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Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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The headlights of the truck lit up the dirt road as we made our way down the hill toward the boat launch site on the northern shore of the river.

Just a few minutes had passed now and we were already parked and unloading our gear, decoy bags, shotguns and our backpacks. Prior to stepping out of the truck, I always check and make sure that my LED head lamp is placed over top my tuque and that I turn it on during morning duck hunts because we often work and get ready in the dark until we get to our hunting spots.

We removed the straps holding down the canoe to the roof of the truck, then lifted and spun it around at the same time placing it on the ground. We carefully filled it up with our gear and carried the canoe down to the water’s edge. It was a cold morning with the temperature sitting at around minus five degrees Celsius but there was no wind and the water was dead calm not a ripple in sight. The sky was very clear and had a purple color to it with the sun sitting just below the horizon, you could also see all the prominent stars.

I stood up by the canoe picked up my life jacket and turned it inside out, so that the black inside part was facing out and I then climbed into the bow of the canoe which was now facing directly south and being held by the other hunter.

We pushed off quietly and started paddling across the wider part of the bay; our plan was to cross the larger part of the bay and head in a south-easterly direction. On the other side there was a steep embankment with a trail that we could use to get to the small inner islands and end up in distributaries.

Once we reached the other side of the bank and worked our way through the trail pulling the canoe by its strap, we noticed that our primary waterway was frozen over with around an inch of ice. We now had to prepare our decoy placement, so the canoe was pushed onto the ice and as we climbed in our weight it caused the canoe to break through the thin layer of ice and then we started paddling and breaking our way through the ice moving toward the center of the waterway.

Once in the middle using just our paddle blades, we broke the ice into a very large circle shape and then placed our decoys and electronic duck Mojo into the water on its twelve-foot pole. With the decoys setup in a scattered formation, we slowly made our way back to the shoreline and to our respective shooting spots. We were about fifteen meters apart, now in a kneeling position; I collected some deadfall and several broken branches and built a small blind in front of me along with some foliage.

This would create a natural looking barrier between the duck decoys and my shooting position; if needed I could lower myself in behind the shelter so that if the ducks flew in for their initial fly over, they would not see me. One thing that I have observed is that if you call out several duck calls and attract ducks toward your decoys, mallards will fly in from several directions and quite often they are in groups of two or three and sometimes more depending on your location. I have seen twenty mallards all bunched up together in flight.

So stay low and wait for them to come in within shooting range. You need to study their flight pattern and within a few seconds judge whether you will have a close shot or you may have to take a long shot. It may seem like at times that you are anticipating and trying to interpret what direction they may take, their wings formation and shape in flight can tell you a lot about their next move. We waited for the half an hour mark before sunrise and then whispered to each other that it was now time, we started calling hard with some combo calls letting out comeback calls and feeding calls. Within minutes two mallards flew in from the south-west and came in low between me and the decoys about fifteen meters out.

I quickly lined up my bead site and released a shot of #4 my first mallard fell onto the ice surface and slid a few inches then stopped.

We kept on calling and more ducks flew in but then gained altitude and landed further to the east near the shoreline where the ice was thinner and had open spots. The other hunter on my left decided to work his way up the bank to the east and attempt to harvest the ducks that landed minutes earlier on our left.

I took a quick look around and above then called again, several comeback and feeding calls, soon more ducks came in very high from the south-west, so I released another shot, it was a miss, pumped the action and fired a second shot hitting the last duck in the group of four; the duck froze in mid-air and plunged several meters into the ice surface piercing a hole the size of the bird then got stuck below the surface.

I called again with a very loud comeback call and then waiting around ten minutes and called again with some feeding calls. Two more ducks came in from the south-west then dropped down circling around into the water hole were the decoys were floating. I fired another shot and hit a mallard hen, the bird froze in the air, dropped and landed on the opposite shore line of the water way. It was my longest shot this season and a successful harvest.

It was a fantastic hunt!

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