Fred Zink needed to find the farmer. The field was loaded with birds feasting on cut Canadian grain, and he was desperate to get permission for the next day’s hunt. Finally, Freddy tracked him down late in the evening. Fall harvest was in full swing and the farmer, his crew and family were eating dinner in another field, back-lit by the headlights of the combines.
“I asked the old guy for permission and he gave it to me,” Zink said. “Then I saw what they were eating and told him it looked pretty good. He smiled and asked how many guys I had back in the truck. There were only three of us, so we sat in the field and ate with everyone. That was pretty cool.”
It was one of the experiences that endeared Saskatchewan to Zink. That, and a lot of damn ducks and geese. Years later, he would run across another farmer—Grant Kuypers, who owns Buck Paradise Outfitters, where Browning brought us in early October 2017 to showcase its new BXD ammo and the Wicked Wings A5 on mallards, pintails, snows and the province’s premier bird, lesser Canada geese. Zink needed a new place in Sask to film his hunting videos and Kuypers was a whitetail outfitter trying to break into the duck game.
“I started coming here in 2000, and you just couldn’t ask to partner with a better guy than Grant,” said Zink. “We made one of our ‘Whistling Wings’ videos here and in two years Grant had a lodge full of hunters.”
Fred’s story has been told many times over. An Ohio kid, who ran heavy machinery for his family’s excavating business, he decided to chase his waterfowl obsession and began selling calls for Tim Grounds before getting into product development for Final Approach and Avery, which led to the creation of his own brands. He initially hoped to work full-time for Grounds, but…
“Sorry bub, I just wanna keep it small,” Grounds told him.
So that fueled Freddy, who traveled the world chasing duck dreams. He started making his own single-, double- and short-reed calls to hang around the necks of core hunters, then decoys, and “Avian-X TV.”
“I spent something like 700 days in China trying to get my decoys right,” Zink says.
Zink still has the Midwest blue-collar attitude instilled by his dad, Fred Sr., hard at work driving one of Grant’s grain trucks when he wasn’t calling in birds for outdoor writers. The last night in camp Fred was in the semi (pronounced semee here in Sask) till 12:30 a.m. He caught a few hours of sleep and then took us all on one final lesser Canada goose slam-dunk.
“You can shoot big honkers in southern Ontario or Manitoba,” Zink said. “But for these little geese, Saskatchewan is the place to be.”
Our second morning, he put out a long, straight line of Avian-X lesser Canadas roughly 15 to 20 paces in front of the A-frames, which were set up against a tree-lined field edge. The decoys were tightly-packed together with barely enough room for the little geese to land. But they did, and after a few volleys, some of us stood up in the blinds, snapping images with the camera (one even with the flash on) and the geese kept coming, dropping in almost on top of one another.
Fred had us move the A-frames three times before that hunt was underway and is a meticulous setter of decoys. He will chat you up the entire drive to the field, but once the truck tires touch harvested wheat or peas, he goes into this mode where the sole purpose is to get birds on the ground.
A massive flock, literally hundreds of lessers, lit in the spread about 15 minutes after shooting time, then rose back up, continuing to churn and returning in smaller groups.
“There are a couple of reasons we didn’t shoot there,” Zink said. “These guides have a few weeks left of the season and will be able to squeeze more hunts out of this field because we didn’t educate the entire flock. Another is, we could have shot into that one wad, but maybe that’s all the birds you get. And we were also in a situation where we had already killed plenty of geese and could have shot over our limit. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun to let them all land like that.”
The three-day trip was filled with waterfowl nuggets from Fred. He barely had to look up from his phone to know the difference between afternoon ducks that were trading one pothole for another and those apt to commit to the Lucky Duck spinners. One morning, a decent group of lessers were flying miles away. Another guide was picking up dead birds when Fred asked him to hurry and tuck back in because “these birds look good.” Just like that, they came on a string, determined to die until flaring just outside gun range. The culprit was a belly-up dead goose in the decoys.
“You saw how they were flying, right?” Zink said. “When they move up and down like that, it means they are looking at your decoys and want to play. Geese flying a straight line, you can pull some away from the mama bird as she tries to call them back. But when they are flying like those were, you can get the whole flock.”
That particular field was swathed and Zink had us set the decoys in the barren rows. It looked as symmetrical as a game of Tetris, but it worked.
“I know it looks weird,” Zink said. “This is how they have been feeding in here, so that’s how we set up.”
Scourge of Sask
Browning PR gal Shaundi Campbell was sharp-shooting greenheads that afternoon while Fred hopped back in the grain truck for Grant and scouted. There wasn’t a hint of wind, but mallards were trading potholes surrounding our field, so we set a loose spread with a few open pockets and four spinners.
Shaundi is this blonde-haired spitfire from Utah whose driving is a mix of Mario Andretti, New York City cab driver and a 15-year-old who just got her learner’s permit. And you better stay out of her way—she almost ran into a mattress that had fallen out of the bed of a truck, a semi (semee) and possibly another person in our group (we’re not sure, it was too dark) during the trip.
But she can shoot like a duck guide, and would ball up her fist and curse birds that did not work properly. She smoked a hen mallard trying to escape that was so high in the air, I got tired of watching it fall and sat back down. The birds flew at a steady trickle, we all told old war stories and joked like even older friends, a reminder of how fun it can be to hunt with new folks.
Our best afternoon was spent just listening to Zink tell stories of his competitive calling days and working for Grounds, who always had a new money-making scheme.
“Grounds called me up once and says, ‘hey bub, can you sell some hats for me?’” Zink said. “So the boxes come and these hats were all different colors, pink, green...I couldn’t sell them. Nobody wanted them. They just sat in the barn, which burned down years ago. That was the only way to get rid of those dang hats.”
We only shot a few ducks, and I whiffed on a pintail so close it was almost in the blind—so embarrassing in front of a guy like Zink, who is not above ribbing you over terrible shots.
Fred stayed behind another day after we left to run a tractor for Grant. But the forecasted rain for the small berg of Paradise Hill finally hit and the crew had to give up on combining. So, it was back to the lodge for glasses of Bulleit bourbon and telling lies. The rain turned to snow by morning and since Grant and his sons couldn’t harvest, the Kuypers hunted a field right in front of the lodge with family and girlfriends in town for Canadian Thanksgiving. Fresh birds had migrated in, but the Kuypers are apparently rifle shooters, not shotgunners.
“I told you, you shoulda stayed,” Zink later said. “Remember that huge mass of snow geese we saw on the first morning that passed us over? Well this time they all came into the decoys at once. It would have been a massacre if we had anybody who could shoot.”