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As a regular “Joe” amongst the millions of hunters from around the world, I know one thing and this is that I am incredibly fortunate to be alive and able to work. With this luxury I can afford to put funds aside so that I can purchase new supplies or tools for our shared passion. But for me this means having to save up over several months, so that I can afford my new tool in my sights and this is the Stoeger M3500. I believe that with the results of my research and experience in the field, it is one of the only shotguns that can handle my punishment in the field.

A few nights ago, I watched a historical documentary about Mountain Men and their adventures in the West. One of the guests on the show was historian Robert Utley, who I loved listening to. He said that for the Mountain Men to be able to survive in the wilderness, they required several sets of qualities, some of these were strength, courage, endurance, fortitude and dexterity of mind and body. Not only is this incredibly insightful but I think these qualities also apply to the modern day outdoorsman/woman and along with wilderness survival skills, I also believe that humility should be part of this package.

Last weekend I took my family to an expensive special event and with the cost of living being very high today, I tapped into my Stoeger fund, now this might put me back a couple of months from my eventual purchase but the memories were simply irreplaceable. In the fall once the leaves begin to turn red again for another waterfowl season, I know that I will have my Stoeger in hand in the wetlands along with my humility along with my memories.

Robert also shared that mountain men had to deal with every manifestation of nature of human and wildlife activity, and this I know we as modern day hunters share this as well.

Have an amazing small game season.

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The sun rays were beating down on our arms and the nape of our necks. It was twenty-five degree Celcius and the heat was intense, you could feel the heavy air. Deer flies and wasps flew around in their frenzied flights; and the silence that surrounded us was suddenly broken by crow and red wing black bird calls.
 
Thermos in hand I slowly walked down the dusty path up to the gate between the two old barns where Ron was standing. I slowly untwisted the lid and poured a fresh cup of coffee. As the steam rose, I leaned forward and rested my forearms on the upper bar of the gate. I then let out a relaxing sigh and began talking about a home building job he had been working on with a friend.
 
Time was of no importance, I had the whole afternoon, besides the days were much longer now. Once in a while I would look up at the largest boulder in the western field about two hundred meters away. Ron then turned to me and said “I swear I see something at the entrance of the boulder but it is very hard to tell from here.”
 
So, I raised my head once again, had a look and agreed that there was definitely something moving in and out of the den. The only color I could make out, which was different from the fresh dirt at the base of the rock was the reddish fur under its chin.
 
During our conversation the farmer shared with me some woodchuck hunting tips that he employed when he was younger. He would still-hunt then sneak up in behind the den’s entrance and shoot through the roughly two inches of dirt and target the nape of the neck while the woodchuck was exiting the den. This may seem like an easy method but it is quite common for woodchucks to dig at the base of large rocks and boulders making it difficult for predators to dig them out, thus making it a challenging shot at close range and potentially dangerous with the possibilities of a ricochet.

Well, it was now time for me to set off toward the boulder, I walked over to the car picked up my binoculars, the shotgun and a few shells then turned back toward the gate and headed into the field. The farmer had also seen several other woodchucks to the left of the large boulder in another group of rocks.

I passed the gate and then headed down the ridge between some hay bales and then moved around the northern edge of the swamp separating the woods from the barns. This time I made sure there were no bulls around. Normally on very warm days the cattle crossed the creek and stayed along the wood line on the southern edge of the hay fields.

By the time I reached the swampy waters, the ground became very uneven and I had to be careful when placing my boots down not to twist an ankle. I slowed my pace right down and began still-hunting up the western ridge toward the large group of rocks on my right. My plan was to keep as low as I could so that the woodchuck would not see me coming up over the crest and this would lead me to the right hand side of the largest boulder.

I was able to make my way to the forest edge and tuck myself under the famous tall pine and kneel down behind some rocks. I now had two choices, take a twenty meter shot from under the tree at the woodchuck once it stuck its head out or attempt to close the gap for a closer shot and maybe even come in from behind.

I chose the second choice as it was the more challenging of the two, still-hunting and being able to sneak up on your game without it spotting you is quite rewarding indeed. So, I loaded my 870 with a single shell and stood up very slowly and starting stalking toward the boulder on leveled ground.

I waited for the woodchuck to come out and stop, he was about half way out of the den, he was not moving out any further. The woodchuck could sense that there was something around because when I was more than two hundred meters away, he had come right out and was sun bathing on the top of the large rock.

