This section is from the book "Moose-Hunting Salmon-Fishing And Other Sketches Of Sport Being The Record Of Personal Experiences Of Hunting Wild Game In Canada", by T. R. Pattillo. Also available from Amazon: Moose-Hunting, Salmon-Fishing and Other Sketches of Sport: Being the Record of Personal Experiences of Hunting Wild Game in Canada.
This strait lies between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia North, and extends far up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The harbours on each of its shores are numerous, and many of them in deep indentures, varying from three to five miles. Among these may be named Wallace, Pugwash, and Pictou. The tide ebbs and flows rapidly, with considerable rise and fall, so that at low water there are great clam-flats, the feeding-ground of immense flocks of ducks, brant and Canadian geese, in the spring and autumn, on their migration from their southern to their northern home, and vice versd. The larger geese arrive in March and April, the season making a difference of a few days; and the length of stay depends also on the weather. In the open season the brants begin to appear the first week in April, and remain well into May, when they become so fat they don't care to fly much. In the autumn they come on the scene, both brants and geese, in September, the former leaving in November, and the latter, if the weather is at all open, tarrying until about the 20th of December, then taking up winter quarters in the harbours and flats on the North Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. These harbours have always been great shooting-grounds, but have only in recent years been the resort of outside gunners. On some of the islands in the harbour buildings have been erected, and all the appliances in the way of boats, decoys, duck-punts, tubs, iceboats, procured, so that, thus equipped, visitors generally have excellent sport in a week or ten days' outing.
To add to the attractiveness of such a course, all the oysters and clams requisite to satisfy the most ravenous appetite can be procured within a few yards of the houses on the flats.
The 4th of April, 18 , by invitation, found me on Derry Island, at Pox Harbour, 4£ miles from Wallace town, for a ten-days' outing. When we reached the latter place, the sea ice was so very firm that we went in a sleigh out to and into the above island a thing quite unprecedented at that time of year. It was dusk when we reached the house, and I must confess, when our surroundings were viewed the next morning, the prospects for very extra good shooting were remote, for, apart from a few hundred acres of water, where Wallace and Fox Harbours met, the whole horizon in the direction of the sea was an extended body of ice. Nothing daunted, however, we were determined to know, and to know that day, if there had been any immigrants to that open spot.
You have no doubt noticed, reader, if a close observer in sport, that migratory birds come and go about the same time every year, irrespective of weather. My companion S., with his boatman, rigged themselves up in an entirely white dress, and started to their ice-boat on a small sled for that pool shall I call it ? on a mission purely of investigation.
This was then fully two miles distant. While they were thus engaged, your humble servant, with his boatman, prepared their ice-boat for service. To help you who have never seen a boat of the above kind, to better understand the nature of it, as we shall have to talk about it a great deal, I shall spend a part of the time of their absence in explaining its make-up and get-up. The intention is to have the boat resemble as closely as possible a floating ice-cake, and the nearer it can be made to approach that, the more successful the occupants will be. They range from 9 to 11 feet in length, according as they are intended for one or two parties, and are 6 feet wide. The bottom of the main part is much the shape of a fishing-dory, but much lower on the side. The bow is boarded or canvassed some 2½ or 3 feet from the stern, the latter not being over 9 inches high. Then there is a cock-pit, formed by the washboard extending from the covered bow to the stern, and it is in this pit the gunners lie. A bend is necessary on the edge of the closed-in bow to hold on small ice-cakes, put there the more strongly to represent the natural cake. The washboards are utilized, in the same way, besides being a protection against the washing water. These boats are propelled by paddles, independent of each other, so that the boat can be steered and turned in a short space. The paddles are enclosed or encased in a projection starting some two feet from the bow, forming a part of the bow, so as not to cause dead or drag water. They are entirely out of sight. The man providing the stern with elbow-grease sits on a box or bag of straw between the handles of the paddles, so low down that nothing can be seen of him, but he has a peeking-place in front of him, while the regular gunner has a seat near the stern, also out of sight when approaching head on.
The bottom of the boat has to be considerably rounded, so that it will [turn easily. It is not necessary to say there must be a bluish white, like snow ice, which clamper ice mostly is. As they draw little water, and consequently take small hold of it, they are poor craft to go to windward, when tides and winds are contrary. When starting on a new cruise the covered-in bow is filled with little ice-cakes if they can be got, if not, by snow, the one or other to relieve the boat of woody appearance. When the clamper ice enters the harbours with the flood tide, as it does when they are open, then the geese and brants feed around them on the particles of eel-grass they (the clampers) have started from the bottom when aground at low water. The birds thus busily engaged, the ice-boat can readily be paddled up within shot.
Did you hear those four guns a little ago ? I did, and the boys must have found some game. After half an hour or so, bang went the guns again. Only three this time. Hardly had we noticed, when bang went the fourth. The tide is coming, and they will soon have to return, so we that is, my boatman and myself were becoming very anxious to find out what all that firing resulted in. Well, patience had its perfect work, and after a while we saw them in the distance dragging the sledge, which was almost a sure indication of some game. As they came nearer, we could not stand the pressure of suspense, so went to meet them, and our eyes were gladdened with the sight of three geese and three brants, with very encouraging reports of future prospects. The balance of that day was spent in preparations for the next.