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Posts Tagged ‘wetlands’


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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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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I made my way down through the tall grass and carefully stepped over the electric fence, all the while crouching forward in order to maintain the same height as the top of the old barn roof. The spotter geese were watching with their necks stretched out like periscopes. I was moving rather quickly toward the south because the Canada geese had just landed in the open field on the other side of the barn right by one of the natural trench lines in the field.

After just a few steps I got down on my knees. I stopped moving forward and looked around to make sure that there were no large cows moving in. Sometimes the cattle get curious and move in quickly toward me to see what I am doing, this can be tricky especially if I am laying down flat in a farm field. Cows move with great speed and see very well.

It only took a few minutes for me to make it on the opposite side of the barn and the geese were still scattered on the right side of the collapsed barn. Still on my knees and using both arms on either side, I carefully placed my 870 closer and closer to the barn as I inched forward. Once I was up against the corrugated steel roof, I could lay my right hand against the cold steel and cool off as well as get a closer look at the geese just around the corner.

I was surprised to see that there was a smaller group that was much closer than I thought, this was perfect for my first shot. I picked up my 870, loaded my three shells and pumped one into the chamber and pushed the safety on instantly. I had to bring the barrel forward without alarming the spotter geese to my immediate left. I was so low against the boards that they did not spot me until the time was right.

I lined up my bead sight with the first goose and rose up high up on my knees, this sent them into flight and I harvested the closest bird with a single shot. I pumped and fired again but missed, the rest of the birds where quickly out of range, I cleared my shotgun and ran over to pick up my first harvest of the day.

I put the goose in my bag and continued on towards the creek to the South, because it is really rewarding to be able to flush Mallards that are hidden along the shores. But my shots that rang out earlier scared them off and the ducks flew several hundred meters to the shores of the wetlands deeper into the farmland.

Now standing in the middle of the field, I had to come up with an approach plan to make it as close as possible to the shore of the wetland, zig zag through the small brush and trees. So, I unloaded my 870, made it safe and started a slow sprint across the creek and heading West along the water way. I could see two mallard hens dabbling in the water close to shore but I have learned from experience, that if you focus on the initial ducks, you will surely miss the others that are close by and out of sight and they will alert the one’s you are focusing on.

So, you must put variety in your closing in, like moving around the trees from either side and stopping often to observe the whole zone, to see if there are others ducks. I was lucky, there were two mallard hen’s and three wood ducks moving swimming around. Once I got about ten meters from the mallards, I stepped out from behind the tree to raise my barrel and the mallards called out aggressively then took flight, I let out my two shots and both birds tumbled back into the cold dark waters. I retrieved my two ducks and placed myself back on the edge of the shore.

The wood ducks were flying in at a rate of one to two birds every fifteen minutes or so, I sat down on a log and stopped moving looking toward the ground as not to expose my face. Ducks always fly in but generally complete a fly over to see if it is good to land or if there are other ducks in the water, this is why decoys work if setup right combined with good calls.

I had no decoys on this hunt but I compensated with patience and being completely still. Sure enough within minutes two wood ducks flew in for a landing, first in flight was the male and then one female. I quickly raised my 870, gave some barrel lead using the break away method from the front of the birds bill and then released a shot and the male came tumbling in and forward flipped into the waters below.

The female instantly dropped dove into the water, instinctively waiting for the male. But she soon realized I was going to release my shot hearing the pump-action and as I took my second shot she dove under water and came back up within milliseconds following my shot which splashed on the surface and then she flew straight up and dove right. I fired my third and last shot and it was a miss. Her aerial acrobats outdid my last shot.

I quickly reloaded three more shells and all of a sudden another wood duck hen came in and landed as well as let out some whistles. I raised my 870 barrel and she burst into flight heading East. I swung around with her flight and gave her some more barrel lead; then released my first shot and missed. I pumped the action and released my second shot, once again with a good lead and she tumbled forward and landed on the edge of the beaver dam almost twenty-five meters away to my right. I quickly reloaded to have the three shells and placed the 870 on safe.

On occasions when I hunt without a kayak, I try to set up or visualize the trajectory outcome of my shots, so that the ducks land close to solid ground and make it easy for recovery. This shot was a textbook case. My first shot on this duck was over the water with a good lead, but my second shot was placed in a perfect spot, also taken over the water but she landed right on the edge of the beaver dam wall. When I go to retrieve my ducks that have fallen to the ground on in the water, I try to find an object such as distinctive tree or stump use them as points of reference to align myself with the area where my duck or goose have fallen. This makes is easier to find them.

