CANADA'S DUCK FACTORY
(SASKATCHEWAN IS WATERFOWL WONDERLAND)
by Steve McCadams
(Part II of a two-part story on Canada's waterfowl
To read part 1 first
Snow geese by the thousands lifted off on a distant marsh sending
roaring sound through the dawning sky. Daylight was slowly creeping over
the eastern horizon and ducks were descending around our big spread of
decoys placed in the middle of a field of barley stubble.
After an hour's work by eight hunters under the cover of darkness,
awesome spread of 700-800 decoys made it look like a mass feeding
frenzy. White rags resemble snow geese and some giant G & H half
shell Canada geese were mixed with a few silhouettes.
While we had no duck decoys it didn't seem to matter. Ducks came
droves as they dry feed in with the geese here and the setup seemed
natural to them.
Sporting white coats over our regular camouflage attire, we lay on
sides blending in with the layout of our massive decoy spread. Before I
could get situated ducks were hovering over me like hummingbirds at a
feeder. "This", I said to myself, "was going to be
After parking our trucks in the distance, Jon Butler of Jackson
Randy Huffstettler of Greenfield, hurried back in the limelight. Some
ducks were circling low as they walked in but it didn't seem to matter
as Tommy Akin, also of Greenfield, called the shot. "Go ahead
these in front", he yelled. The volley kicked off a morning flurry
action as six ducks fell. What looked to me like a million and one geese
were headed our way. Jon's Chesapeake retriever was living up to her
breeding and scurring back with a grain fed mallard.
Dog trainer Mark Wardlaw of Cordova, had a black Labrador
retriever "Ace", which was in hot pursuit as about 20 snow
geese did that "oak leaf" descent right in front of us and
dropped out of the massive formation that was flying overhead. A few
clucks from the
goose calls and it was showtime.
I was watching a flock of 25 or so mallards about to take my hat
when someone yelled "shoot the geese". It was a barrage and
from the heavens fell geese like sandbags dropped out of the space
shuttle. A thud here; a thud there. One sailed some 300 yards out with a
wing but that was just what "Ace" had hoped for. Mark sent the
dog out and with a series of impressive commands, hand signals and
whistles, he directed the dog right to the bird.
Our group of hunters had Stan Anderson and Barney Myracle, both of
Lexington, along with Shane Kendall of Martin. Fellow outdoor writer
Mike Hungle of Regina, Saskatchewan, had picked me up at the airport the
day before and we joined the hunt group already in progress. They had
been there for five days and scouted out the terrain for miles around.
"If we had some wind it would really be something as the
get down in your face," said Akin, who was making his ninth
consecutive trip to Canada's duck factory. "When it's this still
the rags in the spread don't move around and the geese don't work as
good. We've had one day this week with wind and the rest has been warm
Normally, cold weather is part of the equation here but it had
week of near record high temperatures. Cool mornings warmed into the
70's long before noon. I had packed warm clothes but never used most of
While the rest of the guys were complaining about the lack of wind
warm weather, I was tickled just to be there. Ducks filled the sky from
horizon to horizon. Geese were coming off the marsh and going out to
feed in the distant grain fields that seemed to have no end. "If
slow, I'd hate to see it when it's good," I thought.
Mallards and pintails were everywhere and we had tried to setup
according to the wind as any waterfowler does. Yet the calm allowed the
ducks to approach from just about any direction and trying to swivel and
watch them as you lay on the ground is tough. Shooting from a sitting
position is different as is swinging with a follow-thru motion.
Some ducks landed right in front of me and were walking around
before I knew they were there. I was watching a group swinging over
Stan, Barney, Shane and Randy as they opened up and hammered several.
Sometimes there are too many ducks to shoot at and this was one of
A pair of Canada geese worked us and joined the pile. Then another
bunch of lesser Canadas flew on the edge and we knocked out five.
In-between the retrieves were countless bunches of ducks. You'd watch
one group for that final approach, only to have another group take your
hat off from behind. Low and on the water is one thing; having them
walking around you while sitting in the decoys is another.
Canada's bag limit allowed eight ducks per person, consisting of
more than five mallards and three pintails. We bagged 64 ducks before 7
a.m. By my watch it took about 25 minutes. We hunted another hour or two
and lured some geese into range before picking up the spread and heading
back to a rural farm house for breakfast.
Our bounty was 97 birds in hand and we paused for pictures and
swapped stories of shots taken and shots missed. Overhead were geese
coming back to the marsh for water after an early morning feeding spree.
