The Story Behind the Great Waterfowl Adventure
This is the story of two men whose lives were changed by chance and some might say by destiny. Both men share a love for dogs, the outdoors and wing shooting. They also share a set of family and personal values that have kept them grounded through nearly thirty years of friendship.
The story begins in a corn field in west central Iowa in 1982. Stan and a couple of friends from Alabama were chasing Iowa Pheasants in their usual fashion. Get in the truck and drive around the country to look for likely pheasant habitat on harvested farms, drive up to the farm house and ask permission. This usually involved a chuckle or two when the question was posed "Would Ya'll let us hunt your place if we are careful and respectful of your land and property?" And by the way have Ya'll seen any pheasants this year?
The first response being; where are you from? And the second being; why would anybody drive that far to shoot a pheasant?
On this particular day permission was granted to hunt the farm which was primarily harvested corn fields and the surrounding fence rows, grassy water way drains, ditches, a few plum thickets and wind breaks. The morning hunt was good and the group stopped for lunch around noon. They drove into the small town of Audubon, Iowa for a quick bite at the local A&W Root Beer Burger shop. "Stan's usual routine calls for getting a couple of plain burgers for the labs to eat for a quick energy boost for the afternoon hunt." After securing the burgers and returning to the vehicle to feed the labs, Stan discovered that his yellow lab Dusty had a severely swollen right foot. Closer inspection indicated that Dusty needed medical attention. The owner of the A&W gave directions to the Vet Clinic that was located a couple of blocks away.
The ladies at the desk in the clinic said that while the clinic was a large animal facility one of the vets would take time to look at Dusty. Dr. Mark welcomed Stan into the examining room and quickly discovered that a piece of corn stalk had penetrated the pad on Duty's foot. He opened the cut took out the corn stalk piece and cleaned out and bandaged the wound with a reassurance that Dusty would be fine to hunt in the afternoon. After thanking Dr. Mark for this help and not to miss an opportunity to find additional hunting areas Stan asked if Dr. Mark knew of any good pheasant spots. Dr. Mark said he was not a hunter but the clinic had just hired a young vet a few months earlier that really loved to hunt but was out on a call. Dr Mark suggested that Stan call Dr. Daryl early the next morning and he might be able to help with a pheasant spot.
The Alabama group returned to Des Moines which served as base camp for the Iowa trip. Early the next morning the group headed south to hunt but stopped at a pay phone (cell phones did not exist in 1982) around 7:00 AM to call the vet clinic in Audubon. As luck would have it Dr. Daryl was in and took Stan's call. After a few minutes of telephone conversation Daryl decided to take a chance on this unknown group and agreed to have them meet at the clinic the next day at lunch with a promise to take them along for an afternoon pheasant hunt. That one afternoon together started a friendship that has lasted 30 years.
To recap those near thirty years would take a hundred pages. For now suffice it to say that we will leave that for future writing.
Daryl was born and raised in South Dakota and has hunted pheasants and upland game for most of his life. Stan was born in Louisiana and was raised in South Alabama. He hunted doves, quail, rabbits and squirrels in his younger years but for the last 35 years has been an avid waterfowl and (thanks to Daryl) pheasant hunter.
In 2004 Daryl's wife Nancy gave him a book entitled "Following the Flight" with an inscription saying that she hoped someday he could make the trip described in Charles Potter's book. The book is a biographical account of a hunting adventure that Charles experienced in 1982 and 1983 when he set out to follow the fall migration of waterfowl from Canada to Louisiana. It describes the experiences and emotions that Charles shared with waterfowl, friends, acquaintances and his lab as they made their way from the waterfowl breeding grounds of the Canadian Prairies to the Bayou's of Louisiana. It is ironical that 1982 was the year Charles started his trip and 1982 was the year Stan and Daryl met for the first time and their friendship began.
Daryl put the book in play in 2005 when he loaned it to Stan and suggested that this might just be the best idea he had ever heard of for two avid wing shooter and duck nuts. As is the case with most fine wines and ideas they need time to age and mature. Daryl knew that Stan was a senior volunteer with Ducks Unlimited and probably had some connection that might come in handy for this plan.
