Saskatchewan Land of Living Skies and Waters
Saskatchewan—The Land of Living Skies and Waters
Watching ducks and geese pile into a mile-long field for over four hours was incomprehensible. Even if tried, there was no way to count the sheer number of birds in the field. A hunt the next day brought wave after wave of birds wanting back to their favorite feeding spot. It was awe-inspiring and one of the reasons Saskatchewan is a "bucket list" destination for most waterfowlers.
That evening, snow geese provided enough action to keep shotgun barrels hot. The following day, we shot limits of big honkers and specks in the morning, and in the evening, we were back on the ducks. If this sounds like a regiment you might enjoy, it is time to plan a trip north.
Saskatchewan is smack dab in the middle of the Central Flyway, bringing in more birds during the fall migration than any other region in Canada. The myriad of lakes and wetlands in the province means a high degree of local production. Saskatchewan is the "breadbasket" of duck production, where the fall migration brings a tremendous number and diversity of birds through the "Heartland Province." The assortment is mindboggling, with dabblers, divers, sandhill cranes, coots, rail, and snipe.
Ducks Unlimited Saskatchewan heralds, "Saskatchewan's hearty bird population is one of the reasons this province is known as the Land of Living Skies. Close to 70 percent of the continent's waterfowl migrate here. It's at the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region, formerly the largest expanse of grassland and pothole wetland complexes in North America. This is the natural hub of waterfowl activity."
Parts of the province boast over 60 breeding pairs per square mile. It equates to a staggering number of ducks joining the fall flight when you do the math. It also means some of the best wing shooting in North America.
What would you like to hunt?
Saskatchewan might be challenging to spell but makes it easy to find options, which can often overwhelm hunters. Pothole mallard shoots can offer insane action and keep a retriever busier than the hunters holding shotguns. Hitting the migration of Arctic geese will leave you hearing nothing but the sound of their constant chatter in your head when you try to sleep at night. Limiting out on sandhill cranes and taking pictures of the next 5,000 that fly over your blind is something you will never forget.
The large wetland complexes and lakes across south and central Saskatchewan have more divers than you've likely ever seen. Canvasbacks, redheads, scaup, common and Barrow's goldeneye stage in numbers that are hard for the average diver aficionado to comprehend. The rivers stage and hold even more diversity. If there is a waterfowl species on your bucket list, you can likely find it in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan offers excellent waterfowl hunting throughout the province, over the wetland, marsh, lake areas, and harvested agricultural fields. Some of the best opportunities for bird hunting are in the southern half of the province, where migratory birds stop along their journey. The wheat, barley, and pea fields are some of the first high protein feed the birds encounter coming out of the north. To say they are excited to feed and stretch their wings is an understatement.
Palliser's Triangle is a fertile belt of soil that runs across western Canada, with the largest portion in Saskatchewan. The productive soil means great agriculture, which attracts and stages incredible numbers of ducks and geese. Waterfowl are abundant in the southern areas, from the United States border to the central portions of the province, where fields yield way to the forest.
The Canadian boreal region is dominated by coniferous forests interspersed with vast wetlands. The boreal forest is the largest intact forest on earth and offers unlimited hunting opportunities for adventure-seeking waterfowlers. This region represents a tract of land over 600 miles wide, with around 1.2 million square miles still mostly undisturbed wilderness.
The boreal landscape in Canada contains more lakes and rivers than any comparably sized landmass on earth. The region is estimated to contain over 1.5 million lakes. It could produce as much as 60 percent of the land birds in Canada and almost 30 percent of all land birds in the United States and Canada combined. Many of the wetlands in the forest area allow public access, and hunters can find everything from mallards and teal to scoters and canvasback.
Within a couple of miles of the agricultural zone, the wetlands always hold more birds. Geese and mallards concentrate on the fringe, as they have roost sites that are seldom disturbed by vehicles, predators, or hunters. Some hunters that target the forest-dwelling ducks and geese may never look for a grain field again.
Fall staging surveys are conducted on critical wetlands to record the migration of canvasback. Where productive beds of sago pondweed are found, canvasback can number in the thousands. The same goes for redhead, scaup, goldeneye, and bufflehead. Locally produced birds from the vast number of wetlands concentrate and stage in unbelievable numbers during migration.
When to head north
Seasons open as early as September 1st each year, and there is plenty of action from day one. The ducks are all in eclipse plumage and are dull and drab in color. It does not take long for most of them to grow new feathers as the temperatures drop below freezing at night. By the end of the first week in October, greenheads become apparent. All duck species are looking good once October rolls around. The "First World Problem" is whether to shoot brown ducks or wait till they color up. Those that cannot decide should do both.
Having full-plumage ducks and geese to shoot is one good way to decide when to plan a trip to Canada, but it is not everything. Starting the season in early September allows hunters to enjoy long days and warmer temperatures. However, always bring layers and warm clothes, as Mother Nature can throw a mean curveball.
Few hunters head to prairie Canada to only shoot ducks, and geese are a big part of most adventures. Specklebellies usually show up for the opening day in early September and build in number till early October. They disappear fast if the weather turns ugly, and it is rare to have them around in number by Halloween. There are some honey holes late in the season in the southwest portions of the province, with outfitters that specialize in specks and ducks.
Snow geese start to show up in early September and build in number right into November. It often astonishes hunters how late the snow geese stick around, providing incredible late-season action. The snow goose enthusiasts target the end of October and early November for the monster shoots that can happen some years. It can be one of the most exciting times of the year.
There are always lots of locally raised Canada geese for the season opener. However, they move on quickly if gunned regularly. A steady flow of migrant honkers and lessers keeps the action hot from early September to December, when winter often has a firm grip on the landscape.
Hunters planning for late-season hunts are often rewarded with an abundance of opportunities. More often though, they could also end up with frostbite and a stiff reminder of why so many hunters over the years plan early-season dates.
Sandhill crane hunting is some of the best in North America. Thousands of cranes migrate from the north and stage across southern Saskatchewan to fatten up before moving farther south. There can be thousands in a single field, and historic wetland roosts can load up with birds to the point that there is no room for others to land. The sandhills show up in early September and offer excellent hunting through mid-October.
Divers roll through staging wetlands in waves and can be hard to predict. The good news is that if one species is not in significant numbers, others will be. There is always plenty of action, and the game can change every week. Canvasback ducks breed across the boreal region and on the cattail rimmed prairie potholes that span the western provinces. The well-dressed ducks stage on extensive wetlands in the fall and migrate in large groups.
Hunting for ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, and other waterfowl opens on September 1st, and the season runs through mid-December. There is also a spring snow goose season. Hunting in Canada is often a dream for waterfowl enthusiasts that live south of the 49th parallel. The biggest problem with visiting the prairie provinces is that once is never enough. In the heart of the Canadian prairies, the province of Saskatchewan is an absolute gem. Hunters flock back for a reason—the diversity and abundance of waterfowl set the standard for the best waterfowl hunting available.
Tourism Saskatchewan has an excellent online resource for planning a trip, finding an outfitter, knowing the rules and regulations, and providing maps for travel. Go to huntfishsask.com to get started.