September 11, 2023
Waterfowling happens in a lot of dreary places, and autumn on the Canadian prairies can often rank right up there. But not this time.
The prairie practically glowed it was so green as the plane spiraled down to Edmonton, and I realized I had only seen this vast potholes region of the Great Duck Factory in the fall when things were mostly dead and brown.
This was late, late spring, almost summer, and I’d made the run north to chase the tail end of the snow goose migration with old buddy Jordan Moll. He had really captured my imagination with tales of how different it was from the stateside experiences we’d had chasing snows from Arkansas to the Dakotas. In central Alberta by early May the notoriously difficult-to-fool giant flocks of snow geese flocks have mostly busted up, he explained. Instead of trying to fool thousands of eyes at once, the geese start to have sex on their brain and bust into smaller groups, sometimes already pairing off in crazy flights and courtship rituals.
Two moose stood in a stream right on the edge of town, as the plane circled the tarmac, a good omen. I thought of how different things looked, and how different he described the goose hunting this time of year.
In this video, Skip Knowles, the Editor-in-Chief of Wildfowl magazine, discusses his first experience with Tetra Hearing and explains how the company's products assist him and fellow hunters in the field:
Geese will start coming to the decoys and suddenly flare off and chase each other in mating behavior, circling you, then coming back in, he said. “You just have to come see it, it’s a wild scene.”
Furthermore, they mostly come in right on the deck this time of year, finishing to the decoys low and slow like big Canada geese, nothing like the spiraling tornado feeds that are thrilling but soooo infrequent during the main white goose migration in the states.
He’d sent videos of dozens of adult snows finishing to the ground, all the way, something even most veteran hunters have probably never seen with the wiley, wary, white geese.
Smaller flocks, breeding season, and not only that, this staging area represents the birds’ last chance to really gorge themselves on grain before they have to “jump the trees" and fly for thousands of miles over the boreal forest to where they will ultimately start breeding. So, there is a desperation about the birds both from a mating imperative and their need to fuel up for the longest part of their migration. It’s a real bottleneck as the birds don’t just jump up and fly away whenever they feel like it like they do in the States. They have to stall here and fatten up a bit.
That is an awful lot of positives for a snow goose hunter. Throw in super mild fun hunting in T-shirt weather and the almost total lack of competition and hunting pressure because everybody is off wakeboarding, bass fishing and turkey hunting, and it was way more than this old bird dog could possibly pass up.
Besides, we had work to do. I was testing two products: First, the excellent TETRA hearing protection and sound-enhancing devices. Groundbreaking when they first appeared a few years ago, they had been improved greatly with customization for each customer’s unique hearing levels an option. I had used them before, but I now had possession of a pair that were custom-tweaked for my bad hearing with more amplification for my really bad right ear. It's a rather amazing bit of technology. The processor in these units is as high tech as those in super expensive high-end hearing aids costing $5,000 or more, but in the TETRAs, it also cancels gunshots or any other sounds that rise above damaging levels (chainsaws, lawnmowers…even really loud duck or goose calling all qualify).
The other product I wanted to try out is a small, compact, affordable, motion decoy by MOJO designed to help really fill out a snow goose spread with critical motion. We had a suitcase full of prototypes… and that is about all we are allowed to say about that.
Heading to Jordan’s luxe little lodge (hiddenprairieoutfitters on Instagram or call 320.630.9535) we saw thousands of snows just about an hour outside of Edmonton to get the blood pumping. Another good sign—Jordan had killed 100 geese very quickly for two days prior to my arrival with just two shooters for 50-bird limits…with 20 gauges.
I asked about the use of 20s on notoriously tough snows.
“It’s easy when you’re shooting at birds never more than 10 yards away,” he laughed. The photos backed him up. “You nailed the timing of this hunt. That switch in their heads just snapped and they are dumb now. The heat got it going.”
Whereas warm weather kills your odds in most waterfowling, it sparks these late-stage snows to really start moving. Migrating geese packed in the field beside the lodge and fair weather was forecast.
But as we tucked into a late afternoon gentlemen’s hunt the next day it was not long before Jordan was fuming mad. An inconsolable perfectionist, we immediately had birds swarming us but to my great anxiety, he would not call the shot because they were only at 20 or 25 yards. Easy kills but he was used to them being much closer.
We’d had a good stiff southeast wind that morning the birds went to roost at 9:50 a.m., so we’d headed out at 2:30.
“They are gonna be coming about 1 mile from that roost over there,” he waved, “and they are gonna crawl right over us in the layouts on a fenceline…ahhh, but if we could just get this sun to shine.”
That last part proved ominous. Spotty clouds turned into heavy cloud cover, the wind died, and incredibly, it started to rain—NONE of which had been forecast. We had dug in the layouts amid deep grass atop a gentle rise on a fenceline beside wheat stubble, and birds were trying to land on us as we prepped. The blinds were completely hidden and the prototype motion decoys deployed for the first time ever—always exciting.
