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Posts Tagged ‘small game’


The waterfowl season duration in the province of Quebec is just shy of four months long, roughly from early September to almost Christmas. But it doesn’t mean that as soon as the season is over and you drop your gear that you need to stop thinking about waterfowl for the rest of the year.

After all this is one of the main reasons for my blog’s existence, on the contrary you keep on learning by observing all year-long. And in some cases keep on hunting other smaller game like pigeons and crows both are hunted using the same skills and techniques.

Every day while driving to work I go by several farming fields and watch the geese fly in during the early morning hours from the safety of the river where they spent the night.

One thing that never changes in their physical behaviour, is that they always pick the middle ground, right dead center of every field. This is indeed a perfect choice, and in every sense of the choice it is provides a clear view of any danger coming in for the spotter geese and also a large landing area as well as plenty of food.

I love hunting geese from my kayak, canoe or from a blind. But I also enjoy the challenge of stalking them like a human fox. But usually the numbers in harvest are not as great as if you were in a blind.

For the stalking method, I start on the edge of the field and move my way in and get all covered up with my Real Tree jacket and gloves and lay down flat on my belly and crawl as close as I can to the birds, once in position I snap to my knees and send them into flight and attempt to harvest them.

Knowing where they land and how they setup in the middle ground allows me to study the ground and have a successful stalk and potentially a harvest.

I don’t own enough decoys yet to set up in the field with a decoy spread but if I did, the middle ground is where I would potentially be setup for my blind or in a surrounding zone aiming toward the center.

I love the summer but I can’t wait until September!

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The sun was high in the sky and it was simply a beautiful drive out to the farm with only a slight breeze coming in from the West. The truck slowly made its way up the dirt road like it has a hundred times. During the spring time though I had to carefully manoeuvre the steering wheel, so that the tires did not veer off forcing the truck into the mud fields to the East. The pre-existing tire tracks had two miniature creeks developing right down the middle of each one from the melting snow, this made it a delicate drive. At the main gate of the farm, the electric fence had already been opened, making it a little easier to get to my favorite parking spot.

This was also indicative that the cows were out in the field and not sitting around the main barn, this was positive. When I get to the farm, I always like to know the cattle whereabouts because they can impact the choice of a shot or not, especially when hunting rock dove. Too close is a no go for a shot.

Rock doves can fly in and adjust their flight path to their entry spot into the landing zone. They are always checking for potential danger and maneuvering accordingly. For example if I am standing by the main gate with my orange hunting vest and they spot me, they will circle in from the North and come in from the forest edge using the cover to mask their approach for the landing. Rock doves can fly in straight overhead or often circle in from either side from where you are standing completing wide arcs.

I like to try to harvest them while high in flight or when they are really close to the ground. About an hour had passed since I got to the farm and I was already walking along the edge of the forest when I came upon an old kitchen chair. I fixed the back rest placed it near a large tree and sat down for a few minutes. It was heavenly and I was taking in the view of the valley and low ground of the farm and also watching the cattle graze. When you take the time to observe cattle, you realize how remarkable they truly are as animals.

While sitting and looking out a thought crossed my mind. I told myself, I just have to be patient and maybe the rock doves will come back as they had flown away while I was sneaking through the woods earlier. Speaking from experience, it is more challenging for a young hunter to stalk the pigeons and take shots for a harvest, but it can also be done using patience and concealment, just sitting and waiting. Very similar to duck hunting, you can walk and flush them or you can set up and sit by the edge of the swamp and the ducks will eventually fly in and offer a shot. Sure enough two rock doves came in, looped around over head and I just sat very still and waited.

Once they circled directly in front of me to the south, I waited for the first one to come within two feet of the ground and I released my shot. He fell into the mud and small feathers floated into the air at the point of impact. I was pleased with my first harvest of the day and was anxious to go pick him up. I cleared my Remington 870, stood up and made my way toward my harvest, I carefully stepped over the electric fence which was just about waist high and climbed over. I walked for about another four meters and all of a sudden my boots hit a slippery spot and up I went. It all happened lightning quick. I was in a horizontal position almost still in the air with my back facing the ground and then I came down hard and landed on my full right hand side.