To a waterfowler it was heaven on earth. Skies were filled with webbed
Day two found us some 10 miles to the north from the previous
hunt where a ridge of canola stubble was surrounded by a long marsh. The
afternoon before, Stan, Randy and Shane had scouted the area and found
the ducks and geese using the field. A knock on the door of the
farmer was met with a handshake and permission to hunt. Up here the
farmers welcome hunters who are concerned with crop depredation.
While this is a waterfowl wonderland there's more to it than just
being there. These guys haddone their homework and over the years
cultivated relationships with farmers. Each afternoon they scouted in
four different directions sending out different vehicles to monitor the
flight path of waterfowl which roosted on water but flew out each day to
feed somewhere. That "somewhere" can be anywhere in this
magnitude of endless acreage of row crops.
A light rain visible in the headlights joined us as we set out the
decoys and arranged them according to what little breeze existed. Dawn
is a duck blind is always special. Here in the rural farming country of
Canada it was no different. Anticipation fuels your fire.
Making my nest between decoys, I loaded my cameras with film and
arranged shells for quick loading should the need occur. We were
swapping stories and scanning the sky when a duck descended right on top
of one of the Robo duck decoys. The moving wings proved irresistible.
I hadn't loaded my gun as it was too dark to shoot. With the wave
my hat I sent him on his way. Then, to my surprise, a bunch of 20 or so
mallards dropped in and landed among us. Some were restless and rose
quickly but others from the heavens took their place. Where had they
come from so quickly?
Barney called the shot on a single that hovered in perfect range.
Then, like starlings, they appeared from everywhere. We called now and
then but I think it was for our own amusement. The ducks had made their
minds up to come and come they did.
A pair here and a bunch there. Even when you shot at low ducks
were others above them in the sky attempting to drop in. Before the sun
had creeped up and chased the rain away we had a small war. I had been
on a few good duck hunts in my day but this was nothing short of
magnificent. You couldn't keep your gun loaded. Pintails were supposed
to be down in numbers but they were abundant here, filling the sky and
often mixed in with some mallards.
After a 20 minute barrage we called a cease-fire and began to
our ducks. The dogs were busy as bees retrieving here and here. Each
hunter was to gather up a limit of five mallards and three pintails. A
count proved we were a five mallards shy of a limit for the group but
that took only a few minutes to fill.
Never had I witnessed the number of ducks in the sky at one time
I was seeing now. Thousands were circling us and they would drop in and
land from time to time. Some 21 geese were added to our harvest of ducks
that morning but calm wind had again worked against us as
geese would fly over and look but rarely drop down into good gunning
After reaching our duck limit quickly we waited on a few geese but
most of us marveled at the air show underway. Cameras clicked as bunch
after bunch worked out over the decoys. The Robo ducks, two of which
were erected on four foot telescopic poles, seemed to pull some birds
right underneath them. Often a duck would land right beside it and walk
around showing no signs of fear.
At this stage of the migration the ducks in Canada were just
to get their plumage. Most displayed faded colors. Drake mallards didn't
quite have all their green and bull pintails weren't all sporting that
long tail feather.
Geese, however, were in full color and the mature blue "eagle
along with mature snow geese and Canadas were true to form. Many of the
geese raise far to the north and had already traveled hundreds of miles
from their breeding grounds. Thousands stage here in the Quill Lakes
region of Saskatchewan before heading south into the Dakotas,
Iowa, Arkansas and Texas.
Most of the ducks had raised right here in the area, although the
bunches indicated we might have witnessed a migration from the north as
Between eight hunters we had about 200 years of waterfowling under
our belts. A lot of cold and windy mornings had come and gone for all of
us in Tennessee and other states.
We all sat speechless and watched God's creatures maneuver in
displays of beauty. What a blessing it was to be here at this place in
Without a doubt, it was the most ducks any of us had ever seen at
time. Up close and personal. We would hopefully have many more sunrises
in our waterfowling futures but we all agreed this one would be hard to
I waved good-bye to a thousand ducks and asked them all to come
see me in Tennessee. Come December I will scan the sky with my
waterfowling buddies and pause in awe of it all, wondering if some of
the ducks I see are the same ones viewed in the distant lands of Canada.
Only God knows.
The information above is
compiled by outdoor writer
Steve is a professional hunting and fishing guide
here in the Paris
Landing area and host of the The Outdoor Channel's television series