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
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
One of the pleasures of hunting for me is when I can introduce a new hunter to the sport. I met Nicholas Marion in the summer of 2008 at a dog park where I took my new Brittany puppy Juno to play. Nicholas had a puppy of his own, a German Shorthaired Pointer named Cocotte. I struck up a conversation with him and learned he intended to hunt her, but had never trained a gun dog before and had virtually no experience in hunting. I offered to help him out with training Cocotte and introduce him to hunting. He happily accepted. I took Nick on his first waterfowl hunt, a field hunt for Canada geese, that season. How many hunters do you know of who limit out on Canada geese on their first hunt? Not only that, how many hunters do you know of who, on their first Canada goose hunt, bag five geese in five shots? Read on for an account of the hunt. Continue reading
Opening day of the 2014 waterfowl seasons is this coming Saturday September 27th. I am looking forward to it as are my hunting buddies. I was looking back through entries in my hunting diary and came across this entry for a memorable Canada goose hunt in 2011.
This past weekend I enjoyed a range of hunting experiences. Saturday afternoon I went out on my own for a deer hunt. Jason was off on a guided goose hunt with his younger brother and Chris, a friend visiting from New Brunswick. The drive out to Pete and Val’s farm for the deer hunt was slower than usual as I was stuck behind a funeral procession under police escort. I arrived at the farm around 1230 pm and after checking in with my hostess made my way to my ladder stand. Saw no deer on the walk in, but noticed deer trails passing through the conifers close to where my stand is set up. It was a cool afternoon and unusually quiet I thought. Unlike the Monday and Tuesday before it seemed barren. I did not see and hear bluejays, crows, Canada geese. I climbed into the tree stand easily enough, taking care to heed the safety rules. I brought some dried cranberries to snack on. I made an effort to make as little noise as possible during the hunt. I knocked my carrying bag off the foot rest accidentally. It fell to the ground with ample noise. It made me think of how careful one must be while hunting from a tree stand. I stayed in the stand until 5:00 pm. By then it was after sunset and too dark to see to make a shot. It was a blustery afternoon and no deer were seen. On the walk out in the dark I saw a couple of bunnies along the trail. I sent Jason a text to let him know I had returned safely from the deer hunt and was homeward bound, but without a deer.
A short time later Jason called me back asking if I were interested in going goose hunting on the recently harvested cornfield at the farm in Russell we hunt. He said he had spoken to Eric, our host, and he said the field was black with geese. I agreed it was worth a try and we set up a plan to depart from Jason’s home with his friend Chris, Jason and Chris’s dogs, litter mates, Nos and Nero. As it happens Sunday November 13th was the dogs’ birthday. We made our way to the cornfield, finding it was harvested the best way for goose hunting with stalks and leaves aplenty still on the ground. We set out Jason’s life-like goose shells and my eleven floaters and two feather decoys, finishing just in time for legal shooting time at 6:30 am. There were geese roosting on the Castor River, we considered returning for a roost shoot if the field shoot proved a disappointment, and the geese on the river took off unusually early as we put the finishing touches on the blinds. Jason and Chris used layout blinds and I used my tried and true method of laying on the ground with a tarp between me and the earth and camouflaged burlap over top of me covered in corn stalks and leaves, my head propped up on my ammo box. Jason and I parked the vehicles by the barns and walked back to the blind site. We got into our blinds and watched the skies.
It was slow for a while as Canada geese are typically up later than ducks. As the morning wore on we saw large numbers of geese in the air. Many flocks passed by taking a cursory look at our decoy spread and thinking better of it, continuing on to another field. We had several birds decoy, with some landing in the decoys around us. I found I am getting too old for the rustic blind I am using. I kept getting cramps as I tried to sit up and my right arm was aching something fierce. I made a series of clumsy mounts, missing spectacularly on decoying geese, including three shots at a goose passing barely ten feet in front of me. Jason and Chris were shooting well, downing decoying geese and their dogs were in top form making the retrieves. The dogs found it hard waiting in the blinds between seconds of action when geese decoyed. We were treated to a chorus of whining as the dogs anticipated the next retrieve.
One of the highlights of the hunt was a passing flock of snow geese. They ignored our decoy spread and my calling, but it was a thrill to see them. Another highlight of the hunt was when a passing flock of mallards offered us a shot. I downed a really nice drake. In spite of my poor shooting, I succeeded in bagging geese, including a very lively cripple that landed in the next field. Jason took Nos and they tracked down and retrieved the bird. As the hunt wore on we had twelve birds in the bag. Close to 10:00 am, the time we decided to call an end to the hunt, a flock of four geese approached. I called and they responded, decoying nicely. We each got a bird from the flock. I killed the bird I shot cleanly, which was a good way to end the hunt, pulling myself out of my shooting slump. We let the fourth bird go as we had limited out.
We gathered the downed birds, posed for photos and took care to gather up our spent shotgun shells and wads before departing. For next season I am going to buy myself a layout blind and a set of good goose decoys like Jason has. In all, it was a great morning’s hunt. Everyone had a good time, particularly Chris. Our Sunday morning goose hunt was far superior to the experience Jason and Chris had on their guided hunt the day before.
In a lifetime of shooting with shotguns I can safely say I am a fair wing shot on the target range and a good wing shot in the field. I consistently hit a fair number of clays on the skeet range, stations 3-5 give me the most difficulty and I do not bother with station 8 as for me is is just shooting the air full of holes. In the field, with my hunting buddies, I usually limit out on Canada geese in gunning over land and water. In the uplands I do very well gunning for woodcock, though this has a great deal to do with having an exceptional gun dog to find and point the birds for me. This sets me up for the shot and as woodcock are consistent in towering when flushed, always heading for the open sky, I usually find the mark, though often with a quick follow up shot with my Winchester 20 gauge side-by-side double barrelled gun. The reality is you are not going to hit every target you shoot at, be it a clay bird on the skeet range or a game bird in the field. I have racked up a great number of spectacular misses, both on the skeet range and in the field, over the years as my hunting buddies can attest. Missing when you are shooting with a shotgun comes with the territory, but therein lies the fun that comes from shotgunning. If you hit every target you would quickly grow tired of the sport. Continue reading