“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!
Days two, three and five of my hunting holiday over the Thanksgiving Weekend and the week that followed with my new hunting buddy, Nick Schäfer, were taken up with grouse and woodcock hunts in the Marlborough forest and on a farm near Spencerville with Hera, my Brittany. Nick is from Germany, he is here in Canada studying at Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I met him when he posted a request on the Facebook Group Ontario Hunters Unite, asking if he might accompany a hunter here in Canada on a hunt. I responded to his request, inviting him to Ottawa for some upland bird and wildfowl hunting. He accepted my invitation and I introduced him to the pleasures of grouse and woodcock hunting in Eastern Ontario. Each day we set out at 7:00 am bound either for Schäfer’s Wood and Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest or a farm near Spencerville it was a cool, sunny morning with a light wind blowing. We grabbed coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way and timed it so we arrived just after 8:00 am to take to the field.
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
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
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
Today was one of those exceptional occasions where my hunting buddy Jason and I were able to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. We had taken Jason’s dog Nos (a German Wirehaired Pointer) to a spot along the Castor River we like to gun for wood ducks and mallards in hopes of bagging a few. Shooting time started at 6:38 am and we were ready and waiting for the morning flight. As it turned out we got to enjoy watching the sunrise. A total of three high flying birds, one wood duck and a pair of mallards, made up the morning flight. There was no shortage of Canada geese in the air and we heard shooting in the distance. Poor Nos was heartbroken, there were no downed birds for him to retrieve. We packed up at 0800, but to our surprise, a pair of Canada geese came gliding in and set down on the river. We grabbed our shotguns, loaded them and crept up to the edge of the river, taking the geese by surprise. I missed spectacularly, but Jason downed one of the birds cleanly. Nos retrieved it happily.
We left for breakfast at a local restaurant and realized we had not picked up our spent hulls after jump shooting the Canada geese. We returned to the spot, and thinking there might be more geese on the river, crept up again. It appeared there were none and as we were retrieving the spent hulls I noticed a dying Canada goose at the edge of the opposite shore. Jason went to get Nos and I kept an eye on the bird, lest it try to climb up the bank. The bird died while Jason was getting Nos and what followed was a fine blind retrieve by Nos. We cannot be certain, but we think the bird must have been shot by the hunters nearby and made it as far as the Castor River before expiring. Having a good retriever is an asset in waterfowling as this reduces crippling loss greatly. We did not bag any ducks, but getting a nice pair of Canada geese was a nice way to end the morning.
Posted by Geoffrey