Now a retired police officer, Jimmy E’s house has come to look like a Cabella’s superstore. The thing is, though, he is such a perfectionist, that he has to make his own hunting gear. He makes fishing rods with his own two hands, reloads shot shells to his own demanding specifications, and just about every bow he owns has been tweaked to make it Jimmy E.-perfect. (Maybe that’s why he’s such a great archer, too.)
Count Me In
So when Jimmy E. called to say that he was organizing a goose and duck hunting trip to Saskatchewan, I knew it was going to be a great one. “Count me in,” I said.
Jimmy had hooked us up with Big Bend Outfitters in Birch Hills, Saskatchewan. About three hours North of Saskatoon. The other people on the expedition included Jimmy E.’s son, Graham (a senior and an honors student in high school), Bob R., Ken B. and John B. All of us were experienced wing-shooters. Graham was as experienced as any of us. After-all he is Jimmy’s son.
I’ve known Ken B. from the Maryland Eastern Shore. He supports his hunting habit by driving a truck in the off season. He’s a rough-and-tumble kind of guy who had worked as a waterfowl hunting guide. He was very savvy as to the way the birds would tend to come to the decoys, and I knew he would be a great asset on this trip. Not only that, but Ken B. is an incredible shot.
Bob R. sells boats, here in Maryland. I had not met him before this trip. He’s a friend of Jim’s. Bob’s a little on the quiet side. Dry humor, enjoyable to be around.
John B. What can I say about John? He’s my good friend, and customer. He is a prolific big-game hunter, clay target shooter, and bird hunter, fishes, and has a four handicap in golf. He’s done it all. Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Nova Scotia, Alaska and most points in between. I’ve been selling John B. guns and sporting equipment for years. He buys the best, and loves fine shotguns. Like John, Jimmy is also a very good shotgun customer. It’s different when you do business with people over so many years, because you get to see a side of them that brings out the sense of fair play you like to see in guys that you’re traveling with on a hunting trip.
I travel a lot; my motto is “No jerks, no drunks… The people I go with know, and also adhere to that philosophy".
It now looked like stars were in perfect alignment for this trip, and I couldn’t wait to get going.
On Day 1 We Took to the Sky
Finally, day 1 of the trip arrived and we flew from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Minneapolis/St. Paul then to Saskatoon. We were in the air for a total of about five hours.
As the plane made its final approach into Saskatoon, I could see first hand that the terrain was as flat and bare as a pool table for as far as you could see. It reminded me of my first trip here. I was sitting next to a gentleman who told me “You’re gonna love this place. There’s a pretty girl behind every tree, but there are no trees.”
Now this is the point in the trip where inexperienced hunters can get all snagged up. In order to bring firearms into Canada, you need to have an approved Canadian Gun Permit. I understand they perform a complete background check on you. This could be a long, tedious process if you do not do it ahead of time. They roll you right through if you have the completed paper work when you arrive. At this point, all you want to do is get into a blind with a loaded shotgun, getting hung up for lack of paperwork could take three to six hours. That can get darn excruciating.
An Important Tip to Hunting in Canada
The good folks at Big Bend Outfitters advised us to fill out the permit in advance and fax it to The Canadian Firearms Permit Section (fax: 306-975-5917). It took about 10 days to get the OK from them, which is fine considering that if you did it on the spot at the airport it could cost you three-to-six hours. And who wants to hang out at the airport for that long when there’s plenty of fine Canada geese and ducks to shoot?
Dale and Reggie of Big Bend Outfitters met us at the airport with two vehicles and took us to Reggie’s house. Consider it a large farmhouse furnished with beautiful antiques that had all the amenities of a comfortable B&B. Each of us had our own room and all were nicely decorated, even cozy. Reggie and his lovely wife Tannis did everything possible to make us feel right at home.
