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The heal of my waders slid in the fresh mud off the bank into the shallow black waters of the creek, my left hand was raised as to prevent the low hanging branches from scratching my face with my right hand cradling my Remington 870. Within a few steps, I was immersed into the edge of the woods. I was in pursuit of the famed Rock Dove.

I had a look through the trees into the neighbouring field and saw nothing but fresh wild grass and hay, there were black birds, and common house sparrows, and red wing black birds flying about in the absolute nature. Once my feet were placed firmly at the bottom of the creek, I swivelled to the front and back with my eyes to get a better glimpse.

The fast flowing current was slipping around my boots and like a serpent continued into the heart of the woods, on either side there was thick brush, rich in color and sounds, it was place where the love for the woods is moulded into your soul.

I stood their very still and saw a ripple in the waters just up a little ways up, a beaver came swimming towards its dam in total silence, gliding through the water with a sense of purpose all the while very weary. Be humble in the woods and respect the environment for it can teach us great things.

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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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photomania-86e404f0c9383d7d7134359ff451344aThe morning fog was still very thick and the sun was trying hard to push through, it was an incredible view, especially with the steam fog coming up from the creek. The time of day was perfect to get ready for my approach toward the Mallards that were dabbling at the creek crossing. I could not head directly south through the field because the birds would surely spot me coming down the ridge out into the open giving me no chance of getting within a fair shooting range. Also I could not come in from the West along its tree line to my right because there was only one single large piece of old farming machinery with a single wheel and a metal seat left, which would provide no cover for an approach.

I had decided that the best way would be to sneak up and come in the from the left going along the electric fence shaping the letter “L”. So I got my kit ready and started to move away from the truck toward the bushes over the electric fence and started a slow jog along the first side of the hedges. By the time I reached the first corner of the field, I had slowed my pace down to a stalk, the ground is very wet filled with thousands of small mud islands and knee-high grass. This is perfect habitat for the common snipe and woodcock, who often burst into flight just feet in front of you and zig zag and usually land only meters from you but in very difficult places to spot them.

By the time I reached the creek on the Eastern side, I hugged the electric fence and dense hedges and started the laborious work of still hunting the Mallards. It is not just about not making noise and not being seen. You are walking on uneven ground, which is full of mud traps and you can not afford to slip with your shotgun even if it is unloaded because you do not want to get mud in the mechanism or barrel end. You are always having to control your breathing to not allow yourself to get too excited or out of breath from covering large distances such as farm fields. These factors will impact your shot accuracy.

In addition, if there are ducks dabbling nearby and you have spotted them, be sure that there are others that you haven’t seen and they will trigger an alert to the others. You must be constantly be scanning every piece of brush and the waters and especially if it is a Mallard hen, they blend in so well into their surroundings due to their brown coloration. By now I had covered well over two hundred meters and had finally reached the largest tree and final bush between the ducks and I.

In order to get the best angle for the shot, I had to move away from the brush line and out into the field to form and arc, all the while moving into position I loaded my three shells and placed one into the chamber sliding the pump-action forward, my finger was resting on the trigger guard only milliseconds from taking my shots. My barrel was aimed toward the ground but the 870 was already well shouldered.

I slowly raised my barrel and spotted the Mallard drake through the thin brush, I swung out two steps to the right and the three Mallards burst into flight, I released my first shot and the drake spun forward in mid-air and came down crashing, I quickly pumped the 870 action and released my second shot into the second bird which was a Mallard Hen but she spun in mid-air and I missed her, by the time I chambered the last shot it was too late. Their distance was too great between then and I now and that this point I would be only sky busting, so I made the shotgun safe.

I crossed the creek picked up my first harvest of the day and continued on toward the wetlands.

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The sun was high in the sky and it was simply a beautiful drive out to the farm with only a slight breeze coming in from the West. The truck slowly made its way up the dirt road like it has a hundred times. During the spring time though I had to carefully manoeuvre the steering wheel, so that the tires did not veer off forcing the truck into the mud fields to the East. The pre-existing tire tracks had two miniature creeks developing right down the middle of each one from the melting snow, this made it a delicate drive. At the main gate of the farm, the electric fence had already been opened, making it a little easier to get to my favorite parking spot.

This was also indicative that the cows were out in the field and not sitting around the main barn, this was positive. When I get to the farm, I always like to know the cattle whereabouts because they can impact the choice of a shot or not, especially when hunting rock dove. Too close is a no go for a shot.

Rock doves can fly in and adjust their flight path to their entry spot into the landing zone. They are always checking for potential danger and maneuvering accordingly. For example if I am standing by the main gate with my orange hunting vest and they spot me, they will circle in from the North and come in from the forest edge using the cover to mask their approach for the landing. Rock doves can fly in straight overhead or often circle in from either side from where you are standing completing wide arcs.

