August 26, 2022
Mother Nature has a unique sense of humor. We had gone to bed with bare, dry fields and roads but woke to 8 inches of fresh snow. Part of our hunting crew suffered delays getting to camp, which meant only a handful of us were crazy enough to consider a morning hunt.
We pulled onto the highway, and there were no other vehicle tracks. The snow was up to the hubs on the trailer wheels, and it was still snowing hard. I could not help but think about the passage from Robert Ruark's "The Old Man and The Boy," when the Old Man remarked that you had to be crazy to be a duck hunter, as foul weather also spells fowl weather. I went bugged-eyed trying to see through the blowing snow but couldn’t forget the insane waterfowl-hunting action described by Ruark while fighting the elements.
There were no tracks, droppings or feathers in the field to help us decide where to set up. The west side had a strip of tree cover that broke the wind and worked as a snow fence to prevent the white stuff from drifting. It was the perfect spot to draw the birds that would want to be out of the wind and blowing snow.
We set up blinds with snow covers and decoys before huddling in the decoy trailer to stay warm and dry. The anticipation of the morning's events gave us butterflies in our stomachs, and we tried to be patient, knowing the birds would be coming late. Finally, the sky brightened, but visibility did not improve.
We dusted the snow off the decoys in the field and placed fresh ones. A large flock of lesser Canadas swung over the field and circled low to the ground. We called, and eventually the birds made a beeline in our direction. Along with the short-necked lessers, big honkers, specks and even a snow goose were in the mixed flock. Some of the birds landed in the field out of range. However, most closed the distance until the order was yelled to shoot.
Shotguns roared and birds crumpled from the air, sending a wave of snow cascading as they hit the ground. The foul weather had produced extraordinary results, giving us a mixed bag of geese to retrieve.
Soon, more birds lined up on the flanks of the field and worked their way to the decoys that required continual maintenance and cleaning. We shot honkers, specks, some snows and lots of ducks. It was a test for our Final Approach Branta Primaloft insulated bibs and jackets, but they kept us dry. My hands may have been freezing, but I was enjoying some of the best hunting associated with miserable weather.
The snow had stopped by the time we headed back to the Saskatchewan Goose Company lodge. Tyler Mann, owner and outfitter, is a mountain of a man who lives for waterfowl. His red beard and jovial smile fit his fowl-minded slant to life. The unofficial U.S. Postal Service motto, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" sums up Mann's approach to waterfowl hunting.
The prairie provinces of Canada have a transition area where agriculture meets forest. For many of the ducks and geese coming out of the Arctic, the first fields they encounter are on this boreal fringe. A duck or goose living on sedge and grass can't help but stay and fatten up before considering moving farther south. It is a strategic choice to hunt here, but expect cold, snow, frost and other conditions that can make a waterfowl hunt an adventure.
Western Canada has experienced both 100-year floods and droughts in a fraction of that time. Saskatchewan is blessed with water, and several regions could be considered droughtproof with extensive wetlands and rivers that seem to never run dry.
Mann is located on the northern extreme of agricultural fields against the boreal forest. Many of the ducks and geese we shot came from boreal wetlands and into the agricultural fields. It was a smart choice for an outfitter hunt during last year’s arid conditions.
Saskatchewan is an unbelievable duck and goose mecca. It is difficult to explain the number of birds encountered or the shooting opportunities that never seem to end. The next few days were great examples of why this Central Flyway province is a bucket-list destination for most waterfowlers.
Goose, Duck, Duck, Goose
The snow melted away as quickly as it had come. The following morning, we found ourselves in a large pea field with a heavy layer of frost. The rest of our crew had arrived as the storm died and was eager for some action. We set up on the south edge of the field to reduce our footprint, where a finger of grass extended from a steep ravine. Peas butted up against barley stubble, and the transition helped our blind be less conspicuous. With decoys placed in front of the blind, we anticipated the sunrise. We waited and waited, but the birds did not move a feather until the sun was well in the sky and starting to warm the surroundings.
