Waterfowl Hunting in Manitoba: A Quest Fulfilled

By author of The Duck Blog

First Canadian duck, goose foray dazzles

John Vaca kept his hunters busy by calling in wave after wave of geese. Photo © Brian Lovett

Duck-blind conversations from my youth ran the gamut, from girls to sports to guns. But during slow days, they always revolved around one topic: our desire to hunt the top-of-the-flyways mecca of Canada.

It’d be great, my friends and I agreed, but it was probably just a dream.

Fast-forward 30-some seasons to a cut barley field in south-central Manitoba. Hunters shuffled everywhere in the dark, fixing blinds and fiddling with decoys before shooting hours. Goose chatter — snows and honkers — on nearby roosting waters hinted that the flight would begin soon. And somehow, despite taking thousands of waterfowl hunts through almost four decades, I was visibly nervous. Finally, after years of talk, I was hunting ducks and geese in Canada, thanks to the folks at Vista Outdoors. We’d use Savage Arms shotguns loaded with Federal Black Cloud ammo, and hide in Final Approach blinds overlooking a spread of FA decoys. Best, courtesy of Camp Chef, our birds would soon grace the camp table at our host, Narrow’s West Lodge.

But all thoughts of gear and food faded quickly when someone yelled, “Shooting time.” The line of hunters went quiet as we scanned the sky for incoming silhouettes. Our hunt leader, John Vaca, national pro-staff/events manager for Bushnell, told us birds were approaching, and he began playing soft, contented tunes on his goose call. It was on.

Somewhat surprisingly, honkers began arriving before ducks. Geese seemed to come from all directions, with many clearing a tree line behind us, locking their wings and banking toward the spread. When the first flock hovered feet-down above the blocks, Vaca called the shot, and guns erupted. Several birds fell, and we hurriedly reloaded before the next group arrived.

Soon, squadrons of ducks joined the mix, some finishing, others zipping over. Guns barked intermittently, and our mallard pile began to grow. Meanwhile, the honker action never let up.

A quick glance behind us revealed the reason. A steady easterly breeze grew during the morning, and birds that approached our setup stared directly into the brilliant rising sun. Basically, their vision was impaired until they were almost in range, making it easier to conceal our blinds. The setup was almost perfect. In fact, goose action improved steadily as the sun rose. Singles, pairs and even large flocks committed and finished time and again, and both ends of the line experienced good shooting.

Finally, at about 10 a.m., the final goose fell, and we had our 11-hunter limit. The 13 ducks we’d killed were almost a bonus. Someone suggested that it was time to take pictures, and we rose from our blinds, grinning in awe of what we’d experienced. Undeterred by the bustle of movement in the decoys, geese continued to work the spread, even when our guides’ trucks arrived.

A mixed spread of Final Approach ducks and geese in a partially flooded barley field proved to be the ticket. Photo © Brian Lovett

An hour later, with birds collected and blinds and decoys stowed, we shuffled toward the tree line, our first morning complete. I stayed back a moment, looking again at the field and glowing aspens in the distance, trying to burn the scene into memory forever. I’d finally hunted Canada, and whether I ever shot another duck or goose there again mattered little. The experience was more than I’d imagined, even as a star-struck kid dreaming about the possibility years earlier.

But a voice soon snapped me back to reality, and I began hustling toward the truck. Brunch beckoned, and I couldn’t wait to hear stories from everyone. Someone mentioned walleye fishing or diver hunting that afternoon, and my eyes got big again.

Best, we had two more days of hunting ahead of us. Canada might wear me out, but I welcomed every stitch of adventure it would offer.

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