The forest edge was on my left and the grass around the woodchucks den was knee-high, I was being very careful to walk on the edge of my boots and slowly pushing down on the grass and looking to see if there were small branches that I could avoid. I slowed my breathing right down and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.

I made it within six meters and the woodchuck finally spotted me and sunk back into his hole but he did not go very deep, because he started to thump and whistle and this went on for about ten minutes or so. Therefore I decided to take a closer look and came around the front of the den and see down into the hole.

He was down there alright because the thumping sound was very clear, and he was not going to come out until I was far enough away. So, I turned around and headed back to the large pine and planned on sitting and waiting it out. By the time I got back to the large pine and got down with a clear western view of the boulder the thumping and whistling had ceased but there were still some bugs hanging around the den entrance.

Sometimes what I like to do is find a large rock and sit on it, so that I am elevated off the ground this way I am sure not to cause any vibrations or sounds on the forest floor or ground thus alerting the woodchucks. I must have waited a good twenty minutes or so and I kept a watchful eye around me the whole time but mainly on the large boulder and the den entrance.

To my south there was a small slope leading to the swamp and between us there was another large group of rocks. I wanted to make sure the cattle were still on the southern fields across the creek, so that they would not come between me and the barns on my way back and this is when I noticed “tick bag”. He was standing right up on his two hind legs and was keeping watch on me. It was indeed tick bag lookin’ the shape of his head and the reflection of the sun on his fur made him look like a rock.

I immediately turned around took my 870 off safe and began my slow stalk down the small slope to that rock formation. Tick bag, did not move and then he skipped on his two hind legs and started to thump, let out another whistle and darted under the biggest rock which looked like a large vertical dagger just above this hole.

I came around its left and in behind the third and fourth rock which was part of this rock fortress. I managed to sneak up from behind just like the farmer had done in the past and was able to line up my bead sight with the nape of the woodchuck who was inching out to check if I was still to its north or my right. This hole was deep and in the vertical and I did not have another chance for a second shot, if I missed or just wounded the chuck, tick bag would disappear underground.

I was now crouched over in a perfect shooting position with the 870 sitting tightly in my shoulder; I slowly raised the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Vlam! The shot rang out and once the dust settled the woodchuck lay very still under the large dagger like rock.

I removed the woodchuck from the den then placed the rocks back into a safe position blocking the hole, so that the cattle could not come near it. I then layed the woodchuck on its back so that it was resting on a patch of fresh grass allowing me to inspect its size while using my hunting knife to raise it front legs. And noticed its chest was full of ticks and fleas. He was without a doubt a tick bag and he sure was lookin’ right at me. One thing I have learned while hunting woodchuck is that there will always be an escape or spy hole, and if they can -they will be watching you too, so do not just focus on the one den once you’ve spotted the woodchuck but constantly check all the nearby holes and sometimes look right into the woods near the forest floor if the den is close to its edge.

There is one thing that is clear -the’re are always eyes on you when you are hunting.

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Quick Tom

The truck drove slowly up the long dirt road between the north and south-western hay fields carefully avoiding the mud holes. The creaking sounds of the suspension faded into the country music that was playing low on the radio. Once we reached our spot, the driver put it into park and stopped at the top of the eastern ridge on the forest edge.

It had been raining for a few hours now and the temperature was starting to drop at about six degrees Celsius, we had lowered our windows, so that we could hear the nightly sounds and hopefully get a gobble or an owl hoot. I then carefully swung my door open, stepped out into the mud and moved my way to the back to the truck, unzipped my hunting bag and grabbed my crow caller.

It had been dark for about thirty minutes now and we were slowly sinking further into darkness. I cupped my hands around my mouth and started with a few owl calls and then waited a few minutes, then called again with my crow caller. This went on for a few minutes and would stop, listening with my hands cupped around my ears, and then I would start calling again. I was anticipating a call back from a gobbler but instead I heard crickets, geese from the lake nearby and some other nocturnal animals. The farmer had said that the field on our left was full of turkeys during the week and so we were attempting to find their roost.

After a few failed attempts, we packed up and made our way back to the cabin for the night. It was going to be a short sleep because we wanted to be back on site about half an hour before sunrise in order to get the best setup. Since I had not located the roost, we decided that in the morning we were going to still-hunt along the edge of the fields just like Ray Eye had done in his book. You must exercise a great deal of discipline while moving through the woods and fields, know your terrain, be patient as well as have a good eye.

