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There I was standing in the middle of a forest with its floor filled with watering holes, it would have been heaven for wood ducks but the woods were empty. The autumn coloured leaves sparkled underneath the crystal surface of the water, it was just magical. The winds were extremely powerful blowing in from the West and as it enveloped the forest there was howling winds through the trees emitting strange eerie sounds. With the rattling of the branches and the trunks rubbing up and down against each other.

There was an intense cold with snow drifts sweeping in, I kept my eyes not only on the edge of the wetlands for ducks but also on the trees, as it was the perfect conditions for tree limbs to come down. I was scoping this part of the forest because of its proximity to the shore of the river and only meters away was the edge of the wetlands.

The dominant species of duck in my area are teal and mallards, but the teal do not always land in my zone, they rather fly nervously in groups of ten or more and then loop back to the very deep parts of the water and well out of reach, I might have a chance if I snuck up with my kayak. But the mallards it is a different story, they are extremely resilient to the cold and are found until late in the season even if there is lots of snow on the ground, they are generally hidden close to shore in the tall grass. If you are a jump shooter type of hunter, then walking along the shores in a stealthy fashion you are sure to get a harvest or two.

When I set off on a hunt from my house later in mid-season, I have to pass over a bridge in my community and there is a beautiful waterway which snakes all the way to the river and I always sneak a peek over the barrier down on the muddy shores near the golden grass and if I can spot a few mallards, this is usually a good sign for my hunt on the river.

I have been coming to this area for several years now, and I used to be able to go just a few meters with my kayak and then launch off and start jump shooting from my boat. But since the beavers have moved in and with the changes to the environment this whole area is becoming a mush of swamp grass and only small segments of open water. A couple of years ago, I was out in a large area body of open water and I was able to climb out of my kayak and stand on my own two feet without sinking. I was standing on a mud island and over time it was very physically challenging to paddle in this soup. A paddle was now useless, what I needed was a long push pole.

Once I cleared the edge of the forest, I was now facing the Eastern side of the wetlands and I knew there were mallards dabbling further down, because if I were a mallard this is where I would have wanted to be about thirty meters from the shore. There was a small body of open water in the shape strange looking shoe. It was surrounded by golden coloured tall grass and some small wetland brush with several crane nest sticking out of the surface like oversized ant hills but they generally have a large ring of deep water around them and can be very dangerous with waders on.

Today I was going to try something new with my approach, I was not going to come in from the southern banks of the river and then circle around to the north to sneak up on the ducks, I was going to come cut diagonally from my start point, but this meant cutting off the top edge of the wetlands on foot, which meant he depths could range from my hips to the my knees with hidden pockets of dangerous depths. But my knowledge of the area helped me navigate and with over an hour of tracking through the muck, and pulling myself forward and out using large vegetation, I made it to my starting area.

At one point, I was startled by a small crane species and I raised my shotgun and was ready to release my shot but my experience caught me and I had identified the species within milliseconds which caused me to lower my shotgun. This is a skill that you will master even while off-season, find unique identifiers about each species of bird and learn to identify them before they are out of sight and you will see that in time you will be very accurate.

As I approached the edge of the bank, I took a short break, all that sloshing around was physically demanding and my breathing was very heavy. I looked over to the northern side and spotted several large dark animal like movements in the dark waters. They looked like dabbling ducks but I could not make it out for sure, I had to get closer.

I knew my approach was going to be a difficult one as I was already up to my knees in water surrounded by tall grass and small waterways which had depths unknown. It had begun, my sights were now on that body of open water beyond the tall grass well over thirty meters out. I would lift one foot ensure it was on a secure mud base then move the next leg forward, it was without a doubt treacherous.

I pushed forward and when I lost my balance from the suction of the water and mud vacuum on my waders, I would pull hard on a clump of tall grass and pull myself forward and out back onto a solid mud base. All the while keeping a low profile and my shotgun out of the water.

My backpack was not heavy but the straps were getting tight on my shoulders and causing them to get fatigued. There was no dry place to put down my pack, so I slowly slid it off my shoulders and down into the water and it bloated with water and stayed a float. I took note of the unique vegetation around it, so that I could spot where I had left it as I made my way closer to the edge of the open body of water which was now only ten meters away.

Only a few more steps forward into the dark unknown and now the weeds were wrapping themselves around my arms and shotgun like daemons wanting to take me down to the depth of the bowels of the dark waters. Combined with my sheer fatigue, I would force my shotgun forward which tore the weeds free.

