“Be prepared,” is the motto of the Girl Guides. It is good advice, in my opinion, particularly when I set out on a duck hunting expedition with one or more of my hunting buddies. This morning, I set out with Akber, Omer and Ehtisham for some duck hunting on the Rideau River. I prepared for the hunt the night before, knowing from experience that there is always something waiting to go wrong. I learned the hard way that waiting till the morning of your planned duck hunt to prepare typically ends in frustration when things go wrong or crucial pieces of kit are left behind. Despite my foresight and determination to see that I was prepared well in advance of my departure for the marsh, no amount of preparation (at least in my experience) will stave off all that is waiting to go wrong. This time, however, it took the cake!
Ducks and drakes, what the English call the game of skipping stones across water, came to mind as Nick and I made ready to set out on our second duck hunt during his stay with Mika and me. Ducks and drakes were what I hoped we would get into on this hunt, notably ringbills, a species of wild duck commonly found on marshes in Eastern Ontario in the Fall hunting season. This time the hunt took place on a stretch of the Rideau River a short distance beyond Merrickville. Thursday, October 13th was the sixth straight day Nick and I got out hunting together. I was woken by my clock radio at 3:00 am, but lingered in bed several minutes. I heard Nick’s alarm sound up in the loft where we put him up during his stay. I heard Nick’s alarm sound a few more times while I had a quick breakfast and gathered the shotguns, ammunition, cameras and thermos bottles to load in the car. Nick joined me at 3:30 am, sleepy, but raring to go. He had two pieces of toast for breakfast then we finished loading the car, hooked up the boat trailer and were on our way by 4:00 am. We stopped at a Tim Hortons to fill the thermos bottles with piping hot coffee and arrived at the launch site shortly after 5:00 am as planned. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Got up this morning just before 4:00 am to get out for the opening of the 2015 waterfowl season. Shooting time started at 6:23 am so I got dressed, had a quick breakfast, packed my cameras, shotgun, shells and thermos and was underway at 4:30 am. The rest of the gear, my chest waders, inflatable kayak and paddle, bucket with flashlights, first aid kit, duck and goose calls, was loaded into my car the evening before. I opted not to use decoys on this hunt. The plan was to pass shoot ducks on a stretch of the Castor River outside Russell. I stopped at a Tim Hortons to fill my thermos with the dark roast blend (taken black) and headed east on the 417 to the spot on the Castor River. I was set to meet my friend and hunting buddy, Omer, at the spot. He wanted to meet at 5:00 am. I said I would try to be there between 5:00 and 5:30 am. I got there just after 5:00 am ahead of Omer and got to work setting up right away.
I inflated the kayak, then got into my chest waders. I dragged the kayak down to the river’s edge, turning it over so the black underside was showing. Next I brought my cameras and bucket down to the river’s edge. Omer pulled up as I returned to the car and together we brought the rest of the gear and guns down to our spot. We sorted out where each of us sat and defined our arcs of fire. We settled in amid a tall stand of cattails. Omer faced up river and I faced the opposite direction. This was we could see birds approaching from either direction. We were in position 40 minutes before shooting time, so there was time for a piping hot cup of coffee as we waited.
When legal shooting time started, I put three shells into my new Browning BPS. I purchased this gun last year. It has a 3 1/2 inch chamber; I bought it with the express purpose of shooting steel through it. Omer brought his Beretta Xtrema2 for this morning’s hunt. We sat, watching the sky and before long a couple of small flocks of wood ducks passed, too high for a shot, in front of us. A short time later a single mallard passed, also too high, followed not long after by another. A mourning dove flew past me, well within range, but I passed up the shot. 3 1/2 in steel shot in no. 2 is a tad excessive for doves. This brief flurry of wood ducks and mallards was the extent of the morning flight of ducks for us this morning.
