Hunters Pump Buckshot, Dollars Into Local Economy

Hunters have flocked back to the middle of the Greenhead flyway in this part of North America to try their skill—and luck in bagging their limit and to just have a trip out with the boys. And as they pump their shotguns in the air they fill some of the local economy with tourist dollars.

News editor Rich Holmes travelled with a group of tourists on a crisp fall morning to look at the hunt first hand.

It’s up at 5:15 a.m. and time to hunt around in the dark for the red long-johns. Then an undershirt with a variety of other “outdoor” attire. Toast, juice and a trip to town to meet the guys around the coffee table. They are from Missouri (arriving by private jet), Ontario, Provost and Jasper. One of them asks if I brought my camouflage clothing. No. So he hands me an extra set. Good thing it’s dark as I promptly zip my jacket into his baggy pants and the zipper falls apart. Nobody sees. So far, so good. Then—was I really planning on wearing my red toque? I guess not. So I’m handed a dark coloured one.

It’s 6:25 and we’re moving down the highway east, meeting several cars and trucks on their way to town to work.

Pulling into a farmyard it’s still dark. Guns and ammo are unloaded and strategy made. We walk a quarter of a mile then break into smaller groups. My hunter-guide points to all the geese on the lake, and yes, I can see some of them way over there on the water. I think. It’s 6:55 a.m. and I’m told to sit still. Birds wing quickly overhead and the first blast from my guide’s shotgun brings down the first bird of the morning. Ten minutes later we hear shots from our buddies a quarter mile to the east. No bird falls but moments later we can actually hear the buckshot land in the grass nearby.

Running the camera, my hands are starting to get cold. More shots. Daylight and a few minutes later our hunters are up from their hiding spots and crossing a barbed wire fence to pick up the birds they hit. We hunt for one goose a few hundred yards away and it’s like looking for a golf ball in the rough. Finally it’s found and after the smoke clears there are 15 birds ready to take home. Smiles, slaps on the backs and enthusiastic handshakes over a successful hunt. A hunter gets one of the trucks and before birds are loaded any empty shotgun shells are picked up and taken away.

One of the hunters estimates that there were 10,000 birds on the water and if they wanted they could have gotten more but they respect the resting place for the animals and do not venture more than a half mile from the rest area. They won’t come back to this spot for several days as the birds “are very, very smart” points out one of the visitors and won’t return if hunters show up too often.

Back at the following breakfast in a restaurant there’s a table full talking about the hunt: Claudio Venchiarutti from Jasper who along with Domenic Venchiarutti operate a lodge there, businessman Ted Rivett of Oshawa, Ontario who operates a hardware supply company and pal Gary Down, a retired principal who is also from Oshawa, Pak Wong of Provost, who has been hosting the group, Charlie Hager, Warren Hager and Ralph Hager, all of St. Louis, Missouri. These three men are part owners of a family-operated business called Hager Companies that has been in operation for 151 years and employs about 1,000 people with six offices in the U.S. as well as a branch in Canada and the Middle East. Their firm makes hinges and various hardware items for architectural and commercial building uses.

The hunting is a diversion for the Americans as it is for many other tourists. The St. Louis people travel between 500 and 600 miles per hour at 40,000 feet in the private jet for the three and one half hour flight to the Provost airport. The day before one of the hunters had a meeting in New York so the jet picked him up and then returned two days later for the rest of the men. On the way in they were delighted when they had to tell the pilot to watch out for reported geese on the runway.

The hunters spend money in Provost and one of them estimates he uses up $150 each day he is here. That doesn’t count travel to get to town. They spend money on food and lodging at the different motels and hotel as well as several restaurants. They also purchase ammunition, some clothing, liquor and groceries and other miscellaneous purchases. I ask them to do the math on my question: if there’s 10,000 birds at this one site alone and you guys brought in a total of 15, what percentage got away? They stare at me and then a moment later laughter erupts and one of the Americans suggest that it costs them about “a thousand dollars a pound” for the geese. More laughter. More coffee.

But at $150 per day times an estimated 500 hunters in Provost for an average of a one week stay each over the hunting season that works out to roughly $525,000 pumped into the community. And that doesn’t count licences and taxes and other fees left behind.
Why do you guys come to Provost, though, I ask and one of the Hagers replies in all seriousness: “to be with Ted Rivett.” Camaraderie and friendships are important.

Rivett, from Ontario and on his fifth trip here responds: “Provost has one of the most beautiful wildlife views in the world.”
The banter continues and we soon learn that some are so enthusiastic that one day a group of them bagged their limit in Ontario and stood around wondering what to do. Hunt some more: this time back in the U.S.A. where they bagged their limit there on the same day—all legally.

Another visitor tells me that he has never met a more friendly or nicer people in the world out of ‘all the places I hunt” than right here. Another agrees and is amazed that he can wear his hunting hat and other gear in downtown Provost and “not have the SWAT team called out.” Yet another tourists notes that the numbers of birds here is amazing “these numbers just don’t exist elsewhere.” This flyway is one of the biggest migrating routes in Canada and is named the Greenhead route. It stretches from about Biggar, Sask. to Camrose. The best time to hunt the geese is late September until near the end of October when the hundreds of thousands of birds wing their way from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.

The limit in Alberta per day per hunter is 10 snow geese, eight grey geese and eight ducks.

Soon more visitors from Minnesota, Florida, Chicago, Idaho, Utah, B.C., Alberta and Ontario will put their guns skyward and pay up to $3 for ammo every time they pull the trigger.

With breakfast nearly over, some of the hunters ask how I liked going out on the hunt. It was fun. But at -8 degrees Celsius most of the time with a biting wind in my back, I remember why I went out only once before with my buddies—33 years ago. My fingers are still cold and stiff when I get up to leave.

And deer season is next.

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