It was a gorgeous fall day, the grain fields shimmering in a warm September sun, the leaves just starting to turn colour. Friend John Toone and I were heading west to the Parkland region of Manitoba. We had been invited by owner Paul Conchatre to visit Birdtail Waterfowl the third week of September. Both John and I had been hunting with Paul two years previous for sandhill crane. This time we were targeting the abundant ducks and geese that roam the Parkland region of Manitoba.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
It really is incredible the number and variety of birds that enjoy the myriad of potholes and small lakes that exist in this beautiful rolling countryside. I can remember spending time every fall in this pothole country with my dad. These memories will never disappear.
As we arrived at the Birdtail headquarters, located southwest of Riding Mountain National Park, the lodge was abuzz with activity. It was the first week of the fall hunting season and the operation was fully booked with hunters from across Canada.
We quickly stored our gear in one of the six cabins that Paul has built on site. These are all designed for efficiency and comfort, a critical attention to detail after a long day in the field or marsh. During your stay all the meals are provided in the main lodge building, with a chef that aims to please! His sandhill crane dish was outstanding, cooked medium rare as it should be, melt in your mouth good.
The next morning, we got to visit the most important building on the property. The Change House is centered between the lodge and the cabins, acting as a staging area for guests and guides before and after the hunt. All the camouflage, guns, shells and blind bags are stored in this building to dry out. On a rainy day it gives a whole other meaning for mud room and how important it really is. It also allows the cabin we are staying in to stay clean.
During the two days at Birdtail, we had tremendous field shoots for both ducks and geese with help from the expert guides that Conchatre hires.
MEETING UP WITH AN OLD FRIEND
I also ran into old friend Duane Whyte. “Whytey” as his friends call him, taught biology at the high school in Swan River until recent retirement. During his career, he became a legendary basketball coach, which is where I first meet him. I was refereeing basketball and had been assigned to the Provincial Championships. These were being hosted by Duane at the Swan Valley Regional High School. From there are friendship grew and I usually spend at least one day a year on the water with him.
He and partner Michael Liepsic hunted with us on Day Two, during which time I got an opportunity to see Michael’s yellow Labrador Caesar in action. This dog was a pure marvel, retrieving birds we would have never found in long grass and over hill and dale. That alone made the trip.
Caesar comes from a long line of hunting dogs and he certainly lived up to his heritage.
On Day One, we hunted on the edge of field that held numbers of ducks and geese. We had set up a field blind of straw and other available cover including marsh grass. I was on the north end of the blind with John beside me and two hunters from Toronto on the other end. As luck would have it, all the first flocks of birds came in my way. After going 0-7 to start the trip off, I decided to let those birds pass, so everyone else had first crack at them. That turned out to be good karma, as we all left happy that morning.
With my poor shooting I knew I was very rusty! I was so rusty you could hear the creaking. At lunch, I tracked down guide Andrew MacKenzie and got him to set me up at skeet range. Yes, Paul has thought of everything. While I certainly didn’t distinguish myself there either, it sure helped me get back into the swing of shooting at something on the move. After that, I at least held my own the rest of the way.
On the second morning, with John and I along with Duane and Michael, we headed out into some heavy fog. I don’t know about you but that makes a veteran hunter tingle with excitement. Andrew was to be our guide this morning. The previous evening, he had scouted this field. It was a hidden gem, tucked behind trees on all sides. It had a slough in the middle with hills and valleys everywhere. We set up in south section of the field in amongst some hay bails. With low fog and no wind, we knew that the birds could be coming in any direction. Andrew was an expert caller and as the fog lifted somewhat, we could hear the birds coming, the essence of why we do this.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Birdtail Waterfowl, is one of the premier waterfowl guiding operations in North America. I have come to know owner Paul Conchatre over the last few years through his role as President of the Manitoba Lodge and Operators Association. He runs a first class operation, so much so that he has a two year waiting list to book a hunt. Another great adventure in this great province of Manitoba.