Five shots only
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune Minneapolis, MN
October 10, 2004 ANDY1010
STONEWALL, MANITOBA -- The point on this morning is to shoot, but sparingly. Each of the four members of our "team" has five shells, and five shells only, and with these, if fortune shines, we will garner our legal, collective limit of 12 birds. Preferably, the birds will be big.
Thinking of this the night before -- the responsibility of shooting well individually so as not to disappoint the group -- I slept fitfully. In my imaginings, I saw geese descending from all angles, as well as flying above, just on the margins of shotgun range.
Sometimes I took the shot, sometimes I didn't.
I never did see a bird fall.
"At least," I said to myself, reviewing the dreams at 4:15 a.m. when the alarm rang, "I wasn't naked."
We set up the decoys with only minor arguing. Bud Grant cited past experience in saying he didn't want too many decoys too far out front. Ryan Deprez, our token Canadian, had some ideas, too. As did Norb Berg of Barronett, Wis., who, with me, made up our squad.
In the end, like a committee, we put a few decoys here, a few there, and called it good.
The hunt was Bud's idea. He had participated in it the past two years and called the experience time well spent, noting the event is a fund-raiser organized by the good people of Stonewall.
"Last year my team almost won it," Bud said. "But the year before, I brought Verne Gagne and he couldn't hit anything."
Gagne, the onetime pro wrestler and standout athlete at the University of Minnesota, thus again was absent from the traveling squad, dropped like a bad idea. Instead, Norb and I were brought in as hired guns, of a sort. Ryan, meanwhile, had hunted on Bud's team last year, and shot well, so he was allowed back for another go.
A little background on what is called the South Interlake 12/20 Canada Goose Shoot:
About six years ago, two couples from Stonewall, Marty and Diane Sexton and Wyman and Darlene Sangster, were en route by car from Manitoba to the Twin Cities to attend a Vikings game.
Like good Canadians everywhere, they were discussing events important to them, which on this day might have included the sad state of the Canadian dollar or, more recently, the United States ban on Canadian beef.
Instead, the plight of their local curling club held their attention.
"It was about to be condemned," Marty recalled. "We needed a new one."
For the unaware, curling is a sport played indoors, mostly in winter, on ice. Bud, who once played for, and coached, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, is well familiar with its intricacies, and can cite its requirements, to win, of both individual skill and teamwork.
"My dad was a curler!" he often notes proudly.
On that day now long ago, before the Wymans and Sextons reached their seats in the Metrodome to watch the Vikings, they developed a fund-raising idea to save their curling club.
Uniquely Canadian, the plan was to sponsor a competitive goose hunt, in which participants from throughout the United States and Canada would attempt to prove their prowess at attracting and shooting Canada geese.
And the curling club would be saved.
To my far left, Ryan hunkers between two oversized hay bales. Between him and me is Norb, all but invisible in a camouflage Final Approach layout blind.
To my right is Bud.
Everywhere there are geese.
So many geese, in fact, that some in Winnipeg argue the city is overrun with them -- some 1 million or more birds in all, as of last week, according to Manitoba wildlife officials.
That number, combined with a flock of similarly gargantuan proportion hanging out at Oak Hammock Marsh, about an hour north of Winnipeg, makes for a lot of birds.
At first light, many of these specimens are airborne. The field we have been assigned -- the location of which we drew by lot -- lies only a mile or so outside the Winnipeg beltway, or perimeter, as Manitobans refer to it.
So our birds angle toward us from the city, not from Oak Hammock.
To make sure we don't cheat, we, like the other 31 teams in the contest, have been assigned at least two observers.
Both of our observers sit about a quarter-mile distant, watching through binoculars and preparing to count our shots.
For what seems like a long time, we don't shoot. Instead, we watch as flock after flock of geese materializes in the far distance, appearing first as specks before growing larger and larger.
The night before, at Stonewall's new curling club, after each team drew its field to hunt, a calcutta was held, in which the teams were "sold" to the highest bidders.
In making a purchase, a buyer was betting, literally, that a particular team would win the contest, or at least place second or third. Cash prizes would be awarded to those who owned the winning teams.
Ever confident, Bud, Norb, Ryan and I bid on ourselves, running the count to about $700 before chickening out and letting the sale go to someone who liked the looks of us more than we did.
Later, however, regaining our nerve, we negotiated a buy-back of half the winning bid for our team. Now, an hour into the early morning, it looks like money wasted.
Repeatedly, geese rise in the distance, gain altitude and cruise toward us, before overflying us, well out of range.
Rather than land in our field, the birds continue about a half-mile farther, landing where there are no hunters.
Finally, when a big honker comes close -- though not very close -- Ryan swings on him.
No bird falls.
A half-hour passes, then another 15 minutes.
In this time, three geese fall, with Norb and I expending one shell apiece, and Ryan all five of his.
Trouble on the prairie, that's what I smell.
Now evening has fallen, and all 32 teams have gathered at the Stonewall Curling Club.
Many other people are present also, some from Stonewall, others from surrounding communities, a few from Minnesota. A festive atmosphere pervades.
In all, 12 of the 32 teams had shot their limits of a dozen birds that morning, with the first-place squad -- Canadians, all -- weighing honkers totaling 104.16 pounds, only an ounce or so more than the runners-up.
The top team won prizes of guns, customized jackets and layout blinds. But they would have happily traded places with the winner of the calcutta, who pocketed a cool $7,363 for betting on the first-place team.
It's announced that again this year, the South Interlake 12/20 Canada Goose Hunt has netted a profit of more than $25,000. Proceeds no longer benefit only the curling club. Now Delta Waterfowl, the conservation group with a research station not far from Stonewall, is given some of the money, as are sponsors of six youth waterfowl hunts held each fall throughout Manitoba.
"In the late 1970s, Manitoba had more than 50,000 residents who hunted ducks and geese," Marty Sexton said. "By the late 1990s, that number had dropped to 9,000.
"We fund the youth hunts because in Canada we're losing our connection to the land, and if we lose another generation of hunters, there will be no one who cares about saving ducks or geese."
For the record, when our crack outfit returned to the curling club earlier that day, we had but three geese in hand.
"You can't shoot what doesn't come near you," Bud said.
"We'll do better next year," Norb said.
Said Ryan, speaking for both him and me:
"Make mine a Labatt."
Editor's note: For more information about the South Interlake 12/20 Canada Goose Hunt, phone Marty Sexton at 204-781-6087.
Dennis Anderson is at