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This year there has been an increase of waterfowl hunters in my area, which is positive. After all it is an excellent way to spend some time outdoors in the fall and it also helps with the local economy and the let us not forget with managing overabundant species and maintaining a healthy environment.

I usually hunt at my friends farm or on the river, the challenge with the river is that even if it is considered public land, some areas are only for Duck Unlimited members, it can be difficult to get a spot of your own. Many waterfowlers put up wooden signs to reserve their spots and I do not mind this practice as long as there is room for fairness and courtesy.

Tonight when I set off to the river, it was much cooler and this I like not only for the bird activity but there are less hunters because not everyone has the tolerance for the wet and cold weather which can be miserable. I personally do not mind it and rewards are great.

I slowly drove up the dirt road near the edge of the bay where I usually start off and there was only one other car parked with a young fellow sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette, waiting for the best time to hit is blind. I got my kit ready and was about to set off, when the young man approached me and we had a friendly chat about the area. I asked him where he was going to set up for the evening and he pointed out a medium-sized tree right on the edge of the water on the north-eastern side of the bay.

Last week, I had planned to set up on the North-eastern side as well on my next hunt as I had noticed some areas in the bay where there was more bodies of water visible which was best for the birds to land in. I figured, if you setup on the side where the birds come in for landings then you are in a good spot indeed, in addition there was a tree line behind you which provides cover for birds coming in from the north.

I told the young fella that I was going to be on the same side but that I would move further down toward the east, this was perfect and it worked out for both of us. The first part of the trail was already cleared up by four wheelers and previous hunters but the final bit got trickier with hidden water holes and a rather large creek that needed to be cross and I did not bring my kayak along this time.

I walked through the knee-deep water surrounded by very high grass, all the while keeping my eye on the tree line so I did not head into dangerous areas, and soon after I found a beaver dam which was well packed down, so I used it as a land bridge over the large creek and this opened a whole new area where I hadn’t been this year.

There are some places on this earth and not necessarily far away that are simply magical, there I was standing in water up in the middle of a forest, the leaves were bright yellow and red and there was total silence, just me, the wind and birds. I continued to the edge of the bay and I had found my sweet spot. I noticed in the distance there was a strange green plastic object half buried in the mud and it turned out to be an outdoor chair with one missing broken leg.

So, I dug it out and placed it in my natural blind, jabbing the three remaining legs into the mud which stabilized it. There I was sitting down as content as one can be staring into the open wilderness enjoying all that was around me. I called out a few times with my duck and goose callers and waited for some birds to come in.

I have been out a few times since the opening day and I decided to use a full choke this year and it did take some getting use too and even missing a few great opportunities for birds, which made me doubt my shooting abilities and was considering going back to a modified choke. But being the learner that I am, chose to give my full choke one more try to if I were to miss today, I would go back to my modified.

All of a sudden four geese flew in from the south heading north right to my left, I stood up and prepared myself and called them in and started working with them as they were calling back. I could see them banking toward me but soon disappeared above the trees and out of sight, I stood fast and called out a few more times then aimed into the air and was waiting for them to break through and re-appear.

It was only for a few seconds but it seemed like an eternity waiting for them to break the trees and circle back to the south. Then in a flash the moment came, I had been scanning the whole tree line and the four came directly overtop of me about thirty yards up, I chose the goose farthest to the right hit its wing and it took the whole impact of the full choke single shot.

The goose froze in mid-air, tumbled forward and came down hard on a downward angle into the water only about ten yards to my right. This was a big goose and upon impact it let out a huge thump. This was a clean, hard full choke harvest and I know there will be many more now.

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As a kid growing up in central Africa in the ninety eighties was an experience that changed me for ever. I realize now even as an adult more than thirty years later that it was an absolute privilege to have lived on the periphery of the “Cite” in a row house, which was in an area where the majority of the locals lived. My life experiences were not just limited to living in a large home along the ocean with its extremely high walls or in the confines of the housing compounds owned by oil companies.

This meant going for days without electricity or running water but experiences like these enabled you to grow as a person and appreciate the true meaning of life. I learned the local language in less than a year and soon I was running free for hours into the neighbourhoods and shanty towns bare feet with my brothers. My parents were teachers and my father taught biology at one of the local high schools.

