November 03, 2010
The country is wide-open. And so are fowling opportunities.
Even though I've been to Prairie Canada many times and hunted from stand up willow blinds with good success, I'm about half convinced that one of these days they just won't work. Let's face it, if you put a willow blind in the middle of a harvested grain field almost anywhere in the States, especially late in the season, you might see birds but the chances of putting any in the bag would be slim to none. Yet in Prairie Canada, willow blinds along with the stealthier layout blinds and pits work like a charm.
And wouldn't you know it, a stand up willow blind is where my daughter Kelly and I began our hunt last season near Settler, Alberta with veteran outfitter Bob Byers. It was just about shooting time when our guide Doug pointed to the east - the overcast sky was literally full of geese. At first they were merely blemishes in the dark sky but as they winged closer we could see lines and short V's heading in our way. The first couple of groups passed well out of range. Minutes later, a flock dropped altitude to take a look at the decoys.
The birds answered Doug's call and as their chatter filled the air I peeked over the top of the blind. A knot of Canada geese was inbound, dropping altitude and committed to the decoys. My first estimate of an eight birds changed to a dozen as the flock made a circle into the wind, wings cupped and feet down.
The geese were 30 yards out and over the decoys when Doug yelled "Shoot 'me." Six guns erupted from the willow blind and we picked our birds. I swung right selecting a big honker while Kelly tracked left. When the smoke cleared there were seven Canada geese on the ground. I looked over at Kelly and she was smiling from ear to ear! That was the first 10 minutes of a three-day hunt for ducks and geese in north central Alberta.
To the visitor seeing this region for the first time, it appears little more than a vast expanse of wheat with a few scattered pastures. Closer inspection reveals grain elevators, old barns, farmhouses and small settlements scattered throughout the flat to rolling terrain. An even closer look will reveal wetlands, small lakes, rivers, aspen groves and grasslands. And while this landscape is generally monotonous, it harbors some of the best and most varied waterfowl hunting in North America.
As a result of the food resources provided by waste grain and the roost areas provided by rivers, potholes and marshes, the region is a major staging area for locally produced waterfowl along with birds that migrate here from Alaska and Arctic Canada.
The most widespread geese are Canadas, both local birds and geese that nest in northern regions and migrate through this area in the fall. Some snow, Ross's and white-fronted geese join the Canadas adding to the waterfowl diversity. Throw in good populations of mallards, a few pintails and a scattering of other puddle ducks and divers and you have a waterfowling Mecca.
Waterfowl hunting in Alberta and most of prairie Canada is an eight-week affair at best. But during these two short months, Prairie Canada delivers some of the highest quality duck and goose hunting in North America. To book trips with Bob Byers of Boss Outfitters contact Aim Adventures, 877-374-4868, www.aimadventures.com.