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Posts Tagged ‘woods’


My boots entered the cold muddy waters as I stepped through the creek heading in the direction of the southern field; I was closing the gap between the large boulders and I. For today the weather network had called for thunder showers along with strong winds but this hadn’t materialized yet and I still had some time to be out in the open, while walking up the ridge. I arrived at the farm late in the morning just before noon and had a great chat with my farming friend, we talked about family and the farm.

With the incredible amounts of rain that we have had this past spring and summer, there has been lots of growth and abundant hay but not necessarily quality hay. I am always concerned for the cattle and that they will have enough food for the winter. Once I reached the southern field, I leaned forward while walking to give myself a lower profile. When ever I come up to large boulders or groupings of small trees, I keep a sharp eye for small brown objects which move quickly, and these can be a woodchuck.

I raised my head from time to time to get a better look, a nice breeze came in and I instantly picked up the scent of the wet cedar, it was awesome. It was natures way of providing its form of aromatherapy. I kept pressing on and once I caught my breath I walked right through the green curtain of trees following a well used cattle trail.

I barely had the time to lift my head again and I had already triggered an alert with the first woodchuck of the day, who dove into his hole. In this situation, I usually wait a few minutes, as they tend to come back out and investigate in order to identify if you are in fact a threat or just another animal.

I stood tall and placed my shotgun perpendicular to my body and slipped in behind a wide tree. Every few seconds, I would take a deep breath and tilted only my head forward and glanced at the woodchuck. The woodchuck was coming out again, but only its head was out of the ground and it was not a sure harvest shot. I wanted a clean harvest because I was planning on having a great meal later in the evening.

Now with the woodchuck standing half outside the hole, I carefully raised my 870, loaded a shell pumped the action and fired my shot. I had my first confirmed harvest of the day and loaded the woodchuck in my game bag. I pumped the action again and ejected the empty shell then looked up at the sky to check out the darker cloud formation coming in from the West. I headed right toward the opening in the field and made my way back to the creek, this is when I spotted another woodchuck further up the ridge to the south-west.

He was positioned in front of the large boulder but it was too late, he had made me and ran back into his hole. I had considered circling and coming around from the back using the tree line and the high ground but it was too late. I finally decided to go back to the truck place my first harvest into the cooler then try for a second try at the large boulder woodchuck.

Thirty minutes had gone by and I was now lighter with the first harvest in the cooler, had a drink of water and set off again. I was keeping my eyes open for the cattle, because I did not want to cross the creek with them too close to me. I stepped over the electric fence surrounded by tall wild grass and headed down another cattle path between two barns and back across the creek.

This time, my plan was to circle to the right, heading toward the swamp and using the low ground and small bushes as to cover more ground without being spotted. I had stopped just prior to the creek and used my binoculars to confirm that he was back on top of the boulder. He was indeed and facing the north-east with this back to my front. This was perfect, I moved through the low ground winding in and out of the brush and finally hit an open area. He had spotted me and jumped down from the boulder and back around the front back into his hole. My initial approach worked for a while but he keen eyes had spotted me.

I still pressed on and bent forward again and got really low to the ground, I was now on his right and about twenty meters out. I got down on my knees and placed my 870 in my left hand and used my right hand as support as I crouched and moved up to a large bush growth on a smaller boulder just meters before the woodchuck hole. It provided great concealment and now with my controlled breathing, I raised my head like a periscope and noticed the woodchuck had come out and turned sideways just a short distance from the opening of his hole.

I dropped a shell into the breach slid the action forward instantly locking a shell then slid the push safety on. I raised my head once more and then carefully positioned myself into a good firing position, pushed released the safety off, then let out my shot. The second harvest of the day was confirmed and just in time because the storm had moved in and the presence of lightning was my queue to head home for the day.

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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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Life has been moving so quickly these days with so much going on in the early part of two thousand and seventeen, that I haven’t really been able to digest the passing of my great-aunt. And when I speak with colleagues at work about life in general, it seems to be the same for them, this early period of the year is throwing everything it has at us and we are put to the test with deaths in the family, some with financial or others health issues.

My great-aunt took great pleasure in feeding the local wildlife in her yard and this gave her comfort and countless hours of pleasure. It was a way to break away from the constant distractions of life. And in her final days this is where she chose to be, in her home close to the squirrels that she fed. Her family was never far from our beautiful North-American wilderness and she knew her trees and wildlife very well.

Many years ago she owned a cabin in the woods where she would spend some time away from the town, there she was free to spend hours with the local wildlife. On my second last trip to go see her, we sat in a park surrounded by tall evergreen trees and we had nice talk about the importance of nature and the history of the woods in her region.

