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In life it is inevitable that we will all encounter challenging obstacles in some form or another and if time permits the best formula for success when facing them is going back to the basics or fundamentals. This means understanding the core principles, processes and applying them in order to overcome and succeed. 

One example of this is the following: When a brick layer is placing his first block which happens to be the starting point of a wall for a home that is supposed to last several hundred years, he must follow the processes in place for that trade and if the fundamentals are applied then we have ourselves a solid foundation. And if not then having to start over would be both costly and time-consuming, this applies to hunting as well. 

Last week I read the book: “Fundamentals of Bowhunting” written by Dwight Schuh and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was interested in the book not because I wish to purchase a bow or take up bow hunting but because in several of his chapters in the book he carefully covers all the basics of hunting, such as taking the shot and hunting gear and more. 

Dwight wrote in his introduction that bow hunting has been around for several thousands of years and is a rich tradition. This is so true! And I have tremendous respect for the bow hunter. I am not a historian by a long shot but I am a firm believer that bow hunting has been around long before rifle hunting and besides the fact that the weapons of choice may be different the core principles and objectives are the same. And this is reason enough for me to review them or get new ideas from experts such as Dwight Schuh. 

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on hunting gear, physical conditioning, basic hunting methods, making the shot and the final chapters on the animals such as deer, elk and antelope to name a few. 

I wanted to share some points on Dwight’s chapter about hunting gear. In this chapter he breaks the basic elements into subsections and provides his recommendations for each. This is very helpful when focusing on one particular part in the hunting gear. Below are some of these recommendations and some of my personal experiences. 

“Hunting clothes must first contribute to stealth, which means they must be quiet, camouflaged, and soft and flexible, so you can move without restriction.” (Hunting Gear Chapter 8, page 103.) 

Dwight is right that gear alone can not substitute for hunting skills, but as I mentioned in one of my previous blogs entries being dry, warm and basically comfortable will leave you at an advantage. “The right clothing, footwear, camouflage, hunting pack, optical gear, and scent products can make you a better hunter.” (Hunting Gear Chapter 8, page 103.) 

Just as I do, Dwight loves wool clothing but he swears by synthetics in outerwear and the most popular are used in Polar Fleece which uses polyester. This type of clothing used with the principles of layering is brilliant and you can not go wrong while exposed to the elements. 

There is a lot of rave about Gore Tex jackets, pants or even socks and yes they are a great product but my experience with using the socks during long hours in the winter is that they may keep your feet from getting wet on the outside but if your feet sweat like mine, then it works as a trap and your feet end up freezing if you do not change your wool socks on the inside. I always carry a spare pair of socks and sometimes another pair of boots. 

“Head and Neck: Your head and neck are your major body-heat regulators, and keeping them warm helps to keep you warm overall. For cool and cold weather, knits hats are great” (Hunting Gear Chapter 8, page 108.) 

Tips on footwear from the book: In order to prevent blisters, wear smooth, snug-fitting socks next to your feet and lost, bulky socks over these to absorb shock and moisture. 

For backpacking and carrying heavy meat loads, heavy leather boots with Vibram or similar lugs soles are acceptable. (Hunting Gear Chapter 8, page 108.) 

Hunting packs, most hunting stores have all types of packs to suit the different types of hunts and their prices vary. I really enjoyed what Dwight wrote about hunting packs and I believe it is so true. 

“I consider a hunting pack a necessity. It not only contains items necessary for hunting, but it holds comfort and survival gear that allows you to hunt long and hard, knowing you can survive the worst conditions. A pack not only takes care of your needs, it gives you confidence.” 

Choosing packs made out of fleece instead of nylon which can be noisy, also choose a pack with lots of pockets that allow you to store vital gear like GPS, emergency food and flashlights and first aid kits. 

Binoculars and scopes, look at the different models, compare them and then choose one based on your demands such as designation numbers and objective numbers, size and color and overall performance. In my personal experience having good optics can help you identify if the buck’s spikes are legally long enough for you to take the shot or to see if there is in fact a woodchuck on the other side of the ridge. 

“No matter where you hunt, whether in deep woods or the open desert, you’ll see more and hunt better with good optics” (Hunting Gear Chapter 8, page 112.) 

