Feb 11, 2014

Saskatchewan Waterfowl Hunt 2013 - Day 2

We took the easy way out last night and had a pasta dinner with goose and duck sausage which the outfitter provided, salad and some fresh bread and some brownies for dessert.  Talk around the table was loud as each of us tried to put into words what we experienced on day 1 of our hunt with Living Sky Outfitters in Bladworth Saskatchewan.   After cleaning up from dinner and sitting around while we enjoyed a few beverages we finally laid our heads on a pillow and tried to fall asleep.  Easier said then done as I still have images of the skies filled with snow geese and 100+ flights of ducks buzzing our spread.  Not sure when I finally fell asleep, but I do know that our 4am wake up came a little too fast.  Today's game plan was a morning duck hunt with the chance for some dark geese and then an afternoon snow goose hunt.   The crew from Georgia struggled a bit with their shooting on Day 1 during their duck shoot in the AM, but they did make up for it on their snow goose hunt that afternoon.

Day 2 Sunrise

Morning Duck and Dark Goose Hunt October 15.

We woke to temps in the low 20s and frost along with clear skies and no wind.  Waterfowler's don't like those clear no wind kind of days, but we were to make the best of it.   We setup a homemade A-Frame blind just inside some tall brush with a high spot in the bean field about 50 yards from us before the field dropped off and headed down to the wood line.  We setup 6 dozen full body decoys made up of canadas, some giants, mallards and pintails along with a robo duck.  We had the sun at our back and as I mentioned, no wind.

It  didn't take long for the first batch of ducks to buzz our setup only for a few to land amongst the decoys about 5 minutes before legal.  They left before legal with a smaller group that flew by.  No matter, we took that as a good sign.    It wasn't long before we had a small toll of birds that offered up some shooting and even with a little sleep still in our eyes we did manage to knock down a few out of that first flight.  We had ducks work into the spread from the right, from the left and directly from behind us.  When the birds came from behind you could have reached up and grabbed them they were so low and that was so damn cool.

Bubba and Brian with a couple of geese.
Pintail Pete with a couple of giant geese.

We did have a couple of large flights of cacklers swing through and those little guys are as freaking noisy and talkative as snows.  Holy crap are they loud.   We did knock down a couple Specklebelly geese which is a treat as we don't seem them in our flyway.  One of the specks smashed a decoy right at the front of the blind when he dropped from the sky like a wet bag of cement.  There weren't many specks still around but we did see some almost every day.

Smashed decoy being retrieved.

The General makign a great retrieve on a specklebelly.

My first Specklebelly
 The highlight of the day had to be the 4 Giant geese that took a pass at the far edge of the spread and thanks to our Patternmaster tubes we knocked 3 of them down.  The fourth decided to swing back around and fly the same edge and it was also knocked down.  Two unfortunately required another shot but all 4 were recovered and they were massive!

Brian with some ducks

Bubba with arms full of giants!

Day 2 Morning Results

We ended the morning with a limit of 40 ducks consisting mostly of Mallards with a few Pintails mixed in.  We did end up with 6 Giant Canadian geese, 2 specks and 8 cacklers.  We estimated that we had seen over 3,000 ducks and a few thousand geese.

Afternoon Snow Goose Hunt

The whole trip was just incredible but if I had to pick just one part of the hunt to put on the top of the list, this snow goose hunt was it.  We refer to this hunt as Snowmageddon!  We don't get into the snows in our area of Connecticut and every goose hunter has heard the stories about how frustrating it can be to hunt snows, but when it works it is just an incredible sight to see.  Incredible.  Amazing.  Unreal.  There isn't a single word to describe it but I will try my best to do so.

Brian the Goose Ninja ready to go.

We had to get a little earlier start then normal for the afternoon hunt as we had a 850 decoy snow rig to put out which consisted of 8 dozen full body and the rest socks, shells and flyers.  The weather had warmed to the low 50s, still very clear but the wind had picked up to about 15mph.   Our rig was setup in the middle of a cut wheat field that was easily a couple miles square.  Picking the right spot in these large open fields is a challenge and something our guides were damn good at.  After getting the spread out, we put on some white jackets and pants and tucked ourselves in amongst the decoys.  The electronic caller was set out and turned on as well.  The bag limit is 20 white gees per person per day and considering we only shot 30+ the first morning as tens of thousands flew by we weren't to concerned about the limit, just hoping for some fun.

Pintail Pete getting comfortable among the decoys.

After putting out 859+ decoys I'm ready to get busy.

The hunt started out with some small flights on snows checking out the spread as we picked off ones and twos that would just seem to drop out of the sky and try to get in.  This went on for about an hour or so and then the number of flocks and size increased for about 20 minutes and they committed in larger numbers.  The excitement level was extremely high and the laughs loud and smiles wide and bright.  Once it slowed decided we needed an accurate count and we were 40+ birds.

