Goose Hunting in Saskatchewan
By Chris Hustad
There are moments of waterfowling that you can’t really put into words. An explosion of geese on the horizon that just keeps growing and growing until it’s all around you, literally. Instantly, childhood memories of hunting snow geese had reappeared. And I’m sure some of those same geese I hunted when I was a kid are still flying around enjoying the morning with me. The good old days were in the now. This was my first of what will be many trips to Saskatchewan, and this is how it started.
We witnesses 6 to 8 inches of snow fall on the area we planned to hunt. With a few phone calls and emails, we were all pointed in another direction. We decided on a new base camp off of a few tips, and thought it was a good starting point. With the Suburban and the trailer loaded, we were on our way. In Saskatchewan, it’s illegal to hunt on Sunday so that was the day we chose to leave.
After getting a good night’s rest, we headed out onto the horizon to start our scouting. This was everyone’s first time hunting this area, so we planned to literally do a 360 degree rotation around our base camp. I would have to say one of the most exciting moments of every trip, is seeing your first tornado. I always find scouting to be half the fun of hunting, and clouds of snow geese are my favorite kind. We find some decent feeds of snows, and accidentally stumbled upon a roost of canadas, but kept moving on for whiter pastures. We started to turn back when a large cloud in the distance caught my eye. We decided to pursue it and sure enough, we lucked out. Within an hour and a half of scouting we found the mother load, with strings of birds engulfing the sky in every direction. There were so many birds that they had to spread out for 10 miles. We never left this area the next 4 days.
With the complete lack of hunting pressure, and next to no road hunters, I can see why the birds hold up there as long as possible. We only saw one other hunter all week that wasn’t decoying, and he was pass shooting a few off the flight path. The birds aren’t threatened from vehicles, as it appeared nobody hunted off the roads. In fact, we had to constantly slow down to avoid running over geese. This is a luxury to decoy hunters. And with all the land in the area wide open for hunters, it makes scouting easy. We used Rural Municipality maps and asked every landowner we could find for permission. They were all extremely nice and helpful, and amazingly enough, nobody had ever tried snow geese?
We found our spot for the morning by 11 a.m. We decided to go back and eat, and try an easy evening shoot. All day hunting up there had just started and we couldn’t hold our anticipation any longer. We picked a field that was holding birds, and was at the tail end of the flight path. We set up 100 rags, and lay in the decoys in whites. We’re ground blind fanatics, so I haven’t done this in years. The weather was relatively warm, in the middle 40’s (remember, North Dakotan writing here). Birds came consistently for the next hour, and we got our first taste of decoyable birds. 23 birds hit the ground that night, and probably double got a good laugh on their way to the next field. We picked up early, and caught glimpses of a great Saskatchewan sunset disappear behind the neighboring abandoned farm house. We never saw another hunter or heard a shot all night.
The next morning we set up in a barley field a couple miles down the flight path from us the prior evening. There were so many birds we didn’t worry about disturbing a few the night before. We put out about 400 decoys, a collage of windsocks, shells, rags, and goose magnets. We got into the blinds this morning, and spent a long time making them disappear. At first light, the scout flocks started to make their runs. With the help of a couple ecallers, small flocks of snow geese started appearing from the south of us. There wasn’t too much wind, so I expected a lot of circling by the geese in route to our landing zone. Boy was I wrong. Juveniles don’t have the patience or the knowledge to check out a decoy spread, to them the dinner bell is ringing. The birds would “shuck” into the spread so fast you had to let them circle. And once one started shucking, it’s like it turned into a race as to which goose would land first. This made for mostly clean harvests, with an occasional cripple which we ran down. As the morning ends we start picking up the spread, only to be bombarded with yet more geese. At this point I can only laugh, is this goose heaven or what?
Wednesday morning brought us our first competition of the trip. We chose a wheat field, and a mile between us and the roost was a group in a pea field. On the other end of our field a trailer pulled up, and started preparing for the morning as well. It just so happened that the few decoy parties of the area had all chosen the same flyway. But that’s hunting so we thought we’d give the morning a go like every other. It just didn’t matter. We had probably 3 times the numbers in the flyway that morning compared to the morning before. There was pretty much circling birds over us at 50 yards for 2 hours straight. Singles and doubles would swing at 10 yards…than land, only to bring the rest of the flock. They were working the landing zone we chose perfectly. The birds would bank over us in their final approach. I was wearing ear plugs and the screeching sound of thousands of snow geese was unbearable. A few hours later we were lying next to 76 geese. A warden made his way into our spread that morning and everything as clean. We chatted with him for awhile and he spoke of a grim future for Saskatchewan waterfowling. The words he spoke kind of spoiled the morning, as he told tails of poaching and blatant breaking of the law. We headed back to the hotel for a long period of cleaning, and literally fell asleep the second we hit the pillow
Thursday turned out to be our final morning of the trip. We had planned on staying until Saturday, but after the morning hunt, we had experienced enough. We were pretty tired that morning, as 3 days straight of hardcore hunting can be pretty draining. We chose to only set out a fraction of our decoys that morning, and keep the spread more manageable. It was a very cold morning, with temps in the teens. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and barely a breath of wind. The birds were late that morning, as we didn’t see any geese until almost sunup. The first scout flock of four came over our spread, only to take a circle and exit. In most mornings of snow goose hunting, how the first birds react can foreshadow the patterns of the morning, but not on this day. The strings started coming at us in every direction. It appeared that there was another roost that we didn’t anticipate that was feeding into our field. The first approaching birds started shucking, and then birds from all sides started doing the same. We let dozens fly over at 20 yards, only to reassure the birds in the back of the flock to come lower. We pull up on a group of 6 that mistook our blinds as a place to land. From that moment on, I swear it’s a blur. Not 30 seconds went by where there wasn’t a bird with it’s feet down in front of us. It was incredible! And as I looked off into the horizon, there was just no end to the approaching birds. After about 45 minutes of hunting, we called a time out. We collected our game and figured out the cushion of our limit. It only took another 10 minutes to call the morning. The birds continued to dive bomb the spread as we picked up for 30 minutes. What a rush! We knew right away when we sat and looked at our 81 birds (1 canada), that the week was over. We were about 30 shy of our possession limit, and felt that there was no need to take home that many birds. That hour of hunting will always be a story. In 15 years of hard hunting, I’d never had an experience like that. I don’t think I could’ve shot another goose, I was all goosed out.
The memories that will always stick with me are the vast tracks of open land, the amounts of geese, and the peace and quiet atmosphere of hunting that we seek out every season. When the opportunities are endless, you can only wonder why the amounts of resident and nonresident hunter numbers in the province are declining. It’s a goose hunter’s paradise.