Duck and Goose Hunting in Manitoba

American waterfowlers have been traveling to Canada's prairie provinces for generations for an early look at the season's ducks and geese. While Alberta and Saskatchewan often received top billing, Manitoba deserves as much of the attention garnered by its neighbors to the west. And there's no better place than the area near the narrows of Lake Manitoba, a little more than a two-hour drive from Winnipeg. I recently had the good fortune of traveling there with several other outdoor industry types for a first shot at some of this season's waterfowl.
We stayed at the Narrows West Lodge. Owner Blair Olafson's first-rate operation comprises a bar and restaurant, general store, marina, several guest rooms and chalets (pictured), campsites for rent and lots for purchase. The folks Blair employs are unfathomably nice and helpful, the food and drink are plentiful and delicious.
We hunted over Final Approach shell and full-body decoys and utilized Final Approach S.U.B. and Pack-and-Go blinds for concealment. It was no easy task keeping a dozen hunters hidden from flock after flock of geese and ducks, but the FA blinds were up to the task.
Mark Olis, of Waterfowl & Retriever magazine, shows how to properly disguise a layout blind with local flora.
The view from my Final Approach S.U.B. blind on our first morning's hunt. It's quite comfortable and the ideal place for a mid-morning nap, when the frequency of the flights slows down, the sun starts to shine, a light breeze begins to blow and zzzzzzz…
Here's what the S.U.B. looks like inside. On the right side is Final Approach's new blind bag, which unfolds and fits nicely between the blind wall and the pad.
John Mullet and John Vaca, both of Final Approach, share a word in between flights.
As Vaca can attest, there's no escaping the paparazzi when you're a world champion goose caller.
A waterfowler's call lanyard is like his resume, and Vaca's is rather impressive.
This decoy was one of the farthest from our blinds, some 50 yards away. It got a little messy out there.
The first morning's take included 37 Canadas and 47 ducks, including mallards, gadwalls, pintails and a woody.
We headed back to camp, at the corner of Walleye Way and Skinny Dip Drive, for breakfast and a bit of rest…
…Before heading back out for an afternoon puddle duck hunt in a nearby field. Due to a ton of rain that had recently fallen in the area, a lot of crops had gone unharvested. That spells bad news for farmers, but good news for hunters traveling light and seeking cover. I was glad to be wearing a pair of LaCrosse Teal waders to keep me dry while lying on the saturated ground all afternoon.
This little puddle of water (known locally as a "pothole." Manitobans have different definitions for bodies of water than I'm used to, apparently) and a handful of dekes were all it took to pull in wave after wave of birds.
Six of us managed to bag 24 ducks before the sun set on our first day in Manitoba.
The next morning found us in a new field…
…With some new targets. In addition to the Canadas, we were lucky to experience some light-goose action on Day 2. Jack Hirt, of Wildfowl magazine, and his dog Sully show off a brace of pretty eagleheads.
Outdoor writer and TV personality Ron Spomer was nice enough to pose with a couple of my birds. Thanks, Ron!
The prize of the trip was this stunning double-banded Ross' snow. Every hunter claimed to have contributed at least one BB to its demise, but Scott Grange of Browning volunteered to take it home and put it on his wall. The rest of us were happy to oblige seeing that he was nice enough to let us shoot his workmanlike guns: Browning Maxuses and Winchester SX3s. Thousands of rounds of Winchester ammunition were fired over three days, with nary a malfunction. We were fortunate to be the first group of hunters to use a new load for Fall of 2011 called Blindside. The pellets are hexagonal and actually stack inside the hull. Let me tell you, it put a hurt on some distant geese. There will be much more to come on this exciting new waterfowl load in the weeks and months ahead.
No trip to The Narrows would be complete without a bit of walleye fishing. Lake Manitoba is some 125 miles long, but the best fishing can be found a stone's throw from the resort's marina, where the current rips under the bridge. Olis boated this eight-pound walleye one afternoon. We caught six others within 2 hours, none weighing less than three pounds.
Day 3 found us setting up the spread in yet another field. Few things can compare to the anticipation you feel when setting decoys out in a strange field before the sun has even thought to show itself.
To no one's surprise, the birds continued to fly on our final morning, and Sully treated us to some awesome retrieves.
The final afternoon took us to another "pothole." The cattle presented some difficulty in getting off shots at the bluewing and greenwing teal that wanted into our little puddle.
But we were able to drop a few of the winged missiles, anyway.
And so wrapped up three unbelievable days of wingshooting in the prairie of Manitoba. The final tally included roughly 100 dark geese, 20 or so light geese and about 85 ducks. The species roster read something like this: spoonbills, greenwing teal, bluewing teal, wood ducks, mallards, gadwalls, pintails, greater Canadas, lesser Canadas, Hutchinson's, Richardson's, Blues, Snows, Eagleheads and Ross' geese. Not too shabby.
I couldn't help but share this last shot of a thumper whitetail, taken locally, hanging over the slop bucket in a store room at the lodge. If you want to visit a place where bucks like this are relegated to a stock room wall, be sure to check out Manitoba's Narrows West Lodge.