Wood Duck Exploits

Our recent trek into the woods occurred on a parcel of crown land about 45 minutes north of Kingston.  We planned to spend the weekend hunting for grouse on the trails and the opening morning of waterfowl in a duck blind a few minutes paddle from our campsite.

On the hike in we ran across loads of deer, bear and moose sign.  This area seemed to be pretty vibrant with wildlife.  We even got a shot at a fleeing grouse.

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This was the furthest north I had ever duck hunted and was immediately surprised when a flock of wood ducks flew in hard and fast to our spread.  Being a mallard hunter from the lake Ontario corridor, I was conditioned to think that there were no other species of puddle duck in Ontario.

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The woodies provided a good challenge for our group.  They are somewhat smaller than a mallard and fly a bit faster making them tougher to hit.  still, we managed a few birds.  Enough for a taste and more than enough to keep us coming back.

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Cheers from the Wild

Al

Collins Lake Bass Tournament (2017)

It’s a week after bass opener, and the annual Collins Lake bass tournament is finally here.  Its the day I look forward to all year, the day I can’t miss.  Is it because there is money on the line?  Because I get to compete with some like minded individuals? Because I get to spend 1 and a half days straight on the water with no distractions? Heck no, its because Fatima, our host, cooks up some unbelievably tasty Portuguese food, which, I get to stuff unceremoniously into my gullet.  Seriously, some of the magic she pulls off could kick some serious butt on master chef Canada, or other shows of the like.  Im talking as good as those tasty videos everyone seems to posts on their Facebook wall.

I could go on about the delectable Portuguese treats for paragraphs, but since this isn’t a cooking blog I’ll get down to the details of the tournament.

For those who haven’t read past posts the tournament is structured like so:

  • $100 entry per person
  • 4 fish limit: 2 weighed in the first morning (with an option to cull in the afternoon), and an additional 2 fish weighed in on Sunday morning.
  • Live bait is allowed

We had a total of 15 participants this year, from all across the province.  The weather seemed favourable, at least for a couple hours each morning, and we were a week after bass opener, which, we were hoping would lead to some calmer fish.  Hoping was the key word. Unfortunately, our hopes were in vain as the fishing was slow.   The fish seemed apprehensive and the bite was light.  Not to mention our afternoons were ruined by some pretty significant winds.  Ever try to cast a senko in 30 kph winds?  I don’t recommend it.

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The tournament progressed, and although weights were smaller than past years, we still had a good group of folks near the top after the first day.  there was a lot of room for anyone to run away with the tournament.

My personal weight was much lower than I was used to on Collins.  It seems my luck had run out a bit.  I wasn’t the only one with bum luck that day.  On the way into the launch we came across a boat having motor problems.  it seemed like something we couldn’t fix on the water so we tied the beast to the green machine and towed it back to port.  First time towing for me and the Green Machine.

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Weights on the last day were nothing to brag about.  most folks added another 2-4 pounds to their bag.

The winner (my uncle) finished with 9lbs for 4 fish followed by Jim at just over 8lbs, and Jody following close behind.

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Congrats to the winners.  Fishing conditions were tough and each of you earned it.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

Ice, Ice, Rainbow

My focus this winter has been stocked trout.  Here in Southern Ontario there are numerous opportunities for stocked trout including speckled, lake, brown, splake and rainbow.  After success with splake and brook trout It seemed like a good time to chase after another trout species and there was a small local lake we had in mind.

Dave and I had tried the lake before with no real success but still remained optimistic for the lake.   After doing the math, based in the size of the lake, the location of the beaten path, and the number of stocked rainbows, there had to be catchable fish there.  So, with confidence from my recent trout trips, we decided to give the small lake another shot.

Aside from a bout of car sickness on the way to the lake, things went well, and after a nap, I was feeling up to actually fishing.  May be it was the nap on the ice, or maybe it was waking up to a set line flag that turned into a beautiful Raindbow caught by Dave. Either way I was suddenly well enough to fish and moments later I had a decent hit.  I fought the rainbow for a few minutes and it seemed like there was a real chance I was going to catch some chrome.  Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and the fish got off.  Even still, a fish and a miss is way more success than we have ever had on the lake, and in my mind that counts as a win.  As a plus, this was Dave’s first Rainbow trout! Congrats Dave!

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Congrats Dave on your first Rainbow Trout.  I wonder what to target next, Lakers or browns?

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

Deer Season 2016

(Trigger Warning: I hunt, this blog includes posts on hunting, as such this post contains pictures of harvested deer.  Please avoid if this is unsettling to you.) 

