Jake, my bird dog, is almost 11 years and understandably isn’t as spry and energetic as he was a few seasons ago.  So when the last four days of the pheasant season turned bitterly cold and windy, I moved the thermostat up in Jake’s kennel heater and told him he was done for the season.  “The weather out there is for young dogs,” I said.

I’m sure – absolutely sure – Jake never understood a word of what I said.  But when a friend showed up later with his young dog to take me hunting, Jake came out into his run and began to yelp and to howl mournfully.  And they say dogs have no smarts whatsoever.

On my last hunt with Jake, just before the cold and snow arrived, I bagged a rooster with him, a pheasant he pointed staunchly – I had to flush the bird out of swamp grass – and he retrieved it nicely.  I didn’t know then but it would be our last rooster of the season.

As mentioned in a recent column, I hang pheasants I harvest before dressing them.  So when I got around to drawing and plucking the rooster three days later, the snow and bitter cold had arrived and Jake’s season was over.  I decided then that Jake’s final bird of the season would on the table during the holidays.  It’s been a tradition for some time at our house to cook up a wild game dish between Christmas and New Years.  Generally it’s pheasants or ducks, and over the years I’ve perfected a couple of recipes that bring out the flavour inherent in these game birds.  Other friends that hunt do the same thing, a game dish during the holidays being a tradition with them as well.

Occasionally I’ve offered readers my favourite wild game recipes in this column.  I won’t do that this year.  I’ve found most hunters usually have special ways to cook wild game; or their spouses do, which is the same thing.  In other words, everyone has their own preferences when cooking game and they might not prefer mine.

Some hunters like game cooked with basic, simple recipes, with no special sauces, herbs, spices, condiments, vegetables and so on added to the dish.  Then there are hunters who like their wild game frilled up with wine, sour cream and even beer.   I discovered to my surprise some time ago that black duck and canned tomatoes (or tomato paste) make for an excellent combination in a wild game dish.  No, I won’t give you a complete recipe.  Simply experiment with breast of duck roasted with tomatoes and onions and watch out how fast it disappears when served.  I also found that pheasants and sour cream, along with red wine and mushrooms, combine well.  Try these ingredients with pheasant breast but beware:  You’ll have to fight for your fair share.

One remark I often hear from hunters is that they don’t like eating wild duck.  In the past a couple of hunting companions often let me take all the ducks we harvested since they didn’t like them.  But once I told them how to prepare the ducks for the oven and they discovered how delicious they were, the days of my keeping all the ducks disappeared.

Not that I minded.  It can get tedious plucking and cleaning a lot of ducks.  On one hunt my brother and I bagged our limit of black ducks and mallards.  He insisted, since he didn’t care for eating ducks, that I take all of them. This was okay at first – until I had to pluck and clean those dozen ducks in an unheated shed on a cold December day.  After that experience we had a new rule for duck hunting – you shoot a duck, you keep it, pluck it and clean it.

But that’s enough of rambling on.  I’ll close with saying there’s something about dining on wild game, game you hunted and harvested, during the holiday season.  Maybe it’s because the game we harvest, be it venison, waterfowl or upland game, is a unique treat and it deserves a special time to enjoy it.


Seven days after we’d bagged several pheasants a friend told me his birds were still hanging in his shed.  “I always hang my birds a while before cleaning and plucking them,” he said.

While I wasn’t surprised the friend was hanging birds before cleaning them, the length of time he’d left them in his shed raised an eyebrow.  Hanging game birds, generally to age and tenderise them and to enhance their flavour, is a traditional practice, one that harks back to the old country.  But from what I’ve been told by people who hang game birds, four or five days might be the limit, especially if the temperature fluctuates wildly, as it often does here through November.

A couple of my hunting acquaintances hang game birds, and that includes everything they bag – pheasants, grouse, waterfowl and woodcock. One friend has screened boxes large enough to accommodate four or five pheasants or ducks.  He hangs what he bags in the boxes, undrawn and the feathers on for three to four days if the temperature remains constantly cool.