You got it, this meant that during the school year he needed to collect toads for the dissection classes; this was my job. So at a very young age, I would collect an empty can of powdered milk, a rake and a machete, then head out on my adventures to find toads. Now why would you need a rake and machete for that? Well where you found toads there were almost always pit vipers. I knew exactly where to find toads, under rocks or the papyrus or bamboo forests.

I would lean into the brush or flip a rock, if there was a viper, I would pin the snake with the rake and neutralize it with my machete, and then collect the toads. My best friend and I would normally be greeted by a snake hiss. There were all kinds of species of snakes but the most common was the pit viper and their hiss was a warning indeed and I learned to understand their body language. But ultimately it was more than just a sound of the tongue once it had left the Jacobson gland, it was a form of snake communication, “You reach in for the toad and I will bite”.

In the years that followed, upon returning from a weekend jungle trip, my parents had bought my brothers and I, a young crocodile as a pet, it was less than a meter in size. We kept it in the back yard and its temporary residence was a large empty sail boat hull. My brothers and I had best attempted to re-create its natural habitat along with a mud bank and water inside the boat. If we wanted to transport it out, for our friends to see, we would place the rake in the water, and as the crocodile would bite down on the metal part along with a fierce splash of water, and once its jaws had a good grip, we would lift it out of the boat and let it roam around the yard for a few hours.

If our dogs got too close, the crocodile would bend its body bringing its tail around for a strike and soon it would let out the infamous hiss. It was a fascinating pet and as long as you stayed away from its jaws, life was just normal in central Africa. Crocodiles are ordinary reptiles and I soon discovered that the hiss was not just a verbal warning like the pit vipers but also of course a form a communication because it did not always result with the animal clapping it jaws, it simply communicating.

Now this makes for wonderful childhood stories but what does this have to do with small game hunting in north America? Well for the past couple of years now in the spring, we have had two resident Canada geese setup a nest just across the creek from our home in the country and well where do think they feed? On my lawn. As long as they do not get too aggressive, I am fine with having two natural lawn mowers. And just like a coyote if you physically show them you are more dominant through verbal or physical gestures then they leave you alone. I suppose I should write don’t try this at home.

All wildlife adapt to their environments and with my family running around the back yard, this has become their new norm. The Chin Straps stay only lasts a few weeks and once the goslings are old enough they move along… well until the next year. The male’s role is to keep watch and you guessed it, if you get too close, he lets out a hiss, just like the snake and crocodile but the Canada also lets out some deep soft honks from his throat with it bill partially opened.

For the Canada geese, just like communicating with a child, I usually get down on my knees to limit my physical expression as aggression, putting myself at the same level as them and in this case the wild goose and then imitate his soft deep honk and hiss and I have confirmed something once again about this “hiss” it does not always trigger a physical response, it can be interpreted as aggression but a rather a form of warning.

Many outdoorsman/woman are some of the most experienced conservationists and have a deep understanding wildlife behaviour and communication, some without even noticing it, it is just another piece of the puzzle in our sport.

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As I lifted one snowshoe and placed it in front of the other through the thick powdery snow, I found myself venturing deeper into the wintery woods. With the smell of fresh pine dancing through the cool air, this had to be heaven.

You take a moment and close your eyes then breathe it in, you are absolutely surrounded by the darkness of the coniferous forest which contains all of its mysteries that nature has to offer, far away from all that is logical to the rational mind. The time had come, I found a hare lead and began to navigate further into the thick brush, with large amounts of snow falling upon my shoulders but I kept on pushing ahead.

It did not take long before I found fresh tracks and green droppings, I was close but I could not see any black pearl eyes yet. I knelt down and got closer to the forest floor and focused on the hidden dark areas. I felt a strong presence, something was watching me but I could not yet see it. I took two more steps forward and glanced to my left, there he was the white ghost in the darkness with his black pearl eyes. Neatly tucked away behind some spruce boughs.

A true treasure of the Canadian wilderness, staring right at me with the utmost intensity, nature is cold and ruthless but contains some of the most incredible images, those not always understood by the rational mind.