I was completely soaked in a soup of mud, urine, water, cow manure and hay. I could not believe it, this was my first fall in a long time and I was drenched in cow soup. After a good loud laugh and a quick check over for injuries, I got up and just like a cow getting a good scratch on the barn walls, I walked along one of the old barns and rubbed the gunk off my clothing as best I could.

I had my first harvest alright for the day but I also had a manure filled soup to go with it!

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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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There was a light snow fall in effect for my late afternoon walk back from work today. The scenery was stunning and the sun was only minutes from setting for the night, when all of a sudden I was pleasantly surprised by a cottontail rabbit on my pathway. He stood there for a few seconds and then hopped away back into the spruce bushes nearby leaving behind him the classic two dot tracks at the back combined with the two longer hind legs prints at the front in the direction that he was heading.

As a small game hunter I take great pleasure in seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and can spend hours observing them. What I find even more interesting is that this was only my second cottontail sighting in several months.

During last year`s small game season I did not harvest any snowshoe hares or cottontail which is quite unusual as I generally harvest one or two in a season. This is not exceptional numbers I agree but one thing to keep in mind is that I hunt quite often alone and with no dogs.  This season I was convinced that I was experiencing a decrease in numbers due to their natural life cycle for the area where I hunt.

Most books I have read mention this infamous ten-year cycle for rabbit and hare populations but based on my time spent in the field it seems more like a five-year cycle. This year while out on my waterfowl hunts at my favorite woodlands spot, I saw two red foxes and it had been well over five years, since I had seen any in the area, to me this is indicative that there must be food in the area. Could the lagomorphs’ population be on the rise again?

I will be hitting the woods in the next few weeks for pigeon, mourning dove and snowshoe hare; if a harvest is not a confirmation of my findings then I will need to continue my natural research, which I will gladly do since it is our passion. I have a good feeling; now let me reach for my rabbit foot.

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The cold enveloped me like a blanket as a strong breeze blew in from the south through the trees making sounds similar to that of distant whispers of the men that have passed before me in these dark wintery woods. I was all alone. My boots were crushing through the thin crust of snow and then sinking into the cold waters of the creek below; I was alive in this Canadian wilderness stalking the elusive hare.

Following their leads, I was pushing deeper into the darkness. Then suddenly to the south, I saw white and silver flashes in the sky through the cedar. Just in front of me were fifteen wild turkeys foraging for food through the snow, but to them I was invisible, having stalked within meters.

I was hoping to see the dark eyes of a snowshoe hare staring right at me amidst the evergreens, but now my curiosity was drawn to the flashes in the sky which turned out to be five rock doves. They circled several times and finally landed in the dead tree just twenty meters away. My left hand was cradling the cold steel of my great uncles break-open Iver Johnson sixteen gauge shotgun. My right hand having just adjusted my tuque which got caught in a low branch was now moving toward the pocket of my orange vest in order to grab a #6 paper shell.

Now that my focus was on the Rock doves, I had to figure out how to move further south to get into the best position to harvest a bird. I wanted to get a safe shooting position as to not hit any wild turkeys because they were out of season. There was a large broken tree just ahead and a large rock formation behind me. If I passed around the front of the tree, they would surely see me and fly off, so I had to make my way around the north side without breaking off any small branches coming out of the log.

Any sound or sudden movement would send them into flight. After several minutes of hard work, I was now in a good spot for taking a shot, angled just a few feet above the horizon directly in line with the large branches that they were resting on.

I loaded the shell which slid right into the chamber and then swivelled the gun shut, bought it up to my shoulder and then with my right thumb pulled back on the hammer. With my cheek pushed up against the comb, I lined up the bead sight and released my shot. The whole forest instantly came to life, the turkeys flew in every direction and the pigeons pushed off toward the south, except for the bird I chose.

