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Last Sunday I took advantage of some spare time and drove out to the river to see if I could spot a few ducks in open water. With not very many days left in my waterfowl season, I wanted to see if mother nature would give me a last go, until next fall.

After having spent about two hours walking along the shores of the river and through the wetlands, it was clear that my waterfowl was nearing its end. The ice was getting thick and the open waters of the river were well out of range with the ice about forty meters wide from the edge of the shore and about two inches thick.

There was no doubt that the view was spectacular and the wind blowing in was refreshing and complimented the snowy banks of the river, just a perfect match. It is always a bitter-sweet feeling, knowing that my waterfowl season is coming to a close.

The year’s season was an interesting one and to be honest, as I went out on all my outings during this season, I seem to have lost count of my harvests and had the impression that I hadn’t had as good as season as last year, especially with the warmer weather lingering longer at the start of the season.

On my drive home from the river, I was happy about the idea of getting back into a warm spot but knew I would miss my days on the river until next fall. Over the next few days, I took out my harvests out of the freezer and let them defrost and then marinated the meat over night and began the lengthy process of making our Rillettes.

It is pretty neat to feel how much pride comes from making delicious traditional Rillettes with your own harvests, and also being able to share it with friends and family who appreciate them, especially during the holiday season.

Twenty one jars later and a clean kitchen, I can now look back on all the great moments of my season with satisfaction and pride as well as the lessons learned and only hope for the best next fall.

Remember to be safe and happy new year to all of you who share this passion of ours.

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In one of my previous blog entries: Furred & Feathered Game, I typed up some bird names that were listed on the MNRF website, its link was also made available. These are in fact birds that you can hunt in the Province of Quebec, under the small game or migratory bird license permits. 

Some of these birds such as the Rock Dove may be hunted all year round; other birds like the Red-winged black bird or Ruffed grouse hunts will normally be managed with the use of specific hunting seasons which include variable dates depending on their provincial zones (Quebec). For the rest of Canada this list may vary slightly; as an example one of the factors could be that your area may not have suitable habitat for certain bird species.

For more information on waterfowl hunting, check out the Environment of Canada website.

This article however does not focus on hunting seasons or zones; it is about mastering the skills of bird identity. Learning is part of the joys of bird watching and this is also true for hunters, but as a hunter we have an added level of responsibility when it pertains to correctly identifying our birds. This is absolutely critical before taking our shots.

I recently finished the book The Birds of winter. I have to say it is quite easy for any of us to pick up a similar book about birds and turn to a page where there is a photograph of a bird we wish to harvest. In my situation it was on page 48 of the book where there was a black and white photograph of a Ring-necked pheasant. I then turned back to page 46 and on this page there was a same sized black and white photograph of an eastern wild turkey in the exact same position. They looked somewhat similar from a distance and with additional factors such as rainy weather, thick grass or woodlands you could begin to understand, how at first glance you could fail to differentiate the two. Yes, the pheasant has bright colors indeed when comparing them to eastern wild turkeys, however when studying some duck species as mentioned in the book Birdwatching, A guide for beginners they write about the word: eclipse.

Eclipse is a term used for dull plumage color, a great example of this is the grayish brown colors of a mallard hen. Some male ducks will lose their eloquent colors once the mating season is over, in turn becoming dull. The change in color of plumage could make it more challenging to identify a specific bird. In my photo gallery page, I have a photograph of two ruffed grouse near a stump and I consider it a great illustration about how easy it can be to walk right past them while still-hunting. When considering behaviour, the eastern wild turkeys will quite often be in a group called rafter.

In the book Birdwatching, A guide for beginners, the authors did a fantastic job in outlining what they consider to be the five major clues to bird identification. I describe these clues in my own way.

Silhouette: In other words the outline of an object in our case a bird; this can help you identify which group of bird they belong to. I am pretty confident that most of us remember our plastic ducks found in almost every bathtub across North-America and if someone were to hold one up you could most likely identify it as a duck just by looking at its outline and noticing its short flat bill or tail.

Plumage: One of my favorite birds to help explain plumage is the mallard drake duck. With its bright green head and white ring color plumage on its neck, it is a rather large duck, and also easily identifiable from far. Study the colors of the birds you wish to hunt and take note of their distinctive colors patterns.

Behaviour: When I am hunting Rock dove, knowing their behaviour as a flock helps me get closer, knowing what movements will cause them to fly away. Pigeons are gregarious and this provides added security, more eyes to help notice danger. I use my environment for the approach, either using low ground or a barn as cover. I can then get closer and identify them as Rock Dove.

Habitat: Eastern wild turkeys normally stay within a five-mile radius of their roost and they can often be found near the edge of tree lines and hay or corn fields. Knowing the habitat of a specific bird will enable you to get closer and identify them. Avoid wearing red, blue or white and use extreme caution during the turkey hunting season when moving around.

Voice: Duck calls are a great example to use for voice identity, the greeting call, or hail call. When you are sitting in the marsh, and you hear such a sound this confirms that there are ducks nearby and eventually you will be able to identify different duck species through their calls.

Have a great season!

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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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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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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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