Sometimes things just work out.  I mean there are lots of times where life throws you curveballs and nothing works (cough, last years deer season), but then there are the times where things just click and all feels right with the world.

I had a feeling that the 2016 deer season was just such a time.  It was a new  year ripe with possibilities, and despite a poor success rate in 2015, I remained more optimistic than ever.  With a warm winter at our backs, a good recruitment of fawns expected, and an unheard-of three doe tags in our collective pockets, visions of many tagged deer danced in my mind.  This was a pretty great way to feel hiking out to a deer stand at the beginning of the season.

Some hunters talk about conjuring deer from an internal sense of desire, other people talk about positivity bearing fruit.  Heck maybe it all comes down to the great Ju-Ju, and how many times you rub the rack of antlers over the camps fireplace before you start the day.  Call it what you want, but what ever it was I had it on the first day.  About 10 minutes after sitting down, a good sized doe cantered out from the corner of a nearby field right into my field of vision and the sights of my Tikka .270.  I whistled to stop her as she ran, took my shot, and just like that, our group had our first deer down for the year.  Sometimes things just work out!

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Having harvested a deer on the first day, left me with a strange feeling.  All my past experiences with deer season usually involved several days of little to no action right off the bat.  This inactivity equates to build up in anxiety, and anticipation.  One that is gradual and goes unnoticed but usually culminates with a rush of adrenaline once a deer is actually harvested late in the season.  This is not the case for the punctual deer shot right off the bat.  This deer comes with a strange lack of excitement, and a sense of relief.  Knowing that the first deer is down and that the group will have venison for the winter is as relieving as it gets.  Although not as exciting, harvesting the first deer so quickly sure makes it easier to sit in the stand for the rest of the week.  Maybe its not so complicated, maybe its just the ramblings of a successful hunter who has spent too much time in a back up stand.

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But enough rambling, lets talk about the season.  Generally, as deer seasons go, this one sits firmly in my top 5.  Heck, my top 2 for that matter.  Its takes second place for the number of deer I personally harvested, and first place for the level of success we as a group had.  With an average of one deer per day, and six in total, the season was action packed an hard to beat.  Not to mention the quality of the deer just seemed to get better and better as the week carried on.

dsc_0794-iidsc_0789-iiThe first three deer were does, filling our coveted doe tags and forcing us to take amore buck centric mind set.  This was tough to do with the number of does that just kept presenting themselves to us.  Luckily Jordan managed a shot at a tricky buck who was trying to sneak by in a marshy area.  Buck one was down and day three was over.

Day four started off with a low key run on a property that was divided into two sections.  We ran the first area with no sightings of live deer but plenty of deer sign for the seeing.  Following the unsuccessful initial run, we moved to the second adjacent property, thinking that perhaps the buck whose sign we were seeing could be present.  As luck would have it, he was, and as I trucked on into the farthest stand I heard the sound off a rifle from one of our group.  Eric had been laying in wait at a pinch point within the property in anticipation that something may be pushed as we travelled to our stands.  This would be our second buck and the biggest I had yet to see in my relatively short time as a deer hunter.

(Eric hadn’t harvested a buck in a while, so it was nice to see him have success with such a beast of an animal) 

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This deer was healthy, and Eric was beaming.  According to the group, It had been a few years since something this big had come out of the woods.  Big, but not the end of the story.

Day five arrived, and it was my turn to dog the bush.  My previous dogging experience had been limited to a small section of woods as a way to ease me into the game.  Having already harvested a deer, and having fresh young legs made me a prime candidate to run the dogs a couple times.  So the group set me up on a larger stretch of bush, followed by a smaller tighter bush.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed with the prickly ash present on the first property.  Who would be.  But contemplating the whole experience I’ve realized this is a part of deer hunting and you have to put the work in to reap the rewards.  Apparently I put a whole lot of work in, because the reward on the second run was pretty epic.   I was quick to note that due to my success, I may actually be the best dogger to ever enter those woods.  That claim was short lived as the group started mulling over the concept of having me dog on a full time basis.  Back to being average!

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A few minutes into the run I dogged a small section of swampy woods located next to the roadway.  Apparently the deer had been using this as a throughway to get across the street to the adjacent cornfields.  I must have some innate knack for dogging as I inadvertently managed to send a bruiser of a buck back towards the other hunters in their stands.  This big boy was the last and biggest of the week.  Bigger than Eric’s the day before, and bigger than anything I had ever seen in person.  A true southern Ontario giant.