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I was sliding in and out between the dense cedars bows and small swamp trees pushing forward, raising my hand at about the height of my face to prevent the branches from poking me in the eyes. I have had this happen to me many times before with a random sharp branch either hooking my toque knocking it into the mud below or either spiked me right in the eye. Not a very pleasant experience at all, it felt like I had scratched the inside of my eye then pushed it back. When ever I placed my finger on the particular eye to check for damage or blood I always felt a deep throbbing.

Upon arrival at the farm I heard loud quacks coming from the wetlands and I knew that several mallards had made this their home, their numbers ranged between five and twelve. The cattle were moving across the creek toward the Southern fields to my left thus blocking my access to the wetlands from the eastern side, so I chose to cut through the dense brush on my right and move in a South-Westerly direction. The approach that I chose would make me crest the wetlands from the northern side along the edge of the massive beaver dam, where it connects with the edge of the forest.

My kayak was still in the truck bed back at the barn over six hundred meters away, I often use it to retrieve my birds that are downed in the deeper parts of the wetlands but the bush was too thick for me to pull it through. The forest floor was soaked and full of hundreds of streams and its current was moving very fast because the heavy rains we have had in the last several days which broke part of the dam and created a natural spillway which was feeding into the forest floor.

It was very treacherous, even with hip waders you had to be very sure where you were going to place your next foot step, so that you did not go under or get stuck. For this, I always grab onto a large branch and if at all possible step on a fallen log, which acts as a mini bridge. You could also use large roots or little mud islands formed by grass mounds that were partially submerged. Manoeuvring was very tricky, because I had to make sure my 870’s sling did not get stuck in the low hanging trees or avoid a slip and put mud into the end of the barrel.

The deeper I pressed on into the woods the thicker the brush got and I was following my simple curved line pattern between the trees to ensure I was always heading in the right direction. With the principles of still-hunting, I would stop and listen for the duck calls then orientated myself toward the sound and kept on moving forward. Once you set off in this type of bush, you can not let your imagination run wild or let panic set in, you must stay sharp and not let any detail out of your mind.

Sometimes, there are large black areas at the base of fallen trees, they can look like a wolf den or a black bear standing still. But most often than none it is a dead tree rotting its way back into the earth. Now when you hear a large branch cracking close by, then this I believe deserve a second look, it could be a deer moving around you or any other large mammal. After several minutes of struggling to through the last muddy parts, I could now see the dam through the trees.

I stopped for a moment took a few deep breaths and then started to slow down my approach even more up to the dam wall. Not only did this make it quieter but it also allowed me to listen for the Mallard hen calls and close in accordingly for the potential shots. Once I reached the dam periphery, my boot placement was even more calculated because, one false move and I was going to fall into the cold waters and with waders it is like having a weight belt around your waist.

In addition, I could not place myself on the dam wall because the ducks would surely spot me, so I had to walk along its edge on the opposite side of the water dam and use the overgrown wild grass as cover. You see, Mallard ducks will call out if there is danger but they might not necessarily fly away immediately like wood ducks, in some cases they will swim further away from the sound of danger and only take off if it is physically visible.

This is exactly what the group of Mallards did and I had to move quicker along the edge to keep up with them, and wait for them to swim back within range or move and place myself in a better position from the shore. All that walking in water caused my socks to slip off inside my boots which is a common problem in waders, I think next time I would rather wear socks that sit higher around my knees and this would prevent them from sliding off, I would also place a bandage on the inside of each leg to prevent the boot lip burn on the inside of my leg which is caused by the inner rubbing of the boot edge.

It was a wonderful fall day, with the singing winds and dancing leaves with their absolutely stunning colours and the sound of the cool waters passing through my hands as I placed them deep into the beaver dam to grab a perfect carved stick for balance. Here I was, in the heart of the Canadian wilderness sneaking up to the Mallards with only them and I hidden amongst the swaying golden swamp grass. I had finally spotted the ducks and was now readying myself for the shot. My right hand was grasping the cold steel of my Remington 870, and I was one hundred percent absorbed in the moment and felt and incredible sense of joy and pride of being Canadian. A feeling of total mastery of the woods.