Now, hanging birds with the innards in them for several days may not appeal to you at first, but think about it for a minute.  The beef you buy at the grocers is aged.  Bag a deer and if it’s a big, old buck you definitely are going to hang it for a few days.  My father always hung deer for a few days, and young venison for short periods.  As I recall, older, tougher bucks were hung at least four or five days.  “It takes the toughness out of them,” my father used to say.

Outside of the couple of friends I mentioned, no one I know of hangs game birds today.  I usually get odd reactions when I bring up the topic of hanging game when I talk with other hunters.  “I heard of it but never do it” is a common reaction, along with “what are you talking about?”

With the majority of hunters it’s shoot that bird, clean and pluck it quickly, put it in the freezer until it’s time to do some cooking.   As I mentioned, it’s an old world tradition, familiar to many but practiced by few.

As for me, I hang pheasants and ducks for a couple of days but only if they haven’t been shot up much.  I found that hanging some game birds improved their flavour somewhat.  Some of the best tasting ducks and woodcock I ever ate were left hanging undrawn and unplucked for four to five days.  Once I experimented with woodcock by hanging them in my cold room for a week.  At the end of the week the birds had softened some but had a clean smell when gutted.   To this day I’ve never tasted woodcock any better than those birds; the hanging really enhanced their flavour.

There’s a bit of science behind hanging game birds by the way.  An important ingredient is the hanging temperature.  Some game cook books, the older editions especially, discuss the proper way to hang birds and offer plenty of tips. Two of the five wild game cook books I have recommended it’s best to hang birds for at least three days when the temperature is steady, say between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s a bit of bother to hang birds and I suspect hunters familiar with it simply don’t bother because of all the rigmarole.  The practice seems to go against everything we’ve been taught about handling meat and fowl carefully due to bacteria.  The fear of e. coli bacteria looms when the topic of hanging game birds comes up, stopping most hunters from thinking seriously about it.


We were only in the corn stubble for a few minutes when my bird dog went on point.  At the edge of a grassy ditch Jake froze and remained immobile as I walked up to him, my shotgun ready.

That was when my grandson snapped the photograph accompanying this column, capturing a moment in a hunt I’d seen many times over the years I’ve been hunting with bird dogs.

The photograph of Jake on point, staring into ditch where a rooster pheasant hid, was taken by Liam with one of those combination cell phones cum cameras teenagers carry today.  He digitally froze forever one of those fleeting times in hunting I’d experienced countless times before but had never recorded on film.

The morning Liam photographed me and Jake “working up a pheasant” was ideal for hunting.  Warm and sunny, a light breeze out of the west, a freshly cut cornfield and the all important ingredients, a grandson you could take hunting and pheasants that from the way they held for Jake, hadn’t been hunted or harried.

Take look at the photograph.  Jake tells me a bird is there by instinctively locking up as he and generations of bird dogs have been bred to do for aeons.  All I had to do was walk up to Jake and wait for the bird to flush; or kick the bird up if it was reluctant to move.

If you are alert and ready, moments like this are easy to capture with a camera.  Yet easy as they are to photograph, they rarely ever are.  Most hunting photographs are usually before and after shots: Hunters ready to set out for the day with guns under arms and dogs on leashes; guys with smug or wooden smiles standing besides vehicles draped with deer or an afternoon’s bag of ducks, geese and pheasants.  Typically posed, no action hunting pictures, in other words, every hunter has on his gun cabinet and desk.

The essence of hunting, what makes hunting alluring and addictive, are moments like the one Liam captured of me and Jake.  This is what makes the photograph special, even extraordinary. Now, when the snows come and hunting is over for the season, and when one day I finally have to put my shotgun away, I’ll have that hunting moment Liam captured, a moment to treasure and remember and look at over and over.

And now that Jake’s hunting days are nearly over, I’ll have a memento of our decade long tramps through uplands in pursuit of wild birds; bird that sometimes hold for a point and let the moment be captured forever.

What could be better?


I’m not sure it qualified as a gale on the Beaufort scale but the wind that roared down the Canard River corridor, driving a heavy rain ahead of it, made opening day of the pheasant season in Kings County one of the toughest, most miserable I’ve experienced in many years.

