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Posts Tagged ‘trails’


My watercolor painting of a Canadian trapper in winter.

Several weeks ago, I met up with my trapper friend in the woods, while hunting the elusive snowshoe hare. He had just bought a new snow-machine and was out checking his traps.  His machine was a real beauty; we had a nice conversation about the local news as well as hare hunting and he suggested I come out for half days instead plus later in the afternoon. This would increase my chances of seeing game. And I knew that animal activity was busy in the early mornings and later in the afternoon nearing dusk.
 
So, on Sunday I came out to my favourite hunting grounds and the trapper was absolutely right. He also knew that I was coming out soon, so he took his new snow-machine and drove through the woods and formed a very large trail in the shape of a circle, just like cross-country ski trails in some of our parks. This way it would be easier for me to hunt and walk in the thick snow but also use the trail as a guide to find my way back.
 
It was a perfect circle alright, a circle of friendship.

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The cool autumn morning air swirled into the truck as I rolled down the country road with my window down listening to John Anderson “Seminole Wind”. It was still dark out and I had planned to drive out and arrive at the farm just before sunlight to have an edge on the ducks, hares and grouse. At dawn they might still be moving about looking for food.

As I got closer to the farm, I turned off the radio and could now only hear my tires on the gravel road along with a few song birds. I took my foot off the gas pedal to slow down without breaking and then turned up the main road to the barn.

By the time I unhooked the electrical fence and drove up the lane way to park the vehicle at the top of the ridge my friend was already outside ready to greet me. We had a hot cup of coffee, and then chatted away about the local news. The sky was pink now and the rock doves were flying just a few feet above us heading south dancing in the wind. To the west a rafter of eastern wild turkeys were playing around in the fresh cow dung looking for seeds, actually they were pretty close to the cattle but that did not seem to bother the young bulls too much.

It was going to be a perfect day with a mixture of sun and cloud, maybe even slight rain but that kind of weather is great for ducks and the temperature was sitting at about thirteen degrees Celsius. On my way in, I had been preparing myself mentally for the approach and having a good hunt, not focusing too much on what I was going to harvest but rather just try to enjoy this time I was going to have alone through the trails in the woods and along the creek.

The fall colors were brilliant, bright reds and yellows surrounded you with the forest just glistening with diamond like light flashes as the water seeped through the cracks of the leaves, rocks and deadfall on the forest floor.

I had decided to start off the morning with grouse, heading west toward higher ground and following some of the trails up to the top of the hill through the woods. So, I packed up the truck put on my gear grabbed a few shells along with my 870 and cut across the western hay-field.

The panoramic view at the top of the hill was stunning and offered a full view of the two southern hay fields where the cattle herd was gathered, the creek running west to east and then the swamp. When hunting grouse I find that the still-hunting method works best for me; essentially I am walking-up the grouse both to get them to burst into flight or get them to drum, so that you can spot them and shoot.

Sometimes if you get lucky you can see them sitting high on a stump or just off to the side of the trail near the forest floor just meters in front of you. If this should happen to you don’t try to get up too close in which case you will scare them into flight and render your shot a difficult one. Try to take the shot from where you’re standing and avoid fast movements. It sometimes depends on which kind of shotgun shell shot you use and how far you are from the bird. # 6 works well for me and I have harvested grouse that were a fair distance away.

Still-hunting requires a lot of focus and careful stalking, which in my case is very slow walking through jagged rocks and deadfall that are hidden under the leaves. It can be slippery and at times dangerous for your ankles. So, after a nice hike through the trails, I decided to turn south and head through the woods down to the creek and follow it back to the barns to the east and try to harvest some rock doves.

The descent was steep, so I unloaded my shotgun and moved my way down the side of the ridge sometimes pushing up against trees so I would not fall over. By the time I got to the edge of the creek, I reloaded my shotgun with some #2 shells and started to walk leisurely to the east through some tall grass and over the beaten down mud trail that the cattle used to navigate back and forth between the fields. 

This part of the creek was wider and you most definitely needed waist-high waders to go through the water, so I chose to stay on the northern side. I had to pull my boots out of thick mud several times and make sure that I stepped on solid ground to avoid falling over. My boots once removed from the muck would release the swamp gas odor into the air.

I started to still-hunt again now that I was closer to the wider part of the creek and further away from the tall grass. I was scanning all around with my 870 at the ready in my shoulder looking into the small brush piles along the sides of the creek, I had only taken four more steps when all of a sudden a “Splash” sound came from my right, I turned my head and saw two black objects shoot up from the water and burst into flight towards the west. I swung my body around one hundred and eighty degrees and identified them as two mallard ducks; I instinctively chose the bird to my right as I was taught. When there are several birds, pick only one out of the group and focus on it for the shot and if you are fast enough then aim for another. The one on my right was closer.

The duck was about fifteen yards away now and about four feet from the ground; I pushed my safety catch off and fired a single shot of #2 into the bird. The duck turned upside down and the wings seem to freeze and the duck fell down to the ground. The mallard flapped its wings a few more times and then lay still. I put my 870 on safe, ran over to the duck and hooked it onto my belt and headed back to the truck.

I made my way east a little further along the edge of the creek in case there were more ducks and turned north toward the truck. At the truck I unlocked the tailgate and laid my gear down along with the mallard and had another chat with my friend. A few minutes had gone by and I was getting ready to head home and call it a morning. There were three curious cows that came to the front of the truck not far from where we were standing, one of them began licking the headlight on the driver side.

This made us laugh as we continued to talk, when all of sudden my friend yelled out and ran frantically over to his tractor which began to smoke. There had been an electrical short in the wiring and there were flames coming from the motor. I ran over as well and noticed that the flames and smoke were intensifying.

We fought the fire for what seemed to be only a few seconds and had it out fairly quickly, allowing us to detach the battery connections. I suppose then that being in the right place at the right time applies to hunting and farming too.

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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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The ruffed grouse is without a doubt one of the best small game hunts that you can experience. They quite often make my heart skip a beat with the thumping of their wings when I set foot into the woodlands and I hope they will continue to do so for many years to come.

If you are unable to spot the ghostly bird found in the thickets of pine and aspen, he will surely make you jump with the beating of his wings as he flies away in a hurry into the depths of the forest. This is not to say that he will go far, since they tend to live within a very small range not exceeding a few acres. When this occurs if you are as quick as he, try to watch where he lands. Just like hares and other animals in the woods of eastern Canada, grouse have set pathways and these can be found by looking for droppings and feathers.

My experience tells me if you set out to find them and your eyes are unskilled, you will often walk right past their resting spot. The best way to find them is to “Still hunt” walk, stop, look and listen, then walk again. One trick that is used quite often to locate them is with the use of your fist and punches to the forest floor to make a drumming sound. If you are successful the male grouse will flap his wings and produce their distinct thumping sound allowing you to spot them.

Almost every time I have seen a male grouse on trails or the forest edges, either perched on an old stump or standing on fallen trees, there he was standing proud. They were not necessarily intimidated by my presence and as a result did not fly away immediately as long as they were not surprised.

Nature has adorned them with a great gift: The color of the feathers and this provides them with the ability to blend into their surroundings and quite easily in a sense become the foliage around them, a good example of this is the photograph I took in the forest.*

Grouse happens to be a bird that does not migrate and remains in eastern Canada during the winter months. To the Algonquin natives it is the bird that dives into the snow, a practice which protects them from the wind. Their feet are adapted so they can walk in deep snow like snowshoe hares.

Andi e izhaian pine? (Algonquin)

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