It was an amazing shot and I was extremely pleased, my harvest for the day was four ducks and one Canada goose.

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As the cold rain drops fell all around me they made thousands of ticking sounds as they hit natural objects and finally the mud below, some drops managed to flow into my balaclava and drip into my eyes, I slowly raised my fingers and wiped them clear. With my every breath there was a faint mist forming in front of my mouth and then soon after it faded away like smoke from a pipe. For a brief moment it reminded me of my great uncles cherry flavoured tobacco. After having parked the truck on the muddy western side of the fence, I spotted thirty geese in the centre of the field, with no vegetation nearby that would provide cover for me to get close enough for a harvest. I had observed that when Canada geese land in fields, they always place themselves in the centre of the field giving them an all around view of their surroundings.

It was a beautiful fall day with its leaves bursting into bright red and orange colours. The wind would pick up once in a while and let out this loud whooshing sound as the breeze rolled down the slopes toward the southern creek. I made my way around the back of the truck in order to pick up my kit and prepare for my first still hunting approach, when all of a sudden I spotted six more geese on the northern side of the barn closer to my position. I was hoping to be able to use this third barn as cover to get as close as I could for a shot but this was no longer an option.

With my camouflage jacket now on and carrying my 870, I knelt forward and made my way across the muddy field down toward the tree line, kinda circling around their position. The spotter geese immediately saw me and began calling out short sharp alert calls but had not yet sounded a panicked call to set off a wave of flight. Instead the lead bird walked faster to the front of the barn and out of sight soon after the others followed.

Once the group was out of sight, I took advantage of this precious time and ran further down the slope with my boots sliding in the mud, while moving in and around some thorn bushes. I was in position in seconds, having followed a beaten down path of mud in the final stretch where the cows pass through. I had chosen the southern corner of the barn to take my shot.

I closed my eyes took two deep breaths to calm myself from all the excitement, then loaded my three Challenger BB shells, and pumped one into the chamber then pushed it on safe almost instantly. I slowly swung around the edge of the barn exposing just half of my face, this enabled me to spot the geese and register their new positions. Confident of my shot, I selected the largest bird of the group and raised up my barrel from a downward aim to the horizontal one in line with the ground. Very quickly I stepped out from behind the barn and this sent the whole flock into the air, when they were only a few feet off the ground I slow pushed the 870 off safe and released my shot.

Once the smoke and sound cleared the sky filled with geese, my harvest twisted in flight and fell back to the ground. I pumped the action all the way back to release my last shot shell but the expended shell casing jammed because of the plastic end expanding and this caused a few second delay and by the time I cleared it and was ready for another shot but it was too late, the group was gone.

With my 870 now unloaded, I ran out to the field and picked up my first goose harvest of this season. I was now ready to head back to the truck and drive over to the wetlands and setup for this late afternoon hunt to continue. My plan was to park on the opposite side of the rock formation from where I usually park, this would give me better cover for the vehicle which was now closer to the towering evergreen trees.

Moments later and now only meters from the water’s edge, I unloaded my kayak and decided to paddle through the swamp in an attempt to flush some Mallards or Wood ducks. I took out my callers and let out a few geese calls, wood duck and mallard calls.

Within minutes a single young goose who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere was now just above the tree line to my left, I lowered my paddle and placed my ready shotgun into my shoulder from its carrying rack, then pushed it off safe and using the pull-away lead technique I released my shot and the bird tumbled but kept its flight for over fifty meters in the shape of a downward arc and crashed into the top of a dead tree knocking off a piece of bark and hitting the ground moments later. My second harvest was confirmed. It was a very difficult shot because I was leaning sharply to my left in a sitting position with my body partially twisted.

I let out a few more goose calls and barely had time to get back to the shore to retrieve my harvest and place it in the truck when two more geese came in from the West flying in just over the tips of the highest pine trees coming right at me. Now standing on muddy soil, I selected the last bird. I knew this was going to be a frontal shot and for this I used the swing-though lead and released my shot with the bird tumbling and falling just meters from me and the water’s edge.

I was about to head back toward my kayak when another lone goose came flying in from a distance but toward my calls, this gave me sufficient time to get into a better standing shooting position, I was careful not to move too fast as to give away my position. I released another shot and my third harvest tumbled down into the thorn bushes below.

