Wings Over Hudson Bay

Incredible goose hunting is just one of the attractions in Canada's historic North Country.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

I'm like a little boy on Christmas as our pilot banks the plane below the light clouds, exposing an enormous body of water.

We near the ground and I see flocks of geese everywhere.

The geese are, for the moment, not a priority, so mesmerized am I by the notion that I have finally arrived in this historic northern land.

The body of water is Hudson Bay. Its name, to most, means little or nothing. To a few, it suggests a faraway place that was somehow involved with explorers. To me, it embodies the spirit of adventure, serious adventure. Hudson Bay and the surrounding region were, after all, explored long before Lewis and Clark's great-great-grandfathers were born, and under far greater hazards and hardships.

Our plane lands on a long strip carved out of the bush. After a few bumps and bounces, we're greeted by Charlie Taylor, the manager of Kaskattama Lodge. Gear is unloaded and taken to our sleeping quarters. In the camp's small gift shop I notice a coffee table book titled Hudson's Bay Company. It is filled with photographs and artwork depicting the more than 300-year history of the famous northern company that was largely responsible for opening up the Canadian frontier.

"Gotta have that book," I say to Charlie. "Put it away for me and I'll pick it up later. I've been reading about the company since I was a kid."

As soon as we're settled in our rooms, Charlie gathers us in the lounge area and gives us his standard orientation.

We'll be divided into small groups of two or three hunters and transported out to the hunt areas in an ATV, or, if we wish, we can walk. Each spot has an established blind and a hundred or so decoys already in place. There are no guides; this is entirely a do-it-yourself operation. The helicopter at camp can be rented if a party wants to hunt a distant area that's inaccessible from camp.

As part of the hunt package, each person is entitled to a look at the area from the air, to become familiar with the country. We board the helicopter in groups and are treated to an amazing flight. As we fly along the coast, the pilot shouts, "Look-polar bear!"

Suddenly, I'm all eyes and ears. I've yet to see my first white bear, and I scan intently across the landscape. Then I spot him, backed up against a small knoll and swatting at the air. The pilot maintains a suitable distance so as not to harass the animal, and we quickly leave to survey our hunting area.

After dinner I sit with the other hunters and talk about the upcoming hunt. Dan Gapen will be a part of our threesome, along with Dennis Macsymetz, who works for Manitoba Tourism and arranged the hunt. I've known Dennis for years and always enjoy his company. Dan Gapen will be a special treat to hunt with. He's written many books, most of them about the north, and has explored this country more than anyone I know.

[pagebreak] A New Friend
As we're having a drink and chatting about waterfowl hunting with the other hunters, Charlie enters the lodge with one of the camp employees.

"Could I have a word with you, Jim?" Charlie asks.

I walk over and am introduced to a man who works for Charlie, a Cree Indian in his 40s. He's holding a package and smiling broadly.

"This is Raymond Wavey," says Charlie. "He has something for you."

Raymond and I shake hands, and he extends the package. I open it and see it's the book, Hudson's Bay Company. I don't understand.

I turn to the front page and read, "To Jim Zumbo, I hope this book will give you as much pleasure as your articles have given me. Raymond Wavey, Split Lake, Manitoba."

Having written a good number of hunting stories over a 35-year period, I run into folks who have read my stuff. But to meet a man in this seemingly barren and empty land who has followed my work blows me away. I thank Raymond profusely a promise to send him a set of my books as soon as I get home. Raymond never utters a word but quickly leaves, still smiling.

I settle into a chair and thumb through the book, but I keep returning to the inscription, still amazed. Later I go outside with the other hunters to witness the most dazzling display of northern lights I've ever laid eyes on.

Geese of the North
Don, Dennis and I are scarcely in our blind the next morning when a flock of Ross's geese comes winging in, fast and hard. These white birds, smaller cousins of the more abundant snow geese, are no doubt new arrivals from the north. The geese, about 15 in all, want to join our decoys badly. With cupped wings and feet searching for the ground, the birds are in hovering mode as we rise as one. My 11-87 slides into my shoulder and settles. I find a bird, punch the trigger and watch it fold. I swing on another and note that my partners have struck pay dirt as well. My second shot misses, but the last crumples a goose.

[pagebreak] And so it goes. More Ross's geese come in, mixed with Canadas and even mallards, and we acknowledge their presence by greeting them with loads of steel. The hunting is superb.