The morning was, quite literally, a great icebreaker for the group. It was tough with bluebird skies, no wind and frosty conditions even by waterfowler standards. However, we still managed to keep the barrels of our Mossberg 940 Pro Waterfowl shotguns hot. We shot plenty of big honkers, and the ducks added regular excitement to the mix.
A snow goose hunt filled the evening, as we did not have much room left on our dark goose and duck limits. It is a "problem" Saskatchewan waterfowlers often face. Most of us would have paid just to watch the waves of birds moving across the sky against an incredible sunset to finish the day.
The next morning was a mixed-bag hunt with all types of ducks and geese that feed in agricultural fields. The area we hunted was higher in elevation, and there were still remnants of snow forming ice patches in the field. It was cold, and the wind made the blind the best place to stay warm. Mallards and pintails swaggered for positions in the air to find a place to land on the ground.
Sometimes we were challenged to leave the ducks and wait for geese. We shot snow and blue geese that were more flighty than hungry. Several flocks of smaller Canadas made the morning with solid commitment. The ducks put on a show, and we targeted green.
Our setup for the following day put us in a hailed-out pea and barley field where the ducks had been feeding by the thousands. A couple of local hunters had asked to join us, and with nicknames like Tuffy, Toque and Tooth Fairy, they were bound to be as much fun as the hunt itself. The field was undulating, and it was challenging to find a flat spot to set the decoys and blind. The first birds that worked the spread had to fly over a hill, and it bumped every flight to one side.
We quickly discussed decoy strategies and moved everything out of the center of our spread to the long edges. The new layout allowed the ducks to come around the hill and follow the decoys to the front of the blind. It worked like magic. The ducks came in flocks of 25 to 300 and lined the sky to the horizon. There was plenty of shooting, laughter and excitement as Mann's black Lab got an extreme workout.
Being strategic and altering the decoy spread was critical to success. The ducks would have kept coming, but they would not have finished where all shooters could have regular volleys. An outfitter that responds to what the birds are doing when conditions aren't perfect can make the day. We had several hunts where we set blinds against rock piles or used the edge of a field to hide. Decoys were set for changing wind conditions, and if required, wholesale changes were made to layouts and plans.
In the end, every outing was successful because we could be flexible with our setups while reading the birds. These are good points to keep in mind when asking for outfitter references and talking to other hunters about their experiences.
The ducks may have stolen the show in Saskatchewan, but the geese were world-class. We had some tremendous shoots with specklebellies and big honkers. One morning we shot a couple of giant Canadas that tipped the scales at more than 14 pounds.
The sheer number of lessers made their patterns seem choreographed as the geese worked a field. It was magic to warm a bird hunter's soul. It was late in the season, and though we struggled to shoot daily limits, the quality of the experience was unbeatable. The geese were a challenging bonus, with the ducks coming in endless waves.
An evening hunt in a pea field provided a surprise. The ducks worked our decoys like high-school sweethearts, providing steady gunning. I was fortunate to have an end position in the blind and ran out to retrieve a duck that fell on my end of the field.
Most of the birds were in eclipse plumage and often didn’t get a second look, but one duck caught my attention. The markings on the bill and colors in the speculum and on the head were indicative of a pintail-mallard hybrid. With the extreme number of ducks and geese encountered on a trip to Saskatchewan, you never know what treasure you'll find.
A new shotgun, lighter loads and updated decoys prove their worth.
Although the Mossberg 940 Pro Waterfowl I took to Saskatchewan was brand new, it felt like I had been shooting it for years. Anyone who has wielded a shotgun that seemed to become an extension of the arms will understand that’s high praise. A slim fore-end and new barrel design made pointing the Pro Waterfowl intuitive, and it was light and easy to swing.
Perhaps the most surprisingly aspect of the shotgun, however, is its ability to reduce felt recoil. The 940 Pro line is equipped with a new gas operating system that throws spent shells 12 to 15 feet and uses up much of the energy that contributes to recoil. It cycled flawlessly as I chewed through a case of ammunition.