It was supper time when we arrived. The night was clear, revealing more stars than I had seen is such a long time. Out there, it’s extremely quiet. No traffic, no airplanes -- a little wind, and an occasional cry of a coyote on the prowl. It was quite wonderful.
A Home-Cooked, Roast Beef Dinner
Tannis had prepared a hearty, home-cooked roast beef dinner with all the trimmings. After a long day, everybody was happy to eat and get to sleep.
The next morning, Tannis had laid out a Continental breakfast for us before heading out to teach school. We helped ourselves to fruit, juice, cereal, strong coffee, toast and lots of other goodies. It was my introduction to Saskatoon jelly, which is made from a local berry that grows on a bushy tree. To the untrained eye you’d think it’s a blueberry. And it tastes similar. This particular batch, Tannis had cooked up from scratch and it was delicious. She gave me some to bring home.
The morning was still dark when we loaded up the SUVs with more equipment then we would ever need. You always take too much-STUFF. The forecast for the day called for temps in the mid-30s, I was expecting to hunt in only a sweater, as long as the wind stayed calm. My Beretta sweater with the wind-stop lining worked well the whole time.
The Scouts Went Out First
The entire hunt itself was the very picture of efficient logistics. On this day, as with the ensuing days of the trip, Big Bend Outfitters would dispatch scouts the day before to find the best places to shoot. The scouts had their own areas -- about 200 miles -- so they knew just about every inch of the place.
The scouts would follow the flights of geese until they couldn’t see them anymore. When they caught up with them, they would find huge concentrations of the big birds. They’d punch in the location on their GPS. Sometimes it was in the fields, sometimes it was on water. Mostly in the fields. Regardless, they provided us with an exact location to lay out the blinds and decoys.
In that part of the world, people allow you to hunt on their property. So the scouts also had maps that showed who owned the land and they could call the owners in advance to find out if we could hunt there. To the best of my knowledge, we never had a problem getting permission.
We Hit the Road
Well, that first morning we traveled about a half an hour or so from Reggie’s house. As it turns out, that would be typical. Half an hour to an hour to get to the best spot. Ocasionally, we would pass a place, and they’d say, we would probably hunt that place on another day.
As we approached our staging area on the first morning, we turned off-road and crossed a field for several miles. The farmers grew oats, wheat, barely, but that time of year the fields were all harvested. There was only stubble. In these fields, we used layout blinds (or coffin blinds), where you lie down on your back and cover them up -- and lace the blinds with a particular fodder left in the field so you would totally blend in.
It would take all of us about an hour of working in the dark to lay out the rig. We even used some mechanical decoys, Robo-Ducks that proved to work well. They give some movement to the rig. At one time I had moved about 100 yards from the rest of the guys and the rig to sit in ambush near a small pond. As I observed the rig I could definitely see the ducks and the geese both favoring the areas of the set that had the mechanical decoys.
I wish I could tell you where we went that first morning in the field. There were no roads, no signposts, no houses. It was still dark when I crawled into the blind, and we waited for daybreak when the birds would start to move.
Miles and Miles of Birds
When the sun came up, the sky filled with waterfowl. In a clear morning like that one, we could see huge flocks of birds for miles. Sometimes the birds filled the skies like locusts. They’d hide the sun. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never seen it.
There were several species of Canada Geese. A variety of Lessor Canada Geese, Canada Geese, and some really big ones. I think they call them Giant Canada Geese. In addition to the Canada Geese there were a few Speckelbellies, Ross Geese, Snow Geese (both varieties, white and blue), added to the mix. An incredible amount of ducks, mostly Mallards, with some Pintails and Gadwalls mixed in.
Our limits were pretty generous, so after our morning shoot we would grab some lunch and drive to another area. During the course of the day, we were allowed eight Geese (only three can be Speckelbellies), eight ducks (only three can be Pintails), 20 Snow Geese, and five Sand Hill Cranes. But I don’t remember seeing any Sand Hill Cranes.
