Waterfowl are such beautiful creatures—a wonder to those who will never truly be in the proper presence of one. I only came to realize this after my first waterfowl hunt in fall of 2022, giving me a glimpse of what’s to come in my hunting journey.
I was quite oblivious to shotguns, having never shot one before. Only a few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the Youth League at Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association Calgary Firearms Centre. This place truly opened me up to the vast land that had slipped beneath my knowledge. Geared up with hearing protection to muffle the constant sound of shots, I watched in awe while other young hunters shot. Then came my turn with the 20-gauge shotgun. Other than the gun’s kick to my shoulder, I found my first experience rather amusing.
The instructor directed me to the firing line. I readied myself in a rather sloppy position, which the instructor corrected—wide stance, leaning forward with confidence, elbows out, shouldering the shotgun, and resting my cheek against its stock. Once he was convinced I was ready to shoot, he instructed me to say “Pull!”
I took my first shot, skin crawling with anticipation like an itch that desperately needed scratching. I missed quite miserably—shots landing far to the side. The instructor tested my eyes and had me try shooting left-handed due to my left eye dominance. After switching to the other hand, my accuracy improved immensely! As the weeks went on not only did I learn about my gun and how to use it, I also learned how much fun it was to shoot the small disks (or clays). I got to the point where, if it wasn’t for the tiredness in my arm, I would’ve stayed and shot forever.
My dad, taking notice of my interest in the shotgun, invited me to join him on a waterfowl hunt with his friends: Brandon Davis, my dad’s colleague at Korth Group; and Ken Kranrod and Todd Zimmerling, both of Alberta Conservation Association (ACA). Equipped with my hunting licence and previous deer hunting experience, I excitably answered “Yes!” Like the anticipation of my first shot, I counted down the days until the morning we departed. We stuffed our overpacked bags—it is better to be safe than sorry after all— and began the long drive up to Tofield. Before settling in at the hotel, we all met for dinner and Todd and Ken walked us through the plan for the next day’s hunt.
The next morning we were up before dawn and driving to the wheat field where we would set up for our hunt. Little did I know the amount of work that was yet to come. Setting up seemingly hundreds of decoys—from snow geese to speckled geese to Canada geese to mallard ducks and pintail ducks—all of the various breeds, many of which I had no clue existed. Todd taught me about the different species and explained how to identify them by their flight patterns and colouration. Strategically placing the decoys to attract the birds’ attention may have been one of the most crucial parts to the entire hunt. I found immeasurable joy placing the heads on the plastic geese and thoughtfully weaving branches together for the blind.
Once we finished, we sat in the blind listening to the coyotes laughing in the distance and the wheat rustling in the wind. The pure, fresh air awakened my lungs with every breath. Bird dog Koda, happily bounced around because she also knew what was to come.
Dawn finally arrived and carried with it the honks and quacks of distant birds through the fog. A speckled goose flew in our radius and I aimed the barrel, took a breath to sight-in, and slowly squeezed the trigger. “Bang!” Koda sprang into action to where the bird had dropped and carried it back to the blind. I had harvested my first goose!
As the day went on, and the fog lifted, we repeated the process and harvested more birds. By noon, the distant honking grew faint, fewer birds flew near, and the shots ceased. The hunt was coming to an end and we began our long clean up—picking up the decoys and laying out the harvested majestic birds. I couldn’t help but stare in awe, examining them with a keen interest. Each bird was different; their feathers, in sectioned patterns, glistened in the sun. To commemorate the day we took pictures with the dog and our bounty of geese and ducks. We said our final goodbyes, loaded the waterfowl in our trunks, and began the long drive home.
In the end, hunting waterfowl has taught me a new perspective on conservation. It has made me appreciative of these beautiful, majestic creatures, and helped me build a connection and understanding of what is involved in harvesting my own food.
I am a 14-year-old who began hunting nearly three years ago and am looking forward to harvesting my first buck in 2023. I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife and animals, likely because of my family's outdoor lifestyle. I am also passionate about horseback riding and am an aspiring animator and illustrator.
This article was originally published in Conservation Magazine Spring/Summer 2023.