Keep an open mind when hunting the beautiful tundra near Hudson Bay.
Dennis and Dan show off the results of a great day at Kaskattama.
Three snows coming off the bay, Dan," came a muffled comment from Jim Zumbo, my blind companion for the day.
Slowly the three of us lowered our profiles into the salt-washed logs. To the east, three white geese beat their way up and over a sand dune. It was obvious that fighting the heavy west wind wasn't easy, as they flew at less than 20 feet above the ground.
Slowly the trio came on. Kerrish, our Native Cree guide, began the rhythmic yammering he'd learned as a child. No one can call geese like the Cree Natives of James and Hudson Bay. Every boy is taught to call, beginning at age three. By the time they reach 10 years of age, most are excellent callers of both honkers and snows.
Minutes after we spotted the three white geese, they broke above the blind as Jim and I rose to meet them. We'd decided that Jim would take the bird on his right while I fired on the bird to the left. At the moment of trigger pull, all three shifted left as they flared. With the report of my 20-gauge over/under, the bird to the far left crumpled, then bounced off the hard sand and Arctic cranberry bush between a pair of honker decoys. The right bird, hit by Jim's load of steel, careened with the wind out across the salt flat, its wing broken. It slammed into the base of a sand dune.
Smudgy, my black Lab--never one to be asked to retrieve--leaped out of the blind. She jumped over Kerrish and was well on her way to the first bird before Jim and I could react to the last of the snows. Bird three had flared back out of range with the wind. So Smudgy raced bird one back to the blind and then took off at full throttle after the cripple across the way. Meanwhile, with the black dog in plain view, goose three circled, yelping as it flew. Encouragement from Kerrish had it confused. Twice the bird flew directly at our blind, then turned off just out of range.
Two blocks upwind from us, Dennis Maxsymetz, Public Relations Director for the Province of Manitoba, now began a steady yelping. The final bird headed directly toward him, fiying low. Two shots later, it was coming back at us, minus a couple of tail feathers. It was a fatal mistake. Kerrishs' encouragement was too much. With a final swing into the wind on the left side, number three crumpled as my 20 gauge spoke one more time. Behind us, Kerrish smiled and voiced his opinion about the foolish white goose.
Jim, Dennis and I had arrived the previous day at Kaskattama goose camp with five others. Our object was to intercept the southbound migration of snow geese. We had arrived September 1, but from what we'd seen so far, we'd come too early. Flats at the mouth of Kaskattama River were holding a few local honkers, some early lesser Canadas and very few white geese. The weather had been cool at night but afternoon temperatures still hit the high 60s. Like so much of the year, fall was out of whack.
Charlie Taylor, Camp Manager of Kaskattama, had greeted us with the ever-popular "Geese should be here tomorrow" theme, but the three of us knew it might be a slow four days. As it turned out, we were more right than our host Charlie, but there was still plenty of waterfowl action and other activities to make our trip a success. There was an abundance of ptarmigan, which we discovered on day one. Jim, Dennis and I stumbled onto the first ones while on a trek from one goose blind to another. The sun was high and the wind non-existent. The sighting of those first five ptarmigan set the three of us off on a new adventure.
The pretty grouse had a tendency to run rather than fly when first disturbed. But Smudgy became a quick fix for this problem. Out of the first five. we managed to down three. As she normally does, Smudgy took off for the cripple first, racing back to me as if she'd hunted these little white and brown birds all her life. However, like ruffed grouse, ptarmigan feathers tend to dislodge easily, and this wasn't greeted with enthusiasm by my waterfowl retriever. Spitting and blowing the feathers out of her mouth, Smudgy raced out and picked up birds two and three together. As she trotted back towards us you could see she was rather proud of herself, probably because she had eliminated a third mouthful of throat-choking feathers with the dual retrieve.
During the next three hours the three of us collected 10 more ptarmigan and would go on to shoot many more in the next three days.
The second bonus at Kaskattama was the sea-run brook trout that were available in the river running by the camp. All were caught within easy walking distance of the camp on day three. Luckily I'd brought along a light two-piece spinning outfit in my gun case and an assortment of 1/16-ounce Ugly Bug and Real Crawfish Jigs. The brookies loved them. Charlie must have known there would be days like this, for the camp provided my partners with open-face spinning outfits, as well as lures.
