Of Gumbo by Justin Harrison

Thanks to Justin Harrison, locally-renowned retriever trainer, duck and turkey call maker, outdoor photographer, tale teller, reformed beer maker, aspiring taxidermist, consumate barbeque sauce manufacturer, true hunter and friend for allowing us to reprint this at GetDucks.com .  We look forward to his future contributions here and to front-of-the-line placement at his inevitable book signings.   And you can bet we'll not miss any upcoming cookings.  View Justin's traditional artworks at his web page, http://www.8gaugestudios.com/

There have been numerous influences in my life, but very few have been as strong as the little no named duck club which sat under the pin oaks on the banks of the Ouachita River.  So strong in fact that if the wind blows right, I can shut my eyes and see the characters that made that place so special.  Invariably, you notice Jim, "self-proclaimed" best friend of my father.  Yep, there'd Jim be, or as us kids called him "Cajun", fussin over the roux.  He used one cup of flour and ¾ cup of oil, that according to Jim, was "de' perfectest combonasheeon".

2008 Manitoba Hunt Report

There's something about being in Canada during September or October that keeps calling me back for more; that keeps whispering to my subconciousness throughout the year and reminding me of crisp autumn mornings, freshly swathed barley fields, of weathered leaves yellowing by the day.   It's probably those giant, migrator Canadas locking their wings from several hundred yards downwind and sailing majestically into the spread, seemingly suspended, pinned to the blue sky like posters when they've finally finished right above the layout blinds, just hanging there.  If not, then certainly it's the flocks of mallards and pintails that fly off of the small ponds at daylight and swarm the decoys like bees around a hive, or the flocks of snow geese that seem to have seen neither hunter nor decoy before and fly low over the decoys, or land among them.

Manitoba's name is derived of the Algonquian word manitou, meaning spirit.    And I had to wonder: was Louis Riel, founder of the Manitoba Province, and leader of the Metis people of the Canadian prairies, a goose hunter?  Maybe not, but it seems perfectly logical to me that abundant waterfowl had something to do with the name choice.   Manitoba goose hunting does wonder for my spirits.

We arrived for the non-resident Manitoba waterfowl opener, which is always a Monday.  There were plenty of birds to be seen, but the unseasonably warm weather (lows in the 4os and highs in the 60s) combined with ongoing agricultural harvests had the Canada geese, in particular, still widely dispersed in smaller family groups.  Snows and lesser Canadas had begun to make a small showing.  Ducks were plentiful.  Feeding patterns were casual; it'd take some much colder weather to make the birds frantically pour into the fields all day long, and it took good scouting, well-devised game plans and solid shooting to consistently put away birds.

The first morning began with light rainfallwhile putting out decoys in a freshly-swathed barley field.   The farmer had requested hunters to keep the birds off of his livelihood until it the swaths had dried sufficiently to combine.   Within minutes of shooting time, a flurry of ducks bombarded us and we even managed to kill a few.  And then it ended as quickly as it had started.  After 20 or 30 minutes, with no ducks or geese whatsover, a sort of quietness fell over the decoys.

The outfitter broke the silence with a reassurance that the warm weather and clouds had the birds sleeping in and not to worry, that they'd show up. And show up they did!  At precisely 7:35 a.m.

It was like an alarm clock had gone off.  By mid-morning, six limits of ducks were piled behind our respective blinds, and nearly as many greater and lesser Canadas.   We spent the remainder of the day picking birds and preparing jalapeno-cream cheese duck poppers to precede our Canadian dinner fare.

The second morning's weather was similar to the first except that it rained throughout the morning.  During intervals of light wind, the mosquitos took refuge in our layout blinds.  Not that it mattered much: our attentions were on the near-constant flow of snow geese, grays and ducks that trafficked into the spread of 600 silo-socks and kites.  At almost any given time, flocks of geese were working and we shot ducks only when it wasn't likely to spook incoming geese.  the things you see when you're not looking at ducks over a pointed gun barrel: ducks almost knocking your neighbors at off, ducks hovering over the foot of your blind like moths around a dim light, or walking among the decoys.  By the hunt ended we had a nice pile of snows, lesser Canadas and mallards.

