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home : columns : ron kuecker May 24, 2016

10/24/2012 9:49:00 AM
Hunters: 'The ducks are 80 miles north'

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

At twice as long, north to south, and one and a half times as wide as Minnesota, Saskatchewan ends up being three times as large as our home state in square miles. Think, northern North Dakota and Montana prairie and wheat fields changing to northern Minnesota country as you head north and you've kinda got a feel for Saskatch'.
We like it for its agriculture, people and ducks not necessarily in that order.
But it was warm and dry a week or so ago when Gary Olson and I met Jim Hansen from Montana as we returned to our little rental house for another fall duck hunt. Located north of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan we had found good hunting there in the past.
It was diver ducks we hoped for. Divers are different than the dabbler ducks like the mallard, teal and woodies in our area. They like bigger lakes, somewhat deeper water and a different food source than our ducks.
So, as our lakes became more shallow due to siltation over the years and water levels bounced up and down more we grew less and less sago pondweed, their favorite entrée. Therefore, we have fewer ducks that dive under water to feed on their life giving sago pondweed. Quite simply, no sago, no diver ducks.
The famous Bell family noticed those changes a half century ago and moved their hunting headquarter from Heron Lake to Delta Marsh just to pursue their favorite duck, the canvasback.
Common diver ducks we sought were redheads, canvasbacks and bluebills with a few goldeneyes acceptable. That's what we got but we had to move to get to them.
Hunting our usual area north of Moose Jaw we encountered poor success. We also kept hearing from locals the same thing, "The ducks are 80 miles north." It was almost like someone had mailed out political talking points. Probably, they had been at the same bar or restaurant.
Well, we stuck it out for four days of pretty poor hunting. It was pack it in time and go home or head north. Luckily, Jim, a Montana waterfowl biologist, knew of a good place 150 miles to the northwest. In fact, he had been there by himself before meeting up with us and downed a redhead and two can drakes.
So, up at five the next morning, out at 5:30, decoys in a new lake by 8:45. Sleepy we weren't the rest of the day. Bluebills and cans flew regularly into the open spot between our decoys and in front of our natural blind until we had all we could legally shoot. It was a pretty picturesque bag limit of ducks we had at the end of the day.
Except for the northern shoveler, aka, spoonbill yours truly had shot.
Sleep came easily that night in the second story of a pre World War I hotel despite heat registers that weren't turned on or were missing. The bathroom and shower were at the end of the hall and the missing locks on them necessitated a careful "knock before you enter." The only thing that was missing from that wild west hotel was a pitcher of water and a metal basin on the 100+ years old dresser.
We were up early that next morning and had a good but somewhat less productive hunt. We ended up shooting a dozen or so each of canvasbacks and bluebills plus a few other species in two short days. That was easily three times as many as we had bagged in four long days at our previous sites. It took four days for us mostly Scandinavian heritage hunters to listen but ultimately we did and found the ducks "80 miles north."
Saskatch' moose
The moose population continues to increase quite rapidly in the prairie and pothole marsh area north and west of . . . Moose Jaw. One could say they are just returning to an area they had previously inhabited. But local farmers and people that hunt big deer and moose rather than ducks, geese and upland birds have a different story. They say it is because the moose no longer have a predator in the area and hunting seasons are carefully regulated. They feel the moose are moving there to get away from their number one predator, the timber wolf of the forested area.
We will certainly be testing that theory in a different manner as the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota open hunting seasons on wolves to reduce a population that many feel are preying heavily on moose calves.
Dead hawk
David Blackstad, Cottonwood Lake, brought me a dead hawk Monday morning to theorize on the cause of its death. It appeared to be a young broad-winged hawk. It was extremely thin with an obvious loss of muscle mass. There was no evidence of injury and no evidence of a gunshot wound.
It appeared to me to be a young of the year bird that had died of starvation. That would fit with the fact that Dave had seen it hopping near the lake shore unable to fly the day before.
I think this is somewhat common among young avian predators that aren't as good at hunting as adults. It's also the reason I plant a garden, so when my hunting isn't as good I can be a gatherer!

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