By Jason Mitchell, Passion for the Hunt TV
I have always been a waterfowl hunter and hunting both ducks and geese was one of my earliest outdoor passions. In my life, I have watched many changes. Canada goose limits rising from one bird a day to several. The water rejuvenating duck numbers in the prairie pothole region of the Central Flyway in North Dakota where I have lived most of my life.
The advent of spinning wing decoys and full body decoys. When I was a child, shooting a single giant Canada goose was a monumental affair. Today there are early season depredation hunts because there are too many geese. We used to sit on firing lines off the Lake Darling Refuge north of Minot, North Dakota and hunt snow geese when the limit was five birds per day.
Back then, ten dozen G&H shells would fit in the bed of the pickup and we felt like we hunted over one of the nicest and biggest snow goose spreads of decoys to be had. Nobody had an enclosed trailer for decoys. We often made snow goose decoys from thin sheets of aluminum discarded from newspaper printing presses. Other hunters crafted snow goose decoys from bleach bottles and white fabric. Those decoys worked back than and would probably still work today on the right day but what a startling difference today where I now have two decoy trailers stuffed with lay out blinds and full-body decoys.
What hasn’t changed is the love… the magic of watching birds commit to decoys. I still watch in awe when snow geese roll over on their backs to lose altitude. I still get excited when ducks and geese finish over decoys. That is what always kept me going. What kept me setting the alarm clock so early and scouting so late. I block out the days where we watched several thousand snow geese feed a few miles away while we never fired shots over a decoy spread that could have just as well been scarecrows. Waterfowl hunting does offer a simple dose of humility. The Hudson Bay would be an opportunity to travel back in time.
I can remember reading about hunting snow geese in the subarctic in magazines like Outdoor Life as a child. Looking at pictures of decoy spreads that consisted of dead geese with necks propped up with small forked willow branches. Tales of Native guides calling in snow geese with their mouths. I always dreamt of such a place but just couldn’t fathom the logistics of such a far-away and exotic place. On the map, the tundra looks like such a distant and impossible part of the world. Map Quest probably wouldn’t work.
In the early fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to make this distant dream a very surreal reality. The logistics had been ironed out by several like-minded hunters before me and I had the opportunity to hunt off the Hudson Bay located in far northern Manitoba with Kaska Goose Lodge. This lodge specializes in snow goose hunting that has a reputation that more resembles a legacy. Tales of hunters who ran out of shells. Stories of polar bears and wild country. Streams full of ocean-run brook trout. The realization that you as a hunter would be the very first man that many of these geese would ever see.
If you have ever woken at 3:00 am to try and get to a field. Setting out over a thousand snow goose decoys only to have birds that would not approach closer than eighty yards… this place called Kaska Goose Lodge is redemption. The logistics were simple. Drive or fly to Winnipeg and then fly to the runway located at Kaska on a chartered airplane. This flight from Winnipeg to Kaska takes about four hours. From the main lodge, you can either take Argo out into the nearby tundra lowlands or take helicopter to more distant and remote locations.
We hunted during the beginning of the season in early September. There were a variety of ducks including mallards, black ducks, widgeon, green wing teal and golden eyes. The locals tell me that the ducks would pull out soon. We also saw both greater and lesser Canada geese, ross geese and of course the snow and blue geese that made this hunt famous. During our hunt, there were several Canada geese, ducks and a few ross geese near the main camp. Hunting near the camp was accomplished by using Argos. We hunted out of the Argos during the first few days of our trip and shot a variety of birds. The weather was tremendous. Gale force winds whipped across the Arctic Ocean. The blowing sand along the beach at low tide looked surreal… resembling what I would envision the surface of the moon to look like. The tidal estuaries and low lands that were located half a mile inland offered some retreat from the wind. Dark gray clouds moved low and fast over our heads. The rain and drizzle were constant. Fortunately, we didn’t have to lay in mud or water. We assembled make shift blinds out of willow branches where we were able to sit in chairs, hunker down and watch the skies for birds.
On the third day, the weather cleared enough and we were able to hunt using the helicopter. A helicopter adds an incredible cool factor when hunting in such a place. There were large numbers of snow geese building up about fifteen miles away. As we followed the coast of the Hudson Bay, the cold white capped water of the Arctic Ocean looked slate grey. The tundra crawled underneath us, a kaleidoscope of yellows, browns and reds. We flew over the top of polar bears and started to see the great flocks of snow geese. As the chopper landed on the tundra and the blades pounded loudly against the ground, we were instructed to run low and away from the machine. Running low off the front of the cab, sand blew hard though the air and the noise was deafening. As we clutched our shotguns, shell bags and a duffle bag of decoys, the helicopter lifted off the ground and we were alone in one of the most remote places I have ever been.
We set out about thirty windsock decoys and a dozen silhouettes. Before we were able to finish building a makeshift blind of willow branches, small flocks of snow geese were already working the spread. Over the course of the day, lesser Canada geese and snow geese worked their way into the spread. The wind was still brisk, and the birds had to work to fly against the wind. Small flocks of geese trickled into the spread often flying ten to twenty feet off the tundra as they locked wings down wind of the decoys. The setting was incredible. This was the top of the migration. The birth of the flyway. The first shots fired. Adult snow geese flew the height of a telephone pole. Birds decoyed like they had never before seen a decoy. In some cases, some of the juvenile birds probably haven’t.
Besides epic waterfowl hunting, we also had the opportunity to fish for the sea-run brook trout that are abundant in the large streams located in the area. There were a couple of really good holes that were within walking distance of our cabin. We saw moose and black bears along the stream. Casting small spinners and spoons, we caught several trout. Brook trout spawn in the fall and move into the streams in great numbers. We caught brook trout that measured between sixteen and twenty-two inches but larger fish are frequently caught by guests of the lodge.
The cabins are comfortable and lush for the logistics of the tundra. The food was exceptional. The Kaska Goose Lodge has a relatively short season that consists of the month of September. This lodge is routinely sold out and has many repeat customers. There is a waiting list for many prime dates. We felt fortunate and blessed to be able to witness such an incredible place.
Kaska Goose Lodge can be found online at www.kaskagoose.com