A trip to the Duck Factory in Saskatchewan made up my mind: this is among the most special hunts a waterfowl hunter can go on.
It's not really supposed to be this cold, is it? I mean, I'm a long way away from home, but this is something else...
I couldn't help but think about one night prior, when I was walking my dog in the new insulated boots I'd be bringing on the waterfowl hunting trip to Saskatchewan. The temperature outside was still 85 degrees after the sun went down, and my feet were sweating before I'd covered four blocks.
I just didn't really consider how cold it was going to get...
The Duck Factory
When I found out I'd be heading to the portion of Canada that can be referred to as "The Duck Factory," I was understandably amped. What little waterfowl experience I had up to this point would pale in comparison, and I anticipated what hunting at the very beginning of the major North American migration pattern would be like.
I'd gotten familiar with the various Polaris machines I'd driven and tested over the past few years, and wondered what it would be like using them in a different country, with much different terrain than I was comfortable with.
I thought what the duck and goose calling, which I've yet to get down well enough to gain much confidence, would be like with such young, inexperienced birds. I knew Sure-Shot would have plenty to test out, and I couldn't wait to see how they responded.
I eagerly awaited using the new Remington V3 Waterfowl Pro, a shotgun I'd wanted to get my hands on since I heard about its release.
But most importantly, I considered what a hunt in a different country, with one of the best known outfitters in the region and some of the biggest brands in the business, would add to my accomplishment list.
There are some trips you look forward to, and then there are the adventures that you know you'll never forget.
Once I arrived in Canada, the friendliness and hopefulness of my fellow travelers (both the other media members and the hosts) added even more to my already-brimming excitement.
Charlie Holder, the man in charge at Sure-Shot Game Calls, had organized this hunt after several years of success, and felt he had fine tuned the plans to make it fantastic for everyone. He had nothing but positives things to say about the hunting (and learning) opportunities we'd see.
The team from Polaris was ready too, and eager to not only show us what their UTVs could do, but get their own trigger time in themselves. The Remington squad was (obviously) armed and ready, and the whole group of people made it clear early on that we'd be sharing a pretty dang good time together.
And then we met Buddy, owner and operator of Northway Outfitters. He and his army, which we quickly realized was as appropriate as it gets, assured us that if we followed basic protocol, we'd see and shoot more birds than we could imagine.
Last minute preps are underway before we head north to see Buddy Graham and his army @northwayguide for our annual Media...
Northway made their name as a deer hunting outfit, and only recently began offering waterfowl hunts in what was a more-or-less untapped source of habitat and opportunity. While they've been guiding deer hunts since the '70s, it's been just a handful of years since they started showing us Americans what bird hunting is like in their neck of the woods.
Everything was lining up for a real, genuine hunting trip, and I could barely sleep the night before our first trip into the field.
The Cold and the Hunt
I probably should have tried harder to sleep, because the pre-4:00 a.m. alarm came a little quicker than I'd hoped. Nonetheless I was up and ready in mere minutes. The Duck Factory was waiting.
Sub-freezing temps and a frigid, blustery wind greeted us as we loaded up our gear and headed out. The drive through pre-morning darkness went by fast, and we arrived at our spot. Stepping into that cut corn field and watching the Northway crew set out dozens upon dozens of decoys made the chill slightly easier to take, but damn, it was cold.
I mean cold.
And then it started. The snow wasn't heavy, but it was blowing in the wind and giving me a real sense of awareness. This is not like hunting back home.
First light couldn't come soon enough, and while we hunkered down in the blinds waiting, I had that tired old saying pop into my head: "This is what it's all about."
The flurry of ducks and geese that piled right into our decoys minutes later proved it. This is what it's all about, indeed.
Though I can't claim many of the dozen or so fallen ducks and geese from that first morning, I can claim an absolute breathtaking experience. Watching the rest of the hunting party and locking eyes every so often with an "Is this real life?!" look on our faces will be imprinted in my mind.
The shotguns held up perfectly fine in the cold temps, and there was no doubt Remington had put some thought into the features. It's a duck and goose version of the V3, and the oversized controls and the perfect camo made them easy choices for waterfowlers across the continent. But it's like they were made with Canada in mind.
It made the following morning, which was broken up by a dastardly golden eagle (which received some choice phrases of disappointment from Buddy), even better once we relocated around a small farm pond. The flocks of geese that flew over were deafeningly loud, and the ducks cruising above the water didn't stand much of a chance. The six of us covered the area well, and it was another Saskatchewan morning in the books.
We spent that afternoon on a ride through some incredible country aboard the various Polaris side-by-side models the crew brought out for the trip. Though it was still frigid, the scenery, comfortable ride, and wild horses that galloped by made it well worth it.
It got me thinking: if there's a UTV that was built for waterfowl hunting, it was probably the Polaris RANGER. The new RANGER 1000 and XP 1000 have everything a duck or goose hunter would need, and makes for a fantastic recreational vehicle as well.
Sub-freezing temperatures, rugged Canadian backcountry terrain, and all the storage and hauling needs are handled with genuine side-by-side power. Lots of 2020 upgrades have kept the RANGER at the top of its game, and we got to see for ourselves how big of an advantage they really are.
Our ride party took a break on a hilltop, snapped a few photos, and admired a flock of ducks flying high over the prairie.
It would be a sign of things to come on our final hunt of the trip.
A Factory Limit
The end of the trip was approaching, and we would be packing up after one last morning of hunting the Saskatchewan Duck Factory.
I was joined by Charlie and a few other hunters I hadn't had the pleasure of shooting next to, and ended up sharing the single-best morning of duck hunting I've ever witnessed.
The night's cold had frozen the small pond we were planning to hit, so Northway crew strapped on the insulated waders and got to work breaking away enough of a hole to drop a couple dozen decoys. We weren't sure how things would look, but as the sun crept above the horizon, it came together perfectly.
One by one, groups of ducks arrived, and barely any left.
Within about 40 minutes we had a seven-man limit. It was the perfect sendoff for a waterfowler who had yet to experience anything close to the action produced by the Duck Factory.
When I boarded the plane that afternoon, I felt extremely lucky. Not everyone gets to take part in such an incredible hunt, one that's so dynamically different than how it can be hunting the same birds, just thousands of miles away.
A strong supply of gratitude needs to go out to everyone involved in the trip, but in particular Charlie, who's made this adventure his own. I got the feeling he really only shared this sort of thing with people he felt were important enough, and that felt like I was almost getting away with something.
But to hear him talk about his company, his hunting heritage, and the preservation of both, was a blessing.
And to get to share a hunting trip to the Duck Factory with him and the folks from Remington and Polaris was exceptionally special.