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by Steve McCadams

(Part II of a two-part story on Canada's waterfowl wonderland)

To read part 1 first
Click Here

 Snow geese by the thousands lifted off on a distant marsh sending a roaring sound through the dawning sky. Daylight was slowly creeping over the eastern horizon and ducks were descending around our big spread of decoys placed in the middle of a field of barley stubble.

 After an hour's work by eight hunters under the cover of darkness, an awesome spread of  700-800 decoys made it look like a mass feeding frenzy. White rags resemble snow geese and some giant G & H half shell Canada geese were mixed with a few silhouettes.

  While we had no duck decoys it didn't seem to matter. Ducks came in droves as they dry feed in with the geese here and the setup seemed natural to them.

 Sporting white coats over our regular camouflage attire, we lay on our sides blending in with the layout of our massive decoy spread. Before I could get situated ducks were hovering over me like hummingbirds at a feeder. "This", I said to myself, "was going to be something".

 After parking our trucks in the distance, Jon Butler of Jackson and Randy Huffstettler of Greenfield, hurried back in the limelight. Some ducks were circling low as they walked in but it didn't seem to matter as Tommy Akin, also of Greenfield,  called the shot. "Go ahead and take these in front", he yelled. The volley kicked off a morning flurry of action as six ducks fell. What looked to me like a million and one geese were headed our way. Jon's Chesapeake retriever was living up to her breeding and scurring back with a grain fed mallard.

 Dog trainer Mark Wardlaw of Cordova, had a black Labrador retriever "Ace", which was in hot pursuit as about 20 snow geese did that "oak leaf" descent right in front of us and dropped out of the massive formation that was flying overhead. A few clucks from the goose calls and it was showtime.

 I was watching a flock of 25 or so mallards about to take my hat off when someone yelled "shoot the geese". It was a barrage and from the heavens fell geese like sandbags dropped out of the space shuttle. A thud here; a thud there. One sailed some 300 yards out with a broken wing but that was just what "Ace" had hoped for. Mark sent the dog out and with a series of impressive commands, hand signals and whistles, he directed the dog right to the bird.

 Our group of hunters had Stan Anderson and Barney Myracle, both of Lexington, along with Shane Kendall of Martin. Fellow outdoor writer Mike Hungle of Regina, Saskatchewan, had picked me up at the airport the day before and we joined the hunt group already in progress. They had been there for five days and scouted out the terrain for miles around.

 "If we had some wind it would really be something as the geese would get down in your face," said Akin, who was making his ninth consecutive trip to Canada's duck factory. "When it's this still the rags in the spread don't move around and the geese don't work as good. We've had one day this week with wind and the rest has been warm and calm."

 Normally, cold weather is part of the equation here but it had been a week of near record high temperatures. Cool mornings warmed into the 70's long before noon. I had packed warm clothes but never used most of them.

 While the rest of the guys were complaining about the lack of wind and warm weather, I was tickled just to be there. Ducks filled the sky from horizon to horizon. Geese were coming off the marsh and going out to feed in the distant grain fields that seemed to have no end. "If this was
slow, I'd hate to see it when it's good," I thought.

 Mallards and pintails were everywhere and we had tried to setup according to the wind as any waterfowler does. Yet the calm allowed the ducks to approach from just about any direction and trying to swivel and watch them as you lay on the ground is tough. Shooting from a sitting position is different as is swinging with a follow-thru motion.

 Some ducks landed right in front of me and were walking around before I knew they were there. I was watching a group swinging over Stan, Barney, Shane and Randy as they opened up and hammered several. Sometimes there are too many ducks to shoot at and this was one of  those times.

 A pair of Canada geese worked us and joined the pile. Then another bunch of lesser Canadas flew on the edge and we knocked out five. In-between the retrieves were countless bunches of ducks. You'd watch one group for that final approach, only to have another group take your hat off from behind. Low and on the water is one thing; having them walking around you while sitting in the decoys is another.

 Canada's bag limit allowed eight ducks per person, consisting of not more than five mallards and three pintails. We bagged 64 ducks before 7 a.m. By my watch it took about 25 minutes. We hunted another hour or two and lured some geese into range before picking up the spread and heading back to a rural farm house for breakfast.

 Our bounty was 97 birds in hand and we paused for pictures and swapped stories of shots taken and shots missed. Overhead were geese coming back to the marsh for water after an early morning feeding spree. To a waterfowler it was heaven on earth. Skies were filled with webbed feet.