Finally on scents and attractor scents, first to mask your scent and then use scents to attract game such as urine or the example the author uses is doe in heat attractor. There are tons of great products out there at your local hunting store, Canadian tire or Wal-Mart.

 In closing I have to say that out of these one hundred and seventy-nine pages of fundamentals, the chapters that also apply to rifle hunters is knowledge that you can not do without.

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There we were in mid-afternoon driving up the middle of the dirt road heading north on our way up to the small lake located about half a kilometer north-west of the property. The land owner had told us that there were a few hundred Canada geese at the lake and we wanted to check it out and confirm where the flyway passed over head in order to prepare ourselves for the upcoming migratory bird season.

The Canada goose season for farmlands in our area had officially opened on the sixth of the month but all the fields were located on the south side of the farm and we did not see any geese for the most part of the day. We had spotted a large flock several weeks prior during the making of the woodchuck hunting documentary. They had left the safety of the water and flew right over us heading to a field to the east, which happened to be private land and out-of-bounds. We knew we would be able to come back on the twenty-fifth of September and start migratory bird hunting on lakes and the river soon enough.

On our way up, I stopped the car near the famous northern hay-field where the second most challenging woodchuck of the season and his “Condo” the tractor barn was located. This was the woodchuck I attempted the harvest weeks earlier during the filming of the woodchuck hunt and I missed my opportunity with him due to several factors but ended up harvesting another on the southern ridge.

While we were both sitting in our car seats, I could have sworn I saw a woodchuck come out from the south-western side of the barn to our right. It had been another warm day and the woodchucks were all finally coming out around five thirty in the afternoon and I was sure I was right; I did see a groundhog but he was not near the barn. He was on the south-eastern side at the edge of the field and it was my tracking partner with his excellent sight that confirmed there was a woodchuck but not where I was looking and it took me just shy of three minutes to spot him but only after I managed to get our binoculars out of the trunk.

He had quite an appetite and I had a lot of open ground to cover between him and I, so we drove up to the lake and then came back on foot and then I cut through the tree line from the north and this is where I began my stalk. This did not involve me getting down on my hands and knees or even crawling and a shot from a distance was out of the question. I simply moved forward a few steps and froze, once he stood up to look around between every feeding break, I froze then moved a little closer closing the gap between me and the woodchuck. He was not just any woodchuck he was the second most challenging woodchuck hunt this year.

I got within twenty-one yards, took off my safety and fired. Once the dust settled the field fell silent and I had harvested the “Condo King” all thanks to the eyes of the jackal.

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After a nice chat with Ron, I thought about my hunting plan for the day ahead, prepared my gear and then set off towards the west down the ridge and across the field. It was full of thorny plants, so I went around them on the left, which brought me over to the south-eastern edge of the woods. From there I went in about ten yards from the forest edge and then continued towards the west, all the while carefully scouting the first large boulder; there was no sign of activity and no fresh dirt from a dig, this first den was abandoned.

So I kept going forward, walking slowly and looking all around for any signs of activity or woodchuck. I heard a branch crack and the sound came from the south, deep in the woods to my left and high above me on the other side of the thirty five foot cliff. I stayed alert because Ron had come across a black bear sow and her cups up the road while picking berries two days prior. So I looked around some more and then kept on inching forward. The forest was so quiet, there were only a few crows overhead and I could hear the breeze blowing around me along with their calls and the rustling of the leaves. It was around ten in the morning now and the sun was coming through the tree canopy and lighting up the stones on the forest floor and causing them to change shapes and color, it was such a neat sight.

Ten minutes into the stalk and I spotted my first woodchuck of the day. He was right in front of me facing north and had a clear view of the field to his front. I was coming up on his right from the east and I was in a bad spot. I could not really move forward any more without him seeing me and I was way out of range. There were a few maple trees to my front so I thought if I move backwards he will see me and scoot in his hole. So I had no choice but to move forward. I waited standing still like a tree for about five minutes, so that he would get more comfortable and not set off his alerting whistle and drumming. I inched forward and then stopped only lifting my feet very carefully and keeping them close to the ground.

I would look down on the ground and place my feet between branches to avoid cracking them, then I tried very hard to move in behind one of the maple trees and then moved to the other. When the wind would shift, I could see the woodchuck turn his head and move in the direction of the wind and this would force me to freeze again. It was one of the toughest stalks of the year but I managed to move forward and get only twenty yards away. My adrenaline level was extremely high as I did not want to miss this harvest; it was very hot out and the woodchucks would soon disappear around noon hour for the most part of the afternoon.

