2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad: Late (?) Season Waterfowl

WHC---LegendaryHunts   by Bret Amundson

While ice fishing was the hot topic in the outdoors this weekend, other outdoor activities were still taking place by those brave enough to layer up and thumb their collective noses at Mother Nature. Some big deer were still being taken across the state and goose hunters near the remaining open water sources were lucky enough to find the migration still taking place. The Minnesota Sporting Journal crew would be heading to the Twin Cities for the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo at the National Sports Center in Blaine for the show that ran Friday through Sunday.  A standing invite from Terry Middlesteadt at Grounded Gander Guide Service in Waseca was cashed in Friday morning before the show and we found ourselves heading southbound on I-35 before the morning rush hour commute.

Secret government/alien installation?  Nah, just making snow at Buck Hill.
Secret government/alien installation? Nah, just making snow at Buck Hill.

Wade Amundson, Duane Johnson and myself met up with Terry along with 17-year-old’s Madison Forshee and Deon Shauer at 6 am in town. I’d waited to tell Wade and Duane about the message I’d received from Terry about the field we’d be hunting: “We’ve got the hottest field in town and it’s loaded.” I didn’t want them to get too excited as I’ve had hunts like this be epic and some where the birds just didn’t cooperate.

The temperature in the vehicle read 8 degrees and that wasn’t a good sign.  When it gets this cold, two things happen: 1) The water being used for roosting freezes up

2) Remaining geese will keep it open as long as possible, even if it means feeding only once per day, usually in the afternoon.

We’d sit for the most of the morning waiting for birds to come.  “Sit” might not be the right word for it as we mostly hopped around trying to stay warm.  Finally I jumped in Madison’s truck along with Deon and we headed in to town to visit the two bodies of water that held geese.

Geese resting on the ice
Geese resting on the ice

While “late season” hunts like this one can be some of the best, today wouldn’t be that day.  The birds would be waiting until the afternoon to feed, so we packed up and went pheasant hunting.  We’d flush around 5 hens, but roosters would prove to be elusive.

“The first snows of the year are some of the best (goose) hunts of the year,” Terry explained. “But you just never know what’s going to happen.”

Our morning was spent mostly telling waterfowl stories, like the time Terry had two flocks of bluebills collide over his decoys and soon had a limit of them laying on the water without firing a shot.

“We tried to pawn them off on one of our buddies,” Terry laughed. “He said, ‘No way’, so we ended up having to use them for our limit.  It saved us shells that day.”

Terry joins us on MNSJ Radio this weekend to talk late season waterfowl and more.

A lone bull canvasback swims with mallards and canada geese.
A lone bull canvasback swims with mallards and canada geese.

Terry’s father was the vice president of Herter’s and he began waterfowl hunting at age 7.  Today he guides around Waseca (www.huntingwithterry.com) and down in Missouri (www.bootheeloutfitters.com).

Madison Fuschee and Deon scout for geese.
Madison Fuschee and Deon Schauer scout for geese.

“I’d say between 3000 and 4000 geese were here last night,” Madison said as we drove by one of the roosts that was now nearly frozen over completely. And  “a thousand mallards and a couple pintails between the two bodies of water.”

So you were surprised when we got over here this morning and it looked like this?

“Yeah it froze up solid,” said Deon.

“Our numbers slimmed down from probably half of what was here before,” said Madison.

Geese rest in one of the few remaining spots with open water.
Geese and mallards rest in one of the few remaining spots with open water.

No matter what time of year, it seems like there will always be birds that make an appearance as you’re picking up and that’s exactly what happened.  We drove out to the blinds to pack up and head to the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo and sure enough, a flock of mallards came in cupped and committed.  We leaned up against the truck and watched them spin 5 or 6 times before realizing something wasn’t right.  Oh well, maybe next time.

Terry Middlesteadt and Wade Amundson talk about what might have been.
Terry Middlesteadt and Wade Amundson talk about what might have been.