As we wait in the blind for our ride back to camp that afternoon, I tell Dan and Dennis that it would be great to have one of the Crees call for us, even for just a day. I'd read about Cree guides calling geese for their hunters, and I'd hoped to experience that.

"Let's ask Charlie," Dan says. "Maybe he can send one of the Crees out with us tomorrow."

"Maybe Raymond Wavey can join us," I say. Everyone likes that idea.

Charlie is totally amenable to our request but tells us that Raymond doesn't call much. He works around camp and runs a trapline the rest of the year, like most of the other Crees.

Charlie talks to Kerest Thomas, another Cree who works at the lodge. Kerest is a veteran caller and is happy to join us for a day. I look forward to this new chapter in my Hudson Bay adventure.

We've just settled into a different blind the next day when birds appear, heading our way. We lower ourselves so our faces are well hidden, and Kerest begins calling. Cupping his mouth with one hand, he produces a shrill reet, reet, reet! noise. He sounds nothing at all like a real goose, but his call works. Does it ever! Dan and Dennis and I work, too, sending many ounces of shot into the Canadian skies, a share of it connecting with Ross's geese.

The action slows, and Dan and Dennis decide to hike to other blinds and explore on their own. Kerest and I relax, and we talk about his lifestyle.

"I come here in winter on snowmobile," Kerest tells me. "Good trapping land, lots of fur."

A big bird appears and sails effortlessly across the sky. I'm about to say "bald eagle," but Kerest beats me to it.

The eagle fades away and we're greeted by the sight of another visitor. I look outside our blind and see a red fox staring at us from just 10 yards away. The fox is fully furred and in prime condition. Kerest sees it too and his eyes shine with excitement.

"I catch him in trap this winter," he says with a grin.

[pagebreak] Outfoxed by a Thief
A trio of geese appear, and Kerest calls them in. I fold one, and the goose drops about 25 yards away. Suddenly I see the fox make a mad dash to the goose. Kerest bursts out of the blind and gives chase, but the fox is fast and grabs the bird. I watch in amusement as the thieving fox and Kerest disappear over a knoll. Five minutes later the Cree appears, minus the goose. Kerest throws his hands up in the air, laughing as hard as I am. "Fox too quick," he says. "He eat good tonight."

The next day we have the option of taking the helicopter to York Factory. Not a factory at all, this historical site, established in 1684, was once the pride of the Hudson's Bay Company. The abandoned, decaying buildings on the coast of Hudson Bay were the company headquarters, the place where the exploration of much of Canada originated. Supply ships from London made their way to York Factory for 250 years, ferrying goods, people and furs between the continents.

Then I learn that there's a scheduling conflict with the flight to York Factory. Previously I asked Raymond Wavey if he'd like to accompany us in the blind, and he is overjoyed. But we can't do both. Dan and Dennis leave it up to me.

So Raymond joins us for a morning hunt-I would not have disappointed him for anything. A visit to York Factory will be part of another trip.

In the blind, I manage to get a few words out of Raymond. The intensely shy Cree tells me about his trapline, his community and other subjects of the North Country. I tell him about Wyoming, rodeos, snowcapped peaks and screaming bull elk. Because of Raymond's love of reading, he knows these things vicariously. Perhaps, he says, someday he will visit America.

I hope so, too. Because I plan to be his guide.udson's Bay Company. The abandoned, decaying buildings on the coast of Hudson Bay were the company headquarters, the place where the exploration of much of Canada originated. Supply ships from London made their way to York Factory for 250 years, ferrying goods, people and furs between the continents.

Then I learn that there's a scheduling conflict with the flight to York Factory. Previously I asked Raymond Wavey if he'd like to accompany us in the blind, and he is overjoyed. But we can't do both. Dan and Dennis leave it up to me.

So Raymond joins us for a morning hunt-I would not have disappointed him for anything. A visit to York Factory will be part of another trip.

In the blind, I manage to get a few words out of Raymond. The intensely shy Cree tells me about his trapline, his community and other subjects of the North Country. I tell him about Wyoming, rodeos, snowcapped peaks and screaming bull elk. Because of Raymond's love of reading, he knows these things vicariously. Perhaps, he says, someday he will visit America.

I hope so, too. Because I plan to be his guide.