Looking back through my hunting records, I found only one opening day in 20 years when it rained hard enough to almost but not quite shut hunting down for the day. In my notes on that day I wrote that so much rain came down, usually productive ditches between corn fields were turned into lagoons.

That day was a washout and this opening day almost was. The good thing was that it was warm; the bad thing was that the high winds made it difficult for the dogs to work on birds. We hunted some good covers and had a lot of roosters flush again and again out of range. At times miserable weather conditions will sometimes make birds hold, but not this day; at least not in the open, unsheltered areas out along the dykes that we hunted. We went into a roost along a stream when it was almost full light, a time when pheasants generally hold tight, and we had birds flushing several gunshots ahead of us. We were hunting downwind, the only way you could approach the river roost, which was likely a mistake since the wind carried and magnified every sound we made.

With the rain pelting us, rain driven by the gale-like winds, and the temperature hovering around 15, we were quickly soaked inside and out. To ward off the rain I wore a light, breathable waterfowl coats under my hunting vest but even this was too much clothing for the warm temperatures.

For the record, it was a perfect day for waterfowling. As we struggled through rain soaked marsh grass, hoping a rooster would hold long enough for us to get into shotgun range, we saw geese come in against the wind and drop down quickly with no hesitation. We ignored the geese. I reminded my companion of what our elders used to say: that you can’t hunt pheasants and geese at the same time. Two flocks of geese dropped down into wide open rye fields and there was no way anyone could get close to them anyway.

On opening day we hunted an area that runs from good to great when it comes to pheasant numbers. But in the first two hours of the hunt I only heard a few gunshots. Maybe the weather discouraged everyone but I doubted it. We could have a hurricane combined with an earthquake on opening day of the pheasant season and a few of the die-hard hunters would still go out hoping to bag a rooster.

Anyway, bottom line, my companion and I each bagged a rooster before going home so it wasn’t all that bad. After changing clothes and having a coffee we headed out again. As I said, you could have an earthquake and a hurricane at the same time, etc..


I figured my dog was sniffing out a pheasant when he hesitated for a few seconds in a half crouch and sneaked towards a patch of high grass.

It was at full dusk, as old-timers called it, when it might or might not be legal shooting time. I was leaving the river, taking a shortcut through a dyke field, when Jake started to work. Out of the grass just ahead of the dog a pheasant flushed and there was just enough light to see it was a rooster. Another rooster flushed and Jake froze; then another rooster came up, then two more.

Five cock pheasants in all, some of them cackling like young birds, erupted out of the grass while Jake and I stood there and watched. A bit farther out in the gloom two more pheasants flushed but it was too dark to determine hens from roosters. Off to my left three more pheasants flushed, one of them, from its raspy cackling, definitely a rooster.

It was good to see all those birds. With the pheasant season opening in a few weeks I had been scouting some of my favourite coverts without seeing much. Some of the recent reports of pheasant sightings hadn’t been encouraging. I hunt pheasants in Kings County, around dykes, marshes and farm fields mostly, and I usually walk these areas and talk to farmers through October. Until I ran into that great bunch of birds while coming back from duck hunting I figured pheasants were down in some of my favourite covers.

I’m not sure pheasant numbers are down overall but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. Gloomy and negative as it may sound, I figure pheasants are on the way out, the population fizzling out the way Hungarian partridge did. I have no accurate count of pheasant numbers (unless you want to count the birds in the harvest estimates annually posted by the Department of Natural Resources) so this is just a guess. However, those estimates aren’t good since they seem to indicate a declining population. If they’re accurate – and it’s all anyone has to go on – then the population of wild pheasants does appear to slowly be declining.

Just over a decade ago the annual pheasant kill ran around seven to nine thousand three seasons in a row. Two seasons ago the estimated harvest was about 3,000 birds. There are always ups and downs in harvests of course, but with heavy skunk and coyote predation in recent years, along with some weird mixtures of nesting time weather, pheasants don’t appear to be springing back like they used to. Many farmers and people who feed pheasants tell me they’re seeing fewer and fewer birds every year, especially in areas noted for being prime covers.

I could be an alarmist but bottom line, pheasants, like the Hungarian partridge, will gradually disappear if all the government does year after year is set season dates and publish regulations; meanwhile ignoring problems such as predation, winter kill and overharvesting.