I like to try to harvest them while high in flight or when they are really close to the ground. About an hour had passed since I got to the farm and I was already walking along the edge of the forest when I came upon an old kitchen chair. I fixed the back rest placed it near a large tree and sat down for a few minutes. It was heavenly and I was taking in the view of the valley and low ground of the farm and also watching the cattle graze. When you take the time to observe cattle, you realize how remarkable they truly are as animals.

While sitting and looking out a thought crossed my mind. I told myself, I just have to be patient and maybe the rock doves will come back as they had flown away while I was sneaking through the woods earlier. Speaking from experience, it is more challenging for a young hunter to stalk the pigeons and take shots for a harvest, but it can also be done using patience and concealment, just sitting and waiting. Very similar to duck hunting, you can walk and flush them or you can set up and sit by the edge of the swamp and the ducks will eventually fly in and offer a shot. Sure enough two rock doves came in, looped around over head and I just sat very still and waited.

Once they circled directly in front of me to the south, I waited for the first one to come within two feet of the ground and I released my shot. He fell into the mud and small feathers floated into the air at the point of impact. I was pleased with my first harvest of the day and was anxious to go pick him up. I cleared my Remington 870, stood up and made my way toward my harvest, I carefully stepped over the electric fence which was just about waist high and climbed over. I walked for about another four meters and all of a sudden my boots hit a slippery spot and up I went. It all happened lightning quick. I was in a horizontal position almost still in the air with my back facing the ground and then I came down hard and landed on my full right hand side.

I was completely soaked in a soup of mud, urine, water, cow manure and hay. I could not believe it, this was my first fall in a long time and I was drenched in cow soup. After a good loud laugh and a quick check over for injuries, I got up and just like a cow getting a good scratch on the barn walls, I walked along one of the old barns and rubbed the gunk off my clothing as best I could.

I had my first harvest alright for the day but I also had a manure filled soup to go with it!

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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 privilege of seeing how a dam is built, then you quickly realize how remarkable this builders truly are.

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Last Sunday, I went out to the farm on the lookout for groundhogs and rock doves, but there was no such activity; however there were quite a few black birds. Upon my arrival, I stood in the mud facing the southern fields looking over the partially flooded areas from recent the snow melts and showers.

It was a very windy day and the rain which was predicted by the weather network had turned into a mist, and the sun was also much stronger early in the afternoon bringing up the overall temperature.

I was hidden between a hay bale and a cattle wagon, the fields to my front and sides combined made the shape of the letter “T”. Separated by a creek and mixed trees, I had a very clear view of the southern part. Several minutes had passed and I could now hear a flock Canada geese calling out, short but numerous confident calls, every bird in the flock were calling out; in this first wave I counted fifteen geese.

They flew in from the northwest and flew in around my front to the south and landed in the field to the east, they had cupped their wings and ended up all facing the flooded area in the adjacent field. They were strategically placed in the high ground allowing them to see the flooded area over the tree tops.

Within seconds a second wave of four geese flew in calling out with the same sharp shortened calls and completing a full circle scan of the fields and headed straight down on the flooded area.

Then a third wave of two geese cupped their wings and dove sharply then landed right next to the second wave, beating their wings aggressively seconds before setting foot, slowing them right down for a smooth landing.

It was fascinating to watch, because when the first wave had seen the second and third waves land and some of them had already started swimming in the shallow waters with a couple of mallard ducks.

The first wave immediately called out with the long goose calls which we are all familiar with, then they lifted off, completing a full circle over the three fields and ended up right near the flooded area for their final approach for the landing. Bring all three waves together in the same area.

Now many of us have seen Canada geese fly in for a landing, and it is a beautiful thing to watch unfolding but the majority of us might not put that much more thought into what had actually occurred in front of us.

Observation is an incredible tool during the off-season, and it is the small details that can help improve your hunts.

The geese were constantly communicating with one an other, if at anytime danger presented itself, all the birds would be alerted and would take flight immediately.

Some of the geese once on the ground had already stretched out their heads and were keeping watch for the rest of the birds. Also these Canada’s came in three groups; each wave doing its own aerial scan of the ground below prior to landing and the first wave in particular landed in the adjacent field to the east using the high ground to watch for danger even before second and third wave had landed.

So, if you are a still hunter or even hunting from a blind, you do not want to be caught moving around right away because although some birds may have landed there is a good chance there are others.

Listen to the calls and watch their body language, if the Canada geese start swimming around or laying down in the ground, they are starting to get more relaxed or trying to get warm or now shifting their focus on rest and feeding. If you can identify the birds on watch thus avoiding them if possible and you get closer for your shot, then a time like this would be best. This way if they burst into the flight, they will not be as far and as high allowing for straight and effective shots.

With practice you will be able to interpret their calls by the length, type and by the loudness of it whether or not they have detected your presence.

Observe, listen and take notes, soon enough you will start seeing patterns which will benefit your approach and hunts.

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Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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