them some more and this is when I found large droppings as well as a well-traveled trail filled with paw marks. There was set in particular that was very large. There wasn’t just one canine with me in the woods like there was a few weeks ago, it was now more like two or three.

The paw tracks were almost too large to be that of a coyote, perhaps a timber wolf. So, I followed the trail some more because there were also fresh hare tracks nearby leading to the creek. When the forest cover got too thick and the snow was still knee-deep, especially with carrion around, I did not dare venture deeper into the darker part of the wilderness.
There were scattered pockets of evergreen, old wooden planks resting up against a barbed wired fence, offering plenty of cover. By this time I was now experiencing a strong feeling, that I was no longer alone and I also felt I was not necessarily a wanted presence.

I slowly turned toward the heavily travelled trail full of paw marks to the west and took several photos before heading back to the car for lunch. You know, a couple of days have passed since this feeling that came over me in the woods and yet while I am sitting on the bus going to work a part of me that is truly curious wanted to seek beyond the darkness in that evergreen.

By mid afternoon, I had made my way to the farm and met up with the farmer who was tending to his cattle and he had granted me the right to attempt to harvest some rock doves that were eating his grain. He had scattered some feed for his cows and then brought several buckets of water to the calves that were taking shelter in one of the smaller barns. He had mentioned to me that the rock doves were clearing out the grain on the ground and that it could start getting expensive. So, some assistance with this would be appreciated.
 
Even though rock doves are the same bird we see in the city, out in the country their behavior is quite different and this is to be expected. They see very well and if spooked they do not just fly a short distance away to safety then come back. Sometimes they will fly away over the forested ridge and not come back for several hours or not return at all.
 
For me there was a flock of five birds in my sights. One of the strangest occurrences that I had experienced was several weeks prior I set out to harvest the farm pigeons. I made the mistake of pointing to them and talked about my approach with another hunter out loud and the birds immediately flew away and did not return for two days according to the farmer.
 
This time it was going to be different, very different. I started by walking over to the car and continued to talk to the farmer and not pay attention to the birds at all. They were sitting on the trim of the barns roof. And a precision shot was out of the question. I had only packed my 870 with me and did not bring my .22.
 
Down on the southern ridge there were two older barns and the rock doves had made their nest inside. So, I slowly walked up to the gate at the cow enclosure and the opening to the southwestern field.
 
I stood there for a moment watching for rock dove activity. Sure enough within a few minutes a group of three flew in and landed nearby. I slowly moved back to car to get into a better shooting position but failed and spooked them and they took off circled in the air and descended to the second barn on the southern ridge.

It was very difficult to move about and align a shot. The birds were easily spooked and I could not shoot at the barn roof, I had to watch for the trucks, tractors and finally the cattle.
 
I slowly re-positioned myself and used an old tractor for cover and managed to get down the slope and enter the first abandoned barn from the northern side. There was a small window and a door on the southern edge and I had a clear shot on the pigeons, but there was one problem. I was carrying my 870 and I could shoot the roof.
 
With my .22, I could have taken a clear shot through an opening in the barn without exposing myself. This would have been a great shot under total concealment but this was not a possibility. I asked myself: What kind of approach could be used without scaring them? The only option was to jump shoot them, so I stood at the doorway and leaped outside, this seem to work since they hastily bounced into flight.
 
I took aim at the last one of the group and fired a shot, the bird swerved and dove and broke into an even faster flight and all three disappeared into the tree line to the east. It was a miss. Dang! I had to wait another forty minutes or so for them to come back, so I climbed the ridge and went back to the main gate.

Sure enough two rock doves flew in from the east heading west straight between the two smaller barns and over the gate and settled in the snow nearby. I quickly went down to my knees and crouched my way around the barn to the north and staying as low as I could I positioned myself in a kneeling position on the north-western side of the barn to my right.