If the hunt had ended we would have been impressed but our guide for the night Jay told us to sit back down because there were still many more flocks to come.  About 20 minutes later you can see flight after flight off birds heading our way and many of these flocks were in the hundreds of birds.  Over the next 30 minutes all chaos broke loose as our guide struggled to call out all the birds that were committing to the spread from all over the place.  We would shoot 5 or 6 that dropped in and the birds above would start there way down as well.  It was fast and furious trying to reload and get your bearings again.  The tears in my eyes from laughing so hard made it a little more challenging but we got it done.  While you were picking out birds to shoot, you had to dodge the ones your buddy shot as they were crashing down on top of you.  I had one land and crush my shell box as I rolled out of of the way.  Bubba had one hit his boot as he was shooting at a different bird.  It was pure mayhem!    We had birds walking amongst the decoys in the spread as more were landing.  One of our guys lost track of a walker and just hammered a full body decoy that flew up int he air about 10 feet and did 3 flips.  That made it even harder to shoot a bird as I was doubled over laughing and crying.

We new we were close to the 100 bird limit at that point and decided to get up and gather up the birds and while doing so the birds just kept coming and coming some even landed as we walked among the spread in our white suits.  Official count was 95 so we called it quits, sat back down and enjoyed the show which continued for about another 20 minutes.  I had birds cruising just feet above my head as I laid there video tapping them and at one point almost had one hit me.

GOPRO Footage

Additional Video Footage

After The Hunt Footage

The geese finally stopped coming and we started to pick up as the sun was setting and as I looked back towards the sunset I was amazed at the toll off birds off in the distance that seemed to be setting into the sun itself.  I couldn't imagine a better sight to end an amazing hunt.

Sunset Toll~

Gear Used

The A-frame blind we used was home made and made of 8 sections (2 front panels, 2 back panels and 2 ends) of aluminum with a soft mesh covered in grass mats  and brushed in with the local brush from the setup.  It is easy to adjust the angle of the blind as you just changed the angle of each stake on the panels.  We used buckets to sit on as well.  You can never have enough cover and brush on these things and you need to make them look like they belong and it did.   Most of the decoys were from Greenhead Gear with a few different brands mixed in.  We bought ammo from the outfitter when we arrived and it consisted of 4 cases Kent Fast Steel 3inch #2s and one case of 3.5inch BB.  We used all the 3inch #2s and returned about 6 boxes of the BB's as we didn't really need them.  The giants shot during the morning hunt were taken with 3inch #2s.  The BB's might have saved us a chase or two though.  The Kent shells seemed a little dirty along with the dust bowl we hunted every day, we made sure to break down the guns and clean them once a day.  Other then that I was very happy with the Kent ammo.  We had one gopro mounted on a head strap and two small video cams (Sony and JVC) mounted on gorilla tripods and set on the ground or attached to the Aframe blind.

Things I Learned

I'm not sure I learned anything new but many things were reinforced.  The first is how important scouting is.  Our outfitters and guides would help get the hunting crews setup in the AM and then hit the roads to scout and they covered a lot of ground and always had us on birds every day and every hunt.  The second was the reinforcement of cover and concealment.  You'd think with all those birds around you could get a little sloppy but we spent plenty of time brushing in the blind and it truly looked like part of the landscape when we got done.  Actually I did learn one thing.  Bring ear plugs on a snow goose hunt!  I could NOT get the sound of snow geese out of my head after this hunt.  It took a whole day before I seemed normal again.

Feb 5, 2014

Saskatchewan Waterfowl Hunt 2013 - Day 1

Our first trip ever to hunt waterfowl at the waterfowl factory called Saskatchewan started bright and early this Monday morning. Wait, did I really say bright?  It definitely wasn't bright, early yes but bright - no.  In fact it was really dark and cold as we made the 1 minute drive from our trailer to the Living Sky Outfitters headquarters which was located across town -  a whole 3 streets away in this 5 street town of Bladworth.

We had flown into Saskatoon late Saturday and spent the night near the airport so we didn't have to rush on Sunday.  As we made the ride down on Sunday afternoon from Saskatoon, where we flew into late Saturday and stayed the night,  to our temporary home of Bladworth took just over an hour but it was an hour that just added to the excitement and anticipation that had already built up the last couple of months.  As we drove south along Highway 11 we were greeted by fields filed with geese, way too many to count while driving along at 100 kph, that's about 65 mph for the rest of us.  Damn near every single pothole that had water, had ducks or geese on it and there was a wide variety of them as well. 

Both Bubba and I were up before the alarm and had already double checked our gear before the General came stumbling out of  his bedroom with a large grin on his face and mumbled something about "who needs a damn alarm with you two around!"  The was not Gerry's first trip to Saskatchewan for Waterfowl or hunting with the owner Jeff of Living Sky Outfitters so he obviously wanted a little more sleep.

We were one of two groups of 5 hunting this week.  Our crew consisted of Me, Jim (bubba), Gerry (The General), Brian (The Decoy Killer) whom are all from Connecticut and an acquaintance that we hunt with in Maryland we call Pintail Pete.  The other 5 man crew were good old southern boys from Georgia.  It was 22 degrees out and it didn't bother us northern boys as much as it did the southern crew.  The game plan was for our crew to hunt snow geese, while the southern crew would hunt ducks and dark geese.

