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There I was kneeling on the cold forest floor, with my feet neatly tucked away. It reminded me of a child’s sitting position when they are playing with their favourite childhood toy. Amidst their imagination, there they sit for hours and are only surrounded by the calming environment of their own.

I slowly raised my head and took in a deep breath and absorbed my surrounding, there was a mixture of swampy air with a slight touch of the cedar and pine from the nearby vegetation along with some rotting logs sitting in the mud.

To my left I had my shotgun shell pouch zipped closed, along with my binoculars laying on the wet wild grass and to my right, was my cold steel Remington 870. The workhorse of my many hunts.

I live here now in this moment but deep down, I have a deep connection with the land around me and know that I could have been born in a time of the past. Sometimes, when I browse vintage black and white photos of hunters, either from my family heritage or from other great Canadian tales, I believe that I can share their emotions and stories that they captured in that very moment the photograph was taken and in a sense relive their experiences, such as the disappointments and successes of their hunts.

In the cold dark waters to my front were two mallard drakes and three wood ducks swimming around quite a distance out, too far for a clear shot. I sat there patiently to see if they would move closer to the edge of the swamp, but my experience had taught me that if there are ducks, always assume they are more than the eyes can see.

I carefully repositioned myself for a better look at the ducks moving around the eastern side of the pine tree that I was using as cover and noticed something white flash on my left, it turns out it was a group of about fifteen Canada geese dabbling in the water, all silent like ghosts.

They quickly became my main focus, I picked up my 870 loaded three shells, two “BB” and one number three, then half unzipped my pouch for quick access to more shells without the danger of them falling out during my approach. I was so excited that it practically took the breath right out of me, which was not a good thing for the physical work I was going be doing over the next few minutes.

I pushed off my feet and got onto my hands and knees and started to move north through the mud around very small brush like a fox using stealth, until the vegetation got too low at which time I had to leopard crawl through the mud, carefully placing my 870 ahead then lifting my body off the forest floor in a plank movement and move over logs and around small bushes. My goal was to get as close as I could to the edge of the water without alerting the spotter geese.

I might have only covered a distance no more than twenty meters but my lungs were going to burst and it felt as if I had sprinted the whole length of a football field. Once it position, I stood up on one knee and took the group by surprise and let off two shots into the closest birds. Unfortunately the birds were not as close to the edge as I had wished and my shots were not as effective as I would have liked. The flock burst into flight as I pumped my last shell into the chamber to release my final shot before a reload. One of the largest birds who took some shot from my first release was wounded and attempted to fly to the east with two others and I took just enough lead with my full choke and released the shot and the goose plunged into the waters below.

With all the commotion the ducks burst into flight and headed north-west. It took me a while to recover my goose harvest as the swamp was so dirty and full of rough vegetation. I had to retrace my shot from the shoreline and follow the white feather trail in the water to find the goose.

I was hoping to harvest a duck or two as well but for now there were all gone. I have learned that over time, that when you are setup in your blind on the edge of the water sometimes it seems that ducks will not alway show up unless you setup decoys combined with calling. Or simply luck, will dictate if they fly and land in front of you.

It is not uncommon for me to leave the shoreline and go back to the barn or truck to take a break away from the water’s edge almost like I am pretending to leave and more often than none the ducks will fly back in. Sometimes you won’t even see them from a distance and when you get back to the shore there are more mallards and wood ducks.

The mallards always seem to have better sight on you moving in close, where as the wood ducks you have to be quite visible for them to fly off. Usually followed by a few whistles and then a fast burst flight.

So, following my break, I setup a little closer to the edge of the water and within minutes a female wood duck flew in right in front of me coming in for a low landing, I instantly released a single shot and got my second harvest of the day.

I may not have achieved my bag limit but it was another incredible end of day full of memories that will never grow old, nor will I tire of sneaking up to the famed Canada goose “the feathered fox” as one author put it.