The two birds were still feeding but never kept still, once the birds were not in the line of sight with the cattle, I rose my 870 and in one single motion, stood up and sent the rock doves into flight, Vlam! The shot rang out and I had harvested my first pigeon of the season.

Rock dove may not compare to big game trophies but it is most definitely an exhilarating hunt and great practice for the waterfowl season.

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The term furred game can be used to describe an animal that you may hunt and it could be as large as a deer or as small a squirrel. The fact remains that this type of example can be found throughout several online articles and books written about furred game. In a sense they are the same; both are considered wild game and each of them have fur.

Yet we know that this is not entirely true and that we can easily identify their definite differences and not just by noticing the group of species they belong to or their sizes, but there is more.

In the world of small game or varmint hunting, their differences can also be in the lengths of the season, which tend to be much longer than big game or turkey. Small game seasons are also not limited to only a few weeks in the fall. For example some varmints may be hunted all year round. Now concerning bag limits, unlike Cervidae hunting, which only allows for one tag per year or two tags on the Island of Anticosti similar to that of Caribou hunting. Small game bag limits amounts will vary but will always be greater compared to that of big game hunting.

These are only some of the reasons why I consider small game hunting such an enjoyable pass time: Longer seasons, more choice of game and different bag limits. I wanted to take the time and provide you with the province of Quebec ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs (MDDEFP)and link to the page for hunting periods and bag limits with concerned to small game hunting and then also list the species of furred game below.

It is also important to take note of the gear allowed to be used for the respective game, and know the hunting zones where hunting is permitted for a specific game, as well as the season dates.

Furred Game: (Specific to Quebec)
Eastern Cottontail
Arctic Hare
Snowshoe Hare
Coyote
Wolf
Woodchuck
Raccoon
Silver Fox
Crossed Fox
Red Fox

Feathered Game: (Specific to Quebec)
Ruffed grouse
Spruce grouse
Sharp-tailed grouse
Gray partridge
Rock ptarmigan
Willow ptarmigan
Red-winged blackbird
American crow
European starling
House sparrow
Common grackle
Brown headed cowbird
Rock dove
Quail
Northern bobwhite
Pheasant
Francolin
Rock partridge
Chukar partridge
Red legged partridge
Guinea fowl

Migratory birds (Feathered):

With concerns to Migratory Birds make sure you check out the Migratory Birds Hunting Regulations. I have placed the link for all provinces and territories for 2017 year to provide you with an example of the layout and content. I have also listed some of the birds below:

Ducks (other than Harlequins Ducks)
Woodcock and Snipe WATERFOWLER HERITAGE DAYS Ducks (other than Eiders, Harlequin Ducks, and Long tailed Ducks)
Geese (other than Canada Geese, Cackling Geese and Snow Geese)
Snipe Canada
Geese and Cackling Geese Eiders
Long–tailed Ducks
Coots
Moorhens Woodcock

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Opening in the Woods

Opening in the Woods

Every inch forward was laborious as I slowly lifted up my legs readying them for the next step; my boots were cutting through the thin crust of snow and then systematically sinking to the depths of my knees. I could feel my heart racing and my breathing was getting heavier, not only from the fatigue but also because of the excitement of tracking a fresh hare lead that was shadowed by a coyote and that of a grouse. After having made my way up the dirt road going west for about thirty yards, I turned to my right, walked up the ditch and headed north onto the western farm field along the edge of woods.

Experience had taught me that it was much easier to stay close to the base of the trees because the snow was not as deep and more compacted thus making easier to walk. Unfortunately for me I was not as light as the hare or coyote and on this particular day I did not pack my snowshoes as part of my kit. So it was slow-moving, which was ideal because you do not want to plow through the woods or the hares would rush ahead and the white ghost would live up to its name.

