I’m hunkered down in our field blind trying to load my gun with frozen fingers. It’s minus 15oC with a 40-kilometre wind at our backs, but my hunting partner, Bob Boychyn, and I are not complaining. Less than half a mile away I can make out two separate flocks of Canada geese and a few wind-buffeted mallards.
Field of promise
We’re in a snow-covered field of corn stubble, south of Hamilton near Port Dover and Lake Erie. Driving into the farm earlier this afternoon we had pushed out over 100 geese and maybe 30 mallards feeding near the barn.
Gord Ives and Jack Crotta, co-owners of Grind ‘Em Outfitters, finish putting out the last of the decoys before parking the truck back at the farm house. Suddenly, a big drake mallard appears over the decoys at 20 yards, ready to land. Caught totally off guard, Bob and I stand up, shoot, miss, and watch as the bird banks in the wind like a fighter plane. Both of us silently contemplate our failure.
Ives and Crotta make their way back across the snow-covered cornfield and as soon as they return, begin to call. I barely have time to pour a coffee when Ives cries, “Three geese coming in.”
At 30 yards Ives tells us to shoot and we manage to drop two of them. Another flock locks in on our spread from half a mile away as Crotta flags them towards the decoys.
Inside white Avian-X field blinds, and with a foot of snow on the ground, we’re well hidden. The blinds are tucked on the downwind side of a hedge row with a three-foot snowdrift at our backs.
Everything is progressing according to our guides’ predictions.
Ives and Crotta established Grind ‘Em Outfitters in 2007. Their area of operation is south of Hamilton in Haldimand and Norfolk Counties, centred near Nanticoke and Port Dover. The outfitters have access to over 75,000 acres of prime hunting area.
Both geese and ducks are attracted to the area due to its proximity to lakes Huron and Erie, and the Grand River. Extensive agriculture here offers a variety of crops that act as a magnet for migrants.
During the early-goose season, in September, and the late-goose season, in February, hunting is done on a daily basis. Regular-season hunts are normally only available on Saturdays, the exception being for groups of clients who might come in for a two- or three-day hunt. The timing of each hunt ensures that birds in productive fields are not being overworked.
What impresses most hunters is the extent to which the many farms are intensely scouted, sometimes every night. Farmers will usually phone Ives and Crotta to let them know when fields are being cut and when geese and ducks start to arrive.
Mechanics of the hunt
On a typical morning hunt, one group of two to three people will hunt with Ives in one location and another group will hunt with Crotta in another. Brian Boisvert, an outstanding guide, also assists with clients.
Six- to 10-dozen goose decoys are placed in position well before legal shooting time. Comfortable ground blinds or natural cover are utilized to conceal hunters. Ive’s lab, Trigger, and Crotta’s lab, Diesel, are available for retrieving duties. Both are well trained and amazing to watch in action.
The majority of Grind ‘Em Outfitter’s hunters are repeat clients. Boisvert sums it up when he says, “The potential for limits are there every day, but numbers are not as important as the experience.” Ives and Crotta keep us entertained throughout our hunt, while passing along valuable tips about field hunting, including calling and decoy placement.
Ives and Crotta call as a duo and both geese and ducks continue to move around our decoys. Mallards are coming in from upwind at “warp” speed. Luckily, my partner is hitting them.
When the wind increases to 60 km, the fun begins. I shoot at a single crossing goose at 30 yards and watch as it falls to the ground. It’s too cold to use Crotta’s dog, so his owner does the retrieving. Even with Crotta out amongst the decoys, the geese come in. Clearly the spread of over 80 decoys has them thinking it’s buffet time.
It’s slightly after four o’clock and getting darker with the approach of a major blizzard. The birds intensify their activity and we continue to shoot. Our tally is 10 geese and a mallard, but the weather says it’s time to go. We’ve had a great afternoon of extreme hunting with two knowledgeable guides and we’ve learned a lot about field hunting in southwestern Ontario.
Getting there: Drive south from Hamilton along Hwy 6 to Port Dover/Nanticoke
Originally published in the Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine 2018-2019 Hunting Annual.