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The sky was filled with majestic dark clouds, it gave you the impression that I was going to be swallowed into the darkness of the night but it was only four in the afternoon and I had several hours ahead of me in the wetlands. The sun would break through between the clouds and their edges would then turn bright orange like they were burning, the colors all around me would change, the shadows became very clear and then as soon as it changed just like a wave it turned back to its yellows and browns once the sun was hidden again.

I sat in my truck for some time before my hunt was going to start, then took a few deep breaths, said a prayer and asked the powers that be for a great hunt. I was a very happy man. My experience has taught me that if you go out thinking your going try hard to harvest something, it will not happen, you have no control over nature. You have to use your knowledge and let things happen and if an opportunity presents itself then you must grasp that slice of time.

The sights and smells in the wetlands, would render any man humble and make them realize how small we are in this world. The endless isolated dark waters and the tall grass grow in a dangerous maze. We will come and go, but nature will always be there with its creatures and be so powerful as it is.

I dragged my kayak out of the truck bed, rigged up my gear, climbed into my waders and headed off down the muddy trail; my boots were instantly sucked into the mud which then released the swamp smell after each step. It was very slippery and at times, I would pull my boat onto the grass to facilitate the drag.

The water levels this year are very low in the wetlands, forcing me to work my way down the trail to the deeper waters several hundred meters away. Even with the rain we have had in the recent days it hasn’t helped and this makes paddling quite a chore through the weeds.

I placed my shotgun at the ready state with the safe on in its front mount of the kayak and then I pulled the boat through the swamp grass and weeds until I sank into my hips and then I would climb into the boat and push-off with my paddle once it was too deep. Every time I do this, I think of the scene in the movie “African Queen”, it is extremely hard work and requires an incredible amount of physical strength. The weeds wrap themselves around my paddle like a spider web and it makes it very difficult to move as well as exhausting, it is a battle to make it to the deeper waters.

Moments later I am floating through the tall grass, sneaking in and out of the waterways flushing wood ducks and green winged teal. I feel a sudden rush of freedom, the kayak gives me the ability to get within meters of the blue herons and they only burst into flight once I am just feet away, this is exactly the skill I am using with ducks.

Right now the birds I see the most are, green and blue winged teal, wood ducks and Canada Geese, the mallards and black ducks are not as present.

Teal are incredible birds, flying very low and unimaginably fast, unlike mallards or black ducks they remind me of fighter jets, moving in formation with lightning speed. Any gunner who is able to take one down in flight has my instant respect; it takes quick movements and precision shooting and the ability to interpret the birds.

I paddled up and down the north-eastern side of the marsh, winding through grassy canals, flushing ducks. Sometimes I would stop paddling allowing myself to coast along and then stop inside a patch of tall swamp grass and wait several minutes, almost like an instant blind configuration.

Then if there were no ducks, I would move again. My kayak is so stable, I can switch from sitting in the boat to flipping onto my knees, which provides a better shooting base and I can also rotate for harder angled shots.

On my way back to the east, I paddled a few more stokes and then on my right a green winged teal burst into flight, she then turned in mid-air and started maneuvering, through the cat tail which was shaped like of canyon. The teal was going to disappear into this water canal and I only had milliseconds to release my shot, I dropped my paddle that is rigged with bungee cord and carabiners so I do not lose it; shouldered my shotgun, pushed it off safe, angled my body to the left then fired my shot.

There is a reason why the wetlands call me back and it is not just the wildlife, I am unable to put it into words, you have to experience it.

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This is a painting of my first duck hunt for the 2011 season. The techniques, I wish to improve on this year are the following:  Try to stay very still and wait for the ducks to come in much lower, before I take my shots.

I also want to improve my accuracy and aiming technique when taking a shot at a duck in flight, using the half bead aim & shot. Here is what it is: Aim your shotgun at the duck in flight, provide them with sufficient lead and aim your shotgun bead sight right at the bird then bring it down to about half the bead width. If this is done right, then your cloud of shot has a better chance to scatter and hit the bird. It worked for me last year and I hope to harvest as many ducks and geese as I did last year.