I followed the first hare lead I found until it wandered off to my left, for that particular moment I was more interested in the coyote tracks, which seemed to be that of a large male and they were bunched together close to the tracks of a grouse. I carefully followed both tracks for about twenty yards and as I got to a large pine tree, I noticed the coyote tracks had stopped, so did the grouses but there were also ten scratch marks in the snow in groups of five. It was like someone had spread their fingers and dragged them through the snow. It was clear to me that this was the spot where the grouse lifted off, because only a short distance away as I continued to follow the coyote tracks I was suddenly startled by the grouse, which took off only a few feet in front of me heading deeper in the woods.

The temperature was fifteen below zero and there was a cold north-westerly wind that chilled the air. Once in a while my shooting glasses would fog up and I needed to stop then clear them before I could follow the leads again. A couple of hours had passed and I was still on the western side of Goose Lake and in just a few more hours it was going to be lunch time. I started to make my way back to the car following two more leads in an out of the cedar and pine, leading up over a very high ridge.

I wanted to take a much-needed break and so I chose the strange-looking tree at the top of the ridge on the western side. I found the dead tree standing in the middle of the ridge surrounded by small bushes, tall grass and deadfall. Its trunk was dark brown and all the bark was stripped off, the branches had fallen around it forming a natural wooden cage.
It was quite unusual to see wood naturally fall like this creating similar shapes to that of mangled barbed wire. It reminded me of the scene from the movie “The Edge” when the bear was chasing Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) through the woods and the actor was able to jump into a similar pile of wood and seek shelter without being reached.

Some of the branches were held up at a forty-five degree angle and big enough to walk on, with the upper part still connected to the tree. So, I went up one of the larger branches and stood two meters off the ground. I had a full view of the south-east and western side of the area and I was scanning the area looking for any small game activity.

I stood there for about fifteen minutes, just listening and watching over the vast area and for that moment I felt a great sense of high and freedom being so high off the ground and feeling the elements all around me. Here I was in the dead of winter, alone, surrounded by wilderness and I was being absorbed by it all.

The land owner had told me that this particular male coyote was posing a threat to his three new calves. Not only this, I had been badgered by the very same one a few weeks prior with my hare I had snared.

Therefore he had asked me to help with this endeavor. I gladly accepted as I had just purchased a new three caller kit from “Quaker Boy” and was anxious to try it out. I know he was around because I had seen his fresh tracks all morning on both sides of Goose Lake.

When I got back to the sand quarry, I setup on one of the highest knolls and sprayed some synthetic rabbit urine and let out some distress calls and then various coyote calls. After about an hour of on and off calling, I decided to continue my chase for the elusive white ghost.

On the north-eastern side of the farm there is an old barn that is surrounded by dense woods and by its entrance there were old washing machines and snow blowers and various machine parts. This is heaven for rabbits and hare and I remember reading about this in one of my books. So I found a fresh lead and followed it in and out of the woods and the old machinery.

This was becoming fun and after having had lunch and a short break, I was now ready to actively chase again. This lead and its tracks were very fresh and for the first time in a while, I had a very strange feeling come over me, it was kind of like some form of energy, hunter intuition that surrounded me like I knew this lead was not dry but there was something for sure nearby if not at its end.

The chase was on and this lead was making me work hard, it eventually came up to the road heading north on the eastern side of Goose lake, I found two more leads, one going north and the other south. So, I slowly walked through an opening in the woods towards the lake and then headed south to the quarry.

Earlier in the year during the month of October, I had seen a mound that was about sixty feet long at the edge of the woods facing south and on the side facing the woods there was a series of hollow openings offering great shelter for small game. I had also noticed droppings and urine stains plus well-travelled leads. That particular area was filled with low cedar and it was very dark inside and I knew that it could be promising habitat.

So this time around, I began to scan very slowly to my left as I was walking by the cedar and this is when I spotted the black shiny eye. There wasn’t a sound just this very still Canadian snowshoe hare looking right at me in his freeze pose. There was no doubt that he was well hidden behind this natural screen of cedar leaves and branches. He was as white as the snow in his background with only a touch of grey on the top of his hind legs.
 