The afternoon hunt proved futile with temperatures hovering in the 70s and little wind, but the few ducks that did it, did it big time.  By the time it was dark, we had returned to camp, showered, mixed drinks and finished grilling cayenne-orange-maple duck breasts to share with our growing crowd of friends at the local watering hole. Nearly 70 people showed up for the gathering at the local establishment that night.  In a town of about 250 residents, that's a pretty good showing.  Someone said the next day that 3 bottles of Jagermeister had been depleted.  In addition to beer and other assorted inebriates.  The bar-owner waved off our tab the next day saying only that it was a helluva night, eh, and you boys are welcome back here sooner than later!

You know the week's hunting has been good, and maybe the preceding night a tad too long, when a hunter sleeps in and says he's shot plenty until next year!  So we were a hunter short when we arrived to a clean barley field on the third morning.  Gone were the clouds and rain.  There was a chill in the air.  And a west wind.   For an hour and a half, geese would fly from their roost, over the decoys, turn abruptly and come in with wings cupped and paddles down.  It ended right about the time the sun popped up full over the horizon, perfect timing for our departure to Winnipeg to drop these boys off and pick up new arrivals.

The sun and cooler temps stayed for the remainder of the week.  I greatly enjoyed again seeing the spectacle of Canadian dryfield duck and goose hunting through the eyes of newly-arrived clients.   At this point, I enjoy the people side of it way more than the trigger puling.  The fourth morning was clear again and much cooler.

With very little wind to work with, we placed a small, loose spread of full-body duck and goose decoys with plenty of forward-facing access from almost any direction.  It worked like a charm.  Ducks and geese decoyed perfectly from right, left, forward and rear positions, and everyone had plenty of gunning.  It was over way too soon, but everyone was still grinning ear to ear.

At some point during almost everyone's hunting career comes the realization that ducks and duck hunting the entire world over are just that: ducks and duck hunting.  No guarantees.  Weather, scouting, game plan, luck and ability all factor in to it.  Some days are hunting, and some days are nothing short of spectacular.

Our fifth morning fell well into the latter part of that assesment. It was a few minutes past shooting time before we finished stubbling in the layout blinds and perfectly arranging the spread into position.  For the first time during the week, the wind was howling.  And for the first time during the week, we were glad we'd packed heavy clothes.  It was close to freezing.  We'd no sooner settled into or blinds than someone said geese to the left.  It was game on. The first play consisted of 4 greaters that stayed.  No sooner had Delta brought back 2 than another flock was on the deck.  A few more stayed belly up.

The field had been watched for nearly a week and had started building abruptly when the front started moving in.  From the adjacent slough about a half-mile east, a flock of greaters emerged and started our way.  They turned about 300 yards downwind and started our way.  I counted 9 in all.  They set their wings at about 100 yards, seemed to take forever forthem to sail that distance.  The arrived into the decoys slightly right to left and five, maybe 7 yards off the ground.  All 9 stayed for good.

From up in the stratosphere, a small groups of black dots grew larger.  As they came into focused vision, they materialized as a flock of freshly-arrived lessers.  They cupped the entire way into the decoys, and most hit the ground after the shot was fired.  A quick count was determined, and the father son team from Florida concluded the morning's limit.  The sun was perfectly horizontal when we each hoisted our geese for the photograph. That afternoon found us situated in a narrow finger of swathed barley field that was bordered on three sides by a slough.  The perfect making for an eventful afternoon duck hunt.

The ducks worked beautifully that afternoon.  Everyone got plenty of shooting individually and as a group.  The mallards and pintails arrived in pairs and groups of up to about 1 dozen.   It was leisurely enough that we enjoyed watching each other pick off singles and pairs.  But again, as always, it ended way too quickly.

The final morning was calm and clear.  So calm in fact that after a dozen ducks and as many Canadas,  that had all decoyed beautifully during the first half hour, we abandoned the field spread and retreated to a slough about a quarter-mile north where the ducks had been pouring in all morning.

Having flushed two or three thousand birds when we arrived, we separated into two groups, quickly finished our limit of ducks and picked up 4 more honkers.  It was a perfectly relaxed ending to another stellar Canada hunting trip.  Guests hunting during the week ranged from first-timers to Canada, to experienced clients that had hunted other Canadian provinces, Argentina and Uruguay.  They unanimously agreed that it had been thoroughly enjoyable, had exceeded their expectations, and, too rare these days, provided alot of sugar for their hard-earned dimes.  By the time I had arrived home the next day,  two weeks were already reserved on next year's calendar.  It's that good.

Manitoba Canada Duck and Goose Hunting

Ramsey Russell's GetDucks.com