I slowly raised my Model 60, lined up the iron sights and took the rifle off safe. Crack! The shot rang out and struck the woodchuck right into its right flank and then everything went silent. Ron had mentioned that there were two other dens on the southern ridge, so I continued my hunt after a short water break.

Once I crossed the river separating the farm from the southern fields, I walked up the northern side of the ridge following the cattle trail and found myself a large boulder to sit on and had a look around with my binoculars. I felt like a true woodsman sitting high on my chosen boulder surrounded by lush Canadian wilderness and farm fields littered with stumps, jagged rocks, logs and broken branches. The heat was intense but there was a nice breeze blowing in from the north-west and the dandelion seeds floated through the sky where they would fall and then rest in all the darkest corners of the woods. The varmint alliance was solidified once more and my day was now over.

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I believe it is paramount that every hunter know the difference between intelligence and instinct. Mastering this skill can mean having a keener eye to a successful hunt. The definitions to the words intelligence and instinct are easy to come by but it is both challenging and fun to be able to identify them in real-time.

When a dog trainer is teaching a dog to sit down, he or she will use a voice command combined with a hand gesture moving in a downward motion. Once the dog sits he is then given a reward such as a biscuit. This could be considered as a transfer of knowledge in which intelligence and memory are used.

Dogs do not understand what the word “Sit” means like we do but they can remember the downward motion of the hand telling them to sit and they may also potentially understand the stern voice command and recognize the sound of the word “Sit”. This to me is intelligence being demonstrated and if the dog learns fast then this is the sign of advanced levels of intelligence.

In one of my previous posts “Eyes on me”, I wrote about a Woodchuck that was actually watching me from his spy hole after I had scared him away from his primary hole located in the field. The spy hole was in the forest edge behind me and he used it to see if the area was safe. Once I left the area he came back out across the forest floor to the primary hole because I was no longer there. This is intelligence!

Now for instinct, when I got too close to the Woodchuck’s den, he would thump his paws repeatedly on the ground to alert the others along with letting out a few whistles; this is instinct. It was instinctive for him to make alerting sounds for the others just as it was instinctive for him to sunbathe in the sun to keep warm around mid-morning on a summer day.

The following weekend I used my keen eye on both points and managed to sneak up to the spy hole without the Woodchuck setting off his instinctive alert calls and went directly for the spy hole first instead of the primary hole and harvested the second Woodchuck that remained. It was another successful hunt because I had an eye on instinct and intelligence.

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I was standing on the ridge near the main gate of the cattle’s enclosure. My rifle was resting on some freshly cut wood stumps, freeing up my hands for the binoculars allowing me to get a closer look at the hillside and field below.   

There was a refreshing breeze coming in from the west and the silver-leaved poplars were dancing in the wind making a melodious rustling sound. The cumulus humilis clouds were also moving quickly through the sky, then the wind would suddenly pick up and a few darker clouds would come in and there would be a little drizzle but within a few minutes it was all cleared up and the sun would come out. 

The farmer had mentioned that there was a big woodchuck that came up along the fence not far from where he cut his wood a few days earlier. So my plan was to walk along the old wooden farm fence towards the north and investigate some potential holes. I looked down the ridge at a walking trail that resembled a trench line in the shape of a snake. Its vegetation had been beaten down and dry light brown sand had covered all the hay. The rest of the field was overgrown with green thorny plants and knee-high hay and scattered piles of manure both fresh and dry. There were also three large rocks scattered along the edge of the tree line to the south and so I decided this is where I would begin my search. 

As I started my descent down the ridge, my eye caught some movement and sure enough there was the big woodchuck coming out one of the holes on the southern ridge and it made its way down to the trail heading east. It would sprint, then stop and look around nervously and then it would set off on a sprint again. Since I was higher up and my silhouette was quite visible I got down very quickly on my stomach and took aim with my binoculars and focused in on the animal. 

I was instantly hit with a foul smell and my hands, chest and knees were soaked. I had just laid down in some fresh cow muck. Well at least I would fit in better to my surroundings and the hunt well it went on. Still using my binoculars I followed the woodchuck along the trail until it disappeared behind a large bush. 

