February 12, 2018
By Brad Fenson
Sitting atop the Central and Mississippi Flyways, Manitoba offers an incredible mixed bag of opportunities to hunt ducks and geese, and is home to some legendary locations in the literature and history of the waterfowling pastime.
Among the most famous is Delta Marsh, a productive wetland extending more than 18 miles along the shore of Lake Manitoba and sprawling close to 3 miles at its widest point. The marsh consists of a network of interconnected shallow bays separated from Lake Manitoba's south shore by a wooded peninsula. It is a bucket list destination for avid waterfowlers looking for diversity and a little taste of history.
While Delta Marsh might be the most famous of Manitoba's well-known hunting hotspots, there are a number of other great locations worth a visit from waterfowlers. Oak Hammock Marsh, home of the Ducks Unlimited Canada headquarters, covers close to eight square miles, with managed conservation and hunting areas that is much larger. The Minnedosa pothole region is famous for its abundant flocks of mallards and pintail, and as a home to incredible breeding populations of canvasback. And, you should see the migration of snow geese passing through the same corridor. Some of the biggest sub-species of Canada geese come from the southern agricultural areas of Manitoba, and the hardwood lined creeks and rivers in the south produce incredible numbers of wood ducks.
All these regions get most of the press when it comes to duck and goose hunting in Manitoba, but the northern reaches of the province offer some of the most unique and awe-inspiring waterfowling a smoothbore enthusiast can encounter.
The Hudson Bay lowlands, some of the rawest wilderness a hunter may likely ever encounter, start 650 miles north of Winnipeg. The region is home to polar bears, moose, caribou, and willow ptarmigan. In early fall, thousands of geese stage along the productive tidal areas of Hudson Bay, following the tidal push of the Arctic Ocean to feed on the protein-rich vegetation. Even the giant Canada geese from southern Manitoba use the area to relax and fatten up before they hit breeding age. The area is a traditional staging area for waterfowl coming off the northern arctic islands and extensive nesting grounds along the coastline.
Historically, the Cree First Nation used the area to harvest waterfowl. They would voice call to geese, and use harvested birds as decoys, with their spread growing during a day's hunt. There are a handful of outfitters taking advantage of the unique resources and have found ways to get hunters to the remote area.
Kaska Goose Lodge has operated along the Kaskattama River for many years, hunting out of traditional driftwood blinds, or venturing into uncharted territory. For the adventure seeker, they have a helicopter in camp to fly hunters up or down the coast, allowing you to be dropped off where cyclones of birds are found. They pick you up when you have all your birds, or you've run out of ammo.
I had planned on doing the trip solo but met up with a crew of hunters from Delta Waterfowl that were in camp at the same time. We simply hit it off and decided to share the hunt together. I've often said that some of the best friends I've ever met have been in the strangest and most remote places on earth.
After a long walk, we found the perfect spot to set the lightweight windsock decoys we carried. It wouldn't be long before the finger-like depressions that wound their way inland would fill with water as the tide came in, and we had to watch that we didn't trap ourselves in areas that we couldn't wade across.
It didn't take long before several small flocks of geese started landing on the sedge flats as the tide pushed across the lowlands. A small flight of Ross' geese flew directly over top of me as I laid flat on the ground behind a scant arctic willow. I sat up and tripled to kickstart the adventure, then watched as my hunting companions dropped several birds drop from a small flock of white geese. The tidal push had started.
It happened fast. Before I knew it, there was a swarm of several thousand geese feeding on the flats in front of us. The flock continued to build until newcomers were forced to find new grazing territory ahead. A flight of lesser Canada geese decoyed perfectly, and we knocked three birds down, of which two had leg bands. The day was turning out to be a bird hunter's dream. We set up the freshly harvested Canada geese as decoys in the traditional Cree style, with a length of arctic willow inserted into the bill to hold the bird's head up.
The tidal water started to fill the depressions around us, drawing a few green-winged teal that buzzed along the newly filled waterways. My buddy downed one of the little speedsters while I watched a pintail swing around in front of the spread. The diversity of birds was impressive and adding a few ducks to the bag was a welcomed treat.
The white geese were starting to show up en masse, but the birds on the tidal flats were more typical of the geese I knew at home. Their keen eyes scanned for anything out of place and the three of us trying to nestle behind a clump of stunted willow was challenging to say the least. When the action peaked, the noise of thousands of geese was almost hypnotic. It was a deafening chorus only an avid goose hunter would love.
There were 45 minutes of sheer mayhem, as we topped off our limit of Canada geese and a flight of 10 whites provided our last opportunity of the afternoon. With feet sprawled and wings back pedaling for a landing, it was the perfect finish to our day. As quickly as it started, it was over. At high tide, the birds lost all interest in feeding and headed back to their briny roosting areas.
The original hunters, trappers and fur traders that historically used the Hudson Bay lowlands' rich resources must have been hardy folks. Kaska Lodge was established on one of the original trading posts built by the York Factory Branch of the Hudson Bay Company, on the Kaskattama River. Goose hunting has always been a historic food gathering exercise, and my unique hunt gave me a special glimpse of the power of the tide and tradition of the northern people.
Catching this early start to the waterfowl season is a must-do destination for waterfowlers, but just one of many hunting adventures Manitoba has to offer. Travel Manitoba has developed an interactive website for hunters and anglers interested in visiting the province. It is easy to focus in on waterfowl and find the information to make planning an adventure easy.
Take a tour at huntfishmanitoba.com to find out more about hunting and how to start planning your trip to this waterfowling wonderland.