In other areas, where the pheasant is a prized game bird, the appropriate government departments set up food plots, stocks birds, offer free corn to encourage people to winter feed, and even tailor and manage pheasant habitat. Here most of the funds realised from hunting license sales appear to be set aside for deer management. Natural Resources keeps pheasant harvest records and tallies the abundance ratings but that does nothing to assist the pheasant population.

More should be done to manage the pheasant population other than keeping records. The Department of Natural Resources is against stocking but perhaps stocking is what’s needed. Ask yourself where trout fishing would be if it wasn’t for stocking. It was stocking that established the wild pheasant base we now have. If it’s needed to make sure the pheasant population doesn’t dwindle away to nothing, why not consider it. Take a look at funding winter feeding programs as well. Do something other than wait and see what nature, predators and hunting pressure have in store for the pheasant.

It looks like it is wait and see with ruffed grouse and hares as well. The harvest of grouse and hares has been fluctuating like crazy but mostly downward in recent seasons; we’ve seen some drastic drops in grouse and hare harvests, especially in Valley counties, but no alarms have been raised.


When a farmer had a problem with geese fouling up a pond he used to water his dairy herd, he solved it by calling a couple of hunters.

A friend was telling me about this last year. He was one of the hunters the farmer contacted; he says he had a great shoot – “we took a whack of geese out of the pond” – and the farmer’s problem was solved. The geese never came back.

Along a similar line, a farmer’s young apple orchard was being visited a little too often by hungry deer and trees were being destroyed. He wondered if anyone would like to cull the deer. I was one of the hunters the farmer mentioned this to. I passed word along to my deer hunting friends that they were welcome to set up a blind in the orchard if they contacted the farmer.

These sorts of situations are likely what the Federation of Anglers and Hunters had in mind when they suggested setting up a hunter registry farmers could access to help control nuisance wildlife. The idea is that hunters would be available if farmers were bothered by nuisance bears, raccoons, coyotes and deer. Tony Rodgers, the federation’s executive director, said recently the Department of Agriculture seems to be keen on the idea of a registry but nothing has been firmed up yet.

For a couple of reasons this is a good idea. Hunters, and trappers as well, need to build up rapport with landowners and having a registry could be one way to do it. Surely farmers would appreciate having a near at hand resource to call on when wildlife is a nuisance or is threatening.

The question is, how would it work? Would farmers take advantage of a hunter registry when problems arise with nuisance animals? Maybe, maybe not. Bow hunters and bear hunters tried setting up a registry a few years ago and it isn’t working; from what I hear few if any farmers have taken advantage of it.

The farmer/hunter who told me this story is still shaking his head. He called the Department of Natural Resources recently and asked why something wasn’t being done to bring back the Hungarian partridge. The answer he got was that we (“we” meaning Natural Resources I suppose) don’t introduce birds that aren’t native to Nova Scotia.

Hello? Run that by us again. Huns were already introduced here, away back in 1926. After a few stops and starts and a couple of restocking they flourished and a hunting season was opened early in the 1940s. Eventually, after about 50 years, Huns declined and almost disappeared; the hunting season was closed.

This bit of Hun history makes the response that we don’t introduce birds that aren’t native a bit ….. Well, you fill in the right word here. I’m thinking “mysterious,” or “uninformed.”

Good-sized striped bass are still being caught here and there along beaches and in tidal streams and that doesn’t surprise me. I recall that when I was growing up, most striped bass anglers never got serious until October. Today, most of the striper activity seems to take place through summer.

When I say “good-sized striped bass,” by the way, I’m talking about fish running to the 100 cm mark. Fish in this size range are being caught nowadays in the surf and in tidal streams.


The long range weather forecast for the first day of the waterfowl season calls for relatively mild weather and showers. This is far from being good waterfowling weather for the first day. On top of that, there’s a late morning tide on opening day, which usually isn’t good either.

As I see it, the ideal for opening day is a windy morning combined with a high tide around sunrise. In the areas where I like to set up on the first day (a few miles from salt water) this combination of conditions usually means a fairly good shoot. Not always, of course. One thing that’s a given in duck hunting is nothing’s for sure.

