Every road trip begins with enthusiasm and promise. A good friend and I had planned this outing for months and we anticipated some great waterfowl hunting. Our destination was Manitoba — Canada at what has been traditionally prime time, a period of several days when the coming winter would send thousands of ducks and geese south, a trip that included a route near or over our planned camp site.
We headed out of town at 4 a.m. with an expected drive of 1,000 miles to Fargo, N.D. where we would overnight before traveling another 350 miles to our destination. Our goal was to cross the international border at midday, then finish the last couple hours in time to set our tent and organize the camp, plus do some scouting before dark.
I was pleasantly surprised with the time saved by my new electronic toll device, a digital gadget that can reflect a signal instantly as the vehicle passes. Instead of waiting several minutes in line at each toll booth — I never fail to get behind the person who can’t find their money, needs detailed directions or recognizes the tall taker and wants to discuss ancestry — you just keep on trucking with hardly a blink.
It appeared that every piece of farmland from western Ohio to Wisconsin is standing corn while the miles north of Minneapolis begin a blend of corn turning to sugar beets. North of the border the ground changes color and appears blacker as the miles pass. There the cereal belt takes its name with hardly a stalk of corn to be seen. The crops consist of barley, wheat and canola harvested from fields as big as a small township here.
We crossed the border into Canada at what must be the smallest and most insignificant crossing between Maine and Washington. There is a swing gate, much like that at a county park, and a sign that announces that the crossing closes at 9 p.m. Northbound traffic stops on the Manitoba side to be checked and southbound gets to be interviewed by an American crew.
We flashed our passports, proved registration of the truck and provided the paperwork to anchor our shotguns to a very restrictive Canadian network that is anything but firearm friendly. Each hunter is also charged a non-refundable fee for each gun, for some reason known only to the Canadian government.
On the return trip those same recorded documents must be produced and they better match the serial number on each gun. Hunters who haven’t done their homework could find themselves delayed.
In all my travel I’ve never encountered friendlier landowners than those who work the earth in Manitoba. Permission to hunt is required and given generously by every landowner encountered. We’ve even had landowners call others to assure that we could use their land too, saving us the drive to another isolated farm.
Our host, another friendly prairie farmer, mowed a campsite for us, a heavily grassed area protected from the always present winds by surrounding trees. He invited us to his drinking water and anything else we needed.
It all looked like the right place at the right time until we saw the fields, which were expected to be stubble and grin leavings, the best menu for migrating waterfowl. Instead, we found black earth, thousands of acres of shadow, chiseled and prepped for the coming spring. The reason, according to area farmers, was the wettest year on record, a disaster that reduced planted fields to ten percent or less.
“We basically had no harvest at all,” was the message we heard over and over as we requested permissions to hunt. Not good news for two Ohio hunters heavily equipped with field hunting gear.
Another blow was to our original plan to hunt the coyotes that infest the area. We found that foreigners are required to hire a guide to hunt coyotes and only one may be taken each day. More bad news.
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