After heading up to Blaine for the show, we received another invite to get out and goose hunt from Jeremy Hawthorne.  I’d hunted with Jeremy a few times at Goose Fest with DRC Calls and he had a pit with some feeding geese.  How could we say no?

L-R: Mandy Uhrich, Bret Amundson, Ben Zoubek, Amy Bussmann, Jeff Huston, Jeremy Hawthorne and Bud Heitland
L-R: Mandy Uhrich, Bret Amundson, Ben Zoubek, Amy Bussmann, Jeff Huston, Jeremy Hawthorne and Bud Heitland

Saturday afternoon would see us getting to the pit around 3pm.  The birds had been feeding around 3:30 the day before, so I anticipated a similar schedule.  We arrived to see a few geese already on the ground and hoped we hadn’t come too late.  Again, when it’s this cold, they are tougher to pattern.

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Hawthorne’s black lab “Coot”

We managed to knock down a few more in the falling snow before dark.  We didn’t finish with a limit, but had a good time meeting new people and sharing a unique hunting adventure.

Bud Heitland scans the skies for geese.

The invite was extended to the next day since we’d be staying in the area and I was able to bring my 14-year-old nephew Danny out as well.  We showed up at 1pm this time in case they were flying earlier and soon had a flock come give us a look.

I slid my pit lid back and aimed at the goose.  My gun went “click”.  The trusty 12-gauge was in dire need of a cleaning so I thought maybe the action didn’t close all the way.  I unloaded and reloaded, checked to see that it was closed and waited for the next bunch.  Soon a single was swinging my way and I popped up, gave it a good lead and heard the now familiar “click” and watched the honker escape. Jeremy had seen enough.

“Take my gun,” he said, followed by some good-natured insults of my shooting abilities.  They were probably deserved at that point, so it would be tough to argue.

The next flock came in and Mandy and I teamed up to drop a goose.  I felt a little bad for using Jeremy’s gun-but not that much.  I was a little worried about what I might find wrong with mine however.

The next bunch came in about as good as you can get.  Centered up right over the decoys with the landing gear employed.  Since it was 8 degrees outside I had put on some heavy gloves that had a flap that comes over the top like a chopper.  In the excitement I forgot to take my fingers out.   By the time I pulled the glove, the geese were gone.

“This is going well,” I thought to myself.  “Maybe I should just use the camera today.

Cold weather hunts can be a different experience.  You have more clothing on so your gun will shoulder a bit differently.  Your hands might be wearing different gloves and if you’re in a pit, you’ve got concealment, pit lids, jumping dogs and more to deal with.  (My lab Mika hates being down in the pit where she can’t see and will whine and pace to express her displeasure.)

Gun malfunctions can happen too when the mercury drops below 32 degrees.

“A flock of migrators came in to 10 yards and all 3 guns were frozen,” Jeremy said about his group the day before.

We  did manage to finish with 6 geese despite having plenty more opportunities.

L-R: Hawthorne, Danny Amundson, Uhrich, Bret Amundson
L-R: Hawthorne, Danny Amundson, Uhrich, Bret Amundson

Late-season hunts can be as unpredictable as the weather, but we shot birds 2 out of the 3 days that we hunted.  Not bad when the most-overheard comment of the weekend at the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo was “I was supposed to be duck hunting today, but everything froze up!”  Some lakes are reporting 10 inches of ice already, but find some of those rivers and big lakes that stay open later and you should still find some waterfowl.  Get to the feed and dress warm!

Here are a few more pictures from the weekend.

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Mandy Uhrich bundles up to stay warm.
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Coot retrieves a goose behind one that landed in the spread wondering why all his buddies are giving him the “cold shoulder”
111514-goose hunt dogs-3
Mika tracks down a goose that still had some fight in him!
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The sun gets lower over our decoy spread.
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Sometimes you’ll see geese with special markings, like this one called a “gray brow”. Some believe its a mark of a particular sub-species of Canada goose, while others think inter-breeding causes genetic changes in pigments.


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