On my final step, I slowly lifted my head and confirmed my findings, there were in fact about twenty ducks dabbling, I carefully selected the mallards closest to me. Then I lowered myself back behind the weeds and golden grass, I carefully slid my pump-action just a few millimetres in order to glance at the loaded shell in the chamber and then slid another shell into the magazine for a total of three ready.

I looked down at the water took a few deep breaths and got myself ready for the shots, then in an instant I raised myself above the grass and caught the ducks completely by surprise, they stretched their necks out called out and burst into the air, in a single motion, I pushed off the safe and released my shot into the closest bird and the mallard spun forward and flipped back into the water, I released a second shot and missed the group.

In a matter of a few seconds, it was all over, I had harvested my first mallard but the others were now sky-high heading east. The recovery was a tricky one indeed with water up to my chest, my Remington 870 was completely submerged in water but I was not going to let my orange foot duck be swallowed up by the black waters.

Once I got back to the safety of the river bank with my mallard in hand, soaking went and fatigued, there was no more humbling experience than this moment, it was just me and the northern elements. I am not sure where your imagination takes you when you think of folkloric tales of our great Canadian wilderness. I had just lived it, the cold dark waters all alone surrounded by raw wilderness and I not only mastered it but it was now flowing in my very veins.

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The mallard drake came in from the West for a landing but he was still quite high, he was responding to the double call coming from down below in the dark weeds. Some ducks will fly in and complete a fly over and then once they are sure it is clear, they will complete one more race track in the sky and then break and then land. Just like geese this is an aerial manoeuvre that I will never tire of seeing.

This mallard completed a second loop and then broke his wings and was coming in right in my direction to the North, I could tell that this was my only chance to release the shot. I had observed that most of them were landing on the South side of the wetlands and I could not reach that part because of the large bodies of water.

I quickly released my shot and as much I thought I was on target it was a miss, he did a quick bank back to the West and then tilted again and went South, and left me with a nice view of his tail’s black strip and the silver feathers on both sides. The sound of my shot blew into the air and its effect was simply incredible, like high pressure air being forced forward and then it shattered into a billion bits of sound.

Today was very warm and there was almost no wind, the pink and purple colours in the sky were very clear with the clouds sitting high up. It was the type of day when you could hear pins drop into the water, I used my goose caller, and its sound carried so far it was magical.

The rifle deer season has started in my region this being the first weekend of three and the wetlands were empty, I was all alone. There I was kneeling down low into the water up to my waist hidden away in some tall grass on the edge of the bay.

The sunset in my area was at four forty-six, then add thirty minutes and this moment is perfect for harvesting geese and ducks for this is when they fly over in large numbers and get ready to settle in for the night. But I swear this evening it was like the birds knew when to come in and they only started to fly when it was way past legal shooting time and I was totally enveloped by darkness. It is times like these when I wish one could hunt forty-five minutes past sunset but unfortunately I am pretty sure this law will never change in my life time.

So you guessed it, no harvest today and quite frankly it was shattering. We can be as crafty as we wish but ultimately we are at the mercy of nature and its wildlife, we are left with picking up our spirit for that day and must attempt to remain positive that the next time out will be better and wish for a harvest with results.

At the end of the day it is a wonderful past time, part of this grand scheme called life. It may be just a sport to some but only when you have hit the wetlands and have experienced a bust than will you understand.

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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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This is a painting of my first duck hunt for the 2011 season. The techniques, I wish to improve on this year are the following:  Try to stay very still and wait for the ducks to come in much lower, before I take my shots.

I also want to improve my accuracy and aiming technique when taking a shot at a duck in flight, using the half bead aim & shot. Here is what it is: Aim your shotgun at the duck in flight, provide them with sufficient lead and aim your shotgun bead sight right at the bird then bring it down to about half the bead width. If this is done right, then your cloud of shot has a better chance to scatter and hit the bird. It worked for me last year and I hope to harvest as many ducks and geese as I did last year.

My tip for this post is the following: If you are sitting still by the water in the early morning hours and you can hear the ducks moving in while you are trying to spot them. Do not limit yourself to one specific visual area, look all around you, do not lose focus, be constantly aware and at the ready.

On this hunt, I had ducks flying in from the woods behind me to the east and from the large pond in front of me coming in from the north. Remember when hunting with other waterfowlers; give yourselves enough distance between each other and offer respect and courtesy.

Have a great season & safe hunting!

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