By Bill Buckley
For American hunters anxious to start a new season, Canada provides the perfect backdrop for intercepting southbound birds before they show up at home. Time the weather right, and you could witness a migratory spectacle unlike any you have ever seen.
That said, and despite the generous bag limits some provinces offer, it's best to start your Canadian trip with realistic expectations. Like anywhere, waterfowling in Canada is weather dependent, and even though you'll likely see lots of birds and have access to more land than you do at home, it's still hunting. You can maximize your opportunities and minimize your hassles by taking care of some of the details ahead of time.
The following advice will help you plan a successful trip north of the border.
Crossing the Border
Proper preparation can make your border crossing uneventful. If you're bringing guns with you, make sure you show up with a completed and printed, but not signed, Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form (RCMP 5589) in triplicate. You can find this form and other information at rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/firearms. Processing costs Can$25. Keep a copy of the signed, validated form with you while you're hunting or transporting a firearm in Canada. You might also need it to purchase ammo.
To reduce unanticipated problems when reentering the United States, visit a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility before you leave home. You'll want to fill out CBP Form 4457 and declare any guns or other items of value you're taking (and thus avoid duty tax on items that agents think could have been purchased in Canada).
If you're driving, approach the border crossing with your passport or other proof of citizenship ready. Answer all questions truthfully and know exactly the amount of alcohol, cigarettes, or ammunition you may be bringing (you can bring up to 200 rounds per person duty free).
Know the Laws
Familiarize yourself with all laws and regulations. If you're with an outfitter, don't assume his word is gospel. Perhaps the most common infraction US hunters get cited for is not retrieving birds immediately after shooting them. Licenses are not transferrable. If you're hunting with an outfitter and your license is included in the package, confirm that he has actually secured a license and that all the personal information is correct. For self-guided hunters, know your province's access laws. Saskatchewan, for example, recently enacted more restrictive laws. The same applies to bag and possession limits and tagging requirements.
Freelance or Hire an Outfitter?
Just like the United States, Canada has good and bad outfitters. Do your research, request references, and discuss your respective expectations. Also inquire about bird-carcass processing and meat care.
Freelancers should plan on spending each evening scouting. The best resources for locating landowners are rural municipality maps, which you can purchase locally, and a local phone book. For bird care, plan ahead. Early-season hunters should check to see if refrigerators or freezers are available at their destination. Some hunters buy cheap freezers they can run from their vehicles. Also inquire about game-processing facilities and how to dispose of carcasses.
Don't take the generosity of Canadian farmers for granted. Don't call late at night for permission to hunt. Show respect and gratitude by not driving onto fields without asking. Pick up all spent hulls. Remember, you're visiting a foreign country whose residents take justified pride in their nation and way of life. Be a good guest and enjoy one of the best parts about waterfowling in Canada—the local community.
FIVE ESSENTIAL CANADA TRAVEL TIPS
 Before traveling with your retriever, obtain a certificate from your vet showing the dog is up to date on vaccinations.
 Research the hunter-safety requirements for the province you'll be hunting. You may need to show proof that you have completed an approved hunter-safety course.
 To avoid tracking down hunting licenses and duck stamps at the last minute, buy everything online prior to leaving home.
 If you or a hunting partner has been convicted of a crime, there's a chance of being denied entry. Contact the Canadian authorities to inquire about potential problems.
 Credit cards are the most efficient way to fund your trip, including your gun permit. For cash, you'll find good exchange rates at most Canadian banks.