From an early age, it had been a goal of mine to travel to Canada and pursue waterfowl in one of the most sought after destinations in the world. This past October, my dream was finally realized as I set off for central Saskatchewan with longtime friend, Forrest Carpenter. The primary focus of the trip was Snow and Ross geese, along with Mallards and Pintails out of dry fields, but we were prepared to chase dark geese as well. With the truck and trailer packed, we were ready to experience everything Canada had to offer.
The beginning of the trip provided several obstacles, as we hit a severe winter storm that brought white-out conditions shortly after crossing from Colorado into Wyoming. We would be delayed almost an entire day waiting for roads headed north to open back up. Once back on road, we reached the border and cleared customs with ease. Our Canadian adventure was underway. Our first day found us about an hour northwest of Regina set up in a harvested wheat field that a good number of Canada and Specklebelly geese had been using the evening before. Most of the geese returned the next morning and worked perfectly, providing close shots that allowed us to pick out some beautiful, barred-up Specks. We were even surprised by a flock of Sandhill Cranes and managed to drop a few to add to our mixed bag. While it was a great start to our trip, it became apparent that the snow goose migration was not yet this far south, so we made a decision to pack up and head north another 100 miles towards Lake Lenore, a major staging area for migrating snows.
Upon arriving in the Lake Lenore region, it quickly became apparent that our decision to move would pay dividends, as we found several large roosts of snows numbering in the tens of thousands. As is usually the case in Canada, obtaining landowner permission to hunt their land was not an issue. We locked down a field with close to 20,000 snows and could barely sleep the night before in anticipation of the next day’s hunt. Having never chased snow geese hard before, I had no idea what to expect, but as the sun came up the next morning, it was clear I was about to get my first lesson in snow goose hunting. With a stiff west wind, we were forced to look right into the sun. The geese quickly picked out something wrong in the spread and ended up landing on the other side of the field, nearly a half mile away. Not all was lost though, as the Mallards put on a show for us and we knocked out a three-man limit in short order, along with a few juvy snows that decided to venture too close. We decided to not disturb the geese at the end of the field and let them leave on their own then set up for an afternoon hunt. If the conditions held steady, we would have a perfect set up. Well the conditions held steady and we were blessed with a strong west wind and the sun at our back. The geese poured off the roost in manageable sized flocks of 25 to 200. The first flock signaled we had a fun afternoon ahead of us when they started flipping to lose altitude and finished in the hole at 20 yards on the first pass. And so the story went for the next hour, which is all it took to fill our three-man, 60-bird limit. The rest of the afternoon we were treated to a spectacle as flock after flock put on a show for us. I was even fortunate to pick up a banded Ross Goose that had been banded in Nunavet, Canada in 2011. Not only was this the best afternoon hunt I had ever been a part of, but one of the best hunts I had been on period. We picked up the spread of 1,200 silo socks in short order and headed back to the motel to plan for the next day’s hunt, in which we would set up on a mid-day loafing pond that was holding a good number of snows. Again we were given favorable conditions the next morning as we set up on the 3-acre body of water. For this hunt, we used considerably less decoys, no e-caller, or flyers. With a good wind and sun at our back, all we needed was for the geese to come back in small bunches to the pond. The first flock of 50 did exactly as we had hoped and hung in the wind over 15 yards over our layout blinds. The four of us killed 10 from the flock, but the wind carried the sound of the volley over the hill to where the geese were feeding. Before we knew it, a flock of over 1,000 birds was headed our way. Much like the first flock, this group worked in almost perfectly. The roar was so deafening from the birds that I could barely hear my own shot call. As we rose and fired, the flock fell silent as it began to rain white. I was surprised to see that another 11 birds fell from this flock as the heavy wind had carried the birds out of range after our second shot. I figured there had to have been some collateral damage. Again, our volley had caused the remaining geese in the field to jump up and head our way. This time, the flock numbered close to 2,500 and we could tell as soon as they got to the far edge of the pond that it was about to get ugly. We were patient with this flock and let the first 200 or so land before we called the shot. Once again, snows and blues came plummeting down to the water. We focused on picking out beautiful adult “eaglehead” blue geese. There was nothing more exhilarating that decoying a huge flock of snows right into the hole and watching the dogs do what they do best. When all the smoke had cleared, 36 snows and blues bit the dust out of three volleys.
With only a few days remaining, we elected to hunt snows and ducks one more morning and then try to set up on a pond that had flooded into a grove of birch trees. We deemed it our Canadian flooded timber hunt. The final morning of hunting snows did not disappoint once again. With a howling wind out of the south, the birds poured off the roost and stayed low all the way to the spread. By 9:30, we had piled up 71 snows and an additional 20 mallards and pintail. By now, I was finally starting to learn a little bit about decoying snows. From the beginning of the trip we made the decision to no use any sort of electronic rotary machine and just use the wind to give our decoys movement. Nearly every other spread we saw had some sort of vortex machine, so we elected to show them something different. This decision paid off for us throughout the week.
More than content with our trip up to this point, we elected to make our hunt in the flooded birch trees, a gentlemen’s hunt, shooting only drakes that finished perfectly in the hole. The next morning brought one finally day of ideal conditions. With the sun at our backs, we were able to get some awesome pictures of fat northern greenheads as they broke the hole in the trees. With just Forrest and I shooting, we were able to fill our limit of 16 drakes by mid-morning. The hunt really allowed me to reflect on how lucky I have been to this point to travel around North America and chase waterfowl. It is something that can’t be taken for granted. I’m thankful that my dad introduced me to such a challenging yet rewarding sport and for the friends I have made accompanying me in the field for the past 15 years. I told myself that Canada would be the trip of lifetime, but after one year under my belt, I can promise a few return trips are in order in the coming years. It is something that I would recommend every waterfowler experience in a lifetime.
Zach LaBorde- S2 Calls Pro-Staff