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
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.
Looking back on old entries from my hunting diary I found this one detailing a late season diver hunt on the Tay River on November 5, 2006. What is memorable about this hunt is the triple I made on a decoying flock of ducks. The only catch was they were hooded mergansers. I only realized this as I slapped the trigger and three birds fell dead on the water. Readers familiar with mergansers know this species of wild duck is unfit to eat as they eat fish and taste of it when cooked. For this reason I try to avoid shooting them. It was a good hunt. I enjoyed the effort and the company of my hunting buddy Gord. 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
Here are some entries from my hunting diary written down during the 2008 season. These entries show that hunting is easy.
The weekend of November 15-16th 2008 was taken up with waterfowling and gundog training. I was up at 0300 Saturday morning making ready for waterfowling on the Tay River with Omer. I was ready and waiting with my boat at 0400, the time we were to meet, only to be kept waiting 30 minutes for Omer to show up. Despite this late start, we arrived at the Tay, launched and set up at the western tip of the marshy island in time for shooting time. There was a great flurry of ducks early on, a mix of goldeneyes and puddle ducks. Omer shot a passing black duck right away, quickly followed up with a drake goldeneye. I missed spectaculary on several occasions, but managed to down three drake goldeneyes, one of which was a lively cripple we thought was lost, but tracked down, shot and retrieved on our way back to the launch site. I was able to lure in a few flights of mallards with my calling, but they stopped short of decoying. We had several flights of goldeneyes and singles come to my decoys. Kudos to Barry Cowan who carved the goldeneye decoys for me. They are so life-like that I mistook a cripple for one of the decoys. The temperature was in the double digits, which is unusual for mid-November, and I was sweating under my warm clothing. There was a light rain which held off until we picked up at about 0900.
Got out with Juno, Nicolas and his German Shorthaired Pointer Cocotte, to the Larose Forest Sunday morning. We started at Ridges, the girls had a good run together. No grouse were flushed. Moved on to Grouse Central, again no grouse were flushed. I am well pleased that Juno took to hunting with Cocotte with no hesitation. She heard pistol shots from the range at the edge of the forest too and was not bothered. It looks as though she is well on her way to becoming a fine gundog.
Monday, November 10th 2008
I made it out to the Tay River on Monday, but navigating the river proved to be as frustrating as ever. I made it out to the spot I selected with a little less trouble than the previous outing, but still had a hard time making my way through the shallow water and muddy sand bars. I put out my goldeneye decoys and five puddlers in a good spot, just beyond the marshy island. I was set just in time for the start of legal shooting time. A flock of several mallards landed by the opposite shore across from the goldeneye decoys, well out of range, right off the bat. I saw and heard lots of goldeneyes flying high over head as the the morning progressed. I made some spectacular misses on a couple of decoying singles, not goldeneyes, then killed a decoying mallard cleanly. I missed spectacularly on a pair of passing Canada geese. Forgot how to shoot a station 8 shot.
I was daydreaming and failed to notice a flock of goldeneyes had come swimming into the left side of the decoy spread. Just as I finally noticed a swimming muskrat spooked them. They got away cleanly as I did not shoot at them. Morning flight was slower than in other seasons. I picked up the decoys at about 0930. I had noted where the downed mallard was. He was just off the tip of the marshy island. He had gone down in a long glide, bounced off the water once, then fell dead on the water. He drifted to the opposite shore. To my dismay I found the water to shallow to navigate and too deep and mucky to wade, so I was unable to retrieve the bird. Then as I was busy picking up the goldeneye decoys a flock of live goldeneyes deigned to drop in next to them. Typical. Getting back to the launch point proved to be a struggle. I really need to learn how to operate the outboard motor in shallow and weed infested waters before next season.
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.
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