It was Dennis who found the first deep pool that held the torpedo shaped brookies. From that point on, the three of us had a ball catching and releasing 18 trout, which averaged from one to three pounds. What else could be better done on an afternoon when waterfowl rested on the salt flats and refused to fly? The temperature had reached 75 degrees under a full sun and there was very little wind.
Saltwater run brook trout exist all along the coast of James Bay and up the Hudson Bay coast to about the Seal River, North of Churchill. In many instances, an angler will confuse these brookies with char. The brook trout is a member of the char family, thus the tendency to confuse them. The Kaskattama trout are still being analyzed by Manitoba fisheries biologists. These fish look very much like a silver char, with long slim bodies and do not produce spawning colors in the fall. Add to this the fact the Kaskattama trout lack mottling on their back and have teeth which can be seen along their jawline, plus their tail has a slight inward curve near its center. All this makes me believe we may have been catching char or a cross.
EVERYTHING BUT SNOWS
"Jim, these aren't snows--not even lesser snows. These are Ross' geese, the smallest of the snow goose family," I commented, as Smudgy dropped the third goose next to Kerrish, near the rear of the blind.
Sure enough, the two previous birds were Ross' as well, one juvenile and one adult. Ross' adults are identified by their short pink beaks and pure white plumage with wings tipped in black. Ross' juvenile birds host a gray beak and white plumage blended with a slight amount of gray.
"Dan, I can't tell you how many times I've gone on a snow goose hunt that turned into a failure," commented Jim Zumbo as he held the pure-white bird up for a photo
The next three days would see my friend once again fail when it came to a snow goose shoot. But if ever Jim and I had wanted to get into a great Ross' goose shoot, we had come to the right place. Moments after the three dead geese were placed off to the side of our decoy spread, to act as an added attraction, a single 12-pound honker fell prey to Jim's Remington 870 12 gauge. Next, five lessors took a look at our fake geese and only three flew away. Each of us managed to add another bird to our bag.
Kaskattama failed to provide us with the snow goose shoot Jim had so wished to experience, but during our short stay we collected several 10- to 12-pound honkers, a number of lesser Canadas and a couple dozen Ross' geese. Add to that an endless number of ptarmigan and saltwater brookies, we had no trouble calling our trip a complete success.
The moral of this story is, hunting is just that--"hunting." You don't always get what you go after. However, if you're able to adapt to the conditions and bend your mind set, the trip can turn into one to remember. None of us had ever had such a Ross' goose shoot, nor had we caught saltwater brook trout. Add to that the fantastic ptarmigan shooting, the best any of us had ever had, and our trip was made. It seems I will not be doing any more ptarmigan shooting in the near future. It takes strong knees and tough legs, neither of which I possess at age 68. Walking those flats of arctic willow and lumpy cranberry bogs can do in the heartiest of men. Smudgy enjoyed the ptarmigan shooting and finally adapted to the feathers. I guess any action is better than no action at all, even for a seven-year-old black Labrador retriever.
|GOING TO KASKATTAMA|
| Kaskattama River and the camp named after it lies 95 miles southeast of Churchill, Manitoba, just a little east of where the Nelson River enters Hudson Bay. For more information in detail on Manitoba's goose hunting lodges on Hudson Bay, contact Dennis Maxsymetz, c/o Manitoba Travel, 7th Floor, 155 Carlton & York, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3C IT5; phone 204/945-2272. |
The following outfitters have camps on Hudson Bay in Manitoba and cater to waterfowl hunters.
DYMOND LAKE LODGE, c/o Dave and Shari Wright, 116 Rainbow Crescent Thompson MB R8N 1B2; 204/778-3700; Fax: 204/778-3730.
KASKATTAMA LODGE, c/o Charlie & Christine Taylor, 170 Harbison Avenue W., Winnipeg MB R2L OA4, 204/667-1611; fax: 204/667-1611; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NANUK GOOSE CAMP, c/o Stewart Webber, Box 242, Frontier, Saskatchewan SON OWO; 306/296-4403.
SILVER GOOSE LODGE, c/o Eric Saunders, General Delivery, York Landing, MB ROB 2BO; 204/341-2180; fax: 204/341-2322.