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Northern Lights

Hunting snow geese in the company of a polar bear audience generates a hair-raising experience
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“Everything we bring in here, like groceries and gas, has to be flown in,” Webber says. “We were lucky, because some of the things we needed, like those wooden tables, were already here. We just had to clean things up. But when those bears were in the kitchen, they would just come and go as they pleased. It was a mess.”

The past summer was not kind to northern Manitoba. The weather was hot and dry, with any number of fires scorching vast stretches of forest. The temperature was in the upper 70s two days before our arrival, then tumbled quickly. The thermometer reads 42 degrees when Neepin and I throw together a willow-branch blind on a high spot adjacent to a creek bed. There is only a trickle of water in the stream.

The snows are flying early. I've got one hand on my gun and the other in my blind bag when a dozen or so descend on our decoys. They hover. Two birds fall from the startled flock, but a triple should not have been surprising. Honest. Yes, the birds were that close. Neepin is back in the willows, trimming more cover for our hide. Another small group approaches. Fast and furious.

“That all?” Neepin asks upon returning from his mission and looking at a pile of what now amounts to four snows. “I heard a lot of shooting.”

My bubble having been burst, I proceed to strike out during the next three opportunities. Back to reality, perhaps. Shortly thereafter, we pack up the decoys and move. That's part of the program here. Mobility is key.

“When it's warm like this, the geese will go to the flats, like that,” Neepin says, motioning to a line of quivering white geese along the coast. “Sometimes it's hard to hunt here because there are so many places to go. We watch what the geese are doing, and then move to where the geese want to be.”

We spent the final morning hop-scotching from one likely site to another. As the sun climbs higher, Neepin keeps a sharp eye on where the birds are trading. That would be behind us, along a tree line located at the distant edge of a huge sedge meadow. This would be our last stop.

We spend nearly two fruitless hours lounging in a willow tangle. And then all things goose broke loose. Three birds fall to one barrage. Two more are downed during another volley. The wind picks up, if only by a trace. And the sky begins to fill with wave after wave of snow and Ross's geese.

“Where'd those come from?” Neepin asks after four blues strafe our post and fly away unscathed.

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