I just got back from my first waterfowl hunt of the season in a place I’d dreamed of hunting for many years—the Peace River Region of northern Alberta. It’s a l-o-n-g way up there, but the distance somehow makes it even more desirable as a hunting destination.
The "North American Hunter-TV" team was there as the guest of Kevin McNeil’s Blue Sky Outfitters, located in McLennan, Alberta, which is about a 4.5-hour drive northwest of Edmonton. The report from our 2.5 days in the field there is that the hunting was spectacular; the killing of ducks and geese—not so much.
Upon our arrival, Kevin greeted us with the news that, agriculturally, the year up there has been totally screwed up by rainfall (consistently too much rainfall all the way back to the planting season). By our arrival the last week of September, at least 60-70 percent of the crops should have been out of the fields. Instead, less than 15 percent were harvested. Even oats remained, which was a boon for Blue Sky’s fall bear hunters! Kevin reported spotting 20 bears in one day, wallowing in a single oat field. (Blue Sky offers some really unique combo hunting, like geese in the morning and bear hunting or bowhunting for mule deer in the afternoon! We didn’t know enough to ask when we were setting up the trip, or we’d have tried to plan something like that for a show.)
McLennan sits on the shores of Kimiwan Lake, which is know as the "Bird Capital of Canada." It’s the first piece of good-sized water in the first agricultural region that migrating waterfowl hit after leaving their nesting grounds in the Arctic. The lake is about 5 miles long and 4 miles wide, with an average depth of less than 3 feet. That’s duck water if there ever was duck water. For hundreds of miles north of Kimiwan Lake, there is nothing but boreal forest all the way to the arctic. That terrain offers nothing for geese and ducks, so the lake and grain fields are a mighty welcome sight.
By its location, the lake also funnels birds that eventually spread back out into both the Central and Mississippi Flyways. We saw pintails in numbers I’ve only seen rivaled in Texas and Mexico during the months of January and February, and the limit in Alberta is four per man per day—half of the total duck limit.
Don’t get me wrong: We got some birds and we got a good "NAH-TV" episode you’ll see next year. But in a normal year, the beauty of waterfowling in the Peace River Region is that you’re dealing with birds that haven’t been hunted in 6-9 months, and in the case of juvenile birds, have never been hunted at all. But in a year like this—when water is everywhere and farmers are scratching their chins, wondering how to get the crops in—it’s hunting, not killing.
I now have a mighty good reason to get back there when the hunting is “normal” for the area. For now, it’s time to get back into the woods closer to home.