Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

Canada Beckons (Page 2)

The diversity of species, nonstop action and generous bag limits offered by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are arguably unrivaled by any U.S. destination.

But it’s hard to hold off when a mature blue goose—perhaps the most beautiful bird of any kind I’ve ever seen—lands just in front of me. Its head is a brilliant, perfect shade of white that gorgeously contradicts its bluish gray breast. I can already picture it on my wall. Perhaps my wife will let me hang it over the bed, wings spread as if descending upon us.

But the blue discovers our charade and, along with the others, takes flight. The other snows continue circling but soon move on. It’s disappointing, but such is the nature of snow-goose hunting.

We shoot a few snows later that morning, but no flights compare to that huge flock that was nearly ours. Fortunately the disappointment is far outweighed by the thrill of having been in such proximity to so many birds.

I’m Here to Hunt Cranes?
There are certain wonderful aromas we associate with our sport that even a non-hunter could enjoy—Hoppe’s No. 9, a Lab puppy’s breath and crisping duck skin, for instance. Then there are those a non-hunter would find unpleasant that we associate with fond memories. And as I clean mallards, pintails and a variety of geese that evening with two good pals and a darn good duck guide, the salty, iron-rich air takes me back to Thanksgiving 1989: Dad had just showed me how to breast a mallard.

Aaron’s interjection returns me to present day.

“So, I was just talking to the guides and they’ve spotted a really nice group of cranes,” he says. “They think it would be a slam dunk.”

Aaron brought up the possibility of hunting cranes earlier that day, and I politely dismissed the idea. Has he intentionally waited until I am on my second refreshment to revisit the pursuit?

“I don’t want to stop you from hunting cranes,” I say, “but I’d rather hunt ducks. That’s why I’m here.”
Nick backs me.

“Well,” McCrea says, “I just happen to know a certain honey hole where you could probably limit out on ducks in the afternoon. The scouting report is really good.”

McCrea’s team gets up at 4 a.m. to guide hunters, then spends the rest of the afternoon scouting while clients nap. I honestly do not know when they sleep, but these guys know how to find waterfowl. I trust McCrea’s report.

“Okay, why not?” I concede.

Aaron is thrilled, and the next morning we set up a modest spread of sandhill crane and Canada goose decoys across a bean field. The species are prone to sharing the same fields, although the geese give the cranes a wide berth.

Sandhills can be mean and, as none of my friends or I have ever shot one, we are prepped on their temperament. No dog is used because a wounded crane goes for the eyes. We’re cautioned to allow the guides to deal with any ornery birds. By the time the talk is through, I’m convinced a poor shot may result in my death.

But that thought escapes me as a single crane swings off my end of the decoys. I pull ahead of its long, sharp bill and pull the trigger. It folds cleanly—well, as cleanly as a crane can. The cliché is that a dead crane looks like a lawn chair that somebody tossed out a window, but I’m not even sure that does the clumsiness justice. These birds are simply all legs.

We are all smiles. Aaron made a wise suggestion, and I’m grateful. Three weeks later I toss the crane on a grill, cook it medium-rare and slice it thinly against the grain. It’s the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten.

Not long thereafter a sizable group works us. A few veer off, but five commit. Nick and Aaron drop three while I watch.

Within seconds another group is working. Then chaos: One of the “dead” cranes springs up like Lazarus and charges toward Aaron’s blind. Then it just stands there, unaware of Aaron’s presence. The rest of us are certain Aaron’s about to be blinded, gutted or worse. The birds coast off to my right and over the horizon; when I glance back to check on Aaron, he has smartly pinned the crane to the ground with the butt of his shotgun.

What Makes a Trophy Duck?
“Well, this better be good, Aaron,” I joke as we assemble a spread of full-body mallards over a barley field. “Because that crane hunt you roped me into was just misery.”

“Something tells me even a guy like you will manage to shoot a duck this afternoon,” he fires back. Mallards are already attempting to light.

The day quickly turns into a giant I-told-you-so moment for Aaron. I am awed by the sheer size of the first groups of birds that work us, but I’m particularly surprised by how well they respond to calling. We direct them almost at will to the decoys. Want ’em a tad closer or better centered over the spread? Just fire up your cadence.

It is a nonstop blitzkrieg. And as the seventh or eighth huge group of greenheads swings in, I am happy to finish them with soft quacks and watch Nick and Aaron shoot. Both double up and, all grins, we take photos. Our pile of mallards plus one pintail leaves us two ducks shy of a limit, and we are more than content. Not only is it a fine bag, but it contains some gorgeous ducks. Three sport triple-curl tail feathers—trophy ducks by any measure—and Aaron takes the nicest bird home to mount.

Perhaps some men couldn’t tell you the date of their greatest duck hunt ever. Mine occurred Oct. 10, 2011. In three days we shot six different kinds of geese (seven if you count blues separately), five kinds of ducks and our first sandhills—all before most major U.S. seasons even had opened. I’m convinced there’s no better way to kick off the greatest time of year than with a visit to Canada. I can’t wait to go back.

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