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(There was no way we were carrying this guy out of the bush.  As is, it took a few of the lads to lift this beast onto the four wheeler.)

 

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The veterans in the group immediately started into a conversation about whether or not this was the biggest ever deer taken on the property.   The veterans measured the buck with there aged discerning eyes and mentally compared this trophy against the bucks of old.  To my surprise and amazement, this buck didn’t even break the top 5.  As unbelievable as it sounds, bigger bucks had been taken on the properties we hunted.  And in the groups opinion, bigger bucks would be had in the future.  Regardless of this, the one thing the whole group agreed upon was that the past years had been very tough and this year had been a return to past glories.  I was left confounded, feeling like as much as I had seen in my past 5-6 years of deer hunting, I had yet to even scratch the surface…

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(The reality of the situation became very apparent when the three bucks were stacked up side by side.)

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(the author with the larger than life buck harvested by the youngest of our group)

We did a last run Saturday morning, albeit half heartedly.  With the success we had it was unlikely that the group would actually shoot another deer.  I think deep down we all know when its time to call it a day.  Besides, with six deer hanging, we had a long day of work ahead of us.

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This was a year for the history books, and a year to fill freezers with prized venison.  I’m left with a sense of satisfaction that comes with having a full freezer.  This can often be accompanied by a sense of loss, or depletion, a feeling that we had ransacked the woods and left things in shambles.  This was not the case this year.  My view remained positive as the number of predators seen was way down, the number of deer seen was way up, and better still, the number of deer seen that we didn’t harvest far outweighed the number we shot.  It seems we are in an upswing of the deer cycle in this part of 67.  The sentimental part of me feels like I’m living the soon to be good old days.  And when I’m old and grey, sitting on my porch telling stories of my life gone by to semi interested relatives, this week will likely be one of those stories.

 

 

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

Beginners Guide to Backcountry

At a glance, back country trips can seem mystical and awe inspiring.  Photos of your friends or “favourite blogger”… cough.. retracing the steps of explorers and voyageurs long since gone can be mesmerizing.  The concept of becoming “one with nature” on these trips, is not only mystical and romantic, but quintessentially Canadian.  After all, our country was built on hardy folks who had an unhealthy penchant for spending most of their lives in the backwoods.  Unfortunately when it comes time to actually plan one, the weight of the task can leave you feeling inadequate and unconfident.  Especially if these sorts of trips weren’t part of your youth.

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So how do you go about planning and actually executing one of these trips? I’m sure there are many folks out there who are infinitely more qualified to answer this question, but I’d like to weigh on with a beginners/intermediate’s point of view on the subject.  Here is what I have learned.

Have a Good Plan

Decide how much time you want to spend on a trip. Decide where in the province, country, or even world you want to go. Once you have answered these questions narrow down your search to a specific route.  In Canada, Canadian Canoe Roots  would be your best option.  Alternatively you could look up Trails.com  for trails in the states.  Once you have narrowed it down to a specific route, get your hands on  a map of your route showing the path, portages, portage distances, and topography.  I’m a big fan of Jeff’s maps http://jeffsmap.com/ .  They guy has seen a good portion of the parks in Ontario and has lots of handy notes on his maps.  Not to mention they are fairly current, and best of all made available through donations.  Thanks Jeff!

If your still deciding on what route to take consider your level of physical fitness when selecting a trip that’s right for you.  Consider choosing a trp that is well travelled if your new.  There may be others present should you get into a bit of trouble.

Don’t be a hero and don’t bite off more than you can chew.  A two day trip may not sound as epic as a week long excursion, but its definitely easier and safer. Every year lots of people decide to head into the woods with very little gear or food expecting things to just work out.  News flash, they wont, unless you prepare for it.

Choose Experienced Trip Mates

Personally, I prefer learning by doing and by seeing.  So it worked out when I was invited on my first trip by some seriously experienced trekkers.  I got to learn the ropes with minimal risk to myself.  I recommend this method of grafting yourself onto a trip.  I bet there is nothing worse that being in the middle of a trek running out of food and having no idea how your going to get back and no one to ask for help.

Plan Your Meals

Understand what your dietary needs are and pack accordingly.  Its important to watch your weight here though, and I don’t mean your waistline.  I’m taking weight of your pack.  Bringing a case of beer and fresh steaks may work for a 2 day canoe in trip where you don’t mind packing it in, but that wont really fly on a long haul 7 day trip with numerous portages.  Your not going to want to haul that crap in or haul the remaining garbage out. Consider meals that are light and full of calories like wraps and peanut butter or oatmeal.  Dried meats are a favourite as well.  Basically anything that doesn’t require refrigeration and is light.  Remember, its not the food that usually weighs a lot, its the water present in your food.  Try to avoid bringing meals that contain lots of water and rely more on things like pasta, rice, or oatmeal.  They have a high calorie/weight ratio.

