Wyoming Waterfowl: Fact or Fiction?
When considering a hunt in Wyoming, I’m sure most imagine rolling sage hills full of mule deer and giant speed goats, others might immediately drift off to an elk hunting trip in the evergreen cloaked Rocky Mountains during the bugle, while others still may fantasize of running an arrow through a color phased black bear. Until recently, my mind would have wandered to the same places when asked about hunting in Wyoming, a state sure to satisfy the outdoorsman’s insatiable thirst for adventure. Having planned several and attended countless waterfowling trips all over the country, I can most assuredly tell you that Wyoming was never on my radar. However, the first week of 2017 shattered those preconceived notions.
The end justifies the means
On the very last evening of 2016, while others were spending the evening enjoying libations and waiting on a ball to drop, I embarked on a harrowing road trip across ice covered interstates en route to a friend’s house in Wyoming. One deer and one fog light were harmed during the trek. While driving, I mentally scrolled through my gear checklist, trying to take my mind off of the miles that had already passed, those that remained on the horizon, and my ever-whitening knuckles. Filled with both doubt and a bit of apprehension, I tried to allow my worries to be subdued by the fact that, regardless of the quality of the hunting, I’d be spending a few days with some good friends that I don’t get to see very often.
I arrived at my buddy’s house at 2300 hours, and my worries were put, almost instantaneously, at ease. As I opened the door of my truck, the cacophonous roar of Canada Geese overhead did far more to drown out doubt than thoughts of camaraderie. Because of darkness, I hadn’t been able to determine the quality of the terrain we’d be hunting; but, the hard part was out of the way – the birds were definitely there.
Fast forward a few hours and I’m in the only gas station this one horse town had to offer. The man behind the counter sold me my license and got me legal while my host, in jest, lambasted him for his lack of breakfast burritos. Apparently, Sunday is the only day such delicacies aren’t offered, much to the dismay of said compadre.
Shortly after the greatest breakfast burrito debacle 2017 had undoubtedly seen, so far, we made our way down to a blind large enough to park a small pickup truck in. The river was open and I was reassured that birds would be active. This would be a great time to point out that my brother-in-arms was incredibly candid about the overall situation. There were birds here, yes. The vast majority of them were geese, however. The ducks just hadn’t been around. Furthermore, he wanted to take me to the spot in which he had the least amount of confidence right off the bat so we could make a short hunt and then spend the rest of the day scouting the property and coming up with a game plan. The rest of our cronies, hailing from all corners of this great nation, would be arriving a few days later, so we wanted to make sure we had birds patterned and ready to hunt.
He was right. On all counts, he was right. That location didn’t perform, there was a severe lack of duck activity, and at one point, I’m pretty sure the geese blocked out the sun. Time to plan.
We rode around the property so I could get the lay of the land. After watching birds for most of the day, we decided to skip the afternoon hunt in order to watch a few football games with playoff implications and head out to a goose pit the following morning. That was when my opinion of waterfowling in Wyoming changed.
Geese, geese, and more geese
The next morning, true to their reputation, the geese started flying around 0900. And they flew, and they flew, and they flew. I guided for a successful waterfowl outfit in South Dakota situated perfectly on a goose flyway and even with that notch in my headboard, I’ve never seen birds fly like this. It was incredible. They were flying all morning.
We left the blind around 10:00am with a handful of geese and continued scouting. We didn’t want to do much in the way of educating these birds since we were ultimately playing guides for our colleagues, who would be descending upon Podunk, WY, in few short days.
The next morning we visited the pit again and shot a quick two man limit and got back out of there. Quick, easy, fun.
We let the pit rest the following morning. In fact, we let the entire property rest all day. We wanted things to settle down a bit. Their travel day coincided perfectly with the arrival of a cold front and 4”-6” of snow falling. Things were shaping up to be great.
Hail, hail, The Gang’s all here
Thursday morning greeted us with a temperature of -24°F, a pit with four guys at one location, and a different river blind holding three men. In this part of Wyoming, you’re only allowed to hunt geese until 1:00pm each day, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday excluded (you can legally hunt until sunset on those days). The plan was to hunt until 11:00am and then switch locations so the group at the river got to have a chance on what was certain to be a barn burner in the pit. The geese had other ideas.
Experienced waterfowlers know that when it’s brutally cold out, the geese will stay on their roost until the sun has warmed them up enough to fly. That is exactly what happened on the first day of our group hunt. By 11:00 the group in the pit had less birds down than the group in the river blind so the decision to switch locations at 11:00 was scrapped and both parties stayed put until 1300. That turned out to be a favorable decision for those in the pit. When the birds finally started flying, they were decoying perfectly. Very subtle calling had them slipping their way into the decoys from 250 yards out. On several occasions, we held off on the shots just to watch them land and walk around in the decoys.
That first morning saw a four-man limit of geese from the pit as well as several ducks and geese being harvested by the other group at the second river blind. Not a bad way to start off a hunt. A quick lunch and the group that hunted the river blind was able to hang out in the driveway of the house and pass shoot several more geese.
The week comes to an end
The hunt progressed throughout the rest of the week successfully. Harvest numbers were up and we were happy with the hunting. We were even able to sneak out on several occasions and do some cottontail hunting, a great addition to the ice boxes already crammed with goose meat.
The last day of the trip was upon us, and the group agreed to stand in the willows just upriver of the blind I had hunted on the first day and try to pass shoot geese. We didn’t have very high expectations; but, it was the last day we’d be able to visit with each other, so the social aspect outweighed our desire to get in the pit and hammer the geese again.
As it turns out, fate and favor were both on our side. In a four to five hour pass shoot, we were able to bring down twenty-four birds, just four shy of a seven man limit. We were standing in some pretty thick stuff, and some incredible dog work kept the cripple loss to a minimum. Banter was just as abundant as the honkers and cacklers, and we all left that afternoon grinning from ear to ear.
The Verdict Is In!
I returned home to Montana having seen tens of thousands of geese, if not hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of billions. I’m unsure. The people were friendly and the food was amazing. The birds worked like they were supposed to, decoyed like the cover of a magazine, and left us dreaming about our next opportunity to come out for another round.
As I sit here in the warmth of my living room in Montana pecking away at this article, I can't help but think one thing, "Wyoming, you’re definitely on the waterfowl radar from now on."
Zero Your Turrets – T.O.
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