Don Wilson may have put steel shot usage in perspective when he observed that this season duck hunters probably destroyed more ducks losing cripples than would have been killed by lead shot ingestion. “Nova Scotia isn’t on a major flyway and we never had a large number of hunters using lead shot over feeding areas,” Wilson said in effect. “Forcing duck hunters here to use steel shot is ridiculous.”

Most waterfowlers will agree with Mr. Wilson’s observations.

After I was talking with Mr. Wilson I discussed the pros and cons of steel shot with ardent waterfowler Ulli Poehl. Every season Mr. Poehl makes the trek to the Prince Edward Island goose fields. This season he hunted geese with lead and steel and the observations he makes about use of the latter are alarming. “Steel loads are good in close,” Poehl said, “but at the range at which geese are usually bagged, a lot of birds are being hit and not being dropped.”

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In my early teens on a first deer hunt. Three of us in a line, my brother and father on the flanks, climbing a hardwood hill. I looked up after negotiating a steep stretch and a deer was standing broadside, so close I could see its nostril quivering. “Dad” I called out, “there’s a big buck here looking at me.”

To this day I don’t know why I didn’t shoulder my rifle and drop the buck. I was telling Terence O’Shaughnessy about the incident recently and he said it was a simple case of buck fever. I protested. “My hands didn’t shake and I was calm,” I said. “How can you call it buck fever?”

“Fumbleus whitetailus shows up in strange ways and that’s what you had,” Terence said. I knew a lecture or a binge of storytelling was coming from the way Terence sat back in his chair and hooked a thumb through his suspenders. And so it was. For the next hour, Terence told me rollicking tales of hunters who suffered from the malady everyone calls buck fever. These incidents that happened while Terence was hunting with friends. To protect those still inclined to act erratic when the male of the deer species is encountered, names and places are omitted. Otherwise, the cases of buck fever occurred as described.

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After a lot of grumbling about misleading, rash reports from hunters in previous surveys, I cautiously predicted in the October 24 column that this should be a good pheasant season. In summing up the potential for this season, my exact words were, “while it won’t be one of those boom years, hunters should find enough roosters in the coverts to keep them happy.”

At the time this report is being prepared, 10 hunting days have come and gone in the 1997 season. I hunted the pheasant coverts for seven of those 10 days, talked with other hunters at the same time and generally tried to get a handle on the season. Based on these activities and scouting on weekends and days I wasn’t hunting, I’ve concluded that this season is much better than last. There are two reasons for this conclusion:

  1. My record of hunts, which include hours in the field, birds flushed bagged, etc. These records indicate that while hunting the same number of days this season as last, my pheasant harvest has almost tripled. I’ve found birds in every covert I’ve checked, including areas where pheasant have been scarce in recent seasons.
  2. Every hunter I’ve talked with reports similar findings. Good numbers of pheasants in most coverts and birds in areas that were practically barren the past two or three seasons.

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Wayne Downey just might make what a hunter once called “the best darn dog bells in Nova Scotia.”

Judging from their acceptance by hunters, that observation could be an understatement of the facts. Downey just might make one of the best darn hunting dog bells in Canada and in the United States. For almost two decades bells crafted by Downey and his late father Glen have been worn by bird dogs and hounds from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and across the U.S. border down to California. Downey ships bells to people who use them on dogs to hunt everything from ruffed grouse to wildcats.

“Making dog bells is a family tradition,” Wayne said when I talked with him recently at his Belcher Street shop east of Kentville. “It started with my father in 1978 We ran a lot of big hounds on raccoons and wildcat and used a lot of bells. Dad was unhappy with the quality of the bells that were available at the time, so we decided to do something about it.”

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When I conducted a pre-season pheasant survey in Kings County last October the reports were good. Landowners told me they saw good numbers of pheasants, “good” meaning the sighting of young birds was higher or at least not noticeably lower than the previous year.

In addition, I surveyed waterfowlers and upland hunters who worked pheasant areas while hunting ducks and grouse. Reports from these hunters were also favourable, most indicating they found pheasants to be plentiful or similar in number to the previous year. These reports were based on the sighting of young birds; from these reports, I concluded that pheasant hunting, at least in Kings County, should be average to good. And, in effect, this is what I predicted in this column.

As the season progressed it appeared that the optimistic reports were justified. Three out of four Kings County hunters that I talked with halfway through the season told me hunting was good – even exceptionally good – and they were finding plenty of roosters. A few hunters reported that hunting was better that it had been in four or five years.

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STEEL SHOT REMINDER (September 5/97)

September’s arrival may bring much-needed rain and relief from the heat, but for some, the month has other promises. For those who enjoy upland, waterfowl and big game hunting, September is the caviar appetiser before the filet mignon is served. September’s arrival means the anxiously awaited opening day of the hunting season is close and serious preparations can begin

Looking ahead to column topics in September and October, I’ll have reports on the best shotguns to use for steel shot. A reminder once again that steel shot is mandatory this fall for all migratory bird hunting, and that includes the upland hunting of snipe and woodcock.

Recently I contacted the top firearms manufacturers in North America – Winchester, Remington and Browning, for example – and asked them which of their shotgun models they would recommend for steel shot usage. I’ll have this report and additional information on the conversion of older shotguns to steel shot as well. While the latter topic was covered in detail last fall, some of it is worth repeating now that crunch time is here. Wherever possible most hunters will want to use their current shotguns with steel shot. This can be done with some older shotguns and there will be details later.

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Ask an angler to name the bait, lure or fly he finds works best on smallmouths and one of three things may happen. A grin and no reply. Smokescreen such as, “Well, most everything is good most of the time. It all depends on how you like to fish.” Then there’s the straightforward reply from the angler, revealing what works best for him and his fishing pals.

New Minas angler Tom Keddy fits into the third category. He says he isn’t into serious bassing like the tournament anglers – even though he organizes the occasional fun tournament – but he has a bass boat, “a big box of equipment like other bassers” and enough rods to outfit a platoon of fishermen.

Despite being modest about his bassing expertise, I figured Tom had been out on the lakes enough to know what would take smallmouths and what was so-so. And he didn’t beat around the bush when I asked him to tell me what he used. “My favourite lure is the Panther Martin,” Tom replied without hesitation. “I get lots of fish with it, as much as I want to catch,” he said. “It has lots of action, the kind bass love.”

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