“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!
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
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.
A particular article I read when I was my mid-teens in one of the old hunting magazines my father collected resonates with me to this day. The article in question was penned by a retired US Army officer who lived in Maine. He enjoyed duck hunting on the Penobscot River, gunning for black ducks and goldeneyes in the late season. He hunted with a friend, a man named Dave Bell , a serving officer in the US Army, and noted carver of working duck decoys in Maine. I so enjoyed reading his article as it really piqued my interest in gunning for the common goldeneye. I really wish I could find a copy of the magazine with the article and believe me, I have tried over the years to find one with no luck. I remember learning the colloquial term for the goldeneye in reading this article. Goldeneyes are commonly called whistlers, due to the distinctive whistling sound they make when beating their wings in flight. The author likened the sound of goldeneyes in flight to that of the sound of artillery shells as they approach the target. I spent many years learning the finer points of gunning for the goldeneye and it is something I look forward to every hunting season. Continue reading
The 2013 hunting seasons open next month and my hunting buddies and I eagerly anticipate taking to the field with our dogs. One of our favourite past times is waterfowl hunting. My hunting buddies and I have successfully gunned for wild ducks and geese over land and water over the years. My first duck hunting experience was in 1976 when I was fifteen years old. I was new to the sport and really clueless. My father and I sat, waiting, in our Ford Pinto for legal shooting time to start; it had not occurred to us we could be sitting in our blind waiting for shooting time to start. I may have been clueless about waterfowl hunting, but I had taken to heart what I learned in the Ontario Hunter Education Program about hunter safety. New hunters are required to take this course and pass written and practical examinations before obtaining a hunting license. I have been careful over the years to strictly adhere to safe and ethical hunting practices, but found, one morning while out duck hunting, how the most minor lapse in judgement can result in disaster (near disaster in my case). What follows is an account of events from that morning, October 8, 2009. Continue reading