I remember her telling me “The forest is my church” and these words will for ever be etched in my memory when I think of her. Last weekend shortly after breakfast, I fed my local crows and squirrels, and I could not put it into words how I felt. The excitement and joy I experienced when the crows came flying in answering my calls as they fed, it was rewarding and calming.

Almost every morning over the past few days, when I looked out my kitchen window and stare into the woods, I took a few deep breaths and thought about my great-aunt feeding her squirrels and I can hear her voice talking about her love of nature and enjoying the simple things like feeding them.

I will continue the family tradition of feeding the local squirrels and will take time to think of her in doing so, because the very same forest that is spread right across our great nation is my church as well.

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It has been a few weeks since I have blogged about our beloved sport; but the subject was never far from my thoughts or soul. For fourteen days, I walked two hundred and fifty kilometres on part of the Saint James’s trail (Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle) France; more accurately a pilgrimage on the Rocamadour variant.

God knows, no pun intended that I had lots of time to think and reflect about everything, including my upcoming seasons and blog articles. While on the “Chemin,” I was constantly reminded of the beauty of nature and its magnificent wildlife. The hares in France were so large in size that their ears resembled that of a coyote and the palombe (wood pigeons) also impressed me with their size, flight and ability to blend into their environment.

When walking in the open fields alone with no one in sight for miles, I openly called out to the French crows and hawks to see if I would get a response. The crow calls were very different and not as pronounced as their north American cousins. They also did not call in three’s. Furthermore, they did not seem interested in having a conversation with me, unlike they do here.

As for the hawks, they usually called back but it took two or three tries before I got a response. While on the Saint James trail, it was not unusual to spend several hours walking through French forests and even though they also had maple and oak trees just like us, the forests in the region where I walked seemed very damp and dense and very eery at times.

The forest density changed just like our forests from very open pine forests to extremely thick mixed woods. Some trees grew in small groupings of three to five trees with every grouping spaced out. I walked through many private hunting territories in close proximity to agricultural areas, and only saw two deer and was particularly amazed by their rather small body size.

One night while sitting in a French restaurant, I met a fellow boar hunter and eventhough we lived in two different countries seperated by a great sea, we shared the same passion, the same knowledge and as a result we bonded like two brothers. 

It was an incredible experience and I will return for sure, but now my focus is to enjoy the rest of the summer and get ready for the fall. And as for my walk through the amazing French countryside and its forests or as John Muir put it: The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

My fourteen day walk through the French countryside and wilderness shall be part of me for a lifetime.

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There was a strong breeze coming in from the west that brought with it some cold air; for a moment I felt a chill down my back while descending the ridge toward the creek. The sun was out and the birds were singing and you just felt this renewed source of energy in the air, what an incredible day I had chosen to visit my friends farm and hunt small game.

I was on the lookout for woodchucks and rock doves. By the time my descent had finished I was now standing at the edge of the creek, the water was still incredibly cold with the water levels higher than usual caused by the melting snow and ice.

I crossed over to the other side choosing my path carefully stepping on the large boulders just below the surface of the crystal clear water, high enough to prevent my socks from getting wet, also not to allow the water to reach the top of the boot which was just below the knee.

It was now time for the climb to the rock formation at the top of the southern ridge, it is a really enjoyable walk but I am alway cautious passing through the wall of evergreen, because the cattle have carved out pathways that they use frequently and I would not want to surprise a young bull into a face to face encounter.

As the years go by and as you spend more time outdoors hunting small game it is inevitable that you will make mistakes which causes you to lose out on a few harvest opportunities. I find the trick is once the frustration has been released through a few swear words and licking your wounds; you then decide to learn from them. Observe and then you promise yourself that you will not be doing this twice. The mistakes I mean.

One example of this is, a few years ago I was walking up the whole length of the creek in late October trying to flush ducks and after several hundred meters I was starting to get discouraged and tired of still hunting. Not one duck in sight, as soon as I let my guard down and started walking tall and ordinarily, I scared off two mallards and they got away before I could get a shot off because of the tough angle of the shot.

This has happened to me with Grouse, Woodcock and also Woodchucks. I walked right into their still stance trap and then boom in an explosion of speed they were gone. Once you become an expert in their habitat I believe you get to know when you should flick the on switch for still hunting alert mode.

So on this particular day I put my theory to the test, I made my way through the cattle trail and got up to the rock formation. I could have walked right up to the crest and looked around and gaze over the horizon like a king over his kingdom but every single game would fly off or run for cover. Of course the red squirrel and crow alert calls wouldn’t help.