Though ducks were scarce, the sky was filled with Canada geese. We watched and listened as flocks, singles, pairs and trios of Canada geese made their morning flight. We heard shooting in the distance, presumably goose hunters on harvested corn and bean fields lying in wait for the geese. While watching the geese, I glanced over my right shoulder and caught sight of a lone Canada goose flying our way. The goose was flying low enough and on a course that would bring him over our spot. I kept my head down and tried to watch without turning my head as he drew nearer. Finally, he quartered over the river right in front of me. I stood, found the mark and slapped the trigger. The goose folded and plummeted landing in the river at the edge of a bed of weeds about 25 yards away from me. Omer congratulated me enthusiastically and I was pleased as this was the first kill with my new BPS and the first kill with steel shot for me in more than a decade. I remember the transition from lead to non-toxic shot when the ban on the use of lead shot in waterfowling went into effect in 1999. I followed the instructions concerning the use of steel shot, e.g., recommended shot sizes and choke combinations, but found steel shot performed abysmally at the time. It was so bad I opted for the more expensive alternatives: bismuth, tungsten, hevishot, etc. and got the desired result: consistent clean kills on birds well with in range. My hunting buddies convinced me to try steel shot again, assuring me it is much improved in the present.
I was confident the goose was cleanly hit; I saw no movement on the spot it landed. However, when I waded out to retrieve the downed goose there was nothing there except one small feather. I was horrified, fearing the bird was crippled and lost. Omer joined in the search. We looked carefully in and around the area we saw it fall. We searched farther down river and when the bird was not found, I headed back to my spot in dismay. As I neared my spot, I heard a gunshot, then a second. Omer, bless him, persisted in the search and flushed the crippled bird out the weeds, finishing it as it tried to get away. It drifted out into deeper water so I used my kayak to retrieve it. Despite this close call, I am satisfied with the performance of the steel shell I used this morning to bag the goose. This experience reminds me of the utility of having a good retriever on hand when you are waterfowling. We sure could have used Nos, our friend Jason’s German Wirehaired Pointer, this morning. Unfortunately, Jason was called into work this morning and had to sit out opening day.
We sat on the river until about 8:45 am. By then no more ducks were seen and while geese flew over our position, even at the closest, they were just out of range. We were hoping for a good flight of wood ducks, but that did not come to pass. Putting the Canada goose in the bag was a bonus and I enjoyed spending time with Omer, discussing our plans for the rest of the waterfowl season and the upcoming deer season.
For day four of the rifle season for deer, November 6, 2014, Omer and I opted for a duck hunt on the Tay River. I saw goldeneyes on the Rideau River while running my dog Hera earlier in the week and hoped we would find some on the Tay, a goldeneye hotspot for us in seasons past. I was up at 3:00 am, having breakfast and loading my cameras, shotgun and shells–the last items I load in my SUV before setting out–and made my way to the garage where I store my boat and trailer. I arrived there in good time, the plan was for Omer to meet me there at 4:00 am and we would make our way together to the Tay River, which is about one hour’s drive from the city. Omer was running late, so we met up en route and continued on to the edge of the Tay River, shortly after 5:00 am, still in good time. Legal shooting time started at 6:20 am. This allowed us time to make our way to our site and set out the decoys with time to spare. So far so good it was, but what followed is a hunt that will live on in ignominy. Continue reading
The first week of the rifle season in the area near Spencerville, Ontario where my hunting buddies and I sit in our stands during the deer season is over. What a week it was. We hunt on the farm of friends who allow us access. The farm is surrounded by crown land, much of it swamp. Monday, November 3rd was the opening of the season. The Saturday before Jason, Omer and I put out 800 lbs of apples by Jason’s stand at the edge of a patch of the swampland. Last season Jason shot a 6 point buck in the first hour on the opening day of the season from his stand. Jason was not with Omer and me for the opening of this season. Omer sat in Jason’s stand–Omer has yet to shoot a deer so we want him to get one this season if possible–I sat in Fran’s (Jason’s wife) stand. Jason and Fran have a four month old daughter, Rose, at home so their hunting opportunities are limited this season. In their absence, Omer and I, with their blessing, sat in their stands. Omer and I were in our stands by 2:00 pm. We sat until the end of legal shooting time, half hour after sunset, and no deer were seen. We heard shooting from the surrounding crown land, so it looked like a good start to the season for some of the deer hunters in the area. Continue reading
Opening day of duck season 2014 was unseasonably warm as the hot, humid weather Jason and I experienced on our recent grouse and woodcock hunt continued. I was up at 4:00 am, having breakfast before putting my shotgun, shells and cameras in the car and heading to meet Jason and his brother Maurice at Jason’s house. I stopped to have my thermos filled with Tim Horton’s coffee on the way and arrived 20 minutes early. We were on the road to the farm near Russell, Ontario, with Nos on board, planning to pass shoot ducks on the Castor River, by 5:00 am. It took us 30 minutes to drive there from Jason’s house. This was the first time since he and his wife Fran bought the house earlier in the year. It is good to know how long the drive is for future hunts.
