By Kent Danjanovich
I’ll have to admit – I really love the outdoors. Whether it’s grabbin’ my golf clubs and heading to my local course, packing my fly rod for a trip to Alaska or breaking a few clays with my trusty Browning shotguns in preparation for fall bird hunts, I just can’t get enough of it.
During an average year, I spend about 150 days at sports shows, on the water or in the field. Once we find a good outfitter, we do everything we can to make sure they are happy with us and likewise, we are happy with them. As a result, we have been able to build a great network of hunting and fishing outfitters and lodges throughout the United States and from around the world for our Platinum Approved family.
With the addition of our ever popular, Pro Membership Sweepstakes, we have taken upon ourselves even more work, as myself, my business partner, Mike Deming or one of our cameramen or Pro-Staffers accompany the lucky winners on just about every trip we give away. This may sound like a sportsman’s dream job (and I’m not complaining), but to say we get a little road weary at times is an understatement. But you know what – I truly love it!
This past spring, I had the pleasure of accompanying Eric Heath and his brother, Dave, on a snow goose hunt in Saskatchewan with Duck Creek Outfitters. Now in this case, the actual winner of the trip was not able to do the hunt, so he gave us a call to see if we could fill the spot for him. Mike and I made a couple of calls and we were able to negotiate a good price for both the seller and the buyer of the trip (yes, the trips are transferable) and the plans were made for April 24-28.
Now as many of you know, although the U.S. had a pretty mild winter in 2017-2018, Canada was hit pretty hard, especially with cold temperatures and as our dates quickly approached, it was obvious that we were in trouble. A call to Sykes Mitchell, owner of Duck Creek Outfitters, just outside of Kelvington, Saskatchewan, unfortunately reinforced my fears – two feet of snow on the ground and four feet of ice on the lakes of the area. Sykes said, “You may be able to come up and shoot a couple of birds on the last day or two, but if I were you, I would push back to about the 13th of May. I will make space for you there and I guarantee you will be happy with the move.” I was a little apprehensive with pushing back our dates that far, as I had experienced the hunting in that area before and knew that on a normal year the birds would just about be out of the area on their way to the tundra to the north.
Our new dates would be May 14-18 (avoiding Mother’s Day on the 13th, satisfying our better halves). Airline tickets were quickly exchanged as our plans were finalized. Eric and Dave called me almost every day to see what news I had heard from the lodge about the migration. Sykes kept me up-to-date on everything and was able to keep our anticipation for the trip definitely on a high note!
We arrived about noon in Saskatoon, picked up our rental car, then made a quick stop at the local sporting goods store for our licenses before heading to the lodge. Along the way, Eric and Dave could be seen, like kids in a candy shop, scanning the skies and fields for geese. I can’t tell you how many times they uttered, “There’s another flock”!
As we pulled off of the main road and headed up a dirt road for the last eight miles to the lodge, snows could be seen on the horizon in many of the fields. It was almost sad to inform my hunters that they would have to wait until the next morning for our hunt to begin. We soon pulled up to the lodge and quickly unloaded our gear as the staff led us to our rooms and informed us that Sykes and the guides were out with other hunters as well as scouting for our hunt the next morning. About 7:30pm, we all made our way to the dinner table for a great meal as we mingled with the other guests and met our guides. Plans were made for us to be up and at ‘em by 2:45am, as we would have about a 45-minute drive to our scouted field for our morning hunt, with sunrise at 4:45am.
It was obvious that Eric and Dave were not morning guys as they stumbled their way to the changing room and donned their camo and boots. Guns, ammo and cameras were then quickly loaded into the awaiting vehicles, with trailers full of decoys and gear in tow.
Our first morning would be a blue-bird day, with clear skies as far as the eye could see, not always the best conditions when hunting geese. The wind was coming out of the northeast, so our guides instructed us to start helping them set up the decoy spread to welcome the birds from that direction. As we finished putting out the last of the decoys, the first group of the morning could be heard squawking above us as they started their circling decent. We quickly disappeared into our A-frame blind, adjacent to a small water hole and loaded up with Browning BXD BB’s and #2’s.
Hunter, our guide this morning, made the call and we sprang from our seats with guns a blazing. A half-dozen snow geese crumpled from the sky and our day had officially begun. Unfortunately, the wind shifted suddenly, throwing off our whole setup, so as the birds continued to hover around us, we scurried in every direction to turn the spread around to accommodate the landing zone for our incoming prey.
The sun was now in our faces, making filming tough, but it didn’t deter our shooters. By 9:30am, 145 birds were piled around our blind as our morning came to an end. The three of us, plus a group of five from Florida had done a pretty good job on our first day. It was then back to the lodge for brunch and an afternoon of catching up on a little sleep and horseshoes.
Our second morning would find us setting up on a field only about 15-minutes from the lodge. It would be Eric, Dave and I this time pairing up with guide, Mikal Gowins. With a large marsh as our backdrop, we would be in layout blinds along its edge and the best we could do with the wind direction was to have the birds coming in from our left to right into our decoy spread. Again, it didn’t take long for the first birds to start coming in from the water to feed in our stubble field.
With the sun perfect for filming, I got set up with my Panasonic and hunkered down into my coffin as the first group set their sights on our decoy spread. The electronic callers cackled all around us as I captured Eric and Dave springing from their blinds as they crumpled bird after bird. Mikal could be heard all morning yelling, “Take ‘em”, followed quickly by, “Good shooting guys”! As we approached our 60-bird limit for the day, I put down my camera and loaded up my Winchester SX4 and contributed to our limit as well. After the group posed for some great photos, we quickly loaded the decoys, blinds, birds and gear into the trailer and headed back to the lodge.
Our final morning found us joined by a couple of friends of Sykes’ from the area as we set up along a small stand of trees as our backdrop. About a hundred decoys were positioned in front of us and we were set. Seemingly on que as we staked the last of the decoys, the first group started barrel-rolling from our right. With rain coming down pretty steadily on the morning, I would get to do a little more shooting on this day. Wave after wave of birds descended on us for the next 45-minutes. Yes, I say the next forty-five minutes because that is all the time it took us to fill our 100-bird limit for the day! To say the shooting was fast and furious would be an understatement. What a fitting ending to a great trip to “The Goose Capitol of Saskatchewan”!
The Pro Member Sweepstakes had provided another great opportunity for two avid hunters from a little south of the Canadian border to partake of an extraordinary outdoor experience. Believe me, Eric and Dave Heath had the time of their lives and will not soon forget their spring snow goose hunt with Duck Creek Outfitters in central Saskatchewan. We found our accommodations perfect, the home cooked meals scrumptious and the hunting superb. We will again be offering this great adventure for the spring of 2020 for a lucky winner and their guest, so if you aren’t a member yet, you had better get signed up if you want to have a chance of joining me on this great adventure. And if you are looking for a great waterfowl hunt in the meantime, give Sykes Mitchell and his staff a call today at 541-771-4975 and check them out on the web at www.duckcreekoutfitters.com. Sykes has operations in both Saskatchewan and Oregon, with both offering goose and duck hunts in the fall and spring snow goose hunts in Saskatchewan in April and May.