WILD HARVEST: Make The Most Of Saturday Mornings

For some, available time afield is the limiting factor. Other times, the juice simply isn’t worth the squeeze. I may have found a way to maximize the most of minimal hunting time, especially when working the typical nine-to-five rush. When hunting weekends, we are often looking for more than just first or last light. So, how do you make a day of it? In my experience, scout locations that offer combinations of cover and food sources, which attract and hold various species of game throughout overlapping seasons.

Close to town I stumbled upon a series of small ponds in a makeshift quarry, dug in the middle of grain country and adjacent to nearby woodlots. The ponds were buffered with tall, grassy mounds of excavated earth, dense thickets and tall cottonwoods, surrounded in a sea of wheat fields. I felt this would be a perfect little duck set up, so I began by simply hunting first light with half-a-dozen duck decoys, counting on some first-light action. Despite being close to town, it was still an early morning and half an hour drive each way. A few ducks each Saturday morning began not being worth the effort. Next time, I decided to stay later, hoping more ducks would show. They did not. Swarms of geese, however, began arriving in waves, using these ponds as midday loafing areas. Wow! How did I miss that? The next time I returned, I planned to have some goose decoys and three-inch BBs with me to capitalize on both ducks and geese.

Later, during a midday goose hunt, I crippled one that coasted a few hundred yards away, landing in a dense and brambly thicket near a different little pond. In that recovery effort, I began flushing upland birds and small game in greater densities than I could have ever expected. I identified coveys of Hungarian partridge, ruffed and sharptail grouse and several jackrabbits. My lack of hunter orange and inappropriate ammunition kept me from maximizing on those opportunities, but I would be prepared next time!

Returning the following Saturday morning, I was dressed for success and armed to the teeth with hunting equipment. Floating duck decoys and a spinner, full-body and floating goose decoys, waders and a layout blind (just in case) were all waiting in the bed of my truck. I also made a point to include my orange vest and hat, upland and small game lead loads and the dog!

Now, with more experience under my belt, I hunt this area by first setting up the spinner and half-a-dozen duck decoys in my favourite pond in the pre-dawn. The hope is for mallards and pintails at first light or immediately afterwards. Once that flight ends, the typical hunter would pack his gear and return home as I used to, but during that first mid-morning lull I grab my goose decoys and augment my duck set up. Within an hour, the Canada and snow geese begin leaving the fields and some make their way to these ponds to loaf during the midday. I’ll get a few, and once the geese conclude their morning flights, I don my orange vest, swop shotgun shells and grab the dog. We begin walking the brushy edges of the ponds for huns, jackrabbits and the occasional sharptail grouse. Before I know it, I’m enjoying my third hunt of the day, all in the same area and with minimal gear for a range of wildlife. Targeting one species may have you sitting empty handed or might not be worth the cost of fuel. If you can find such an area, Saturday mornings become Saturdays afield and the juice once again feels worth the squeeze.

One particular day, I focused more on upland birds and small game, covering the entire series of ponds with my black German shepherd, Cheyenne (okay, not a pointer, flusher or retriever, but we worked well as a team.) We managed to collect three huns, a jack and two species of grouse. Soon after, the dog returned delivering a big, beautiful whitetail shed into my hands! Amazing. Yet another species I could focus on in this same location. I think next time I’m here, I will poke around to the woodlots looking for the right tree to hang a stand in for evening hunts!

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