Chasing snows | This story so far started with me posting a Facebook status about wildfowling/waterfowling in Newfoundland & Labrador, whilst I was contracting in Afghanistan. Which lead to me getting in contact with John Clements of Delta Waterfowl. Then I find myself in Ontario with my Dad, sitting in the back of a truck heading to Quebec to shoot snow geese.
The weather was good for a drive. No rain forecast and we ate up the road. To my right for a good 4 hours was Lake Ontario. The size of that expanse of water is phenomenal. As a guy from the UK. We just don’t have inland water like it. Dad and I talked about all the different types of fish that must be in there and how great it would be to get a boat and see what we could get. Maybe another time. We stopped for coffee, at Tim Hortons of course in a service station that was very different to what I’m accustomed. I don’t think I’d be able to describe it. It was just different. The coffee was good and John had arranged to meet up with a friend of his Barry.
I would have liked to have spend a bit more time with him as I’m sure he has some great stories. After John had taken receipt of what he needed to from Barry, filled up with fuel, we were Montreal bound. Driving through there was surreal, as ignorant as this may sound. It was super European “esque”.
” I mean, the French did settle there so it makes complete sense. But it wasn’t what I expected it to be. Parisienne style buildings almost EuroAmerican if that makes any sense ”
Buildings with fauna growing up them and small yard type garden. In the background a huge cathedral. Ontario and Quebec although neighbors, are very different. The country was big. My Dad napped but I looked in every field. Again, just as in Ontario I saw deer and turkeys. We drove past rivers and streams that looked heavenly to fish with duck sitting in the margins. Geese flew over us, on their way to feed or drink. It was a feast for the newcomers eyes. North America is full of vast array of wildlife and its incredible to see.
Montréal to Lac St-Jean
Once through the traffic of Montreal we were on the home straight. A quick 5 hours north and we’d be where we need to be. We stopped again for fuel, refreshment stop and a leg stretch. I could see that my Dad was struggling. As Brits sitting in a car that long isn’t something we’re accustomed to. But to North Americans anything under 5 hours is “around the corner”. By the end of that day we had driven the equivalent of London to Krakow. And boy did our backsides know about it. John never complained once and even though I offered was more than happy to drive.
As we entered rural Quebec the landscape became littered with woodland, forests, blueberry fields, rivers, streams, lakes. Amongst all of this were small pods of homes. Mostly agricultural settlements but small villages and towns too. I wondered what it must be like there during the depths of winter. I should imagine incredibly tough. Then over the crest of hill. We saw it.
The Lac St-Jean. Lac being lake in French. It wasn’t a lake. It was an inland sea. And looking out onto it as we drove past. White rafts. Rafts of snow geese. I felt myself getting giddy. Like a kid before Christmas. We skirted the edge of the lake all the way to where we stayed in a small town. The town had everything we needed. A coffee shop, Walmart, petrol station and our accommodation wasn’t 10 minutes down the road.
The journey ended with us pulling up outside of a small cottage at the edge of one of the inlets to the lake. It was perfect. Quiet, out the way, a place to shower and sleep. It even had a BBQ pit and fire pit at the back. We unloaded and everyone dispersed to their respective rooms. Dad and I had ended up with a room with bunks. But it was great. I could hardly complain. John explained that we were meeting the rest of the guys at their place in town along with Max for some food and introductions. We freshened up and headed off back into St Felicien.
The night before
In one house there were guys from Hamilton, Guelph, Cape Bretton, Central Newfoundland, the UK, Sydney, Yarmouth and Quebec. 5 Provinces and 2 countries. We all clicked immediately. Our shared passion for conservation, education and hunting brought us all together. It was magnificent. We all introduced ourselves and ate good. The professional fishermen had brought spoils from their harvest in the year. And boy was it good. The hunters from Newfoundland had brought moose. There was jerky made from goose. Homemade beets and pickles.
” We ate and talked and ate and talked. It was nice to dispel the myth that we don’t have anything to hunt or aren’t allowed to hunt in the UK ”
I explained about our 6 species of deer, as well as the feral goats we have. That our seasons were long. Ducks and geese running from September to mid February. Our game season from October to the beginning of February. How there were no such things as tags, no daily bag limits. I heard about the benefits of tags and bag limits. About access to public land and how easy it was to get out and live your passion. The night was perfect. Max announced he was departing and instructed us that we needed to meet at the petrol station at 4am. We had a lot of decoys to set and needed to be ready for shooting light.