So, instead I leaned forward and just popped my head over the crest and I found myself practically staring into the eyes of a woodchuck who was sun-bathing just meters in front of me. I put myself in reverse fairly quickly and lowered myself into the low ground and took a few deep breaths. Loaded a shell into my 870, clicked the safety on and then started to lift the top part of my body just above the crest looking right back into the woodchucks eyes.

Lined up my bead sight with the vitals, completed my three breaths then slow pushed my safety off. Moments later I released my shot and harvested my first spring woodchuck. That night I pan-fried some nice thighs in maple syrup with Cajun cowboy spices from Canadian Tire. It was delicious.

Two years ago, I guided a friend duck hunting in my canoe, he was in the front ready to shoot and I was paddling us through a maze of weeds, but because I had learned so much about ducks and their habitat and knew the swamp extremely well, I had also observed like a hawk and mentally recorded certain gold pot spots. I had it down to a science. I knew exactly when he should shoulder his shotgun and be ready. On this day we did not make same mistake twice. Instead we made nice Mallard dishes.

Take your time still hunting on foot or paddling through the weeds, when you feel it, you will know when to flick on the switch and be extremely observant and be ready.

The results are very rewarding and a confirmation that you are learning. Observation just like conservation is paramount.

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The cold enveloped me like a blanket as a strong breeze blew in from the south through the trees making sounds similar to that of distant whispers of the men that have passed before me in these dark wintery woods. I was all alone. My boots were crushing through the thin crust of snow and then sinking into the cold waters of the creek below; I was alive in this Canadian wilderness stalking the elusive hare.

Following their leads, I was pushing deeper into the darkness. Then suddenly to the south, I saw white and silver flashes in the sky through the cedar. Just in front of me were fifteen wild turkeys foraging for food through the snow, but to them I was invisible, having stalked within meters.

I was hoping to see the dark eyes of a snowshoe hare staring right at me amidst the evergreens, but now my curiosity was drawn to the flashes in the sky which turned out to be five rock doves. They circled several times and finally landed in the dead tree just twenty meters away. My left hand was cradling the cold steel of my great uncles break-open Iver Johnson sixteen gauge shotgun. My right hand having just adjusted my tuque which got caught in a low branch was now moving toward the pocket of my orange vest in order to grab a #6 paper shell.

Now that my focus was on the Rock doves, I had to figure out how to move further south to get into the best position to harvest a bird. I wanted to get a safe shooting position as to not hit any wild turkeys because they were out of season. There was a large broken tree just ahead and a large rock formation behind me. If I passed around the front of the tree, they would surely see me and fly off, so I had to make my way around the north side without breaking off any small branches coming out of the log.

Any sound or sudden movement would send them into flight. After several minutes of hard work, I was now in a good spot for taking a shot, angled just a few feet above the horizon directly in line with the large branches that they were resting on.

I loaded the shell which slid right into the chamber and then swivelled the gun shut, bought it up to my shoulder and then with my right thumb pulled back on the hammer. With my cheek pushed up against the comb, I lined up the bead sight and released my shot. The whole forest instantly came to life, the turkeys flew in every direction and the pigeons pushed off toward the south, except for the bird I chose.

Time seemed to have slowed down and the pigeon puffed open toward the sun, spread its wings and floated down like a parachute along with the snow flakes to the surface of the snow on the ground. I opened my mouth to exhale and as my breath condensed into a mist I could taste the smell of the old paper shell which had just been fired, awakening moments of past hunts by previous generations.

The rock doves circled around yet again and came right back to another dead tree to the east. The woods were silent once again.

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I drove carefully through the creek, it was going to be a quick crossing; just minutes before I had put on my Allen waders and walked across it to see how deep it was, this also let me find the sharp rocks sticking out of the muddy bottom.

As the tires pushed through the creek, three mallards that were hidden in the dense grass burst into flight heading westward, they were climbing gradually but their flight lightning fast, one drake and two hens. I was heading to the edge of the marsh to the south-east.

When I first arrived at the farm I noticed the southern field was empty with no Canada geese in sight. I wasn’t sure how my hunt was going to turn out on this fall day but I always try to be creative and remain optimistic.

The cows were scattered all around the barns and open fields, I was hoping for a good day but there were no birds in sight. I took a few deep breaths and with my binoculars in hand, I started to scan the landscape. Over a kilometer away in a south-westerly direction, I noticed long black objects poking out the swamp grass, they were moving very little but just enough that I could make out the difference from the tree stumps left by the beavers and a goose neck.

