Goose hunters at Nanuk: L to R John Lillibridge, Linda Besse, Jim Olson, John Pfister, Robert Pardo, Vern Larsen

Goose hunters at Nanuk: L to R John Lillibridge, Linda Besse, Jim Olson, John Pfister, Robert Pardo, Vern Larsen

The Dymond Lake and Nanuk goose camps of the past were nothing like they are today. Roughing it, at least to a point, was a requirement even as late as 2009. Things have changed since then with refurbished lodges that are now considered luxurious by Arctic standards.

Our hunting lodges at Dymond Lake and Nanuk now have all the comforts of home, such as heat, running water and solar power, but it seems that’s not the reason the same hunters have been coming back to hunt with Webber’s for over 30 years.

We’d like to think it’s our experience and reliability, or the great food and guides, but what the hunters really love is the adventure. In a place on this earth that very few ever get to experience, with abundant wild game and unmatched camaraderie.

John Lillibridge has hunted geese for over 30 years from North Dakota to Texas and from Argentina to Canada. He’s probably been to Dymond Lake and/or Nanuk in northern Manitoba hunting geese with us at least 15 times. He goes where the hunting is good.

The former U.S. Army Colonel from Pennsylvania has documented many of his goose hunting trips with Webber’s Lodges in diary format via email, and one of our favourites is the one below from a 2009 spring goose hunt at Nanuk. We did some light editing for clarity, and added a few photos from our Nanuk goose hunting archives, but you’ll get the message, that once again…

it’s about the adventure!

Diary of a Spring Goose Hunt (2009)

Geese take flight at Nanuk.

Taking flight at Nanuk.

May 9 – With lots on my mind, I see Hank (hunting dog) with heavy hearted eyes, watching me depart in the Tacoma, sitting on his mat in the front window. Co-pilot Cody navigates to Gillam YGX, but has to be poked a few times to stop snoring while on payroll.

May 10 – Pick up guide, Nap. Tacoma heavy with co-pilot stuffed in behind seat to Gillam. Get there at 11 p.m. Overnight at Aurora Gardens.

May 11 – Depart for Nanuk with Butch, Gordon, Nap, Cody and Cookie at 11:30 a.m. We see geese as soon as we hit the Hudson Bay coast. Numbers are high. Runway is completely open. Air craft is in and gone in 20 minutes. I notice right away that it’s cold even though I dressed for it, and the sun is shining. Little did we know it would be one of the warmest days.

Snow drifts are only half the size of what they have normally been in the past, so I’m thinking it’s going to be easy-to dig in and open the doors. Guide seems to think we need a jack hammer, as the snow drifts are as solid as glacial ice. Regardless, shutters are off and doorways are opened up and we are calling it home in record time.

We immediately go shooting, because as we planned the weather crapped out and Gillam Air could not make the second flight in with groceries and more importantly, firewater. Ed’s Bush House and Bar is open and serving goose soup for supper with bannock provided by seasoned guide, Nap’s secret recipe.

Goose for supper! And for home!

Goose for supper! And for home!

May 12 – We prep with goose soup for breakfast and plan to bed shooters in the famed Snake Pit, close to big hungry woodstove. Firewood has to be put together and guides strike out to find source with shotguns. I hear them banging away in the distance. Guides return with large pile of nice wood and big bunch of birds to send to family back home.

Aircraft arrives with more grub and tracks for 500 Honda. Co-pilot/mechanic puts the tank-like machine together with nothing more said about it, other than it goes everywhere and is good investment!

Speaking of good investment, how about that Cookie? Excellent job! It takes big shoes and it’s a big kitchen when you walk into it. It might not be the fanciest but it holds a lot of history. And from May 11-24 it was almost certainly the coldest kitchen to work in this side of Saturn.

Rarely did the temp get above freezing. Water drum froze every night. I come in one morning to find Ed, who is bricklayer, on his hands and knees in the kitchen scraping the floors. With a trowel ??????? I’m thinking this guy really misses his job back home. He looks at me and says that he wanted clean floors and he went to mopping. The place smelt amazingly pine fresh, but the problem was the floor became a skating rink. So he’s scraping 2 mm thick ice off the floor.

I knew he would do a good job in the kitchen, and it removed the necessity of me doing it. Not too many people are lining up to be Head Chef at Spring Goose Camp. A lifelong friend, I must say thank you to Ed. I do not rely on him to get the goose down out of the sky, but rather into the pot. I believe he ended up getting his rhythm after lots of practice. Firewater passed around the Snake Pit while a howling north wind closed the evening early.

At times there are so many...

At times there are so many…

May 13 – No shooters arrive. Instead we get ugly weather, cold ugly weather! We freeze, and also note that snow geese behave like penguins and huddle in 5,000 to 15,000 flocks on the ocean front, in the raw 50 mph snow pelting winds.

Firewater gets an early start. I learn to listen to old Cree stories this evening. Butch and I go along, and together with guides hatch plan to trap from November to January on the coast of Hudson Bay. The rich fur source and adventure talk brought out boasting rights with many laughs. I recall someone shouting to their forefathers in Cree to change the wind! And someone falling into the woodpile. And then I was crawling home. And the wind was howling.

