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WILTZ: Migrating north to meet the birds


The Daily Republic

Did you see the headlines of the Oct. 30 edition of The Daily Republic? It read, “Deer breaks into apartment.” A whitetail buck actually used his hoof to unlatch the door handle. The story went on to say that the only things missing from the apartment were several boxes of corn flakes and Cheerios. Witnesses described a buck loitering in the area as a four by four, probably 140 pounds in weight, and scoring perhaps a hundred inches on the Boone & Crockett scale. OK, I made up the last two sentences. I hope they produced a chuckle.

This might also have happened in Spearfish. Last weekend, Betsy and I visited some dear — no pun intended — friends in Spearfish. Deer were everywhere, and Saturday night we saw some downtown deer that were walking on the sidewalk.

En route to Spearfish, we took Highway 34 out of Pierre. We observed dead cattle and sheared REA poles in the Union Center area. It was very sobering, and I’m having trouble getting it out of my mind. Returning home on Interstate 90, there were more dead cattle in the Wall area. Let’s all help these ranchers.

Saskatchewan hunt

You’re crouching between some Russian olive shrubs in a Saskatchewan shelter belt. Snow and honker decoys “feed” in the adjacent wheat stubble behind you. Hundreds of geese will pass over as they approach from the east. The wings of the lead geese are set. You tremble in anticipation. Tom and Larry call to the honkers. You feel like you could grab one by the legs. No, you’re not on a $2,000 hunt offered by Canadian outfitters.

Look at the stories found in today’s hunting magazines, and you’ll find writers who take personal pride in “Do It Yourself” hunts. Today’s column will describe a very successful DIY hunt featuring area hunters. Two of the hunters, Mitchell’s Jerry Opbroek and Dave Backlund, are old friends, who gave me today’s story.

The guys hunted waterfowl in South Central Saskatchewan Sept. 20-26. They have been doing it for years, and Dave and Jerry were quick to point out that success, bird behavior and conditions vary from year to year. As an example, Dave mentioned the snow geese were very difficult to decoy on their recent hunt. Other times they display reckless abandon.

Their exits and entrances into Canada have gone smoothly over the years. Canada requires paperwork along with a $25 fee for taking guns into the country, and the guys have had the paperwork ready when they cross the border. Saskatchewan nonresident waterfowl licenses cost $135.

Canada’s waterfowl regulations are similar to ours in that non-toxic shot is required. Dave and Jerry have found that three-inch steel shot deuces work very well. Guns must also be plugged, so only three shots may be fired at a time.

Concerning equipment, the guys brought hundreds of decoys along in a trailer. These included both Canada geese and snow geese deeks, as well as duck decoys. On the ducks, they have found that Robo Ducks, along with some “confidence” decoys, were invaluable. Duck hunters will know what I’m talking about. What the guys didn’t use were ground blinds, and they avoided the use of waders as much as possible.

Much of their shooting was done from tree rows. They also hunted from reeds adjacent to ponds, and Dave and Jerry mentioned sitting on five-gallon buckets. Calling was important at times and obtaining permission to hunt was easy. Jerry felt that most of the locals didn’t do much, if any, hunting.

Our South Dakota nimrods bagged Canada geese, snow geese, including Ross and blues, a few white fronts, Sandhill cranes and assorted ducks, including a wealth of mallards. Dave and Jerry were very excited about whooping cranes coming within 40 yards. The generous Canadian daily bag limits included 20 snow geese, eight Canada geese, eight ducks and five Sandhill cranes. Three daily limits made up a possession limit.

The only way they could continue to shoot every day was to consume the game one way or the other. The breasts of all the birds were filleted. I couldn’t imagine picking all of these birds, and apparently they couldn’t either. They prepared as much fowl as they could eat for supper, and they plan to further their meal preparation ability on future trips through increased creativity and the use of better equipment, including slow cookers. Just think about goose chili and duck tacos.

Fortunately for them, local farm families were willing to take some of the game. I didn’t ask Dave or Jerry about taking birds home, which would require leaving sufficient plumage, but a steady diet of geese, ducks and cranes could get old after five days. Maybe they didn’t want to take birds home.

The nights were spent in local motels. After breakfast in a café, they would hunt until around 11 a.m. and spend the afternoons driving around looking for new places to hunt. I really admire the pioneering spirit of these guys.

I’ll admit right now that I’d like to try this next fall. Getting a group of guys together might not be too difficult, but there are problems we would have to solve. It’s a little late in life for me to be assembling an armada of decoys, but I would be willing to buy a dozen or two if other guys pitched in and did the same. I know that late winter is the time to buy decoys, so planning would have to begin soon.

We might also pay an outfitter for two days, and hunt the remainder of the week on our own. This would be no different than hiring a fishing guide for a day to learn the ropes. It’s certainly something to think about.

See you next week.