My tip for this post is the following: If you are sitting still by the water in the early morning hours and you can hear the ducks moving in while you are trying to spot them. Do not limit yourself to one specific visual area, look all around you, do not lose focus, be constantly aware and at the ready.

On this hunt, I had ducks flying in from the woods behind me to the east and from the large pond in front of me coming in from the north. Remember when hunting with other waterfowlers; give yourselves enough distance between each other and offer respect and courtesy.

Have a great season & safe hunting!

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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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I was standing very still with my binoculars surveying the low ground over on the eastern field, trying to find any early signs of woodchuck presence. I set out to the farm shortly after lunch knowing that the groundhogs preferred to come out and move later in the afternoon. The wind was blowing hard in a north-easterly direction and the low dark clouds moved quickly through the sky and caused the field to change color. The spots where there was fresh dirt turned over or where a broken fence post lay played visual tricks on your eyes.

The air was chilled and the temperature was at about plus two degrees Celsius, the weather station had predicted about two centimeters of snow and this definitely was not ideal weather for the chucks. But I had seen about four others in nearby fields located at the other farms. As soon as it started to snow, the ice pellets started bouncing off the mud and the car parked on the side of the road, the sky got dark quite fast.

I had no choice but to sit and wait it out until the sky cleared. Twenty minutes had passed and the sun finally broke though. Still no sign of the woodchucks and I did not blame them especially with this weather being so un-predictable.  So, I decided to turn my focus on the Red Wing black birds and Rock Doves.

The farmer had scattered some grain for his cattle along with a few hay bales and this had drawn in a flock of Red wing black birds; this presented a fun challenge as they can be a difficult bird to harvest because they are easily alarmed and they travel in flocks so if you startle one bird they all disperse.

On the southern field and its northern side of the creek, were three old barns where I had harvested one of my first woodchucks of last summer. The first two barns were smaller and bunched together with only a few meters apart resting on the slope but the third barn was about thirty meters away and closer to the creek on leveled ground near the forest’s south-western edge.

The pigeons, red wing black birds along with robins and starlings were all gathered in the flooded field to the south of the third barn. So, I decided to descend the southern ridge and move my way along the electrical fence between the first two barns and begin a very slow and muddy stalk to the third barn towards the birds.

Earlier in the afternoon I had noticed the cattle were still feeding on the north side of the western field which was connected to the southern field with no fence separating the two. If you were to include the eastern hay field combined they would create a “U” shape around the main farming complex. As a general rule and as a question of respect, I always kept a safe distance from the cattle especially since they had several new calves this year and I was quite aware that this could change the whole dynamics of my current situation.

As I carefully stalked toward the third barn, I was constantly keeping watch for the larger bulls that were part of the drift of cattle. I made sure; I was stepping on solid ground and not sinking into the mud and always watching up the ridge to my right. The only time I did not have control over my position was between the second and third barn. So as I approached the western side of the second barn and made my way over a worn out wired fence. I positioned myself so that I could see the eastern side of the third barn to my front, the creek to my left and on my right the southern edge of the western field where the mob of cattle were feeding.

After several minutes of hard stalking I was now inching into position, and the birds were now within shooting distance lined up in my sights. Unknown to me for the first few seconds, I was also being stalked and considered a moving target. My right eye caught some movement and when I turned my head, I found myself face to face with a two thousand pound bull and he was only forty meters away.

He had seen me come down the ridge on his left and he had subsequently moved in parallel into the middle of the field were there was a slight depression and caused him to disappear momentarily; from there he could protect his drove of cattle and calves.

