What's on your bucket list? For me, a waterfowl hunt in Canada long had been in the top 10 adventures I'd wanted to experience.
Last summer, I mentioned this to Minnetonka resident Kirk Bernhagen, a frequent traveler to Canada. Bernhagen smiled and said, "Dude, check it off ... we're going to Saskatchewan in October."
Over the past 19 years, Bernhagen has made two hunting trips per year to Saskatchewan. For the past seven years, he's shared the experience with his 14-year-old son, Jack. He also enjoys introducing other fathers and sons to northern waterfowling.
"For me, it's all about the kids and giving them this amazing experience,'' he said.
Sharing that sentiment, I brought along my sons, Theo, 13, and Aaron 11, and our good friend, Pat Pinske, from Mankato.
Pinske is a longtime waterfowl fanatic and master caller.
"I used to go to parks in Mankato and Rochester just to listen to ducks and geese and see how they communicate," Pinske said. "I've fooled quite a few over the years.''
At 10 hours from Minneapolis, Saskatchewan is closer than some might think. Geographically located in south-central Canada, the province is a primary breeding ground for North American ducks.
After a day of travel and a short night of rest, we were ready to hunt.
Our first outing proved challenging. The wind swirled, and the birds didn't cooperate. We still managed to fell a dozen ducks and geese, after several encounters with flocks of 100 or more.
That evening, we scouted for places to hunt in the coming days. While we didn't target snow geese, we couldn't help but stop occasionally and watch in wonder as "tornadoes'' of these birds spiraled into crop fields, and rose again.
During one of these amazing encounters, we pulled alongside a truck with Minnesota plates. Behind the wheel was Lake Crystal resident Larry Adermann and his son, Paul, who lives in River Falls, Wis.
Together, they've hunted the Canadian prairies since 1996, and they explained that the bulk of the snow goose migration already had occurred several weeks previously.
Still, the Adermanns managed to bag limits of both geese and ducks.
Our second day in the field, we had decent shooting, taking 14 geese, including my first two snows, and a handful of ducks.
On our third day, everything came together.
Having finished setting out our decoys 30 minutes before shooting time, we sat that morning in our blinds, awaiting the sunrise.
When first light arrived, Kirk Bernhagen whispered that a flock of four geese was "on the table," heading our way. Coaxing them toward us, Pinske's call issued comforting growls.
Four shots later, the geese were on the ground.
It was then that Theo popped out of his layout blind, disoriented.
"Why didn't you wake me?'' he asked.
A rude start of the day for him, to be sure, but a great beginning for the rest of us.
Soon, bunches of up to 20 mallards and pintails rolled in faster than we could reload. Flock sizes grew quickly, and in time multitudes of more than 100 ducks each approached our spread.
In 45 minutes, we each reached our daily limit of eight ducks. Then we passed the next few hours reveling in our success, while coaxing in a few additional geese.
Finally, we picked up our decoys.
"Gentlemen,'' Bernhagen said as he exchanged high-fives with Pinske and me, "that's a Saskatchewan duck hunt!"
Editor's note: Mitch Petrie is executive producer of Muddy Boot Productions and blogs at startribune.com/outdoors.