We carried our shotguns and gear down to the spot at the river’s edge we set up to watch for the morning flight. Nos was champing at the bit. We had a little trouble getting our bearings at first. The walk to the river’s edge takes us through a corn field. The stalks are very tall this year. We found the spot soon enough and I set up the camcorders, so we could catch the action on video. As it happened, there was very little action. There were a few passing wood ducks early on and then nothing. We sat and watched the sunrise and observed the skies that were filled with Canada geese. We heard volleys of shots in the distance, so other groups of hunters were seeing action, presumably shooting at Canada geese heading to harvested bean and wheat fields. I shot at a couple of passing wood ducks, missing spectacularly. Jason and Maurice shot at a trio of passing ducks, missing spectacularly; that was the extent of our action for the morning.
It certainly was not the best opening day we experience, but we took it in stride. You will not get any ducks sitting at home and there is no guarantee when you take to the field that you bag any birds. We called it a hunt 2 hours into shooting time and packed up the gear. We stopped to chat with our host, Eric, before leaving. He told us the soybeans will not be harvested for another 2-3 weeks. We hope the harvest is completed sooner than later as we are eager to come back and gun for the abundant Canada geese.
As I got home earlier than I anticipated I thought I might as well take Hera out to the Marlborough Forest for a sweep of the cover at Lester’s Square. The fact that the temperature was 32 degrees C with the humidity was not lost on me; it is not the best weather, nor the time of day–late in the morning–to be taking a dog into the field. However, Hera was wound up as she was left at home when I went duck hunting, so off we went. On the drive into the forest I saw a turkey on the trail in front of us. The turkey hightailed it into the woods. We got to Lester’s Square and had it to ourselves. Before long as we made our way through the coverts, I was reminded of the popular song by Noël Coward with its refrain of “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” It was frightfully hot and humid. I made sure to bring Hera to the wetlands in the coverts so she could cool off. We completed the sweep by 1:00 pm. She bumped one woodcock in a patch of cover I expected to find birds. It was just too hot to be out.
On the drive out there was an incident. As I neared the end of the forest road where it meets Roger Stevens Drive, the road I take to get home, 3 people on trail bikes (a man, woman and child) came racing around a bend in the forest road. I braked and came to a stop so they could adjust their speed and pass, safely. Unfortunately, they were driving too fast, so when the man, who was in the lead, stopped, the child could not stop soon enough and rode into the side of the man’s trail bike, causing them both to fall over. The man got up and glared angrily at me, like it was my fault, then grabbed the child roughly. While the child was comforted by the woman, he picked up the downed trail bikes and gestured to me to move on. I continued on my way. I was afraid for a moment this situation would get uglier, but I kept calm and expressionless throughout. The forest is used by non-hunters as well as hunters, something that is not lost on me. When I am driving the forest roads I drive at 20 30 km/hour with my own safety and that of others in mind.