I'm a North American Hunter. I love to fish, too, and I've been blessed with many opportunities to travel the continent in pursuit of fins, horns and feathers. As one might imagine, my most treasured adventures have been with friends and family. For the past 15 years, I've kept a personal journal of these trips, and what follows is an entry from when I traveled last fall to eastern Alberta, Canada, to hunt geese and ducks. My brother Phil was along—it was his first trip out of the country and his first hunt with a professional outfitter—and from his perspective this was the trip of a lifetime. John Mullet of Kansas City, Missouri, NAH Publisher Rich Sundberg of Alexandria, Minnesota, and his brother Steve and three of their buddies joined us as well. We hunted with my friend and owner of Alberta Flyway Outfitters, Jeff Klotz.
9 A.M., WED., SEPT. 7, 2005 | Edmonton bound, flying somewhere over the Dakotas. Mile after mile of potholes pass below me as I head back to the rolling prairies of eastern Alberta—God's country, the heart of the North American waterfowl factory. Without a doubt, this is one of my most favorite areas in the world to hunt!
I called Jeff last night and he sounded very optimistic (all outfitters do before the hunt, or when you book the hunt). But I've hunted with Jeff eight times and have learned to trust his judgment and lack of hype. His scouts have established relationships with a wide network of farmers, and they're seeing thousands of birds. In our favor, the fields are dry and about a quarter of them have been harvested. Access to birds—lots of birds—will be no problem.
As usual, work and family responsibilities piled up as this day approached. And as usual, the feeling that I should stay home settled in. But now that I'm airborne and free from the phone, I can feel the pressure lifting. Three days of goose hunting await me.
5 P.M. | Jeff's crew picks us up at the Edmonton airport and we drive 3 hours to camp, telling stories and grilling the guide about how many birds are around. A lot, we're promised. Settled into camp now and getting ready for dinner. Plans are made—we'll split into two groups each day and hunt out of layout blinds in harvested pea and grain fields.
9 A.M., THURS. | The smell of fresh cut straw and gunpowder. Cool breezes and warm gun barrels. Whistling wings and talking birds. A fiery sky that spreads forever and smiles almost as wide. Strings of wings as far as you can see. This is our first morning and four of us shoot 32 ducks and 32 geese! I take lots of photos and video as the other three guys pummel the birds. The limit in Alberta is eight geese and eight ducks per hunter, so our group is already done hunting for the day.
9 P.M. | We take naps after lunch and then embark on a sight-seeing tour of the endless prairie. Jeff's long-time scout “Krispy” shows us field after field of feeding birds, and mule deer occasionally bounce away as we drive by. The evening light is glorious as it glows off of the backs of hundreds of geese feeding in a pea field. We all agree this is where we want to hunt in the morning.
8:30 A.M., FRI. | The trailer is loaded up and we're heading back to camp—five hunters with 40 Canada geese and two ducks—a spectacular morning. We started at 4 a.m. with a 1-hour drive to the harvested pea field we'd scouted yesterday. We set up layout blinds and decoys in a light rain. Once settled in, we waited for dawn, snug and dry in our blinds. We shot our limit of geese by 7:20 a.m.
With the graying of the eastern sky comes the distant sounds of approaching geese. Six ducks beat them to our decoy spread, and we knock down two. Soon after, three geese arrive. They circle once behind us and then sit down in front of us—in the decoys! We wait impatiently for our guide, David Fishley, to call the shot. (By agreement, so that everyone has a good chance to shoot, no one is allowed to shoot until the guide yells, “Take 'em!”) We think maybe a larger group of birds is approaching and David's just being patient. Not the case. He chuckles and says he's just testing our self-control.
Geese come steadily in small groups for the next hour as sunlight streams through slits in the eastern sky. The sky above is lead gray, while warm beams of light streak down in the east. Oh the things we hunters get to witness! The glory of God's creation set before us in ways that those who slumber their lives away in cities can never imagine. Small flocks of geese cross the sky, silhouetted and backlit, their wingtips reflecting gold from the slivers of sunlight. As the light rain falls, my eyes repeatedly return to the light in the east.
As the birds fall from the sky, David or his dog Rook retrieve them, their bodies black outlines against the golden glow in the east—silhouettes with a purpose and a mission. I love that my brother Phil is a part of this. His layout blind can hardly contain his enthusiasm.
2 P.M. | Lunch is done. With stomachs full, all hunters and guides are napping.
5 P.M. | We set up in a harvested barley field next to a good-sized lake—a roosting area for a significant number of ducks and a few snow geese. Our backs are to the lake, and we're facing south. A steady breeze blows over our shoulders. A perfect setup, and it keeps the mosquitoes away. The rain has stopped, and the sun has burned through the thin clouds above.