We made instant eye contact and yet neither of us moved, then I re-adjusted my eyes quickly and focused on him again. This time the rest of his silhouette was now clear. I only had a few seconds to react. I quickly raised my 870 and in one single motion unlocked the safety and fired a clean single shot.
 
The leaves and branches of the cedar shield disintegrated and when the snow settled my harvest was confirmed.

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Snowshoe Hare Stew

Ingredients: (Serves 6)
1 Snowshoe Hare cut in pieces (Marinated in a coarse red wine overnight)
6 Carrots cut into pieces
6 Medium sized potatoes peeled and cut in pieces
5 Slices of bacon
15 Sliced Mushrooms
1 Minced onion
3 Cloves of garlic
3 Bay leaves
3 Cloves

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven at 350 Fahrenheit
2. Cook onion in canola oil until translucent then add the pieces of hare to sear until brown.
3. Put the hare pieces in a cast iron roasting pot with the garlic and onions.
4. Add carrots and potatoes to the cast iron roasting pot.
5. Brown bacon with mushroom slices, and then add them to the pot.
6. Add Bay leaves and cloves to the pot also and mix everything together.
7. Add two cups of the same wine used to marinate the meat.
8. Cook in the oven for two and half hours.

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Remington 12

Choosing the right shotgun ammunition for small game hunting is not only a very important choice for a potential harvest but also for your safety.

Whether you own a combo gun, 12, 16, 20, 28 or a 410 shotgun it is very important to choose the right shell length specific to your shotgun. Shotgun shell lengths, shot size, chokes as well as the gauge are all a must know before you purchase ammunition.

It is not necessary to become an expert in the subject because there are always professionals on hand to assist you in the stores during your purchase. But it is advantageous to be informed, so that you make a safe and experienced choice.

The firearm I use the most for small game hunting is my 12 gauge pump-action Remington 870 Express, which shoots 2 3/4 & 3 inch shells and has a five shot capacity.

Familiarize yourselves on shotgun choke types because understanding the patterning and shot concentration over specific distances will have a direct impact on the type of shot you wish to achieve. After all, a one shot harvest is what we all wish to achieve. Insuring a tight pattern once the pellets leave the barrel is one of the responsibilities of the choke. The website “Shotgunworks.com” is great source for this information.

When I choose shotgun shells for my small game hunts, there are several points that I take into consideration. Below I have listed a few:

-Use the right shotgun shell lengths based on your gun’s specifications and design.
-Consult Federal and Provincial regulations, for example where I live in Quebec there is a specific page on the ministries website that provides the acceptable shot dimensions to be used for small game:

-Know and understand shot sizes and their standards. This can mean being able to recognize your game after a shot and actually being able to enjoy a nice meal.
-Consult your local hunting store pro’s, talk with other hunters, and join web forums, read books. These are all great ways to find out about new types of available shot and get expert advise.
-Consider ethics and the environment, with concerns to avoiding unnecessary suffering of the game and also doing your part in maintaining a healthy environment by avoiding the use of lead shot.

One of the books that is listed on my OKB page is the “Shooter’s Bible” and it is a great reference moreover on page 498 of the #89, 1998 edition there is a detailed “Shotshell Game Guide” by Winchester. Other similar tables can be found on the Internet.

The following Wikipedia page provides tables and good explanations for “Shotshell guide” you can find a similar tables that provides a list of game, shell shot size, chokes and gauges.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_shell

Standard shot sizes tables are another great tool, they show the shot number using black circles in varying sizes and are very informative; they often incorporate the shot pattern over a specific distance. I find these very handy because it shows you the distance of the shot using a drawing in a shape of a cone or bar graph and provides you with the effective distance to get a confirm harvest shot. These shot numbers are: 9, 8, 71/2, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1, BB, BBB, and T.

Safe hunting and wish you all great shots.

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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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