So we piled all our gear and us into one of the suburbans and our outfitter Jeff lead the way to the field we would be hunting that morning.  We had a familiar face along with us as our guide was someone we hunt with regularly in Maryland and he is a great guy, who works hard and has fun and is very good at his job.   After  about a 20 minute ride we turned off the gravel road and into a cut wheat field and drove to a spot in the middle of if it.  We stopped Jeff and Billy got out and discussed the setup for the morning and then came back and gave us some direction and we went to work putting out a 450 decoy spread that consisted of full body snows, canadas, mallards, pintails, some snow goose silos and a couple of robo ducks along with 6 layout blinds and an electronic snow goose caller.  With the 7 of us getting the spread out and the blinds brushed didn't take long at all which is nice when you have guys that hunt together back home and know the drill.

As we settled in to our layouts waiting for the birds to start moving we started with some excited conversation and a little teasing.  It wasn't long after that the sky started to lighten up and show signs of life.  Game on!  It didn't take long for a 3 ducks to come screaming into the spread and I am happy to report they all stayed.  I like staying ducks and hate those leaving ducks!  Off in the distance you could hear the sound of snow geese getting ready to lift off and due to the flat terrain we could see a very large group of snows way, way off in the distance and highlighted by the rising sun get up from the roost and head out.  These were not the geese that were using the field we were in, but it definitely drove the excitement level up as we watched a couple thousand snows fill the sky.

The white tornado of snows willow leafing into the spread never occurred, but we watched thousands and thousands of snows fly over our spread heading to a new field and it was definitely heart breaking and frustrating, but also breath taking.  Just an incredible sight to see and the noise level was deafening and something I ended up hearing in my sleep that night. It was so loud that the electronic caller that sat just a few yards away could not be heard over the natural sounds coming from the sky. We did pick off some snows as smaller groups liked the spread and tried to join in.  We also picked up some more ducks as well as some dark geese including a lone Speckle-belly.  For us it was a GREAT morning, for our Guide and outfitter not so much.

We packed up the rig and headed back to barn and on the ride out we flushed some huns along the side of the road, which we thought about trying for and as we were stopped there discussing  a game plan we were greeted by all those snows that flew over our spread heading our way and back to the roost.  It made for some nice video.  We also found the rest of those stubborn white birds on our ride out to the main road as they just sat feeding in another field.  We had to see 20,000 or more snows that morning.

Back at the outfitters headquarters we talked a bit about the morning hunt and listened to what the scouters had seen that morning, discussed plans for the afternoon and then headed out to get some lunch and a quick nap.

Due to the fact that hunting geese in the afternoon was closed for another day here in our part of Saskatchewan we set out for an afternoon duck hunt in a pea field.  We setup an a-frame blind in some tall grass on the edge of the field and brushed it in really good and then set out 4 dozen full bodies duck decoys consisting of mosly Mallards with some Pintails mixed in.  Two Robo ducks were placed in the spread as well as a dozen geese for some confidence decoys.

Seeing we couldn't hunt geese on this evening we most certainly expected to see plenty of them and we did.  We even had them landing out in our spread and farther out in the field and of course the ducks wanted to land with them.  When that happens you just have to get out of the blind and walk them geese up and get them out of here.  We even had 3 speckle bellied geese land on the edge of the duck spread and they stick around for a few minutes, until a few ducks showed up and committed only to become staying ducks!

It was a very interesting afternoon hunt with thousands of ducks working by the spread and enough of them committing to it so that we could put 34 ducks in the bag to finish off a 5 man daily limit of 40 ducks.  Many of these would become dinner the next night. 

Gear Used

I was toting my Browning BPS 12ga pump with a Code Black Duck Patternmaster tube which I just added this year.  We were shooting Kent Fast Steel 3" #2s and they did the job just fine.  There was also a Mossberg 935 12ga with a Patternmaster Long Range tube, two Remington 11-87s with factory chokes and a Benelli SBE II with Patternmaster tubes in our blind all week.   I was totally amazed at how much gun I actually had while using the Patternmaster tubes.  If you put the bead on them, they dropped and that included the birds trying to get out of dodge.  The tubes are deisgned to reduce the length of your shot string giving you more pellets on target and from what I had seen, they most certainly succeeded.  If you haven't tried a Patternmaster tube, I strongly suggest you do.  I just ordered additional tubes from my Remington 870s.

Things I learned 

I learned quickly that my simple plan of setting my video camera up on a tripod on the ground or attached to the blind was just not going to work out the way I had hoped.  The reason - well the birds just refused to commit to the area that was visible to my camera.  That was very inconsiderate of them don't you think.   That night while trying to sleep I also learned that those dang snow geese are so loud that their sound rings in your head for hours, upon hours after the hunt.