Long plane rides, going through customs with a firearm and an hour and half drive across the Canadian prairie sounds like a headache most would rather do without. But all those pains of traveling went away once we stepped foot into the blind and witnessed waves upon waves of waterfowl trading back and forth across fields as far as the eye can see.
I traveled from Little Rock with friend Eddie Carter, owner of Caney Creek Kennel in DeWitt, Arkansas. We met up in Minneapolis with Eddie’s friend Brack Terry and his buddy Nick Overbey from Greene County, Tenn. From Minneapolis, we boarded a plane headed for Saskatoon. Brack and Eddie were making their third straight trip to Saskatchewan while Nick and I had never been. In fact, Nick estimated he hadn’t hunted ducks in over ten years.
The flight into Canada was pretty interesting as we flew directly over what we know in the United States as the Prairie Pothole Region. Thousands of little pockets of water littered the landspace which is crucial for waterfowl habitat and breeding. The Prairie seemed to be in as good of shape as what has been reported since last spring with water aplenty. The duck numbers predicted for this year’s fall flight are no joke. The Saskatchewan locals are convinced there were two hatches this year and duck numbers, without a doubt, are huge.
A travel tip for those considering traveling to Canada to hunt: be sure to complete the Non-Resident Firearm Declaration a couple of months before your trip. This was a huge timesaver as several hunters on our flight didn’t get their approvals prior to arrival and had to stand in a long line to check their imported shotguns. After clearing customs without an issue, we headed north from Saskatoon via a rented Tahoe to the lodge where we would spend the next few days between hunts. Our hunting party was set up with Avery Pro Staffer Shawn Nyholt and Blair Michaud of Pro Staff Outdoors.
Our hunting grounds focused on the pea fields along the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Farmers in the area grow peas for livestock feed and would be qualified as sloppy compared to the farmers in the United States. The fields we hunted were loaded with left-behind food for the ducks and geese. With plenty of eats, hundreds to thousands of waterfowl load up in the fields during daylight and move back to big water along the river to roost each night.
We hunted from a portable blind made from fence posts, chicken wire and willow branches. Hard not to be a little skeptical at first as there aren’t many 4-5 foot tall clumps of willows in the middle of many of these fields. Especially after seeing countless hunting shows with the hunters in layout blinds perfectly camouflaged. As we found out, it mattered not as the ducks and geese got within a first down of the blind once they decided to settle into the decoys. These blinds are easier to shoot out of than layout blinds and allowed us a little wider shooting window.
We never hunted the same field twice and typically never in the same area. Shawn, Blair and Bob Krill do an outstanding job of scouting their available hunting grounds and are very particular about not shooting out a spot. Saskatchewan has such a vast amount of hunting opportunities with so little pressure, there are countless options to let the birds rest day to day and hunt other areas. I can only remember hearing shots one other time during our entire trip and it was only a volley or two likely meaning local hunters on a quick hunt out their back door.
Saskatchewan has more liberal limits than we experience as they allow 8 dark geese and 8 ducks per day. After it was all said and done, our group of four hunters totaled 164 waterfowl harvested (93 Lesser Canadas, 1 Speck, 68 Mallards, 1 Pintail and 1 Gadwall) in two and half days of hunting. Brack killed a banded greenhead that made its way east from Alberta. Not a bad trip considering the mallards were still north of the area as its been an extremely mild Fall up there. We hunted with temps in the low 60s and overnight lows in the upper 30s.
Since my return home, I started wondering what kind of numbers Saskatchewan produces in the way of mallards harvested. With people in the grocery store asking why would someone come all this way to shoot ducks and geese, it was pretty obvious it’s not a big deal at all to those that live there. Then I took a look at the numbers reported by the Canada Wildlife Service after the 2010 season which supports the grocery store clerk’s feelings about waterfowl hunting.
Of all the ducks and geese that come through there, Saskatchewan reported 125,686 Mallards (far and away more than any other province in Canada) and 149,533 Canadas harvested in 2010.
In contrast, Arkansas killed 691,693 Mallards and 54,084 Canadas (I would bet most of these are resident geese.)
Saskatchewan’s 126,000 Mallards is less than Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and barely more than Tennessee and Mississippi.
This leads me to believe there is not just a whole lot of interest and therefore hunting pressure up there outside of tourists like us. They reported 17,830 migratory bird permits sold in Saskatchewan in 2010. By contrast, Arkansas reported 52,700 hunters chasing ducks last season.
Breaking it down a little farther and that comes out to 7.05 mallards per hunter in Saskatchewan whereas Arkansas averaged 13.125 per hunter.
Pretty interesting analysis, and to think we traveled all that way to scout, watch, call, decoy and shoot at the same ducks that will funnel through Arkansas in a couple of months. Well worth the trip and I hope to go back someday.
Hopefully the prairie potholes will withstand future weather cycles. Right now, the conditions have been favorable and are setting the stage for the biggest migration of our lifetime. So they say. Based on what I witnessed first hand, I can’t argue. Let’s hope the weather and water get right, and this season is something special down here.