Solstice Gathering 2013

The Annual Solstice gathering took place again on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at he home of the General Manager of Scuttlebuck Lodge.
The youth group stopped by in Christmas ties then left.
The founding father’s group stopped by and stayed.
We watched the Yule Tide turn over drinks and eats
Canada is both dark and cold but after that night things were at least going in the right direction.
May drought fall upon the lodge and all of our neighbors was this year’s overall Christmas wish.
Enough water already!.

Banded Alberta Greater Whitefront (Speckle Belly)

Left work around 5 PM on Friday and headed down southeast of Calgary to roughly Carseland (just west of the Siksika Indian Reserve) with cousin Chris McManes, his son Caiden, Uncle John and Mike Horn. We got to a field right along the highway that had a field with about 2,000 whites and 2,000 speckle bellies. On the north side of the road was a farmer spreading manure in a baled pasture and south of the road was a full section of barley with a large slough in the south east corner. Running right through the middle of the field were train tracks – very convenient.

Their were about 500 whitefronts and 1,500 snows already along the tracks as we crept in to get between the birds and the water and as we not so silently crept west along the tracks, our front man, Mike put them up causing a temporary moment of madness above us. As I was walking 75 yards behind him, I didn’t really have a shot at any of the birds – except one. Had I been using my own gun, I wouldn’t even have shot as it was likely 60-70 yards from me, but since I was using Chris’ over-and-under I wanted to test it out!

Notorious for being soft, this greater whitefront crashed to the earth from what I can only imagine was a heart attack. When Caiden retrieved it back to me, I was in awe of how perfect the plumage was on the bird. The tip of the beak was white as snow with the rest of the beak filling in a deep, full orange to match his feet. The feathers around the face were stark white as well, and made a perfect circle around the front of the face. The bars on his chest were a full, deep black, which reminded me of the two my late Grandpa shot in the late 80s and still hang on a stringer in dad’s room at the Lodge. Clearly I’m still in admiration of these birds, they’re just so incredible looking, it’s almost too bad I shot it. Almost.

The information pulled from the certificate certainly explains why we don’t see many whitefronts in Manitoba. This bird was banded in the far north of Alaska, way out of the general flight path of our Scuttlebuck birds. It was hatched in 2006 (almost 8 years old), which would explain the full plumage and long toenails (which is really weird on a bird I might add). Lastly it was a “greater” white-fronted goose, which I didn’t know exist until the response from the USGS. We noticed it was noticeably heavier than the other spec I got that night, but didn’t figure anything of it. According to Andrew it’s a species we don’t get in Manitoba, but knowing he’s a Johnston is very likely is just making that up.

A Banded Mallard

Banded drake mallard duck shot a few weekends ago with cousin Andrew and Bubba (Wayne Carey). Details are a little fuzzy, but the important part is that the duck was banded in Bottineau, ND. Why the hell is a duck without flight in ND? I assume it must be one of those lazy bastards that shits all over the greens at the golf course. And if that’s the case, he got what was coming to him.

Another point of interest is that Andrew’s friend, Jordan Seafoot, was in the Bottineau University Conservation program the same year as this duck was banded. Although he banded hundreds of ducks that year, it’s possible he was the one who placed the band on this one. Kind of an interesting tid-bit I s’pose.

The Weekend That Was: September 28/29th, 2013

It was a little more low-key this weekend, with most of our regular members tied up with other engagements. The Lodge was inhabited only by myself, Dinger, Bubba and my friend Jordan Seafoot. Actually, we were joined by Dr. Matt “Saw McGraw” Lepage as well, early Sunday morning. PS- For those wondering, yes, he is a doctor. An optometrist, not a real doctor.

On with our story.

Saturday, September 28th, 2013-

Unlike most weekends, this one started out with a major hitch to say the least. It rained for four days heading into the weekend, and with no sun or wind to speak of, the stubble fields were too wet to head into for a morning shoot. Not that we thought of that before we tried. So at 5:15 am we spent 45 minutes trying to decide how and where we were going to enter the field we had permission in for our hunt. We decided to go home…. So by ten after six we had four gentlemen up and about ready to seize the day, and nothing to do. So coffee and Caesars were poured, and crib (our usual evening passtime) was played.

