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Posts Tagged ‘winter’


I have written about it, I have filmed it and I have lived it a hundred times over, yet I find myself sometimes coming back disappointed that I was unable to capture the true experience of spending a cold December evening with the chin straps along the cold black waters of the river. The reality is that when you live it, you are in a sense writing about it when you think about the words that you will use to describe the whole experience. Your mind is in fact filming it too and transforming it into an incredible memory. But it is an exclusive film that only your eyes capture and sharing through stories I find does not always do it justice.

The sun down time today was at four twenty in the afternoon which meant I could hunt until ten to five. This usually means full darkness at this time of year but with the moon coming up this evening it was simply out of this world and was lighting up the whole river bank toward the West. I wanted to ensure I had a long enough hunt, so for this I left the house at around two in the afternoon, thus giving me enough time to get to my spot and setup. Today I brought along my kayak and rigged up a harness for me to pull it like a sled behind me, at least until I got to the water’s edge. This way I can also retrieve birds that fall in to the water a quite a distance.

The trail is not an easy one to navigate through its waist deep watering holes and large broken ice sheets but I always seem to make it just fine. Once on the river’s edge I paddle up the river heading East for about one kilometer, which is what I did today. There was a strong wind and light snow fall, and the whole experience was magical. The waters were a little choppy but I made sure to stay close to shore, and it did not take long for the river to come to life with a bufflehead which flew with lightning speed down the edge of the river to my right but he was too quick for a side angle shot.

The advantage of having my kayak as well is that there are a few spots where I can almost always harvest some Mallard ducks but you can only access it using a boat, however once on the other side of that bank, you can easily hide amongst the tall swamp grass and sneak up to the ducks for a good shot. Quite often I get down on all fours and move forward through the brush sometimes even placing my bare hands into cold water puddles of ice. But it is well worth the reward.

I have blogged a few times about the golden half an hour before sun rise and after sun down and I can not emphasize enough how amazing those time of days are. If you do your research and observe where the birds fly in and you have a good shot, your chances of a harvest during this time is most definitely greater. This time a year, I find that number 3 and 2 shells are not sufficient and I prefer using BB or triple B, in addition while hiding amongst the tall grass do not move and let the geese come in for a close approach this will sometimes guarantee a harvest.

At around four thirty the geese started to fly in by the hundreds from fields to the South to the safety of the river but remained on the other side, it was a hypnotizing sight much like I have experienced during my snow geese hunts near Quebec city. After a few more minutes passed, small groups of chin straps were now starting to cut across within shooting range and it was simply mind-blowing. The sights and sounds were phenomenal and when I called out a few short calls the geese would drop altitude with the sharp ninety degree bank turn and head right toward my natural blind. I never tire of watching a flock of geese flying into range and each bird taking turns completing a sharp bank turn which allows them to drop altitude faster that is if they are coming in for a potential landing. I have also seen them complete this type of aerobatics if they also fly over tree lines where they know they might get shot at, almost like evasive flight manoeuvres.

It was simply amazing!

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Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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

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The black waters of the Ottawa River were quite visible with its ice only forming on its shores. The waterfowl season was still very active and only closing in just a few weeks. Now that the temperatures have started to drop the only visible ducks were American Black ducks, Mallards along with scattered groups of Canada geese found in the open areas of the marsh and river.

There were also Barrow’s Golden eye ducks but they had a tendency to move rapidly to the middle and deeper parts of the marsh.

I was out on the banks heading east along the northern side closest to the marsh and it was just an incredible experience, mallards and black ducks were flying in and landing just meters to my front. I had to get right down low in order to stalk, using the trees and tall grass in an attempt to get closer.

I had my sights on a mallard couple which had landed on the edge of the ice; I managed to get up really close. I was readying myself for a shot, when all of a sudden I spotted a group of five mallards to the west or right. They were floating down toward me heading east, and I could see them appear and disappear between the trees, they were in a better position.

There was a very cold wind blowing in from the south on the river; yet my hands were warm as they are conditioned for the cold, besides I do not like wearing gloves when I am shooting, especially when working with the safety. Once I got moving my hands would feel like they are swelling up and then they eventually warm up within minutes they felt like mittens.

I stood up and moved closer to the pathway leading to the right, once in position, I stood up lightning fast and the ducks burst into flight, I selected one duck and released my shot.

A female mallard tumbled down to the water; it was my first harvest of the day. I retrieved the bird and continued down the shore of the river. I was really happy with my harvested duck, and was planning on heading further east when I spotted a flock of twenty or so Canada geese, floating near some dead trees which were submerged.

I set my sights on the geese and like a fox I got even lower and started my really slow stalk. What I did not realize is that there were a few mallard’s just meters in front of me in a small channel in behind the tall grass. I would have walked right on top of them heading toward the geese hadn’t I seen them.

So instead I carefully moved forward and stood up once I was within a fair shooting distance, unfortunately a well hidden duck which was on my left spotted me first, let out a call and the group took off and heading north.

I stood still and watched as they circled and came right back to my left, heading west. I moved really slow careful not to startle them further west or higher.

When I flushed the ducks, they didn’t seem to be bothered so much by the sound of breaking ice under my boots but rather by what they saw as a potential danger in the movement around them. If you were seen, the ducks would burst into the air in seconds; what was interesting is that they circled around across the marsh to the north then came right back at me. I was now standing and I repositioned myself but I did not move fast as to scare the birds higher and out of range.

I noticed behavior similarities between mallard ducks and snowshoe hares, they both circle when flushed and both seem to wait until the last second before bursting into flight or leaping away. Almost like they were hoping you would walk or paddle right by them during their freeze pose.