What do I mean? Well, I’ve had good opening days – “good” meaning bagging a few ducks – on a local river when it was calm, the sky was cloudless and it was extremely warm. And poor first days – “poor” meaning no ducks – when it was stormy and the tide was up as the sun rose.

The vagaries of opening day were summed up nicely by an old friend’s paraphrasing of a time worn saw. After we had some so-so first days when conditions seemed perfect, he said, “I guess you can’t count your ducks until they’re in the game bag.” He made this comment when we greeted the sunrise on opening day in gale-like weather, a day we figured the ducks should have been swarming into our decoys. I’d have to look at my notes to check but I believe we only saw four or five ducks all morning, and they never came close.

For the most part, opening days are generally good. On opening day ducks aren’t as wary as they will be later and even weak calling will sucker them in. Inexperienced hunters who enjoy good shooting on opening mornings often are surprised later when they learn how tough duck hunting can be. Never judge duck hunting by the first day, in other words.

But good or not so good opening days, I always enjoy and look forward to them. Don’t ask why but opening days always seem special. I feel like I’ve missed something when opening morning comes and goes and I wasn’t out on the marsh at first light.

Around here, and anywhere in the province where you can hunt waterfowl, getting out on the first day is a tradition. Again, I say don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because our duck hunting Dads did it and their fathers before them, and their fathers before them.

Why wouldn’t waterfowling be a tradition anyway? Generation after generation of Mi’kmaq hunted ducks and geese here; as did the French that followed them, the Acadians even naming a river or two after ducks. The Planters and other settlers harvested ducks and geese without hesitation and right down to today we’re still doing it.

That makes waterfowling a tradition, an old tradition. So enjoy opening day; enjoy the waterfowl season. I suppose if this was Ireland I could say: May the ducks swarm to your decoys, may your calling be true, and may you have your limit before the sun is fully up and be on the way home before the devil knows you’ve been in the duck blind.


Finally, after resolutions, letters and at least one petition by various wildlife organizations and hunting clubs, we have some January puddle duck hunting in the middle and eastern counties of the Valley.

If you’re an avid waterfowl hunter you’re probably already aware of the good news that the duck season will run from October 8 to January 7 in Hants, Kings and Annapolis County. Granted it’s a short extension of the season, amounting to an extra six hunting days in total; but those hunting days are in January (!) which must be a first of sorts. I can’t remember ever having a legal period in January when you could bag black ducks and I’ve hunted waterfowl in this region for over 50 years.

Like a lot of waterfowlers I’ve been moaning and groaning for years over the duck season closing on December 31 in Valley counties, just when the best shooting often begins. But not anymore. Those waterfowl hunting changes are most welcome. We now have six January duck hunting days; many waterfowlers will out there on those wintry days, hoping to bag a few mallards and black ducks. The hunting should be good, guaranteed.

The regular goose season remains unchanged this season, with no extension into January in Kings, Hants and Annapolis County. However, we could eventually see this change, but don’t count on it. I haven’t seen the harvest figures for last season so I don’t know if they’re up, down or what. However, according to the Canadian Wildlife Service, the estimated provincial goose harvest of 12,770 birds in the 2010 season plummeted to 7,720 in the 2011 season. Which makes you wonder why we have a September goose season, especially when hunter numbers remained about the same – 5,696 and 5,619 – in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Another change you should be aware of is the daily bag limit on black ducks. Previously, only four of the six duck daily bag limit could be black ducks. This season, up until December 7, the daily bag limit can include six black ducks; starting December 8 until the close of the season, not more than four can be black ducks. The possession limit on ducks has also been changed and is now three times the daily bag limit.

On the September goose hunting season, which runs until September 17 in this zone, a quick survey I conducted indicates light hunter activity. I contacted a number of avid goose hunters and found few of them would be taking advantage of the September season. Not one of the waterfowlers I contacted was planning a hunt on Waterfowl Heritage Day, scheduled this year for September 21.


When it comes to your right to fish and hunt without being hindered, impeded or harassed in any way, the Wildlife Act is quite explicit.

