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Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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I don’t know about you but when ever I come back from a hunt, all I want to do is share my experiences in great detail to my family and friends. Even if sometimes they may be pretending to be interested but are not really listening, as long as they say “Really” or “Neat” once is a while that works for me. After all not everyone understands hunting.

When I post a hunting story of mine on my blog, I want the readers to be there and share the experience with me, breathing in the fresh air, being surrounded by the elements. Now imagine yourself learning about turkey hunting at its best and yet at the same time feeling that you are also right there with the author.

This is the way Ray Eye’s book on practical turkey hunting is written. Being a turkey hunter and having successfully called in several Tom’s in various weather conditions, this book is awesome and the strategies are extremely practical.

I only have five chapters left and I find it very difficult to put the book down. Throughout the chapters, Ray demonstrates his true character and his perseverance to learn and master the art of turkey calling and hunting starting from a very young age. He is without a doubt a seasoned veteran and a well-respected turkey hunter. 

The book: Practical Turkey Hunting Strategies: How to Hunt Effectively Under Any Conditions is a must read. Ray has been very generous in sharing his knowledge. I can not wait for the spring turkey hunt to start now and add his flavor to my hunt.

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Opening in the Woods

Opening in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In one of my previous blog entries titled “Double Edge Sword” I wrote about the differences between necessities and wanting, when it pertains to purchasing equipment for small game hunting. It is about asking yourself the following question before you make a purchase. Is it something you really want for hunting or something you need?

This is not because you are being cheap but rather because hunting equipment can add up very quickly. One important point that I must mention is that if you are starting in the sport, there will be initial costs just like buying a home. But the neat part is that once you have your clothing, hardware and accessories, you can start adding to it and improve it constantly. This is also very fun!

For me the right handling of a double edge sword is finding a balance within your budget so that you do not cut yourself financially. Hunting rifles or shotguns, clothing, ammunition and permits are necessities that must be acquired. It is also about being comfortable, well equipped and enjoying the sport without over spending on unnecessary accessories and supplies.

The question often comes up “How much does a small game hunter spend on equipment?” We should also ask: How much does the necessary equipment cost for small game hunters?

In response to these questions I have decided to break down some costs looking at the necessities and show you how much I have spent in Canadian dollars. In my case I already own a bolt-action rifle which cost about $150 dollars in 1962, but today you can easily spend a couple hundred dollars depending on the model and if you wish to add a scope. My Remington 870, which is my versatile work horse cost me $400 dollars and it allows me to save money because there is no longer a need for a different gun for each type of small game you hunt.

Ammunition does not need to be expensive either, I can get a box of fifty rounds for less than $15 dollars for my .22 bolt-action rifle . For my 870, I can buy a box of #6 shot for under $25 dollars.

My first pair of hunting boots cost me $200 dollars but I got a second pair of NAT’s boots just under $80 dollars. They are ultra light and waterproof and come with its own repair kit in the event of tear.

For a resident of Quebec your small game permit cost $18.83 effective Sept 2, 2012  (2017-2018 is now $24.58). If you are hunting on Crown land it is free but if you hunt in a SEPAQ park like me it can cost you around $18 dollars for a day hunt.

Now for clothing, my hunting pants cost me about $150 dollars and my hunting jacket which is considered a 6-in-1 system cost me $200 dollars. Having said this I also purchased a second hunting jacket for friends when they come out with me at discount store for $20 dollars. If they wear layers using long johns and thermals worth about $40 dollars it is just as warm as the very expensive jackets.

When I go on a one day hunting trip it normally cost me between $20-$40 in gas and about $20 dollars in food.

Costs will also be affected depending on the time of year that you hunt as you may require specialized kit such as snowshoes.

So how much do small game hunters spend on hunting equipment? The answer to the question is, it depends on your budget but when it comes to necessities I have listed the costs below.

Examples of necessities:
Rifle or shotgun: $400-$2000 Canadian dollars
Ammunition: $50 Canadian dollars
Clothing and boots: $200-$500 Canadian dollars
Permits, park access: $20-$40 (Quebec resident)
Food and gas: $20-$100 (May vary depending on distance traveled)

Buying Small Game Permits:

Small game permits can be purchased at any local hunting store in your area as long as they have a permit printer. You may want to call the shop before hand to find out if they issue permits. For the cost of the permits in Quebec, you can go to the following website:

Hunting – Fishing – Trapping License Rates

Also make sure you bring your Hunters Certificate/Card with you in person when buying a hunting permits and have your Federal Firearms card when purchasing firearms and ammunition.

Shop smart and enjoy the sport!

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The final eight hours of my Virginia whitetail hunting season were filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement and fatigue. I had just spent almost the same amount of time perched up in a tree that I would have during an entire work week at the office. Over the course of my three weekends a total of four does; two fawns and a one year old buck came in within shooting range.

Even with the buck’s appearance during the last day of the season, I must admit I had a hard time seeing if the spikes were within the legal size of seven centimetres and if it was worth the risky shot. A well-known trick is often used in which you compare the spikes length to that of the ears but even this was challenging because he was constantly moving them about like radars trying to pickup sounds of danger.

The local farmers told me that there was a ten point buck not far from my stand to the south. The fact that he had not been harvested yet this year meant he will prove to be a positive sign for next year’s season as there roughly eight does in the same area.

As a varminter, I had to live the experience of tree stand hunting and with this I have to say there will most definitely be a next year’s season for me as this one comes to a close. I have learned so much about the art of tree stand hunting and have added to my knowledge about deer while being part of the woodlands.

On my last day the sun was going to set at four thirty and I could legally hunt until five but it got quite dark in the woods here and I had to climb down from the stand and walk several hundred meters to the car. This was a very dark wooded trail and being alone it was not a great idea because on that particular morning, I saw fresh timber wolf tracks close to where I was parked. So I wanted to give myself enough time while I could still see to get back to the car. But just as I moved to stand up I heard a large branch crack to my right and sure enough it was a doe, she had stumbled on a broken tree and was slowly making her way down to the water’s edge.

It was incredible to see how well she blended into the foliage and background of mud and trees. The most impressive part was her behaviour when I noticed she was not alone and that she was the first of three to be out in the open making sure that the area was clear of predators before the others bounced out and exposed themselves. She was acting like a scout in a feeding party and she slowly made her way to the other side of the ridge using their well-known game trail looking for food.
 
So what I learned from this was that if you see one deer there are great chances that there are others nearby especially if you are dealing with does and fawns or even other females. Males will also come out but normally alone and will show up later in the afternoon just before dark or in the morning between eightish and ten that is if they are hungry and depending on the cold weather. I proved to myself that for next year it is not necessary to get to your tree stand really early in the morning if there is no need for it.

It was unfortunate that in my particular tree stand area that there was not a lot of buck activity amongst other factors, so I may not have harvested a buck this season but I sure harvested a wealth of knowledge about deer and enjoyed being part of the wilderness and all its mysteries. You bet I will have to try again next year but until then I have full year of small game and bird hunting to get ready for with my tracking buddy.

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