With the sun rising at about 7:15 and our card game finished, we headed out to get Big Seaf under a goose. Our best options were again stymied by dampness, but we did manage some shots off a road at some high cacklers to no avail. We headed back for what we all really wanted, a Lodge breakfast, followed closely by a Lodge nap.

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.. These sound effects symbolize two specific things. One: my alarm clock saying its time to go set up for an afternoon shoot, and 2: the hilarity that is, Dinger can’t sleep because there’s too many houseflies. Awh, you gotta enjoy the little things. Back out to Adams’ pasture we headed!

Adams’ pasture is less than a mile north or the Lodge, which was a real convenience. We stopped in their yard for another quick chat with Brenda Adams, mostly to explain our absence that morning and our intentions for the afternoon, and with her blessing we headed through the yard (which it turns out is the only way into the field) around the tree-line to the field entrance and… BOOM! Our quarry was planted literally between the fence posts where our only entrance was. 150 or so honkers sat, grazing in what was hoped to be an empty field, denying us a stealthy set up for our afternoon shoot. With everything going against us so far, we deemed the best course of action to be; to walk off the geese in the least antagonistic way possible, to prevent spooking the birds too much and ruining our chances.

So with the blind constructed and decoys put out, it was time to park the truck, just before 5 pm. The usual flight time for the afternoon being just shortly after 5 we were convinced we had gotten it right. Little did we know, that with the birds feeding until 2:30 or so when we pushed them off, they were in no hurry to return to the field. Our hunt really didn’t start until 6:15, and with sunset being around 7:35 this time of year, that didn’t leave us much time. Our first flock out was a group of 8 or 9 blues, and with our set being all Canadas’, they didn’t work us perfectly but a strong west wind gave us ample opportunity to woo them to our spread. They came in, and we knocked three down.

The honkers worked us better, but with few chances and not an over-abundance of birds we had success, but limited success. Small groups came in and we knocked down our fair share. Fours come in, we’d get two. We essentially only had three shooters since I was spending most of my time shooting video for Lars while he was working. What’s family for right? On one particularly glorious opportunity, we had two honkers come right over the blind, and since it was Seaf’s first hunt of the season, we left this up to him. Two shots and two geese, but one came with a secret surprise. One of Jordan’s honkers turned out to be banded. Upon a more in depth search, it was banded a year earlier in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota.

Our shoot ended up a success, with 10 honkers, 3 cacklers and the 3 snows. Seaf shot the banded goose, and Dinger shot a 12 pound 14 ounce honker, good for 9th all time in Scuttlebuck history.

Day Total: 16

Year Total to Date: 184

Cumulative Total: 4,457

Sunday, September 29th, 2013-

Dr. Saw pulled into the yard at 5:30 am and we were loaded and pulling out, trailer behind us, before 6. As we headed to another quarter of Barry Sunaert’s on the NW corner of the lake, we knew this morning would be an earlier one as the snow geese tend to leave the lake significantly earlier than the larger Canada geese do, so we hurried to get the blind and decoys set up by shortly after 7.

After taking that picture and just getting settled in the blind, we were greeted by the first goose of the morning. This is the goose I look forward to most in the mornings. I personally live for that first dopey juvenile blue to approach the dekes, whilst it’s barely light enough to see him. That’s one in the bag. The flight started soon after and the first group to the decoys gave us a great opportunity. 15 Ross’ geese worked our decoys, centring up and even demonstrating some acrobatics side-slipping a time or two as they approached. We gave them 15 shots from the 5 of us hunters, and six birds hurtled to the turf. The rest of the morning didnt amount to much as the flight passed us by, but we left the field content, with seven birds in hand, and a solid weekend behind us.

Day Total: 7

Year Total to Date: 191

Cumulative Total: 4,464

Interesting side note- This was the biggest harvest for the month of September in Scuttlebuck’s history, edging out 1993’s total of 184 birds.