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Posts Tagged ‘trapping’


The strong winter winds blew south, across the front field picking up the soft snow which lay on the surface of the ice crust. It spun it around like a dust cloud, the white powder spiralled into the air a second time, then it was violently brought down to the shores of the creek. I was standing in my kitchen looking out at the creek, when all of a sudden I noticed a large black object surface in the middle of the black waters current and climb with ease onto the ice surface through an opening.

Nature was calling, and I had a good idea who it was but I was being drawn out anyways, I had to go outside and check it out, even if it was wickedly cold. I always take a long stick or a ski pole just in case he may lunge at me because they do have that ability. If you get too close it just takes one slap of the tail and he is up close and fast. Just listen to the archived CBC interview of Penn Powell from Port Hope. It does not matter what size the animal is, I always get excited and either I use my binoculars for a close look or I just simply walk out to the creek and investigate. The large beaver was out, he was busy cutting branches off of a smaller tree and then bringing the sticks under water and jamming them into the bottom of the creek to feed at a later time.

It is going to be a busy spring for this fellow, and for now he can continue his evening work but I will be looking for the signs and if a dam is built, good old trappers will need to get to work.

If you have had the privaledge of seeing how a dam is built, then you quickly realise how remarkle this builders truly are.

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The Muskrat looks like a very large rat which is very well adapted to aquatic life, similar to the beaver it can hold its breath up to fifteen minutes while under water. There size varies between 18 and 25 inches once fully grown and is sexually mature at about 1 year.

The muskrat is considered to be one the most widely distributed furbearing animal in North-America and their fur makes them very popular with trappers.  In my illustration the muskrat is sitting on a log to feed, there is also cattail nearby which it uses to build its lodge which is one of three types of shelter that it uses. The Floating Set trap is one of the best methods to trapping muskrat, the water needs to be deep enough for the trap and a #120 Conibear works very well.

My painting of a muskrat

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My rubber boots were slowly sinking into the dampened sand as I stood by the creek, my hands now resting in the warmth of my pockets while I checked over my channel set.

It was a beautiful morning with a slight breeze blowing in a north-westerly direction; the temperature was sitting at around six degrees Celsius. And I had just finished placing my log with my three nail channel set using a 330 Conibear trap across the creek. Now I could rest and carefully inspect my setup ensuring that it had all the fine details like the guide branches and that the forks were in their rightful upward positions.

I was surrounded by lush forest on both sides of the creek almost at the mouth of the culvert. Once satisfied, I took a moment and stared into the bottom of the creek bed and could see the glittering minerals that resembled gold dust and I could hear the poetic flowing sound of the creek current splashing along the rocks. It was perfect.
 
A very curious Whiskey Jack kept me company as he leapt and flew from branch to branch; circling me. The Grey Jay’s company was very special indeed especially for trappers particularly when trapping marten or fisher. To me there is nothing rawer and more Canadian at its metaphysical level, all the while culturally nutritious, being surrounded by this wilderness engaged in an activity that you appreciate so much.

I sure hope that in time I can do my part in managing wildlife, so that future generations can benefit of rich moments like these, which can not be acquired through our material world.

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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 Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Fauna identify the geographic area where I practice sport hunting as Zone 10, for me it is known as the “Swamp” a twenty minute drive up the road or the “Real Woods” a two hour drive north to the woodlands of park Papineau-Labelle. 

The truth is that this land running along the Ottawa River as we know it today provided living, trading and hunting grounds for the Algonquin. Even with the arrival of the Europeans and ongoing skirmishes with the Iroquois, they managed to survive. I want to dig up and find their knowledge about hunting grounds, methods used and tools. In doing so, I will also discover a rich history that took place in my own backyard.

For sport hunters’ modern day hunting seasons are managed by the provincial and federal governments based on studies from data collected throughout the previous seasons and other methods used. Conservation is a critical element as it allows for wildlife to replenish itself from disease, overpopulation and predation as well as sport hunting. What is amazing is that the first nations did not have access to our databases or science labs to assist with these techniques and yet their hunting seasons perfectly overlap the hunting seasons of today. This reveals that they were quite aware of conservation and wildlife management.

It has been documented that the Algonquin would travel up the Ottawa River to the hunting grounds and hunt from late November to February. My small game season this year was practically the same except, I hunted snowshoe hare until the end of the month of March. Whether someone relies on migratory patterns, hunting seasons or data collected in two thousand nine analyzed by the government, we can say that we have followed in the steps of the first nations and have identified the first key. We are hunting at the right time of year.

A very important point of this blog entry is that I am a small game sport hunter and I wish to perfect my skills as a still hunter. Therefore allowing me to become better at my chosen sport, while respecting nature and doing my part as a conservationist and naturalist. However, for the Algonquin, hunting was a necessity for survival as it provided food to the community and for this reason hunting had to be perfected or sometime supplemented with other sources of food such as trading, fishing and agricultural items such as corn.
I want to be able to isolate the Algonquin trapping and hunting from the other trades, then chip away the rough and find information from historical documents, songs, documented stories from elders and finally folklore. Knowledge that will ultimately enrich us in our most humble existence and make us better hunters, as we are just part of the whole cycle of life.

Prior to the government land laws the first nations had no restrictions with concerns to hunting grounds and the invisible boundaries were dictated by migratory patterns and wildlife habitat. It can be said that this fact still applies today but there are still limitations. Today the natives can hunt for food on land in which they have access to; this can be done all year long and with no licenses. However this is different for the sport hunters as they are required to hunt in very specific hunting grounds under controlled hunting seasons and licenses. These grounds could be a pourvoirie, ZEC’s (Controlled zones), Sepaq parks, family, private or crown lands.

It is true that the Algonquin used bows and arrows, spears and knives for hunting large and small game; however trapping was a quicker way to hunt. A few weeks ago, I went hare hunting for a few hours with my .22 rifle, it was an excellent day but I did not harvest any hares. However, the week prior my friend went out and setup several snares in the same area and harvested three hares in a twelve hour period. This is proof that trapping is more efficient than hunting with a bow or a gun. There is a famous engraving done by Claude Collet 1619, showing a deer trap method used by the Algonquians’ that enabled them to harvest large amounts of deer, this would prove to be a great example of trappings success. Snares, natural tree fences or pitfalls where often used for trapping.

Hunting with a rifle makes for a great sport but it is not always a guarantee compared to trapping where at least your chances if done right were higher. The black powder guns that were brought over with the Europeans and then traded with the first nations did assist the natives in a positive way during hunting as it slowly replaced the bow and arrow and proved more efficient.

Let us look at some of the techniques used:

Camouflage:
Paintings have shown that the first nations would use camouflage in a masterful way, creating sort of parkas or ghillie suits with animal hide and fur as well as deer antlers, enabling them to blend in with the environment and get close to the game. This was a must if using a bow and arrow or spear.

Observation:
Algonquin hunters would use their cunning skills such as observing movement in the woodlands or listening for specific noises, this would ultimately aid in finding their game if they were hunting and not trapping.

Drives:
This is an interesting method also used by the natives and is still used in places all over the world. Several teams of hunters break up into the woods and make noise beating through the woods forcing the game into a killing zone, where other hunters are waiting with bows or rifles.

(More techniques will be added shortly)

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