I stood there on top of the ridge for a few more minutes, raised and lowered my binoculars several times trying to get a better look at the thin black sticks. Once I cleared the creek, I turned toward the west and moved along the ridge driving in the low ground, and my plan was to park away from my start point for my stalk.

With the truck now parked exactly where I wanted it, I opened the driver door and stepped out onto the moist field. It was a cold windy day, so I put on my Remington hunting jacket and zipped it up just below the chest pouch fitted with a magnetic strip of my waders giving me easy access to my shells.

With my 870 ready and placed on the field floor I took three Challenger shells and loaded them and pumped one into the chamber and placed the safety on. The whole time I was kneeling beside the truck, I kept my eyes on the cattle more particularly the big black bull.

They were only a few meters away and I only had small spruce trees and dead tree stumps, between them and I and they got pretty weary with me crawling around them.

I now had to move my way closer to the water’s edge without triggering any panic among the geese, especially the one’s on watch. As I came around the front of the truck and headed to the water, I would sneak up behind some trees, then move my way around to freshly cut stumps left by the beavers. The ground beneath me was transforming into a muddy sludge mixed in with rotten pieces of wood and rock.

With my green balaclava pulled over my face; every few steps I would stop and check my alignment with the spotter geese and then adjust my movement forward, so that they could not see me.

I was now only twenty meters away but it felt like a longer distance than this as I could no longer finish my approach slouched forward. I had to get down on my hands and knees, and with every pace forward, I would meticulously place my shotgun onto swamp grass mounds just high enough to keep my barrel cleared of the muck.

A few weeks earlier I had observed my cat stalking some common house sparrows in the tall grass. Everyone of her muscles were moving in a calculated fashion then very often she would stop and just watch, then adjust her position again and move forward with only her front legs and then minutes later she would bring in her bag legs forward, thus allowing her to jump forward with the maximum reach allowed. It was incredible that a large black object like her could move ahead closer to the birds without sending them into flight.

I was now knee-deep in the cold waters, my hands were breaking through the very thin layer of ice and then sinking into the muck, my fingers were starting to burn because of the cold waters but I was so focused on my approach that I did not give much thought to my uncomfortable movement.

I finally got into the position but my left boot was stuck in the mud, I had to figure out how to shift my hip forward and get into a good shooting position without getting too high. I grabbed a chewed beaver stump placed my fingers carefully around tip and pulled myself up.

This was all done in an exaggerated slow motion, so that I did not alert the spotter geese. I could hear one of them calling out nervous short calls. But before I could shoot, I needed to get one final look at the main group of geese in behind the marsh grass and ensure that my first shot was going to be perfect and safe.

The group formed a sort of broken circle with three geese lined up with two on each side. I took several deep breaths then looked down into the water, my heart was beating like crazy and I was breathing like I had just run several kilometers.

I was ready and had all my shots planned out, I did the slow controlled push-off of my safety button just like Wade Bourne had shown in one of his videos. I slowly raised myself up behind thin branches of a dead tree that came up out of the water like a cypress tree in the shape of the letter “y”, my ruse worked for a few seconds until the geese started calling out aggressively and pushing off into flight. I released my first shot when the birds where just inches off the water and my shell shot snapped the first three geese and brought them down. I aimed for the head and neck just like turkey hunting.

I could not believe it, I had just brought down three geese in one shot, the first one fell hard into the water and the two others spun and flipped back into the water right after, the first two were down but the third tried to fly again and I released a second shot.

With three harvested, I turned to my right or north-east and released another shot and hit a fourth bird and it fell and spiralled hard into the water. I had to reload, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out two more shells and loaded them then pumped and twisted to my left now in a full standing position I released another shot and brought down the largest bird of my harvest.

Once the water calmed below my feet and the empty shells floated near my boots, I had five Canada geese lying in front of me and I could not believe what had just happened.

I had just reached my daily bag limit in a matter of seconds and I was in total disbelief, my years of work to becoming a better waterfowler had just materialized before me and the future could only be brighter.

It took me several minutes to get the birds back to the truck and then drive back to the barn on my way home. While loading my kit in the back of the truck, six rock doves flew in from the east heading west over the barn by the cattle gates.

I grabbed my 870 and snuck in behind the southern barn and made my way around the front, the pigeons where flying just two meters above the ground in formation. I loaded one shell of number three and released a single shot into the flock, taking down two birds.

I have gone weeks without a single harvest but days like these taught me to never give up and learn as much as you can and spend as much time as you can in the field. It does not matter where you are in the world, after all it is in our blood and I understand!

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