Waterfowl Hot Spot: Hunting Ducks and Geese in Central British Columbia

American waterfowlers flock to Canada every September and October for a first crack at ducks and geese before the birds wing their way south of the border and wise up to calling and decoy spreads. Traditionally, the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have been the biggest draws for Americans, and with good reason. A constellation of potholes and endless fields of grain tend to draw the attention of migrating waterfowl. But this September, I had the opportunity to hunt geese and ducks in what may be the best-kept secret of Canadian waterfowling: Central British Columbia, specifically the town of Vanderhoof, the geographical center (sorry, centre) of the province. My hunting group comprised eight guys who've hunted birds all over our neighbor to the north, and to a man we agreed that the hunting around Vanderhoof was as good as any we've experienced anywhere in Canada.
The Nechako River Valley provides ample water for roosting, and the surrounding farmland, carved out of the boreal forest, is planted in barley, wheat, and other preferred vittles of the birds.
Vanderhoof isn't the easiest place to get to, but getting there is half the adventure, right? That's what I told myself, anyway, as I sat in the predawn silence of the Delta terminal at LaGaurdia Airport. I scalded my mouth with coffee as I tried to make my brain comprehend that a 12-hour travel day lay ahead of me, with stops in Toronto, Vancouver, and Prince George. Once we landed in Prince George, we drove for an hour and a half west to Vanderhoof. I had imagined it would be a rundown old logging town that time had long since forgotten, but in fact Vanderhoof is a bustling little burgh of about 4,500 people, complete with a Tim Horton's. And, honestly, what's a Canadian waterfowl hunt without a 4:00 a.m. stop at Tim's for coffee and a cruller? (Photo courtesy Patrick Cone, Browning)
Our guide was Chad Westbrook. Chad was born and raised in Colorado, which is where he met his wife, a native Vanderhoofer (Vanderhoofian?). Having grown tired of working a desk job in his town's Parks and Recreation department, he talked Ginger into returning to her hometown seven years ago, and together they've been running Wing and Trout Outfitters for the past half decade. Chad took over the guide service from another outfitter and now has exclusive rights to hunt the great majority of the farmland surrounding Vanderhoof.
For our first morning's hunt we split up, with half of our group going with Chad's buddy Greg Blackburn, whose family has lived in the area for five generations. My foursome went with Chad, and we were setting up decoys in a cut barley field just outside of town well before the sun even thought of showing itself.
But it wasn't long until the birds started flying, and once they did they seemed to fill the sky. For the first hour of shooting light, most of the conversation went like this: "Four geese on the deck, coming in from the left." "Well, there are six more coming straight at us over the treeline." "Nevermind that, a huge flock is cupping up out of the east!" Talk about sensory overload. After 50 minutes, we'd dropped 29 of our 40-goose limit. We spent the next hour or so shooting ducks--mostly mallards, with the occasional wigeon and pintail in the mix--and then switched back to targeting geese. It's a good day when you can say, "Forget the geese, they'll keep flying. Let's shoot some of these ducks instead." When all was said and done, we had 38 geese and 24 ducks on the ground.
It was all Chad's black Lab Jake could do to keep up.
We were shooting Winchester's Blind Side ammo, which has won over many waterfowlers in the year since its release. Blind Side's unique hex-shaped pellets stack neatly in the hull and allow for greater payloads than their competitors' shells of the same shot size (we were shooting BBs and 1s at honkers, 5s at the quackers), and the Diamond Cut wad holds the pattern together farther downrange than standard wads. We were crumpling birds out past 50 yards with regularity.
If you look closely, you can see the wad whistling past this earthbound duck (above and to the right of it).
Some of the guys were shooting Browning's Maxus and Winchester's SX3 shotguns, but I opted for Browning's reimagined classic--the A5. When hunting out of a groundblind, it's paramount to have a gun that comes to bear in an instant (especially when hunting with a bunch of trigger happy souls, as I was) and I found the A5, with its familiar "humpback," found its way to my cheek without much effort at all. I shot guns with both 26- and 28-inch barrels, and, not surprisingly, found the 26-incher to be the faster gun on the decoy-committed birds. If you do more pass shooting than decoying, the smooth-swinging 28-inch barrel might be the better choice. (Photo courtesy Patrick Cone, Browning)
The morning of day two found us in a tilled alfalfa field. Without much cover to hide the blinds, we had to dig holes in the ground in which to bury our layouts. To my knowledge, no one happened by and thought we were a bunch of lunatics digging shallow graves, but no one would have blamed them if they did. (Photo courtesy Patrick Cone, Browning)
Our entire group was hunting together on the second morning, so in the interest of making sure everyone got ample shooting, we counted off down the line and split into "evens" and "odds" teams. A benefit of this arrangement was it allowed me to get photographs like this when it wasn't my turn to shoot.
The smile on the face of Browning's Scott Grange suggests he connected with at least one of those falling geese in the previous photo. As he was sitting to my left, I have to assume that spent shell was his, too.
Once again, we gave Jake quite the workout. Here he catches his breath in between retrieves.
Not bad for a morning's work.
We were done hunting around 10:00 each morning, which gave us time to pack up and get back to the comfortable North Country Inn, where we were staying, for a huge breakfast (if you go, try the schnitzel and eggs). Afternoons were spent watching football, calling coyotes, or fishing for feisty, chunky rainbows in nearby Tachick Lake.
Day three found us in a cut hayfield, and once again our entire group was hunting together. It's no easy task to hide 10 layout blinds in a cut hayfield, which meant thoroughly stubbling our blinds was critical. By the way, the duds I'm wearing in this photo are from Browning's new Dirty Bird line. They're warm, waterproof, and comfortable, but most importantly they allow for great freedom of movement. I was especially impressed with the bibs and the parka. (Photo courtesy Patrick Cone, Browning)
We didn't shoot a single duck on day two, but we more than made up for that on day three. Mallards and pintails were landing in our spread and walking in between our blinds 10 minutes before legal shooting light. (Photo courtesy Patrick Cone, Browning)
This and the next two photos comprise the standard operating procedure for most of the morning. Flag 'em…
…"Take 'em!"…
…and cut 'em.
Chad's other Lab, Mojo, couldn't bear to witness the carnage.
Speaking of Mojo, once we'd claimed our limit of ducks, we had to take down the spinning-wing decoy, lest dozens more birds continued to dump into our laps.
We didn't fill our goose limit on day three, but we were good with that. All told, our group shot more than 260 birds over the three days. And, besides, we felt obligated to let a few get south of the border.

Central British Columbia just may be the next hot Canadian waterfowl destination. See photos from Senior Editor John Taranto's hunt there last month.