It was a 19° October morning on Cowoki Lake, near Brooks, Alberta. Accompanying the late Wade Bourne, I was photographing a three-day hunt on which Wade was documenting the 50-year anniversary of Ducks Unlimited’s efforts to establish and preserve waterfowl habitat in the province.
DU Canada representatives Ed Houck and Carson McCormick joined Wade and me as we enjoyed the northern lights in the pre-dawn and then launched our mud-motor-equipped johnboat. Arriving at the blind, we set out a mixed decoy spread, with a diver line on one side and dabblers on the other.
Just before legal shooting time six buffleheads slipped in at the edge of the spread but promptly left. Next a lone canvasback landed on the outer edge of the decoys, then a handful of ringnecks, then goldeneyes, then more buffleheads. Everything set down out of range. Suddenly all of the birds spooked when a northern harrier buzzed our setup.
Eventually we spotted a flock of goldeneyes racing across the middle of the lake. Three of them broke off and came in to the decoys. Two went down, but this hen stayed ahead of the shotstring, turned on the afterburners and flew to safer waters.
So who missed? It doesn’t matter. We’ve all shot behind birds. Divers can fly by at speeds that require you to, as one hunter told me, “Lead ’em a Suburban.”
Of course, there were more birds missed that day, but we ended up with 11 different species in the bag. It was quite a testament to the success of Ducks Unlimited’s efforts.