Water

Consider how you will get your water.  A couple Nalgene bottles wont cut it for a long haul trip.  Bring a water filter designed to remove all the lovely bacteria and parasites or use purification tablets/drops.  Simply boiling your water wont save you from a severe case of “beaver fever”.  Oh and avoid drawing water from swampy boggy areas or from near shore.  These areas can be teaming with parasites.  If in an emergency you need to drink untreated water, get it from a fast moving stream or from the middle of a deep cold lake.

Gear

Gear needs are tied directly to the trip you plan to take.  You’ll need at least: a compass, your map (preferably in a water proof case), fire starting equip, pack, sleeping bag, therma-rest or sleeping pad, water filtration or purification equip, minimal cooking gear (preferably pots that fit within one another), a stove or way to cook (something light is great like a whisperlite or similar), life jacket (if canoeing), and assortment of medication (ibuprofen, Benadryl, antihistamines, personal meds).  A bit of rope and a good knife are never bad things to bring along.  Try to minimize gear and reduce redundancies.  Discuss equipment with your group to avoid duplicating gear.  No need to haul 6 camp stoves in when one will do the trick.

Resist the urge to bring along your favourite axe, clunky propane BBQ, or other gear that has no direct use on trip.  Believe me, you’ll only make the mistake of over packing once, especially if you have a few long portages to deal with.

Maintain a dry set of clothes, but don’t bring the whole wardrobe.  Accept that you wont have a fresh set of clothes to wear each day unless you pack them in.  I keep one set of dry clothes for camp and one for the hard day of paddling and hiking.

Organization

Reduce clutter and loose items. Make sure you reduce items that need to be carried in your hands or that are loose.  This makes for easy portages and minimizes lost items.  You will tire quickly of having to pick up a ton of crap each time you move.  Also, one pack containing all your gear is easer to pick out of the water than a mess of gear if you capsize.  As a plus, your pack will likely float minimizing loss of equipment!

Read Trip Reports

Although you may be hoping to experience your very own Lewis and Clark moment once you are in the woods, its likely someone else has been there before.  Use resources such as myccr.ca folks on that sit have piles of information for the new adventurer.  Don’t forget to use Google and read posts like those you may find on your favourite outdoor blog based in Southern Ontario “wink, wink”.  If there is a problem with a trip, someone somewhere is likely to mention it.

Weather

Be prepared for it or plan around it.  Remember as nice as a light rain shower is in the summer, the same rain can be deadly if your travelling in cold temperatures.  Staying dry is key when the mercury drops.

Stay off the water during thunderstorms or in high winds. Likewise, learn your route and constantly be looking to landmarks that indicate where you are. Stay alert!  you don’t want to be the person who misses the portage only to head into a class 5 rapid un-expectantly.

Well that’s my two cents.  I’m not a pro by any stretch, but hopefully this information will help you make some good decisions up front about your trip.  If I can leave you with one thought its this: don’t be intimidated.  This may seem like a lot of things to think about when tripping, but you’ll learn quick.  Start small, be eager to learn and humbly take advice for more experienced trippers.

Lastly, and above all else, enjoy the experience.

Cheers from somewhere in the middle of nowhere,

Albert

Ontario Craft Beer, Cheese, Liquor, and Food

The Wilderness across Ontario is my favourite thing to write about.  But a close second would have to be the province itself.  The area is rich in diversity and is currently nurturing a healthy “farm to table / locavore” movement.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about artisanal meats, cheeses, food, beer and liquor made locally with local ingredients, fostering local economic benefits.  I could go on here touting the benefits of supporting this way of life but really, what’s more beneficial than eating and drinking something that a fellow Ontarian has poured their life into?  In my mind, its a no brainer.

So how do you set about finding all these hole in the wall places? I’m sure many of you may have a favourite craft beer you like or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a some amazing cheese that’s made in the farmhouse down the road.  That’s great.  Now imagine having access to each and everyone of these places across southern Ontario.

Actually better yet, don’t imagine.  This ability already exists in website form.  Check out the following link and discover the taste of Ontario.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0645/5925/files/DiscoveryRoutes_2016_Full_insert.pdf?16132010561433434178

Cheers

Albert

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