Sure enough they came looping right back off to my left, I slowly raised my shotgun lined up my bead sight with a duck and released my shot.

The bird froze its flight in mid-air and crashed into the water below. It was a brilliant harvest and a great way to end my afternoon. That night we had pan-fried duck with Montreal steak seasoning.

The marsh in the winter time is a magical place.

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A few weeks ago, I decided take my brother-in-law out snowshoe hare hunting, it would be a great way for us to spend time in nature together. It was sure nice to have company on this hunt and for him it would be an enjoyable day on snowshoes.

The conditions were not the best, it was a cold windy day and the snow was quite deep with a thin snow crust on its surface.

We both had our own pairs of snowshoes, I gave him the more modern pair which were narrower but were fitted with gripping teeth under the toe of the boot. The teeth are great when you are crossing a frozen creek or lake covered in ice.

Myself I had an old pair of Michigan snowshoes fitted with an old leather binding set. It worked out for this hunt but at times it was quite frustrating, falling and fighting the snow with the older shoes.

The front part of my snowshoes would sink deep below the surface and every time I lifted my foot for the next step, I was shoveling heavy snow. Also in the deep woods, sometimes the shoe or its webbing would get stuck on branches or logs hidden under the snow.

This would cause me to fall over and it took time to get back up.

There many things that went wrong that day. The older leather binding was weak and provided no support around the front and back of the boot causing it to slip around from left to right or the other direction.

The movements of my boots alone caused the tail of the shoe to angle outward and this put me off-balance. Additionally, the front of the Michigan’s had been sinking down first making lift my heavy shoe and dump the snow. The front parts of these shoes were flat instead of being angled upward.

Another unpleasant problem was as I was struggling to lift my shoe out of the snow it would spit up frozen snow up my back-end and if I hadn’t been wearing waterproof pants that day I would have been soaked.

My brother-in-law let me break trail because one advantage was that I had a much wider base. The newer snowshoes worked great but they sank deeper because his steps where not very wide.

I have used all kinds of snow shoes and have spent many hours in the brush and although I enjoyed using my traditional shoes, and wish to continue to use them, I was going to improve them and test the shoes out in the field.

Since our last hunt I bought myself a new pair of leather bindings and watched a YouTube video showing how to attach the harness for the type of snowshoe I was using. I used the videos method but ended up improvising for my types of hunts, basically the harness is secured in several other places making it more stable with some 550 cord. I was in business.

I put on the pair and stepped out for a test run around the house down by our creek and into the woods. It was perfect; I tried jumping, running, turning sharply, bending over and even moving over logs.

Last night I was surfing the web doing research on trapper history. I found a neat painting on a site whereby the artist painted the trapper on snowshoes but they were turned around with the pointy end facing the front. This would provide the width and stability needed in deep snow and you would not shovel heavy snow.

What if? I asked myself, I have another pair of snowshoes; it is worth a try by placing the snowshoes the other way around with the tail in the front.

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It was the middle of the month of March now and the sun was extremely bright and very high in the sky almost directly above me and only a few minutes shy of high noon. The day was an amazingly warm wintery day, I could feel the warmth on my face and I had already stripped down a layer. The reflections from the sun transformed the surface of the snow into a very large mirror, with the temperature sitting at around one degree Celsius. I had been tracking snowshoe hare and a coyote tracks for the most part of the morning.

I made my way down the ridge to the north-west heading south and followed the coyote tracks right through the frozen swamplands then over the river and afterward headed to the south-west. The coyote tracks would be occasionally space out, at times you could only make out three paw marks and then there were gaps of about a meter and a half or so in length as the animal would break out into a trot; then around the thirty meters distance mark it had stopped at a watering hole very close to the beaver lodge and then it climbed up on a large boulder to have a better look around. The coyote then continued around the front of the rock formation on the southern edge of the forest and disappeared in the snowy cedar and pine.

It is incredibly rewarding to be able to read natures signs, almost like a book and piece together a story, of this lone coyote who roams the same pristine lands as I. The snow surface had hardened from last night’s freeze creating a thick crust of ice thus making it much easier to walk. Every few steps one of my boots would break through and after a few tough steps I would stand steady onto of the surface once again, just like the other creatures which were lighter than me.

My goal was to harvest a snowshoe hare but I was also on the lookout for the intelligent American Crow. Another hour had passed and once the snowshoe hare leads had gone dry, I put my focus on the Crows which were flying around to the north.

I followed them as they flew over head; which lead me directly into the bowels of the white wilderness and within minutes I was surrounded by trees and pure solitude. There was a small clearing in between the pine and maple trees, so I made my way to the opening and looked up through the tree canopy to the bright blue sky.

I let out a few crow calls using my hands also adjusting the shape of my mouth and within a few minutes some crows flew right over me but were too high to reach with my 870, then the murder circled away to the west. I leaned up against a large tree and used its branches as cover because I remembered that during one of my previous pigeon hunts, the birds saw me from above and by the time my shot rang out they had maneuvered around my pellets. It was incredible!

A few more minutes had passed and now I was turning around to start my way back to the farm when all of a sudden I heard a crow call out from above, I was able to tell right away the direction he was calling from even without having seen him yet and knew he was going to fly right over head in my direction.

I swung around one hundred and eighty degrees shouldered my shotgun did a quick visual check, released the push safety and shot all in one single motion and hit the crow directly in flight; he landed directly to my left only five meters away. He was a beautiful bird and it had almost as much meat as a teal duck. It was a great hunt and feast!

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My watercolor of a Snowshoe Hare

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