David Yeamans

A Flock of Snow Geese
Click to see a monster flock in flight!

The 2016 hunt for Saskatchewan waterfowl came and went in spectacular fashion. The count of dead birds for six hunters was 144 ducks and 268 snow geese and two Canada geese. Other hunts may have yielded more birds but the number of daily bag limits this time was gratifying. Day 1 — 6 bag limits of snow geese; days 2, 3, and 4 — full limits of ducks for all hunters; day 5 — 1/2 a limit shy of full bag limits for all hunters; day 6 — 1 1/2 bag limits of snow geese pass shooting, not over decoys. All together, about 31 bag limits of waterfowl.

For the 18 or so years I’ve been doing this I’ve wanted to concentrate on ducks, especially green heads. Our resolve to shoot only those flagged under the pressure of scores of ducks every minute for two hours. In such a target rich environment we shot too early on day 1 but by day 3, in the same field no less, we took more time and finished off with about 2/3 drake mallards and the rest pintails and a few teal by request of one of our members. We’ve gotten polite about thanking the scouts among us who delivered the great shoots. I shared the honor with one other for days 2 through 5. There is an added risk/thrill component for those who secure permission on a field. 

The sandhill cranes (right) were mostly gone by the third week of October as were most of the early Southern geese. Those latter clustered strongly in one group and one field out of the 100 square miles we scouted. (A field is at least a quarter section, 1/2 mile on a side, of the same crop, peas, wheat, barley, lentils, for example. Commonly it is two quarters, and not rarely it is 4 or 8 quarters.)

On rare occasions the fowl will use adjacent fields of different crops.They couldn’t be found again until day 5, and many of those were probably new arrivals from the Northern flocks. With abundant water in the fields, one had to find a truly astounding concentration of ducks in order to be sure of finding the one place they wanted to be more than in the sheet water. Even on the same field, the difference of 200 yards out of half a mile might make all the difference. We live by Dave’s Duck Decoy Dictum — you can decoy the ducks to where they want to be. 

The days are mostly the same: up at 3:30 or 4:00, drive and set up in the dark, shoot, eat, clean geese, scout, eat, sleep. For a pass shoot we can get up at a liesurely 5:00 and hope we guessed right on where the geese will be flying out from the roost. We got it just right on our last day of the hunt. We blasted 31 geese before the fly out ended. 

Over the years I’ve gotten my friends at the Nature Center to appreciate eating wild birds. This year I gave about 40 geese and ducks to them for a banquet. Now it’s my job to size reduce the remainder into edible cassettes for my 6-month RV gig as a volunteer bird guide at Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona. Typically it’s 30 minutes from freezer to table for the boneless breast.

When the daily bag limit for snow geese goes to 50 as it is now in Alberta we may have even more light geese (snows and Ross’) to eat. My Alaskan friends from the U.S. FWS say that new regs in Alaska might require hunters to keep goose legs as food but would remove the requirement to keep them attached to a wing or head for identification purposes. The legs are my favorite part of snows and mallards so I’d be happy to oblige even though it means a change to the butchering line we have so well worked out. But if the object of the harvest limits is to kill snow geese as a population control, the leg requirement might cause fly in hunters to shoot fewer geese, not more. Oh, well, that’s an issue to be tested in the field.

Last year I talked to a farmer whose father homesteaded the family property. They all grew up eating ducks and loved them as food and as birds. One day his father brought home his first sandhill crane which he plucked with care and gave it to the wife for her equally caring preparation. She did it wrong, and he said it tasted like shit. Over the years they got it right and now look forward to a rare or medium rare crane steak, not a slow roasted entire crane.

May the birds be with you.