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Posts Tagged ‘woods’


I stood there very still for a moment in time on top of the valley of my dear friends farm; waiting as the cool air from the southern breeze made its way up the ridge toward me. Once it enveloped me it felt as though it had cleansed me of all life’s impurities and in doing so, it showed me that no matter from our modern world had any significance in the wild. I was free and the feeling was an overwhelming sense of joy and mixed emotions.

In the woods being surrounded by its raw beauty and ruthlessness, I was free of judgment, free to roam its narrow passages through the dense brush and the dark black waters of the nearby creeks, all the while my soul was being lured further in by the diving beaver as it made its way to the dam.

All my senses were at a heightened state, the sound of the flowing water and the calls of Red-Winged black birds pulled me deeper into the bowels of this vast wilderness. Though my stay as a guest was only for a few short hours, I returned home refreshed.

The smell of smoke from a distant chimney blew in over the vast open fields and as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, for a moment in time, I found myself standing back in the dark rolling valleys of the Balkans with the sounds of distant gunfire stamped into my memory for all of eternity.

patrol

I love the wilderness for it provides all the ingredients for a sound soul. For I can not wait to return again and in time, I too will become part of this very same southern breeze, and possibly have the chance to share my wisdom through a whisper for the next generation of Canadian outdoor enthusiasts.

I am an old soul and for this I am sure and I feel it through my bushcraft, I have come to realize that I may live now amongst us today but my being is that of a time long ago.

This blog entry is dedicated to all veterans and their families from all over the globe.

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The snowmobile plowed through the soft snow leaving a large cloud of mist in our trail, which turned into billions of crystals that glistened as the sun rays pierced through. Following a few turns around the frozen lake, the temperature gauge lit up on the dash and we knew something wasn’t right.

We pulled off the trail closer to the shore and lifted the hood and confirmed the worse, something was wrong and we were losing coolant and we only had barely enough to make it back to the cottage which was well over a kilometer away.

I volunteered to walk back, making the sled lighter thus giving my friend a better chance of making it back to the trailer. We lowered the hood, started the motor and within seconds, I was standing all alone surrounded by pure snow-covered wilderness.

I was like a child that had just received one of the best gifts in the world, the feeling was overwhelming, I couldn’t resist, I raised my arms into the air and started to skip up the lake kicking the fresh snow with my boots.

I would breathe in, closed my eyes and listened to the stillness, it was incredible. Once I hit the halfway mark, I left the openness of the lake and started my way into the woods to the west. I felt alive, it is very difficult to put into words but its like you become part of the forest, it is no longer this cold hostile environment that has the ability to arouse primal fears.

snare

Within minutes, I had found snowshoe hare leads and began to follow them along the edge of the lake through the thick spruce and pine growth. Once I was within a few hundred meters of the cottage, I began to set some snares, rubbing the wire against the spruce tree trunk, to shape the wire and get rid of my scent.

This was perfect, before I knew it several hours had passed and time no longer had the same meaning as it does in the city. In the province of Quebec, a certified hunter can use snares for snowshoe hares under their small game license. 

I wish everyone an incredible new year!

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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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