By Bill Nichol
Just beyond the brim of my cap, numerous skeins of Canada geese traded paths across a cloudless Alberta sky. Hunkering in my layout blind, I continued to watch as clusters of birds created an aerial traffic jam in my narrow field of vision. Directly overhead, low-flying geese turned for a downwind pass, filling my ears with the drumming of huge flight feathers. And over our spread of 30 full-bodies, a dissonant chorus of honks and moans added to the chaos.
Bombarded by these sights and sounds, I lay paralyzed in a state of sensory overload. Equally under this spell were fellow hunters Paul Stedel, his son Richard, and my dad, Lytle Nichol, who booked a trip to hunt with me in Alberta's Peace River country.
The four of us looked on with eager eyes as 10 honkers separated from the whirling mass. Setting their wings in bows, the geese gracefully cut altitude and committed to our spread. With necks outstretched, the lead pairs were tiptoeing for a piece of ground only 15 yards beyond my feet when outfitter Mick Scott called the shot. On his command, five hatches sprang open and a thunderous volley greeted the startled flock.
Smoke was pluming from emptied guns when Scott and I dashed into the harvested pea field to collect fallen birds. Meanwhile, smiles and chatter broke out along the row of open hatches. On my return, I overheard Stedel, a retired farmer and longtime resident of the Peace country, comment to my dad, "Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have seen nearly this many geese. But these days, they're everywhere around here."
"Yeah, and here come some of them now!" Scott exclaimed as he offloaded four hefty western Canadas, pointed to the ground, and urged us to cover up for the incoming birds. With geese working faithfully all afternoon, we had each collected an eight-bird limit by the time the setting sun bathed the whole landscape in a warm amber hue.
Beginning hundreds of miles north of the U.S. border, Peace River country is a region where pockets of agriculture meet the vastness of boreal forest. Scott's headquarters is located outside Valhalla Centre, a hamlet in the southern part of this pioneer territory. During our visit in early October, the countryside was a rolling patchwork of prairie parkland and autumnal crops. Rows of swathed canola browned in the sun next to yellow bales of barley straw and acres of golden wheat awaiting the combine. Rising from the prairie, stands of aspen and birch stood out white and black, most of their brilliant foliage already gone.
But within this landscape, it was harvested pea fields that captured most of our attention. To start each hunt, we combed across rows of pea stubble in search of what our guide called "the fine line." According to Scott, this was the spot "where geese or ducks have recently stopped feeding and will start back up in the morning or late afternoon. You find it by looking for a combination of loose peas or grain, fresh droppings, and lots of feathers."
With two decades of hunting and scouting experience to guide him, Scott repeatedly located this prime real estate. Hunt after hunt, birds piled into our spreads with a degree of conviction that implied they were reuniting with old flockmates for another feast.
This was definitely the case during our first duck hunt. As the day faded, the afternoon stillness was suddenly interrupted by the chatter of hungry mallards. Soon the sky was peppered with waves of approaching ducks. When birds began lighting among the decoys in the ankle-deep stubble, I remembered what Scott had told us before he left to scout for the next morning's goose hunt: "Around sunset, these ducks should pile in here all at once." His prediction proved to be right on the mark.
For information about hunting the Peace River country with Mick Scott and Maverick Waterfowlers, contact him at 780-356-2515 or visit his website, www.mickmaverick.com. And for general information about traveling in Alberta visit www.travelalberta.com.
Hunting Across Canada Features