Tim Darnell, Jim Darnell and Bill McMillon on a hunt in Saskatchewan.
Photo submitted by Jimmy Darnell
The group shows off their prizes following their hunting trip out to Saskatchewan, Canada, during the first week of Canadian Waterfowl season.
Photo submitted by Jimmy Darnell
A journey to the Great White North
In the last 65 years I have very rarely missed the opening day of the Texas dove season on Sept. 1. It’s a marquee date on my calendar. But this year I had an opportunity to hunt the opening week of the Canadian waterfowl season in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Eight of us planned the hunt. My son, Tim of San Marcos, a friend, Bill McMillon of Gonzales, Bill Jones of San Antonio and his four sons, Robert, Wesley, Tilden and Joshua, made up the hunting party. To be able to hunt with my son was special. But what about Bill Jones hunting with his four boys. Must have been like the sons of Katie Elder.
I had hunted in Saskatchewan twice before during the last five years. On my first trip I met a local hunter named Joshua Allen and his hunting son, Hunter. We harvested just as many geese as ducks as I had the previous year with a professional outfitter. The trip cost us less money. We became good friends with the Allen family. Our recent trip was with an outfit named Quick Load Waterfowl Outfitters. They were not booked for the opening week so Joshua got us a half-price hunt with the agreement that he and Hunter would help guide with no guide fee to be paid by the outfitter.
As we talked to Joshua, Hunter and the outfitter, Barclay Fisher, we got real excited. The area of Saskatchewan that we would be hunting had a record hatch of Canada geese and ducks. Especially ducks.
Joshua said, “I have never seen as many local ducks as this year. The quacks had a bumper crop of little ones.”
Early the next morning we split into two parties. Tim and I, Bill Mc-Millon and Josh Jones made up our party. After building an A-frame blind and setting out big numbers of full-body Canada geese decoys, we crawled into the blind. At first light, scores and scores of mallard ducks swarmed into our geese decoys. Some landed. Others just circled. We didn’t shoot early since we were waiting for those big Canada honkers. I had never seen so many ducks.
Then the geese began to come. Joshua called the first flock that appeared on the horizon. They circled and came right into our decoys. Five shotguns began to blast. Hunter was shooting with us. Geese began to crumble and crash. These were not the smaller, lesser Canada geese. They were big 10-12 pound honkers. We didn’t have a dog to retrieve so Hunter served as our dog. If a cripple fell at a distance, he would run them down like a track star.
Soon, we were shooting ducks (mallards and pintails) and geese.The barrels on our shotguns stayed hot. By 8:30 a.m., we had our limit of 48 (eight birds each) geese and 48 ducks (eight each). What a hunt! Almost a hundred birds! The other party came in a few minutes later with their limits.
We all pitched in and helped breast out the kill. Joshua and some of the guides kept some of the meat to make jerky, some went to the lodge to feed hunters and some went to ministries that feed the poor. Nothing was wasted.
That night the lodge cook, Miriam, fixed a feast of fried duck strips and beef stew. I am not fond of eating ducks or geese, but these were good. But I did eat more beef stew than ducks.
One morning, all eight hunters, plus Hunter, hunted in one big blind. A lodge guide, named Al, helped us with his dog, Chief. Chief was a big, black lab and he was a real pro. It takes a big dog to carry a 12-pound greater Canada back to the blind.
As Joshua, Al and Wesley Jones called group after group of geese and ducks into shooting range, it sounded like World War II.
Hunting with such a group of young bucks really tested my shooting skills. At 82 years of age, my reflexes are not so fast as a 30-year-old. Sometimes a big group of birds would decoy, the guide would call the shot, and we all began to blaze away. I would pick out a goose, put my bead on him and he would fall dead before I could pull the trigger. I would move the Browning to another bird and he would fall. They were just faster than the old man. But I got my share.
On another morning, a lone honker came toward the blind but I couldn’t see him because I was on the other end where the brush was taller. I heard Tim shoot and heard the shot hit the goose. Still, I saw nothing.
Beside me, Bill Mc began to say, “No, no, no.” About that moment, a huge dead honker crashed through the brush into the blind. He hit my ankle about the moment he hit the ground.
All the guys were laughing like crazy. If that bird had hit me in the chest, it would probably have meant a trip to the local hospital.
We hunted five mornings with a total harvest of 560 geese and ducks. All were local birds. No migration that early in the season.
The only drawback about hunting early in the season is the ducks do not have their distinctive colors. The greenhead drake mallards do not have green heads.
It was the hunt of a lifetime. I hope to go back again, but, if not, I saw enough ducks and geese to live in my memories forever.