It was decided that while two of the guys cleaned the geese we got that morning my brother and I would drive out to the farm and ask the farmer for permission to hunt his field. Manitoba farmers are used to being approached by farmers and some even charge a fee for access to their property. When we arrived there were a group of men chatting around a tractor. My brother got out and spoke to them. I could see the one guy shaking his head, but my brother persisted. Moments later, he climbed back into the truck and smiled. He'd told the farmer that it was a family thing that we tried to do together and since it was Thanksgiving he'd be helping us keep our family tradition. The farmer yielded, but said that we could only walk in with our gear and had to clean up after ourselves. The fields were wet and he wasn't sure where the duck hole was, but he didn't want trucks tearing holes into his field. This meant a 1-2 mile hike through neck-high corn and possible marsh. Were we interested? Hell ya!
An hour or so later we returned. This time there were six of us and Hannah; four hunting and two watching. We trekked one after the other through the field. The sun was really warm that day, uncharacteristicly warm for Manitaba. There had been a lot of rain that summer - record highs, I believe - this was evident in the middle of the corn field. The soil between the rows was wet for the first half of the walk, until suddenly it was closer to marsh than cornfield. Birds of all kinds flew in and out of small marshes. We looked for the biggest one and set up camp. The boys put out a couple of decoys called "flyers" since they had motorized wings that made them look like actual birds coming in for a landing. My brother hid deep within the corn and started to call. If I'd thought he was good on the goose call, his duck calling skills blew me away. He sounded just like a duck in the marsh. There was no action for a while, but as the sun lowered toward the horizon the ducks began flying in in droves. My brother called while the other guys stood poised with their shotguns. My brother's wife and I sat on overturned pails and ate sunflower seeds in silence. As they came in they fired at the ones nearest them, watched where they dropped and waited for Hannah to return them to their sides. Hannah was in duck heaven. For a retriever, this is as good as it gets.
By the time the sun went down the boys had filled the day's numbers and it was time to call it a day. We gathered up all of the birds, the spent shells and made our way back to the trucks. As we walked it got darker and darker. By the time we reached the trucks we were faceless behind the lights of our Petzl headlamps. It had been a good day. Hannah curled up in the back of the truck, exhausted. To end the Thanksgiving festivities, we planned a wild dinner and a bonfire. That night, around the fire, we talked about wildlife and our love of the outdoors, while sharing a truly wild meal of walleye fish we'd caught that weekend, duck hor d'oeuvres, pulled slow-roasted goose and leftover moose roast. It was truly one of the most amazing Thanksgiving's I've had in years.
Duck Hor D'Oeuvres
These tasty bits need to be planned ahead as they need time to marinate.
4 duck breasts, cleaned & cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Marinate duck breast cubes for 1-2 days in a marinade of your choice.
Wrap duck in bacon (we purchased our from the Hutterite colony next door), bits of vegetables of your choice, and hold together with a toothpick.
Place on the highest rack and BBQ on low until the bacon is done. Alternatively, if you don't have use of a BBQ, you can roast them in the oven. Roast them in a pan with slots for the bacon grease to run out.
Don't expect these hor d'oeuvres to last long! They're a delicacy around our house.