In fact Stan's volunteer career with Ducks Unlimited has spanned over 30 years. He started as a volunteer committee member in Birmingham Alabama in 1979 and has since served as the Alabama State Chairman, the Regional Vice President for Ala. and Mississippi, Flyway Sr. Vice President for Al. Ms, La. Ark. Tn. Ky. Mo. He served on the Ducks Unlimited National Board of Directors for twelve years and the Ducks Unlimited Canada Board of Directors for three years. He currently serves on the Ducks Unlimited Inc. national Finance Committee and the national Audit and Budget Sub-Committee. This volunteer commitment to Ducks Unlimited has rewarded Stan with many great friendships from Canada to Mexico.
While Stan and Daryl shared a duck blind in Miss. in Jan of 2008 the challenge was made. "OK Daryl you put the idea on the table in 2005 and it is now time to make this dream a reality" and by the way Jane has blessed the deal. I will be 65 in Oct. and I think this would be a great way to celebrate 40 years of hard work and take a little time off. Daryl's response took all of 1 second "You're On Let's Do It". All that was left was to plan the route and start lining up hunting locations. And so the plan for the Great Waterfowl Adventure of 2009-10 was born and put in motion.
Over the next several months wheels turned, phone calls and visits took place all in anticipation of a schedule that would accomplish the stated goal. Track waterfowl from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in one season.
The provinces and states on the list include the following:
- Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
- North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Alabama
Hunting camps and hosts for the trip are all friends and companions.
The trip will have four legs to accommodate the fact that both Daryl and Stan still work full-time in closely held businesses and have families that expect to spend time with Dad and Grand-dad during the fall and winter months.
- The first leg will start in early October and cover AB, SK, MB, ND, SD.
- The second leg will start in mid November and cover KS, NE, OK, IA.
- The third leg will be mid December and cover AK, TN, North LA, North TX.
- The fourth leg will be in early January and cover South TX, South LA, MS.
There are also a number of friends who have expressed a desire to be part of the adventure, by providing hospitality, so for many of the states there will be multiple venues depending on weather conditions and availability of hunting opportunities.
The Decoy Plan
The magnitude of this adventure called for a commemorative plan that would be more than journals and pictures. The struggle to find the appropriate plan resulted in sleepless nights and a few showers being taken without soap due to mind wanderings. But at last an idea and plan worthy of the challenge was "Hatched" and put into flight.
Engage a decoy carver to make two sets of working decoys to accompany Daryl and Stan on the trip. At each stop, use the decoys and have the hosts and other hunters sign one of the decoys for a commemorative souvenir of the particular hunt. At the end of the journey Daryl and Stan will have a set of hand carved decoys to hunt over for years to come. Someday these seasoned decoys will be passed on to children, grandchildren and perhaps friends as a remembrance of the Great Waterfowl Adventure of 2009-10.
- The full body cork decoys have been carved.
- Each decoy has been tagged with a brass plate.
- Decoys have been rigged for removable weights.
- Weights have been hand crafted for each decoy.
- Padded decoy bags have been secured for each six decoys.
- Wooden boxes have been hand crafted for each six decoys to facilitate shipping and storage when necessary.
Getting There is No Easy Task
The adventure kicked off for Stan at 6:30 a.m. Sept. 30, 2009 when he got a send off kiss and hug from Jane and loaded Katie his 8 year old black lab in the back seat of the pick up. There was no room in the truck bed even though a newly painted used camper shell had been added for the trip. The big Red Truck would start the trip from Sterrett Alabama to Audubon Iowa for the initial rendezvous with Daryl scheduled for Oct. 1st. The plan was to drive to St. Joseph Missouri and spend the night leave early the next morning and meet at Daryl's office in Audubon the next day around 11:30am.
The next step was to off load Katie and the contents of Stan's truck into Daryl's truck for the trip to Alberta. There was a short detour on the schedule as Stan had convinced Daryl's wife Nancy to drive him to the airport in Des Moines to catch a flight to Saskatoon for a D.U. finance committee meeting that was scheduled for Friday October 2nd not much convincing was required as Daryl's and Nancy's daughter Erica and their two granddaughters Lucy three and Ruby two months live in Des Moines.