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It has been a few weeks since I have blogged about our beloved sport; but the subject was never far from my thoughts or soul. For fourteen days, I walked two hundred and fifty kilometres on part of the Saint James’s trail (Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle) France; more accurately a pilgrimage on the Rocamadour variant.

God knows, no pun intended that I had lots of time to think and reflect about everything, including my upcoming seasons and blog articles. While on the “Chemin,” I was constantly reminded of the beauty of nature and its magnificent wildlife. The hares in France were so large in size that their ears resembled that of a coyote and the palombe (wood pigeons) also impressed me with their size, flight and ability to blend into their environment.

When walking in the open fields alone with no one in sight for miles, I openly called out to the French crows and hawks to see if I would get a response. The crow calls were very different and not as pronounced as their north American cousins. They also did not call in three’s. Furthermore, they did not seem interested in having a conversation with me, unlike they do here.

As for the hawks, they usually called back but it took two or three tries before I got a response. While on the Saint James trail, it was not unusual to spend several hours walking through French forests and even though they also had maple and oak trees just like us, the forests in the region where I walked seemed very damp and dense and very eery at times.

The forest density changed just like our forests from very open pine forests to extremely thick mixed woods. Some trees grew in small groupings of three to five trees with every grouping spaced out. I walked through many private hunting territories in close proximity to agricultural areas, and only saw two deer and was particularly amazed by their rather small body size.

One night while sitting in a French restaurant, I met a fellow boar hunter and eventhough we lived in two different countries seperated by a great sea, we shared the same passion, the same knowledge and as a result we bonded like two brothers. 

It was an incredible experience and I will return for sure, but now my focus is to enjoy the rest of the summer and get ready for the fall. And as for my walk through the amazing French countryside and its forests or as John Muir put it: The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

My fourteen day walk through the French countryside and wilderness shall be part of me for a lifetime.

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Its large horizontal branches were a safe haven for the crows and pigeons of the farm; it was a majestic tree standing taller than the evergreen and poplar trees which stood by its side. It was a prominent mark in the landscape, a true symbol of the natural beauty and grandeur which surrounded me on my many hunting trips, with its height of over thirty meters it helped me countless times to find my way out of the snowy wilderness.

Just a fortnight ago we were hit with an extremely powerful storm which passed through the region and tore down trees and power lines leaving thousands without electricity.

The winds were so strong they seemed to have turned in an inward direction from the open fields then curled right into the tree line at the farm and ripped several large trees completely out of the ground.

Their roots which were now exposed formed dark mud caves and new habitat for wildlife and the downed trees would become firewood for the local farmers.

The landscape had changed indeed and the wilderness which is very much a part of my being had left me with a deep feeling of emptiness, the storm had taken our dead tree.

Silly? Perhaps, however to the true hunters we know that we are very much part of this wilderness which surrounds us and we are all constantly reminded to respect it and to adapt to our natural environment all the while enjoying its beauty for it is the home of our wonderful wildlife.

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In two days, I will be heading back into the woods and I can barely contain my excitement. I will have spent almost the whole week preparing my gear and rifles for the day trip. It is very difficult to describe this strange magnetic draw I feel toward the wilderness.
 
In Dianne Macmillan’s book “Life in a deciduous forest” she writes about energy and how it is transformed into food when it pertains to the relationships between the sun, the North American biome and its ecosystems, which also include wildlife.
 
She describes the different levels of a forest from high above in the canopy down through the understory and finally to the forest floor; there is in fact energy and not just at the solar or nutrient levels. She writes the following on page six: “A constant exchange of matter and energy creates a natural balance.”

It is all it takes just a few hours in the woods and I am able to grasp the balance I need. Although the majority of us live in urban areas, we are very much part of the link and this relationship that the author writes about, futhermore at the end of the book she provides websites and suggestions on activities and practices that are great for the environment.

This blog is not just about small game and varmint hunting but also about conservation, if you leave a room -shut off the light. This simple yet great gesture will indirectly affect your hunting environment in a positive way allowing you and future generations to benefit from the wilderness as well.

I highly recommend this book as it was an enjoyable read, so much so that I finished it in just two hours. The book is extremely informative and helps you better understand life in a deciduous forest and there are some great points about its wildlife such as the black bears, ruffed grouse and other small game.

Education and awareness are key, thank you Dianne!

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