Time seemed to have slowed down and the pigeon puffed open toward the sun, spread its wings and floated down like a parachute along with the snow flakes to the surface of the snow on the ground. I opened my mouth to exhale and as my breath condensed into a mist I could taste the smell of the old paper shell which had just been fired, awakening moments of past hunts by previous generations.

The rock doves circled around yet again and came right back to another dead tree to the east. The woods were silent once again.

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It has only been a short while now yet time still feels incredibly strange. Just a few hours ago I was driving into a hidden part of Mexico. What an amazing country! I found myself driving through dangerous mountain roads, heading deep into the arid mountain jungles and for a moment I was re-living my childhood all over again in Central Africa.

Here I was still in the Americas but when I closed my eyes, I felt this incredible bond with the land and its people. The connection intensity was identical to the energy that is felt when the African continent gets its claws piercing into your soul. You never want to leave.

When I am out in the Canadian wilderness practicing our beloved sport, I live something powerful, a sense of pride in being a Canadian outdoors-man, it is raw. It is like I breathe the same air that Samuel Hearn took in.

My day trip into the jungle was set on visiting a coffee factory and there I met one of the founders son’s, it was very interesting to see the harvesting and processing of coffee but what also caught my eye was an amazing piece of history on their wall. It was his grand father’s hand made black powder shotgun that he used for small game.

He told me it was used for hunting pigeon in the jungle; no need to write more the connection was sealed.

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My woodchuck woodburn

My woodchuck wood-burn

The groundhog numbers this summer at the farm have almost been non-existent with only two harvests recorded so far.

Last year I harvested close to eleven groundhogs and I know that this has had an impact on the overall population in the area; also if we take into consideration disease during hibernation when the parasites attach themselves to the groundhog before they go into their dens for the winter months or if the animal hasn’t stored enough fat it starves.

On my property alone, I removed five and now the only young single groundhog from this spring, is very cautious and only comes out to eat in short periods of time and also later in the evening which is not usual behavior.

If he was part of last years family, then there is a possibility that similarly to crows their awareness of danger is passed down through the genes and learned in the field no pun intended.

So, when I got to the farm and started to still-hunt, my skills would have to aid me in my search of the groundhogs.

They were no longer in the open at their ordinary times taking in sun rays. Neither were they found near their dens but instead they were using the tree line and rock formations just meters inside the forest to use as cover.

I started my way into the western field but had to wait until the cattle crossed over to the south before I could push further west. I then worked my way southeast and parallel to edge of the woods.

It was extremely hot and my sweat was dripping off my forehead like a tap, drinking was so important but also taking breaks. The bugs were also harassing me and my hat came in very handy, not only against the sun.

I finally reached the far side of the field and found the rock formation stone cold with no groundhog in site. I scanned the edge of the woods and this is when my eyes caught some movement up near the base of a tree.

It was lightning quick, I froze in my spot and waited for more movement, if groundhogs are alerted, they will whistle then run and hide either in deep brush to find and escape hole or dart directly for the den but they will come back out if they think that the danger is no longer present. Normally, in small steps and they might even thump their paws and let out sharp whistles, almost like there are provoking the potential danger in order to get a reaction as well as alerting others.

So, I waited patiently and sure enough he came out from hiding but this time he was in the high ground on my left or south. He was moving in an out of the grass and disappearing momentarily in the dark green vegetation, even though he was visible, he was not in a safe shooting position because of the large rocks behind him and a barn on the right.

I chose to wait and this is when the groundhog jumped up on a log and ran along it in short bursts, stopping to check for danger, his nostrils were moving very quickly. I did not move an inch, I waited for him to move further along the log to the east and then I swung around at the same time then got into perfect alignment with his vitals with a well-chosen back stop of solid dirt.

He was indeed the log runner, I took my rifle off safe, fired and released a single shot, it was my third harvest and one varmint less for the farmer.

 

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