We were both looking right at each other and for those who thought cattle can not see very well; I just proved it they sure can. He lowered his head and was swinging it aggressively left to right letting out these incredible huffs that came from deep within the beast. He had this thick white saliva dropping out of its nose and from around its mouth and I can assure you it did not take me long to get the message. Just like in the Spanish Corrida de Torros, he dug his front legs into the fresh mud and lifted large chunks of dirt and then would lower his head into the mud and rub the saliva into the ground.

The charge was coming but I had anticipated this and only had six meters to cover back to the second barn or a fifty meter dash to the tree line to the west, so I slowly moved backward to the northern side of the barn and took cover behind the old wired fence and made my way back around the first barn and then behind the electrical fence.

Once I showed the bull, my intentions were to stay clear and move away, he just locked his eyes on me and continued to move large chucks of dirt under his hooves, letting out huffs and puffs.

I finally circled the bull from the east behind the protection of the electrical fence, and then I talked to him in a gentle voice complementing him on the way he protected his drove. He was an absolute stunning bull, pure black, the true definition of power and I will never forget his huffing and puffing, it was so deep like a fog horn and it made every bone in my body shake.

Awareness is so important during any hunt.

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I was now lying on my back, my upper body propped up slightly by the seat in my layout blind with my Remington 870 resting by my side. The ammunition boxes were neatly stowed by my right thigh along with my camera and digital recorder. The sky was filled with a bright reddish pink color and the sun was now slowly rising.

There had been a slight snow fall mixed with isolated showers between two and four in the morning and the temperature was now one degree Celsius but the sky was beginning to clear with very little clouds. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing; since we had now lost some of our cover. After all concealment was a key factor toward our success that we could not leave out.
 
We had just spent the last hour setting up hundreds of decoys in the shape of a large tear drop along with our digital callers. And it was now time for a rest and wait for the guide’s queue. I must admit, I was so filled with anticipation the night before that I only slept for an hour or so therefore I took advantage of these precious few minutes to get some shuteye.

So I laid back and shut my layout blind flaps and stared directly into the sky through the mesh, took a few deep breaths then shut my eyes. Once in a while I would open them and a have a look at the vast sky. I would spot a few Canada Geese flying in at about two hundred feet and then land in the field to the south. At first it was a gaggle of six or so birds, then twenty but within a few minutes as the sun got warmer the numbers increased to the hundreds.

The goose calls intensified as the morning went on and soon the sound broke the early silence, and with this so did their numbers almost to the point where I could no longer hear the coyote calls from the field to the east. Goose calls could drive a man mad if they were to be exposed to the sound over several days.

I slowly turned my head to the left and stared at the farm-house over a kilometer away to the North West. I could see a very faint dark cloud, it was drawn out over the silo and then over the forest on the northern edge of the farm field. It did not take long, and then eventually the entire horizon was teeming with these dark clouds some in the distinct “V” shape, others made up of a series of overlapping “V” shapes.

I was wordless and electrified, we now had thousands of birds flying some three hundred feet above us and some were starting to circle and call back to our decoys and callers. I took a quick glance to the north-east and noticed this winged vortex; it spanned from the top of the tree line to several hundred feet in the air, I was dazed. It was as large as a cumulonimbus cloud.

As the birds would turn into the sun this black cloud would become instant white and the effect was extremely hypnotic. It was the famed snow goose. Some of the bird’s right above us were now circling over head like vultures and dropping altitude tucking in their wings just like ducks. I would compare their aerial dance to someone who was stepping into a hot bath pointing the ball of their feet into the boiling water as if they were testing the temperature.

Once convinced, a few more birds would drop and circle yet again now just a few hundred feet above us. I could feel my heart wanting to burst, I felt so focused, and it was like living a dream, it seemed so unreal. Then a smaller gaggle of seven birds turned aggressively and dropped down some more now their wings were turned inward and very tight to the bodies floating directly into our shooting arcs.

As soon as they were in range the guide called out and our flaps opened with lightning speed the first volley of shells rang out and our first two white wing black tips dropped in the field.

If you are willing to see, the great migration has a lot to teach us.

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