I repeated my third shot once again with yet another lone Canada goose who was also responding to my calls but this goose was actually calling back in short bursts compared to the others who flew in without a sound. My shotgun was empty having used up my three shells. Time seemed to have slowed down by now, so I loaded another single Challenger BB shell, pumped the action, shouldered the 870 then released my shot almost instantly with a pull away lead and my fourth and last goose of the day tumbled to the forest floor.

I was one bird short of my daily bag limit by the time my hunt ended. They were all incredible harvests and this magical afternoon will be with me for a very long time.

That night we enjoyed home-made Mallard and Canada Goose sausages.

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wetlandsNature is ruthless in all of its beauty. There exists a place on earth for everyone where you are free of judgement and the negative energies of the world. For that moment you are king, nature is powerful and a healer. Out there you can scream a loud and not a soul will hear you or call back. Once you have conquered your fears and solitude only then have you truly understood the spirit of a woodsman. CSGH 2016.

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The sky was filled with majestic dark clouds, it gave you the impression that I was going to be swallowed into the darkness of the night but it was only four in the afternoon and I had several hours ahead of me in the wetlands. The sun would break through between the clouds and their edges would then turn bright orange like they were burning, the colors all around me would change, the shadows became very clear and then as soon as it changed just like a wave it turned back to its yellows and browns once the sun was hidden again.

I sat in my truck for some time before my hunt was going to start, then took a few deep breaths, said a prayer and asked the powers that be for a great hunt. I was a very happy man. My experience has taught me that if you go out thinking your going try hard to harvest something, it will not happen, you have no control over nature. You have to use your knowledge and let things happen and if an opportunity presents itself then you must grasp that slice of time.

The sights and smells in the wetlands, would render any man humble and make them realize how small we are in this world. The endless isolated dark waters and the tall grass grow in a dangerous maze. We will come and go, but nature will always be there with its creatures and be so powerful as it is.

I dragged my kayak out of the truck bed, rigged up my gear, climbed into my waders and headed off down the muddy trail; my boots were instantly sucked into the mud which then released the swamp smell after each step. It was very slippery and at times, I would pull my boat onto the grass to facilitate the drag.

The water levels this year are very low in the wetlands, forcing me to work my way down the trail to the deeper waters several hundred meters away. Even with the rain we have had in the recent days it hasn’t helped and this makes paddling quite a chore through the weeds.

I placed my shotgun at the ready state with the safe on in its front mount of the kayak and then I pulled the boat through the swamp grass and weeds until I sank into my hips and then I would climb into the boat and push-off with my paddle once it was too deep. Every time I do this, I think of the scene in the movie “African Queen”, it is extremely hard work and requires an incredible amount of physical strength. The weeds wrap themselves around my paddle like a spider web and it makes it very difficult to move as well as exhausting, it is a battle to make it to the deeper waters.

Moments later I am floating through the tall grass, sneaking in and out of the waterways flushing wood ducks and green winged teal. I feel a sudden rush of freedom, the kayak gives me the ability to get within meters of the blue herons and they only burst into flight once I am just feet away, this is exactly the skill I am using with ducks.

Right now the birds I see the most are, green and blue winged teal, wood ducks and Canada Geese, the mallards and black ducks are not as present.

Teal are incredible birds, flying very low and unimaginably fast, unlike mallards or black ducks they remind me of fighter jets, moving in formation with lightning speed. Any gunner who is able to take one down in flight has my instant respect; it takes quick movements and precision shooting and the ability to interpret the birds.

I paddled up and down the north-eastern side of the marsh, winding through grassy canals, flushing ducks. Sometimes I would stop paddling allowing myself to coast along and then stop inside a patch of tall swamp grass and wait several minutes, almost like an instant blind configuration.

Then if there were no ducks, I would move again. My kayak is so stable, I can switch from sitting in the boat to flipping onto my knees, which provides a better shooting base and I can also rotate for harder angled shots.

On my way back to the east, I paddled a few more stokes and then on my right a green winged teal burst into flight, she then turned in mid-air and started maneuvering, through the cat tail which was shaped like of canyon. The teal was going to disappear into this water canal and I only had milliseconds to release my shot, I dropped my paddle that is rigged with bungee cord and carabiners so I do not lose it; shouldered my shotgun, pushed it off safe, angled my body to the left then fired my shot.

There is a reason why the wetlands call me back and it is not just the wildlife, I am unable to put it into words, you have to experience it.

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