The Act states, for example, that “no person shall interfere with the lawful hunting and fishing of wildlife by another person, or with any lawful activity preparatory to such hunting or fishing, with the intention of preventing or impeding hunting or fishing or the continuation of the hunting and fishing.”

If that isn’t clear enough, the Act also states that “no person shall disturb another person who in engaged in lawful hunting or fishing of wildlife or in any lawful activity preparatory to such hunting and fishing with the intention of dissuading that person from hunting or fishing or otherwise preventing the hunting or fishing.”

I mention these sections of the Wildlife Act since I recently heard of two incidents where anglers were interfered with and were bullied and forced to stop fishing.   In one incident an angler fishing for striper bass on the Minas Basin came across three fishermen who claimed the beach area they were fishing was private water.  “Who gave you permission to fish here?” came the hostile greeting from one of the trio.  “We’re the only ones who have permission to be here.”

The angler (who by the way is an old friend I’ve known for decades) was bullied into moving farther along the beach.  He had no intention, he says, of fishing anywhere near the trio of anglers and was simply exploring the beach, or as he put it, “I was looking for some new places to fish.”

The friend was told bluntly that he had no right to fish that particular section of shoreline since he didn’t have permission from the landowner. Bottom line he was made unwelcome.  While no implicit verbal threats were made directly, the attitude of the anglers was aggressive and threatening.

The second incident also involved striped bass fishing and was relayed to me on the telephone.  This incident was similar to the first in that an angler attempting to fish along a section of shoreline was harassed and forced to move on by other anglers.

As you can ascertain from the section of the Wildlife Act quoted above, the anglers harassing and interfering with other fishermen were acting illegally.  One of the incidents was reported to the Department of Natural Resources and apparently they will take action if the harassment and bullying continues.

Besides being illegal, it was unsporting of the anglers doing the harassing, to say the least.  I’m surprised it happened.   First of all, everyone should know that on tidal or fresh water no one can interfere with your right to lawfully fish.  While you require permission from landowners to cross privately owned property to reach the water, once you’re there you can fish anywhere. Of course if other anglers are already fishing a piece of shoreline or riverbank, then you should steer clear of them.  That’s a given, an unwritten rule of angling.


It was 12 degrees when I got up just after sunrise to walk a dykeland trail.  For old fogeys like me who automatically translate Celsius into Fahrenheit, it was about 54 degrees, cold enough that for the first time this summer I wore track pants and an extra t-shirt.  Even then I shivered when an east wind whistled up the river trail I was walking.

Early mornings are cool now and evenings aren’t much better.  On my favourite trout stream, which is weed-choked in places, the evening hatches and the evening rises for the most part have disappeared.  Which to me, since I prefer to fly fish, means the best part of the trout season is practically over and done.

I bait fish once in a while.  So if one of my bait fishing friend shows up with a jar of fat August grasshoppers, I might be persuaded to go along with him to a dykeland stream.  Grasshoppers fished live with a light leader and tiny hooks can be killers at times.  However, grasshoppers may be difficult to find.  For reasons unknown they seem to be scarce this summer, at least around the fields I’m familiar with.  I speculate but maybe something has hit them around where I roam.

This has been a great summer for striped bass fishing all around.

Good reports are coming in from everywhere along the shore with anglers saying the runs are better than ever with a lot of legal size fish being caught.  Without a reporting system, however, it’s difficult to determine if this is a banner year for stripers or an average season.

It will soon be shotgun season.  Some of my friends who live in farm country are already giving me reports on pheasants.  And I’ve already had a couple of friends remind me to keep them in mind when I take my bird dog out this fall.

Those cool mornings and evenings, days with noticeably fewer daylight hours and those hunting conversations with friends are sure signs nimrod fever is setting in.  Sure it may be premature to talk about hunting.  While mornings and evenings have been autumn-like lately, the remainder of August likely will have a few hot, muggy days.

However, whether the rest of August is summery or not, September and the early goose season is looming.  The 2013-2014 waterfowl regulations are now posted on the Environment Canada website, in case any of you diehard duck and goose hunters are interested.

And by the way:  I just got my first hunting catalogue in the mail.  That tells me it’s time to at least think about getting ready for hunting.