Bleib optimistisch

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Nick Schäfer duck hunting on the Tay River on the first day of our hunting holiday.

It is Thanksgiving Weekend here in Canada and this year Mika and I are hosting Nick Schäfer, a young German man with a passion for hunting, who is staying with us for a hunting holiday. Nick is a student, currently studying business administration at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. I spied a post he put up on the Ontario Hunters Unite group on Facebook in which he asked if he might accompany someone on a hunting trip while he is here in Canada. I was among those who responded to his post. I left a reply telling him if he were ever in the Ottawa area during hunting season I would happily take him into the field with me and my hunting buddies in pursuit of grouse, woodcock and wildfowl. I asked that he first get himself the proper permits: a non-resident small game license and a migratory game bird hunting permit. He responded to my offer and when he told me the fall break from school coincided with Thanksgiving Weekend, I invited him to come to Ottawa for a hunting holiday. What follows is an account of day one of his stay.

Got out for a duck hunt on the Tay River where it meets the Greater Rideau Lake this morning, Saturday, October 8th, with my German guest, Nick Schäfer. I had high hopes for this hunt that fortune would smile on us as this was also the first time out in my new duck boat. We were up at 3:00 am making the final preparations for our departure to the Tay River where we would launch the boat. I wanted to be on the road by 4:00 am as the drive from my house in Ottawa to the edge of the Tay River takes about one hour. This leaves time to load up the boat, launch and motor to the hunting site I chose for this morning’s hunt. We stopped by the Tim Hortons at the local Esso Station to fill our thermoses with coffee: dark roast, black for me and dark roast with one milk for Nick. The weather was warm, well above zero, but it was rainy and blustery making it a better day for a duck hunt than for upland gunning.

We reached the edge of the Tay River in good time and with a little difficulty (backing a boat trailer is not my greatest skill) we launched the boat and were on our way. My new boat is a Johnboat, it has a flat bottomed hull making it much better suited for navigating the Tay River (so I thought). The Tay is very shallow and has hazards to navigation such as a sandbar and many tree stumps. Navigating the Tay in my old boat with its V hull was typically an exercise in frustration as it frequently ran aground and got hung up on submerged stumps. While it was much easier navigating the Tay River in the new boat, it was not without some trouble. We had an easier time getting past the sandbar, but managed to run up on a stump that protruded from the water. Nick pushed us off with the push pole I keep on board and we motored on. As we neared the mouth of the Tay where it meets the Greater Rideau Lake, another hunter motored past us. He had a dog on board and headed out into the lake.

I looked for a suitable spot at the mouth of the river to set up the blind and place our decoys. I brought two dozen bluebill decoys, thinking we would rig them to look like ringbills  (ring necked ducks) out in the open water and place a mix of black and mallard decoys closer to the blind. It was getting close to shooting time so I decided to make do with setting out the black and mallard decoys. Nick and I placed the decoys in a marshy area close to shore, in the lee side of the mouth of the Tay and anchored the boat with the decoys 25-30 yards from us. We set up the panels on the Cabelas Northern Flight blind frame, recently installed by my friends Omer and Ehtisham, and were in position for the start of legal shooting time by 6:43 am. While we got in position, more hunters motored by on the Greater Rideau Lake and from the Tay River. It was a popular spot this Saturday morning.

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View of our decoy spread at the mouth of the Tay River.

Nick was armed with my older Browning BPS in 12 gauge with a 30″ barrel and 3″ chamber. I brought some 3″ hevishot shells in no. 4 and 2 for him to use. I was armed with my newer BPS with a 28″ barrel and 3 1/2″ chamber. I use steel shot in this gun. We had time to take coffee while we waited for the morning flight and sat together in anticipation of what I hoped would be a good flight of ringbills with some black ducks, mallards and wood ducks. Fortune had other ideas, however. In the first half hour of shooting time there was nothing. We heard some shooting in the distance, presumably at the Tay Marsh. We sat watching and one bird buzzed by at the outer limit of range past our decoys, taking us by surprise. Well into the hunt a pair of birds approached our decoy spread head on, quartering to the right of us. Nick and I shot and one of the birds dropped onto the Tay. Regrettably, I fear the birds were hooded mergansers, just the bird we make a point of avoiding as they are unfit to eat. We watched as the downed bird drifted to shore; our intention was to retrieve it after the hunt concluded.

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Posing with my Browning BPS during our duck hunt on the Tay River.

We saw some birds land out in the open water of the lake and heard a few shots from the other hunters around us. A pied-billed grebe went about its business in the water to the left of our blind site. There were a few Canada geese in the air later in the morning, but none came close enough for a shot, despite my enthusiastic calling. A few mallards flew by, high overhead, on their way to somewhere else. We watched as the other hunters gave up and departed by 9:00 am. We packed up at 10:00 am and searched for our downed bird on the way back to shore, but alas (despite a thorough search) it was not recovered. This was a disappointing start to our hunting holiday, but Nick, being the optimistic sportsman he is, took it in stride declaring “that’s hunting.” While we sat in the blind, watching the empty skies, we discussed his hunting experiences in Germany and I found it curiously refreshing to hear the same thing we experienced this morning happens just as frequently to German hunters.

With day one behind us, we looked ahead optimistically to some upland gunning over Hera, my Brittany, and Canada goose hunting with my buddy Jason and his German Wirehaired Pointer, Nos, in the days that followed.

Posted by Geoffrey

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