Turkeys can hear and see extremely well and it is absolutely critical that you know and understand the game you are pursuing.

It was now five in the morning and I awoke to some nice song birds. Within minutes we had eaten breakfast, which was a few pieces of toast and a cold glass of milk, and then we loaded the gear into truck and drove back to the very same spot. My good friend was carrying my decoys in a bag, along with green mosquito netting for cover. I had my Quaker Boy slate caller around my neck, a set of binoculars and my pump-action Remington 870.

The hunt was on and we were extremely excited, we slowly moved our way east through some copse of trees between the east and western fields and as we broke the forest edge two deer leapt into the tree line to our right and disappeared. We decided to go up the left hand side of the field north-east of the truck and then cut across about half way through as there was a crest in the field leading to a point which offered a great shooting spot.

As we slowly made our way up the forested edge of the third field, I went down on one knee and completed Wade Bourne’s Fly down Cackle hitting my hat against the tree bark and boy it sounded authentic.

I must have alerted some animals nearby because within an instant of finishing my call a coyote came trotting along the field to our right and then when he saw us he disappeared just as fast as the two does. We did however find his meal left over’s which was a porcupine carcass. Several minutes had gone by and now after having seen some wildlife our senses were set to high gear and then almost every dark object in the fields looked like an animal.

We must have taken around forty more steps and had stopped by a pile of logs when my friend tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to our left. We instantly took a knee and stared at the large black mark in the center of the field down in the low ground. As we looked on, I noticed that it was lifting and lowering its head but it was too far out to make out what it was. I whispered “It looks like a coyote” but my friend was not so sure, so I handed him my binoculars and he focused on the animal. He was several hundred yards away down in the low ground. Behind him was a beautiful valley and on its crest there were very large trees mixed with pine and aspen, oak and birch.

To his north there was a very large hay-field and a small lake behind some more trees which formed a sort of barrier between the two features. To his south there was another field and it was on its southern edge where my point and best shooting spot was located. By the time my friend handed me the binoculars to have a look, he had already whispered back that it was a very large tom and he had a huge smile on his face. It seems that my calls had worked and he was spreading his wings in a feathered dance then moving slowly into the direction of my calls. He was all alone with no other turkeys in sight.

We kept very low and slowly moved back toward the southern edge and decided to place the two decoys twenty-five yards from the brush. My friend walked back to the logs some thirty yards to the west providing me with a safe and wide shooting arc. Ideally, I needed to be further east on the point but I could no longer move as the tom was closing in on my decoys and would have instantly seen me.

I tucked myself into the bushes on the edge of the forest my back facing south with my decoys slightly to my left to the west about fifteen yards out. I carefully placed my Remington 870 aiming directly to my front and lifted my slate caller and let out a few cutts, yelps and purrs. I would then lift my binoculars, look for the tom’s position and reaction.

At first I could see him moving toward me but then he would fade into the low ground, and I thought to myself “Damn! He saw me.” Then I would see this very long neck pop up like a submarine periscope and then disappear again behind the grassy knoll. It was quite comical. What I found very neat is that he never once communicated with me, not even a few clucks or a gobble.

There was one thing which was clear and this is that this tom was quick and he was in a hurry to see my hen decoys. He was now fifty yards out to my right, I had tucked myself away into a ball and pulled my camouflage hood over my head, I looked like a Real Tree bush with just my eyes moving, he was moving quickly but cautiously towards my two decoys. He would complete another feather dance which was just breath-taking and you could see his beard dragging along the ground. He would then tuck his head back in and move forward a few more steps, then stop and move yet again.

My heart was racing like crazy and I kept on going through my shot scenarios and wanted to insure I chose the best time to take my shot, so I waited for him to walk directly to my front, I slowly raised my Remington 870 and unlocked the safety using the slow push technique which Wade Bourne had shown on his video. It made no sound at all, took my breaths and when he was twenty-five yards out, I lined up my bead sight with his head and neck and let out a shot of number four.

It struck him by surprise and made him jump into a winged frenzy, I instantly leapt out of the bushes and while on my second step toward the bird I fired a second shot. Upon the second impact he spun around and the twenty-three pound beast fell to the ground. I had just harvested my turkey on the second day of this year’s season and it was all over in less than two hours. Brilliant!

I may never meet Wade Bourne, Ray Eye and Preston Pittman in my lifetime but they were all present during my hunt. Thank you!

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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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