The shotgun is adjustable for drop, cast and length of pull from 13 to 14 1/4 inches. It’s easy to load with an oversized charging handle, beveled loading port and a large bolt-release button.
The versatility and improved handling come from a partnership with competitive shooters Jerry and Lena Miculek, which led to the 2020 launch of the 940 JM Pro, a 12-gauge semi-auto for competition. Mossberg uses the new technology in its 940 Pro Waterfowl and 940 Pro Snow Goose shotguns.
Corrosion-resistant internal parts, including a boron-nitride-coated gas piston, magazine tube, hammer sear and return-spring tube, complement the chrome-lined chamber and bore. Mossberg reports that hunters can shoot up to 1,500 rounds before cleaning the Pro Waterfowl without interfering with its performance.
The 940 Pro Waterfowl ($1,092; mossberg.com) has a 28-inch vent-rib barrel fitted with an extended, ported X-Factor choke tube. A HiViz TriComp sight comes with interchangeable triangular and round LitePipes to customize the configuration to a hunter’s preference. The barrel and receiver have a Patriot Brown Cerakote finish, and TrueTimber’s Prairie pattern covers the stock.
It is surprising what a shortage of ammunition can teach you. With a lack of 3-inch shotshells, a case of 2 3/4-inch loads forced me to re-evaluate my needs during the trip.
I shot Federal Premium Black Cloud FS Steel ($26.99 per 25; federalpremium.com) loaded with 40 percent FlightStopper steel pellets and 60 percent premium steel pellets.
The ringed FlightStopper pellets increase trauma, while the rear-opening FliteControl Flex wad holds them and the round pellets together longer for tighter patterns. The FliteControl Flex wad can be shot out of any standard or ported barrel or choke tube. I used the 2 3/4-inch loads on ducks and smaller geese with no troubles and felt I had been brainwashed to think I had to shoot 3-inch shells.
One hunt for giant prairie honkers called for Black Cloud TSS ($50.99 per 10), loaded with 60 percent Tungsten Super Shot pellets and 40 percent FlightStopper steel in the FliteControl Flex wad. Tungsten has twice the density of steel allowing pellets to maintain velocity and penetrate at greater distances.
The load’s No. 9 TSS pellets create incredibly dense patterns, while the No. 3 FlightStopper steel pellets spread more quickly. The result is great patterns close with steel and at long range with TSS. The biggest birds of the trip fell to this load.
Final Approach (fabrand.com) wants waterfowl hunters to know it is making strides to re-establish its products at the top of the industry. Founded in 1993 by a single waterfowler who set out to be a better hunter, the company earned a reputation for quality. An ever-changing industry saw the company being sold several times, and elements of quality waned. Since July 2018, Final Approach has had new owners, and decoys are born from fresh carvings with upgraded plastics or premium EVA material and high-end paint schemes.
As Final Approach closes in on its 30th anniversary, the most significant change is with its layout blinds. The company was the first to offer a commercial layout blind with its Eliminator model, and innovation continues with the Knockout layout ($250).
The Knockout sets up and breaks down in seconds and has a durable frame and support bars that withstand pressure when getting in or out of the blind. Final Approach also has a new apparel line that offers abrasion resistance, windproof and waterproof layers, and proven components like Primaloft insulation and YKK zippers.
Plan a Trip
Options for waterfowling in Saskatchewan
Tyler Mann came from eastern Canada years ago to hunt waterfowl in Saskatchewan and never left. Being at the top of the Central Flyway and in an area where many migrant birds find their first agricultural fields, he knew he had found paradise. Mann established the Saskatchewan Goose Company (saskgooseco.com) shortly thereafter. The lodge is first-class and was converted from an automobile service station to four-bedroom, three-bathroom accommodations, with half the space as a kitchen and social area. Its duck, goose and deer mounts leave new clients staring at the walls for hours.
Adventure-seeking waterfowlers can explore options for a DIY trip through Tourism Saskatchewan (tourismsaskatchewan.com). The organization's website is a valuable resource for planning hunting and fishing adventures, and it offers a guide to top experiences, including guided packages.