Five of us share the field and we tell hunting stories to pass the time while we wait for birds. David and Rich are talking about bighorn hunting in Alberta. I nap for about an hour and am startled out of my slumber by the sound of gunfire. Ducks are piling into the decoys, and the boys are blazing away. Lots of laughter afterward, as they wonder aloud why I wasn't shooting. The nap felt great, however short.
For the rest of the evening, small groups of ducks work our decoys—wonderful shooting, with time to pick your shot. No frenzy, just steady action. Lots of stories and good-natured banter in between—we shoot our limit of ducks.
9 P.M. | A great dinner tonight, smoked ribs and chicken. The perfect end to a perfect day—a limit of geese in the morning and a limit of ducks in the evening.
6 A.M., SAT. | Laying in our blinds in the pre-dawn grayness. Wind is steady from the north, and it's cooler this morning. Skies are overcast and threatening rain. Four hunters share the barley-swathed field, our layout blinds effectively hidden in the swath rows.
6:40 A.M. | Three small flocks of ducks set up perfectly on the decoys. We have 11 birds in hand, and the Labs are looking for another.
7:07 A.M. | Two geese come in low behind us, “maple leaf” and cup their wings. We drop them at 20 yards.
7:09 A.M. | John drops a single with an amazing shot leaning backward over his shoulder.
7:17 A.M. | I drop one duck from a fast-flying pair. Geese are flying high and aren't responding to our calls. More ducks and geese fly high, traveling somewhere else.
7:35 A.M. | Two geese break off from a high group, and we call them in. One goes down, and the other, injured, glides off. David and his dog, Jessie, look for the goose and in the process spook a flock of ducks.
7:47 A.M. | Six geese work the setup perfectly. We knock down five right away and the sixth circles wide and high for another look. We all shoot and it drops like a rock.
8:02 A.M. | Poor shooting. Fifteen ducks decoy perfectly, and we only get two.
8:10 A.M. | Two Canadas come in low and perfect in front of us. Both die.
8:12 A.M. | A single comes in low on my side. I embarrass myself with three shots from my Benelli before Jeff finishes it off. The current count is 14 Canadas and 17 ducks (mallards and pintails).
8:55 A.M. | A group of three geese comes to our calls and we shoot two. A single sneaks in, and we take it, too.
9:08 A.M. | Working a group of seven geese at a distance, when two different birds sneak in behind us. We have a dilemma, take the two hanging in front of us or wait on the seven coming? In the end, we wait. The pair flies away and we call the others in. They drift into range slowly, and we drop two.
9:40 A.M. | Just missed a group of seven. A single led them in and almost sat down on Phil. It flared and the ones following slowed their approach, hanging in the wind at the edge of our shooting range. They flare and we open up, missing them all. Should've taken the single.
9:50 A.M. | Six geese come in from the east, and we drop one. The wind is stiff and when we pop up to shoot, the geese catch the wind and are whipped away fast. Tough shooting—longer leads needed.
10:12 A.M. | Our guide calls in a single and it hangs in the wind forever, high above us. We all shoot and it crumples. Dave just returned from a long retrieve of one of the birds that sailed. John is bringing back another.
10:18 A.M. | We'd just given up on a large flock, when 10 geese slip in behind us. We light up the calls and they immediately circle downwind. They drift in and hang perfectly at about 20 yards, and we drop four immediately. Jeff pops another shell in and drops a fifth. New count stands at 28 geese and 18 ducks.
10:42 A.M. | John just shot a single that we called from about 350 yards. It came on a string and John killed it with one shot.
11:02 A.M. | Dave calls in a large flock of geese from way to the west, and they set up perfectly. Three birds down, and we have our limit of 32 geese, as well as 20 ducks! The other group also had a good morning—28 geese and six ducks. The perfect ending to our 3-day hunt.
EPILOGUE | Back at home in Minneapolis, my eighth trip to Alberta Flyway Outfitters can only be summarized as the best ever! I was able to share my favorite hunting spot with my brother and make new friends, the kind that can only be made in hunting camp. Everyone shot a lot of birds and for 3 days I escaped the very real pressures of a very busy life and recharged my mental batteries. When I close my eyes I can still hear the waves of birds leaving their distant roosting areas, smell the fresh cut straw and feel the streaming rays of a prairie sunrise as it warms my face.
I'm ready to go back right now!