They way the trip played out, we usually hunted geese in the morning and ducks in the afternoon. Regardless, we typically limited out each day -- or came pretty close.
As would happen with the rest of the trip, after the morning hunt we drove to Dale’s house where his wife Karen would serve an incredible homemade lunch, including your own personal loaf of fresh, hot, homemade bread, and maybe a little Saskatoon jelly to make it more appealing (if that were possible). After lunch there was enough time to slip into one of the many bedrooms for a nap or watch TV, before heading out for the afternoon hunt.
The Evening Hunts
The evening hunt times varied, depending on the time we had to drive or how far we had to go. We’d reset the rig and get ready for the next wave. Even with the time it took to set up the rig and taking it down, we had two hours for hunting. Lots of time we had birds trying to come in as we were getting set-up.
Afterwards, it was back to Reggie and Tannis’ house for dinner. The food was always superb. A typical dinner from Tannis went something like homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Another night, she actually cooked up a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner – you know roast turkey and all of the trimmings. It seemed like that bountiful holiday all over again. Plus it just happens to be my favorite meal…
So for the next few days, we experienced glorious hunting and terrific eating … my two favorite things to do. Along with everyone telling hunting story after hunting story and some very funny jokes. None of which I can remember or could repeat in public.
Ducks -- 100,000 of Them
One of the most extraordinary and enjoyable episodes of the trip occurred on the second day. The weather was unusual. It was slightly too warm to snow and when it rained instead the fields flooded with expansive mud puddles. We set up blinds on three sides of these puddles. Then the ducks started coming in…maybe 100,000 of them. They blackened the sky. Even the pictures can’t do it justice.
As we expected, the ducks thought puddles were ponds and they landed in droves. We had ducks on three sides of us. The shooting was spectacular. The birds were so close that we could grab them before our dogs did. What a day!
My Secret Confession
Now I have something to confess to you. Hopefully, some of you guys out there can appreciate it.
Because I’m a 67-year-old short, fat boy, and I don’t move as good as I used to. As some of you may know, this could be a real problem in a coffin blind, where you have to pull yourself upright to start shooting. You can imagine, then, a guy of my age with my girth ( 5’3” 250) trying to get upright real fast so I could get my fair share of the shooting. That can be something of a challenge. Actually, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t do sit-ups very well when I weighed 140. I believe gas was 29 cents in those days.
Here’s the solution I devised. And I hope it’s useful.
I removed the shoulder strap from my shooting bag. I tied one end of the strap to the bottom of the blind and left the other end near my hand. When the time came to start shooting, I grabbed the strap with my left hand and hauled myself up with the gun in my right. Not perfect but it worked quite neatly. It worked every time. That way I continue to have the best of both worlds: lots of great shooting and the fine meals served by Tannis and Karen.
By the way, after each session we paid to have the birds cleaned and they were donated to a shelter or rest home. Like Tannis’ fried chicken, those birds went to good use.
Jimmy E. Was Right
Finally, on the fourth day, the gents at Big Bend Outfitters drove us back to the airport in Saskatoon. Jimmy E., once again, was right when it came to hunting. I can tell you that I organize dozens of trips a year to South America, Africa, Mexico and lots of areas in the U.S., and Big Bend Outfitters gets an A++. Everything was excellent.
We said goodbye to the Big Bend Outfitters crew and went into the terminal. That time of year, the place is probably filled with 90% hunters, many who are deer or bear hunting -- in addition to the waterfowl hunters. While we were waiting for our flight, I heard someone say “Jack Bart, what are you doing here?” It was one my customers who was deer hunting with a muzzle loader, and was also heading home.
Of course, we’re going again in 2008…
Jack Bart is the owner of Bart’s Sports World (http://www.bartssports.com) in Glen Burnie, Maryland. He has 50 years experience in the hunting and shooting business specializing in fine firearms.
Big Bend Outfitters
Birch Hills, Sask S0J 1B0
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