Daryl would leave on Friday morning to drive to North Dakota to drop off items at his farm (pheasant –duck refuge) spend the night and drive to Regina Saskatchewan on Saturday morning to pick Stan up at the Regina airport. Stan picked a rental car in Saskatoon after the DU meetings on Friday and headed to Regina early Saturday morning. Part of Stan's plan was to have Daryl negotiate the Canadian border with a truck load of hunting gear, decoys, and two dogs while Stan was just dealing with his shotgun and an a carryon bag. Daryl had his German Shorthair Molly with him and she proved to be the ticket thru customs. Molly is a real people dog and sat in Daryl's lap licking the customs lady's hand while Daryl explained the Great Waterfowl adventure. Thank goodness they did not ask to unload the truck. Nothing at all in the truck to worry about other than the fact that it took two hours to load it and it would take four hours to unload and reload it. The Clampets could have taken a packing lesson from Daryl.
With the border in the rear view mirror Regina was only three hours away. Stan had left Saskatoon and rendezvous was close to happening. Stan and Daryl found the Regina airport about the same time around 12:00 noon. The rental car was dropped and Stan joined Daryl, Molly and Katie for the real kick off to leg one of the road trip. Molly was perched on top of the luggage in the back seat and Katie was nestled in her kennel under the decoys in the back of the truck. Next stop would be six hours later in Enchant Alberta hopefully in time to jump in a blind for a few minutes before dark.
The Alberta hunt would be special for a lot of reasons not the least of which was the fact that Stan's oldest son Scott and youngest son Stan, Jr. would be part of the group. This would be Scott's first trip to Canada and that made it all the more special for Stan. The Alberta hosts have been long time friends of Stan and some other Alabama folks. Back in the early '90s a close friend of Stan's was transferred to Calgary Alberta for business reasons. Jim and Stan had served as DU Sponsor committee chairman for a number of years in the Birmingham area. When Jim arrived in Calgary he was without a friend. In true DU spirit Stan called some friends on the DU Canada board and asked them to let the Calgary committee know they could find a diamond in the rough if they would give Jim a call. The call was made and Jim joined the committee.
For the next five years the Calgary committee and the Over the Mountain Birmingham committee would set up swap trips to benefit the ducks. The Calgary committee would host four folks from Alabama for some duck and goose hunting and trout fishing on the Bow River in the fall while the Alabama committee would host four Canadians to some turkey hunting, golf and bass fishing in the early spring. The first year the trip was sold at the Calgary event with an unlikely buyer joining the group of four bidders for the trip. Bob did not realize the trap he was falling into when he joined the first group to come south. As he says today he found more fun and friendship than he could ever have imagined. His first trip to Alabama was somewhat unintentional. You know it's the DU auction frenzy that takes hold some nights and you wake up the next morning saying, "I bought what? For what?"
Two years later Bob's second trip to Alabama was intentional. Bob bought the swap trip again. He invited his best friend Rodney and a couple of other Calgary Stampede friends to join him on a repeat visit to Alabama. It was Stan's good fortune to be the host and coordinator for the Canadians. Some four years later Rodney asked Stan's Alabama group to join him and his partner David along with Bob at their duck camp in Alberta for a couple of days hunting.
The initial visit to the Alberta camp has now become a tradition of 14 years. 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 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 had to shoot. In an effort to make things fair two Canadians were assigned (by the Canadians) to the american team. At the end of the day the americans lost by 4 targets with one of the assigned Canadians going zero for twelve on his targets. Suffice it to say this was only the fourth time the Canadians took the trophy in the last twelve years.
Enough of the history of the Alberta connection let's get to the Alberta hunts. This is one of the few stops that lasted for several days. Daryl and Stan arrived peddle to the metal at 6:30 PM from the Regina airport having dodged one cow Moose and several antelope on the back roads form Medicine Hat to Vauxhaul. Rodney, Bob, Stan Jr., Scott and Henry were in the blinds on the side of a flooded wheat field with decoys in place. The ducks had been using the field during the week but mostly a little earlier in the afternoon. Darkness was falling fast and the birds had apparently found new ground for their late afternoon feed. However a couple of mallards and a pintail missed the message and became the first ducks harvested on the Great Waterfowl Adventure.
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.
||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
||Ducks – 103
||Geese – 16
|Trip Grand Total
||Ducks – 103
||Geese – 16
||1 – Drake Mallard, Alberta