But that tiny storm, like a dark cloud over our heads personally. We could see sunlight in the distance 360 degrees on the horizon, yet it rained on our parade. I’d never goose hunted in Canada with lightning popping, so that was new, and then the sun appeared just in time for me to try to shoot straight into it. We started banging away, and with the first shots, I folded one, sailed another for the dog to find, and failed to realize two live snows had dropped right in the spread, flying off safely.
Jordan was still being picky, and we had a flock of 100 birds at about 15 yards. He didn’t like the side-swipe angle of their approach and waited for another pass, but they didn’t come back. Four more came in and died, then two big flocks closed to 15 yards above but not in front and Jordan let ‘em go. He wanted them centered and was used to them doing his bidding.
I was having a riot seeing (and hearing!) so many snows up close, and he called me out on a single and I dropped it. The rain started again and it slowed way down, but we still shot eight birds in two volleys and lots of doubles to end up with three dozen or more, while shooting with plugged guns. Finally, it was dead calm and cloudy, so we called it. I was ecstatic, but Jordan was miffed.
The Tetras were proving to be a heck of a game-changer for this old hard-of-hearing cowboy. My impairment is a large part of genetics. There’s much deafness on my mom’s side and I tested poorly in the third grade. Add in cold water occlusions from surfing, too-narrow Eustachian tubes, and other complications (tinnitus like a giant mosquito is trapped in each ear), and lots and lots of shooting, and I really struggle whenever there is background noise, especially.
My hearing had been in steady decline even though I had become militant about protecting my ears while shooting for the past 15 years. These TETRA devices brought all the sounds I’d been missing back. I could always hear the chatter of snow geese on the approach but this was different. I could now hear their wings cutting the air and did not really even know snow geese made that noise. I did not have to cheat and look at the pit boss in anticipation of them calling the shot because I knew there was a decent chance I wouldn’t hear it… And I didn’t have to struggle with the lose-lose decision of whether to put my good ear towards the shot caller so I could hear the cry to shoot, or whether to turn it away to protect it.
If you are a veteran hunter you are probably too familiar with these difficulties.
Picking up the spread, we watched in awe as some snow geese worked the area, and others seemed to steam by with no interest in eating.
“Some flocks have no interest and are just plowing north,” he explained. “Some get off the roost to feed and some just get up and booger out north.“
Still, it had been great shooting and Jordan had at least seven feeds on lockdown for us to choose between for the next few days. He likes to hunt them after the birds have been on them a few days, because “the ones that come back to feed again, those spots are the winners.”
Dawn broke, and I was not outputting the 200 Dave Smith Decoys to work. I was having coffee. Hunting in the morning here can be tough because of all the farming going on this late in the spring, and I was reveling in getting a late start. So fun to stand on the beautiful deck of the lodge with your morning coffee in the 60° air looking over the fields, watching all the species migrate north. Laughing geese (specks), greater and lesser Canadas, some of them within shotgun range of the deck, and all kinds of super-plumed out ducks.
In the field back at it that afternoon we were laughing and happy knowing the bazaar un-forecast weather that had plagued us the night before was a fluke and we’d still had a good hunt. You can tell a lot about a guide’s work ethic by where they park their truck relative to the blind and the spread. Jordan the perfectionist appeared to park his somewhere in North Texas, making sure it was out of sight. We had a bet on how far he’d parked and I won, as I’d bet it was 1.2 miles away and it was 1.5. I think he got there and back in about 5 1/2 minutes. Jordan’s a former college football player and hustles like a linebacker on Red Bull, which he is.
This new X was money, with goose droppings all over. But we were sitting with our feet uphill trying to deal with changing wind, which was like doing a decline situp at the gym, good for burning off lodge matron Mrs. Monique’s magic cooking: butter chicken, meatballs, quiche and giant custom slab bacon.
The sun was shining as we set up…but once again we got in the layouts only to have the sun hide and the wind die and a huge cloud move in. Then the wind picked up beautifully but from the totally wrong direction—north. The geese piled in but wouldn’t finish, because “they just do not know how to approach the spread for us!” Jordan bellowed in exasperation.
I have never seen weather forecasts quite so off. We killed 14 geese cracking at overhead birds, knocking down a few apiece each time.
I absolutely loved it, and the last day was also a repeat of the strange weather. We never got the great smash I’d come for, but it was a pleasant and overall laid-back and different kind of goose hunt.
What I love most about it? It was so fun because it was real wingshooting at individual birds, not banging at the middle of the flock like you’re doing in Arkansas most of the time or other places on the big snow goose hunts, where you never really have a clue as to who shot what and everyone unloads their unplugged guns no matter what.
It was lazy, late in the day hunting at the end of a looooong season, with mild weather to boot, and none of the pressure of heavy hunting pressured areas. What is not to love?
As for the secret prototypes, we concluded the MOJO motion decoys will absolutely make a difference, especially when the wind dies, and also because it’s clearly something the birds just haven’t seen. They will be announced soon and WILDFOWL will be at the forefront.
This had been an experience I will make an effort to never miss, just as I’ll try to never bird hunt again without those Tetra hearing devices.