May 14 – More high winds and aircraft is delayed until late in the day. Shooters arrive. Report comes that they see lots of birds from airplane, from York Factory to Nanuk. It certainly it looks inviting as the aircraft departs and thousands of birds are disturbed by its departure. Shooters gear up and are out for a three hour shoot. They find the raw-carve frozen terrain they have to call home for the next three days, cold!! Few birds moving, they’re behaving like penguin colonies and huddling most of the day trying to thaw. T-bones for super, and if I remember right, apple pie and Cool Whip.

May 15 – Birds seem to fly tall and were tough to get to. We moved around, crossing the river deep into where we kicked them out of, behind the celery patch. Sure enough there was an open water hole, and tank- like tracks back into the willows produced rewards.

No missing here :)

No missing here 🙂

May 16, 17 – Tall tales of past shooting were shared. Only those who have seen it can appreciate watching your buddy stand up and take a double set of blues, or miss clean three rounds on a single white snow that has come at you like an arrow shot. Usually it’s me who misses that shot! Nightly gatherings around the comfort of the hot wood-fired stove at the Snake Pit and firewater flowing with tunes. I suffer the next day real bad. Goose soup was a first for most the next day and boy did it taste good. And filling! Mmmm. I also read a few comments about it on the wall in the new portable outhouse we had constructed.

Shooting was not bad, but nothing like I had come to know in the past. Weird kind of, and it seemed different from all other spring experiences.  Birds were in plentiful, but not flighty, almost like they knew they better not get too comfortable. As if Mother Nature was raising her hackles and they could sense the oncoming typhoon blizzard from hell she was creating for us.

Donna’s voice on the satellite phone was stressing. “It’s a huge front,” she said. With 25 cm of snow predicted for Sunday night and Monday and 70 km winds, the wind chill would be minus 25.

Having to say good bye to the guns a day early was the only option as they needed to meet other schedules and did not want to be snowed in for three days, or five, so Sunday afternoon six guns departed. We did a final check around the yard to grab all items and the shooters were not gone an hour when the sky became ominously dark with birds in flight, tons of them.

May 18 – Needless to say, the storm was everything they said it would be. It started with rain and then for the next 14 hours built to wind-shearing peak. At its height you could not walk outside without being completely blasted from all angles with snow. To walk in the open without shelter would mean death. The storm lasted 26 hours. The outhouse was full of snow.

May 19 – New shooters get in after a long wait in Gillam. With them comes report of a lot of birds in the immediate area. Aircraft has to be careful, as we are now hosting three-quarters of a million birds on 20 miles of coastline and facing possibly a peak movement of birds. The storm has sucked huge quantities of snows, some blues and ducks, and now concentrations are building. Snow in the area has remained block hard and we are able to get shooters under the birds. The rest is history!

Crossing the river of ice is tricky, and you want to have each foot placed solid and sure all the time. I was tested many times out there and have a few strained muscles. I know our most respected shooter deserves a lot of credit for enduring a tough Tour of Duty. One for the record books!! I sensed he was getting down on himself, but make no mistake, you should be proud and hope you will forever be able to call the shots. And if your bride will let you, can be sure we will be there! I am not sure what we had for breakfast, supper or lunch on this day, but it was good really good!

Goose migration at Nanuk.

Goose migration at Nanuk.

May 20-23 – Above average but still it seems the birds are not flying. The sheer noise of them is incredible, but still flights are high and shooter is frustrated and wearing down. Shooting could be gauged and monitored differently in the future. One or two of these days we get sunlight and warmer temps. Little weather systems move through and it was easy after a while to tell when the birds were going to move. As the weather changed they got all stirred up. Guide celebrates 55th birthday. Clouds of birds are moving around on the coast and inland. Made for good shooting opportunities and several banded geese and collars were harvested.

May 24 – Shooters are out early with instructions to be ready by 4:00 p.m. flight out. I hear them banging away all morning. We go into shutdown mode and as a group condense down to getting out of Nanuk today. Big blue sky is burning the snow up like crazy and it’s popping like popcorn. Birds fly all day. Shooters depart 4:25 p.m. for Gillam. Sky starts to get dark in the northwest. We are hoping to get out yet today. Was a good hunt and tour, but 16 days in the freezer is tough.

Robins were doing the mating thing those last few days, as were the flickers, who became elusive quarry with master guide. Spring seems to have a slight grip, pussy willows are budding. Seven feet of snow still covered all the willows, but the swamps had all opened up. On our flight out at 6:30 p.m. we saw geese all the way down the coast, in some areas very dense flocks. Most of the rivers had opened up on the coast and flooded areas back in the distance held uncountable masses of white and dark geese.

Hit the road at Gillam at 8:00 p.m. Across to drop Nap off at midnight, then drove until 4:00 a.m. before four-hour snooze. Co-pilot is still snoring but it’s worse now as he stinks like a really bad greasy goose fart! Finally did get home, with sore body parts. Hope to do this again some time, a big thanks to all involved

Hank was sitting in the window waiting for me. Wife said he was looking for me the whole time.

A fine day for a spring goose hunt. And a great spot!

A fine day for a spring goose hunt. And a great spot!