 Day two found us some 10 miles to the north from the previous day's hunt where a ridge of canola stubble was surrounded by a long marsh. The afternoon before, Stan, Randy and Shane had scouted the area and found the ducks and geese using the field. A knock on the door of the farmer was met with a handshake and permission to hunt. Up here the farmers welcome hunters who are concerned with crop depredation.

 While this is a waterfowl wonderland there's more to it than just being there. These guys haddone their homework and over the years cultivated relationships with farmers. Each afternoon they scouted in four different directions sending out different vehicles to monitor the flight path of waterfowl which roosted on water but flew out each day to feed somewhere. That "somewhere" can be anywhere in this magnitude of endless acreage of row crops.

 A light rain visible in the headlights joined us as we set out the
decoys and arranged them according to what little breeze existed. Dawn is a duck blind is always special. Here in the rural farming country of Canada it was no different. Anticipation fuels your fire.

 Making my nest between decoys, I loaded my cameras with film and arranged shells for quick loading should the need occur. We were swapping stories and scanning the sky when a duck descended right on top of one of the Robo duck decoys. The moving wings proved irresistible.

 I hadn't loaded my gun as it was too dark to shoot. With the wave of my hat I sent him on his way. Then, to my surprise, a bunch of 20 or so mallards dropped in and landed among us. Some were restless and rose quickly but others from the heavens took their place. Where had they
come from so quickly?

 Barney called the shot on a single that hovered in perfect range. Then, like starlings, they appeared from everywhere. We called now and then but I think it was for our own amusement. The ducks had made their minds up to come and come they did.

 A pair here and a bunch there. Even when you shot at low ducks there were others above them in the sky attempting to drop in. Before the sun had creeped up and chased the rain away we had a small war. I had been on a few good duck hunts in my day but this was nothing short of magnificent. You couldn't keep your gun loaded. Pintails were supposed to be down in numbers but they were abundant here, filling the sky and often mixed in with some mallards.

 After a 20 minute barrage we called a cease-fire and began to count our ducks. The dogs were busy as bees retrieving here and here. Each hunter was to gather up a limit of five mallards and three pintails. A count proved we were a five mallards shy of a limit for the group but that took only a few minutes to fill.

 Never had I witnessed the number of ducks in the sky at one time like I was seeing now. Thousands were circling us and they would drop in and land from time to time. Some 21 geese were added to our harvest of ducks that morning but calm wind had again worked against us as geese would fly over and look but rarely drop down into good gunning range.

 After reaching our duck limit quickly we waited on a few geese but most of us marveled at the air show underway. Cameras clicked as bunch after bunch worked out over the decoys. The Robo ducks, two of which were erected on four foot telescopic poles, seemed to pull some birds right underneath them. Often a duck would land right beside it and walk around showing no signs of fear.

 At this stage of the migration the ducks in Canada were just beginning to get their plumage. Most displayed faded colors. Drake mallards didn't quite have all their green and bull pintails weren't all sporting that long tail feather.

 Geese, however, were in full color and the mature blue "eagle heads" , along with mature snow geese and Canadas were true to form. Many of the geese raise far to the north and had already traveled hundreds of miles from their breeding grounds. Thousands stage here in the Quill Lakes region of Saskatchewan before heading south into the Dakotas, Iowa, Arkansas and Texas.

 Most of the ducks had raised right here in the area, although the big bunches indicated we might have witnessed a migration from the north as well.

 Between eight hunters we had about 200 years of waterfowling under our belts. A lot of cold and windy mornings had come and gone for all of us in Tennessee and other states.

 We all sat speechless and watched God's creatures maneuver in aerial displays of beauty. What a blessing it was to be here at this place in time.

 Without a doubt, it was the most ducks any of us had ever seen at one time. Up close and personal. We would hopefully have many more sunrises in our waterfowling futures but we all agreed this one would be hard to beat.

 I waved good-bye to a thousand ducks and asked them all to come see me in Tennessee. Come December I will scan the sky with my waterfowling buddies and pause in awe of it all, wondering if some of the ducks I see are the same ones viewed in the distant lands of Canada.

Only God knows.

The information above is compiled by outdoor writer
Steve McCadams

    Steve is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area and host of the The Outdoor Channel's television series  IN-PURSUIT.