It had vanished right before my eyes, so I got up and very carefully walked down about one hundred yards to the exact spot and there were no holes to be found. So, I followed the trail along some more also heading east and it brought me back to one of the barns only a few feet from the car, so I stopped for lunch. 

Before it disappeared at least I had located the woodchuck, so I needed to give it some time to get back to its comfort level and continue to look for food. An important thing I learned is the following: If you scare the woodchuck, leave the immediate area and place yourself a good one hundred or more yards away and wait, if the sun is out the woodchuck will come out, maybe not in the same hole but it will come. So, I finished up my lunch and decided to check out some other fields to the north. 

By the time I finished up with the northern fields, I found myself on the far western side opposite to the ridge where I had been standing in the morning. So, I unloaded my rifle made my way over the wired fence and moved in close to the tree line and stayed in the low ground. This is so that I would not accidentally scare any woodchucks that were bathing in the sun. 

It was a great idea to stay close to the tree line except that I found myself under a tree that must have had about four crows and potentially a nest because they let me know real quick that I was not welcome and they also alerted all the animals around them of my presence. So, I pressed forward and moved along further up the edge now heading east. I tried my best not to make too much noise and the cow muck, combined with the mud made it very easy to move through the forest edge without making a sound. 

I picked up my binoculars and took a quick look at one of the three main boulders and sure enough there was a big woodchuck sun bathing on its surface. The only problem is that it had a perfect one hundred and eighty degree view of the field to his front and I was smack in the middle of it. 

So I kept moving forward through the muck and mud in order to close the gap between me and the woodchuck on the other side of the field. My feet did not make a sound; every step was calculated, purposely avoiding sticks and leaves, slowly moving down along the bottom part of an embankment. The woodchuck was still perched up on the large boulder and looking right at me. I quickly studied the field in front of me and noticed that there was some low ground, so I got down on my hands and knees climbed the embankment and started my approach towards the boulder. 

As I got closer, I noticed that it was not just one large boulder but a combination of four extremely large stones in the shape of a star. I would move a few steps and stop, then carefully look up over the crest with my binoculars, and then once again move a few steps. Now with only thirty-five yards between us, the birds starting chirping in the trees to the south, they could see me coming across the field and in their alert calls all wildlife scattered including the woodchuck. 

So, I got up walked over to the stones found the hole and had a look, the woodchuck was gone. So, I moved south about twenty yards and placed myself right on the forest’s southern edge facing the hole and the field. I sat on a large rock and stayed there for thirty minutes but the woodchuck never came. 

The large rock was not the most comfortable object to sit on, so I decided to move east still staying just inside the forest edge to investigate the two other large rocks that I had noticed earlier in the morning. Once in a while I would turn and look at the star-shaped boulders, sure enough on the third or fourth time I looked over, there was the woodchuck. Not on the boulder but heading south from inside the forest. “What a bugger!” It had been watching me the whole time as I stared at its hole. 

I saw it scoot along the forest floor right over to the large rock. By the time it had reached the large rock; I had turned around and started to make my way back going west. I was only fifty yards away but I had to get closer for a clean shot without scaring it. The woodchuck was now back at the boulder and started to feed. It would lift its head every few seconds and look around then start feeding again. 

We were taking turns moving, every time it put its head down; I took a few steps and then froze like a tree. I got within shooting range at about twenty yards facing west; I then slowly raised my Cooey and took it off safe. The woodchuck was positioned just slightly to my right with its left flank exposed, allowing me to line up my iron sights with its shoulder-blade.  Crack! The first shot rang out and the woodchuck did not move. 

I started to sprint north-west towards the woodchuck, all the while I cocked my rifle, lined up the iron sights. Crack! The second shot rang out; this time the woodchuck ran down the side of the large boulder and bolted towards its hole. 

Once I broke the forest edge and leapt over a smaller log and was now facing the east and had a view right down the hole. My second shot had struck it in its side and it was struggling to move deeper into it’s borrow. Crack! A third shot rang out and everything went quiet. 

I recovered my harvest and covered the hole with large stones. It wasn’t long after I left the area and started getting ready to go home that the herd of cattle moved in on the exact spot and began grazing.

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