The morning had arrived. The kind of morning that Dad and I had been talking about for the past 7 months. The morning I had been dreaming about for years. I was going to hunt geese with my Dad, in Canada. We got dressed, brushed our teeth and made sure we had guns, ammo, torches and most importantly our signed provincial and federal hunting licenses. At the Petrol station Max instructed us where we were going and who was hunting with him and who was with Dominique. We were with Max. We arrived at a stubble field which was covered in goose scat and feathers. This was obviously a good sign. Max instructed us that we needed to get the spread set up as quick as possible, get the a-frame hides built and e caller in place.
First light was when the birds moved. These were all adults and knew what they wanted and where they wanted to be. From what I’d read and seen. Adults were the trickiest to convince to commit. We set upwards of 300 snow goose full bodied decoys to our front. 60 to 80 full bodied Canada decoys to our back in small family groups. The Canadas don’t feed with the snows as they are aggressive and push them out of the way. Snows always want to land at the front of the feed to get the best opportunity to eat the spilt grain. The front of that feed was 20 yards in front of the hide. That was our kill hole.
Max announced it was shooting light. The birds were already on the move and we could hear them. The e-caller rang out a variety of calls from hails to feed. We saw the first group make a b-line to our spread. I couldn’t believe the sheer number of birds there were in the sky. The thing about snows is.
” They don’t decoy like pinks or Canadas. They spiral down from a great height and are constantly on the look out for something that isn’t right. Tie this is with the thousands of pairs of eyes there are looking at you and you can see why adult snows are incredibly tough to decoy ”
Max warned us to keep our mouths shut to stop the birds. You can imagine what we were preventing from going in our mouths. And told us to wait until he gave the call. He wanted birds in the decoys so that other birds would commit.
My heart was pounding. I was physically shaking. It was that feeling the first time you set your crosshairs on a deer’s vitals. I didn’t want to look up. The birds were close and I could hear the buzz of their wings as they swooped down behind us to land head on into the feed. Max called it. As I stood up I picked a bird. The gun slipped into my shoulder and the safety came off. It felt like everything slowed down. I knew shots were going off to my right and left. But I couldn’t hear them. As I was about to squeeze the trigger. My birds folded. It is at this moment you have to compose yourself. I did not. Then I rushed onto another bird, didn’t follow through and missed with all 3. I was gutted.
” There were birds on the ground. But not one to my name. I turned to my Dad who had an enormous smile on his face. He had dropped two”
I didn’t have time to feel down on myself. There were more birds behind. Max sent his dog to pick up birds that had fell farther out and he ran to collect the birds closer in. He told us to reload, put our safety’s on and wait for his call again. It didn’t feel like 2 minutes passed and he was saying “ok guys, on this pass we’ll take them”. This time is stood up with purpose. Pulled up on my first bird and dropped it. It hadn’t hit the floor before I’d moved on to another missed with the second and connected with the third. How does anyone miss a goose at 25 yards, with a shotgun. I’d love to tell you. But I can’t. This was goose fever at its finest and we were being given one hell of a show.
the Control “chaos”
Skein after skein poured in to the decoys. We weren’t getting a chance to reload before the birds were into the decoys again. This was what I’d envisaged when I came to Canada to hunt geese. This was the action I’d dreamt off. Before we knew it I was 3 boxes of cartridges in and there were 70 something birds on the ground between our group.
The geese had slowed right down but we persisted and were gifted with another 2 skeins which brought the total to 82. The last shot of the day was given to me. John said “lets give James the last shot, if he misses this its anyone’s”. A lone snow came into the decoys and landed from left to right. I pulled up on it and blanked it out and watched it fold. When I picked it. Max told me that was a lovely mature bird and I should consider getting it mounted. That’s exactly what I decided to do. John agreed to take it to a friend of his back in PEI and have it done. I still haven’t got it yet. But fingers crossed ill see it again this September.
End of the hunt
Max called an end to the morning. The morning feed had dried up and we had a lot of birds to pick up, decoys to pack away and gear to lug back to the trucks. We had our pictures taken and joked about the birds we missed. Dad and I spoke amongst ourselves and couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. That was something we both agreed we’d never experience. The weather was warm so we needed to get the birds in cover as soon as possible to stop the being blown by flies. We had a lot of work that afternoon. Skinning, plucking and breasting. But I was looking forward to it. The other group had had just as much luck as us. They’d had some Canadas decoy too and a couple of bands. I couldn’t wait to hear their stories.
On the way back to the truck dad and I were silent. We didn’t say a word. We didn’t need to. Dad looked over to me with a smile on his face. “Son, we’ve got another 2 days of this to come”
Chasing Snows in Quebec – Written by James Owne – Passionate Conservationist
An outdoorsman and UK Military Veteran hailing from the North West of England wishing to share my experiences and stories with like minded individuals. – Amateur Chef – Photographer – Writer – Videographer –
More information about hunting snows with La Cache Outfitters