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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Stan Huner's Great Waterfowl Adventure

Following the flight, 2009-2010
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Sunday morning found me with Daryl and six other duck hunters in a harvested pea field west of the 14 mile corner near Enchant on Henry the Hut's land waiting for sunrise and hungry ducks. Blinds had been assembled and decoys strategically placed in the predawn darkness. A couple of spinning wing decoys added movement to the ground spread. Spinners are almost too much of an advantage when it comes to young birds in the early fall. The problem is trying to keep the wings from being knocked off when the birds land too close to them. Decoys out blinds closed and conversations of "What else could good friends ask for in life?" were rudely interrupted by the sound of hundreds of wings in the dim morning light. A final check of Mickey Mouse said two minutes to wait. As the ducks circled and began to light in the decoys it was Katie who got restless first. Three minutes later the sounds of autumn erupted without hesitation. For the next hour Mallards found decoys and the steel found its mark. The sixty four bird harvest was complete.

The Canadian prairies is where it starts for a majority of North America's ducks and geese in the spring and it was the appropriate place for the Great Waterfowl Adventure to begin in earnest. The fifteen MPH wind and the crisp morning are typical of early October in southern Alberta.

One last check of the harvest found a count of 58 Mallard and 6 Pintails with one Drake Mallard sporting "jewelry." From Daryl's perspective it was obvious that he had just killed his first banded duck. Perhaps the significance of the hunt prevented the usual skirmish over a banded bird. David, Rodney, Bob, Stan Jr., Scott, Henry and I congratulated Daryl and our Alberta first day hunt was in the book.

Sunday afternoon is reserved for a special event. It has been fourteen years since my first visit to the Alberta camp. Some of the faces have changed over the years but the friendships and the excitement of the gathering have not. One of the greatest traditions has been the annual clay target shoot fondly referred to as the Can-Am. This simple clay target event has spawned more stores than time will allow but at some later date they need to be told. The event is held each year on Sunday afternoon and consists of two teams a Canadian team and a U.S. team. Team members shoot twelve targets, six singles and three sets of doubles. The throwers are usually from the other team and it leads to some heated complaints but it is all in good fun. The event has become such a draw that most years there are more Canadians that want to shoot than there are Americans to compete with.

2009 was just such a year. There were only five Americans but nine Canadians who insisted on being included in the shooting competition. In an effort to make things fair two Canadians were assigned to the American team. At the end of the day the Americans lost by 4 targets with one of the Canadians assigned to the American team gong zero for twelve on his targets. Suffice it to say 2009 marked only the fourth time the Canadians took the trophy in the last twelve years. Next years team assignments will be more carefully considered by the American team.

Day two was scheduled to be a traditional field hunt for Canada geese. Decoys were changed from the duck decoys of the first day. David our host and guide uses full body flocked head Big Foot Canada goose decoys. He uses seven to eight dozen and typically puts out six dozen in a long line six feet wide with the closest birds forty yards from the front of the blind even with the downwind side of the blind. The line moves upwind until the six dozen are set. He then puts a family group of four to six birds 20 yards in front of the blind even with the upwind side of the blind. The last two dozen birds go upwind even with the blind or slightly behind the blind at 30 yards.

The blinds we used were the same for ducks and geese and these blinds were probably the most functional portable blinds we used during our trip. The blinds are made of ¾ inch square metal tubing with a removable bar that hold natural camouflage on the frames. It may sound strange but you use short leafy poplar limbs (David calls anything green a willow) to create a bush in the field effect. These blinds are effective in barley and wheat stubble fields, harvested pear fields and even freshly plowed ground. The thicker the cover the better David says if you can see out geese can see in. Special care should be given to camouflaging the bottom one third of the blind because your feet move as you reposition yourself to see incoming birds at a distance. Geese usually arrive to feed around 7:30 AM to 8:00 AM. As the afternoon scout says "They will be back when the sun hits their backs" meaning that geese usually stay on the night resting ponds until the sun comes up.

True to form around 7:45 the first honking sounds were faint in the distance but getting stronger. Our guide is a BIG believer in a few basic things: If you are in the right place (where the geese fed the night before) and you are hidden and still the decoys will do the work. Heavy calling is not high on his list. As past experience has proven a stern reprimand will be coming if a guest gets over zealous with his call.

After the first volley some birds were picked up easily while others required Katie's speed and enthusiasm to put them in the bag. The key to keeping flights of geese coming to the field and within range is to get harvested birds in the blind as soon as possible and cover up quickly. Amazing as it may seem a dog carrying a goose to the blind will not flair incoming birds. If the dog stops and looks up at the incomers they will give the spread a wide birth.

The highlight of the morning was when David left the blind to get up some birds that had landed 500 yards from the blind and were attracting all new arrivals away from our portion of the field. Decoys can not compete with live geese on the ground. As he walked to the birds he passed a patch of cover on the edge of the field. We were milling around the blinds and spooked three birds in his direction. He dropped all three geese with the three shells in his gun. Katie helped with a runner. What other punctuation mark could you add to a morning of goose hunting? It was 9:30 and time to pick up decoys and take down blinds and share the southern Alberta ceremonial after the hunt Dixie cup of beer and clamato juice EEA!!

Alberta was one of just a few of our 19 stops that lasted more than one day. Day three was another field goose hunt for a couple of hours. As we packed the truck we knew this deal was real and if it got any better we might not be able to keep our chests from exploding. Saskatchewan was six hours east and we were on the move again.

Things Learned and Reminders to Self

Border crossing tips: If you have a dog put him/her in you lap for creditability while talking to customs officials. Dog needs to understand role and lick not growl.
Canadian license: 60 days out by internet access, cost approximately $150. Check regulations for stamps and types of license and permits.
Guns and ammo: Guns must be registered with Canadian officials at border. Forms can be pre-printed and filled out prior to arrival at border. Fee for registration is $25. Be sure to register gun with US Customs before departure to assure proof of origin to re-enter the U.S.

200 rounds of shotgun shells can be taken into Canada however if you are flying 10# weigh restriction may limit the number of boxes. Carrying shells is usually not worth the hassle unless you are driving. Be aware however that you or someone you hunt with must have a possession and acquisition permit to purchase shells in Canada.

The Harvest Record – Hunting Party Totals

Alberta Ducks – 103 Geese – 16
Trip Grand Total Ducks – 103 Geese – 16
Banded Birds 1 – Drake Mallard, Alberta
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