It’s late-April and Ontario’s Ottawa Valley is quiet. But this fall it will fill with raucous, migrating honkers gorging themselves on local crops before beating their way further south. Ryan Reynolds, Apex Waterfowling, and Ramsey touch base during the “Covid Pause.” How does Canada goose hunting in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley differ from western provinces? What’s unique about interior Canada geese as compared to other subspecies? Ryan offers his candid appraisal of shotshells and the two hatch plans for the upcoming season.
Ottawa Valley Ontario Canada Goose Hunting, Ryan Reynolds
Ramsey Russell: Hey, all you cool cats and kittens. Or is it more like, hey, all you blankity-blanks. Man, it seems like a lifetime ago I watched Tiger King, when this COVID stuff got started. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, that I watched that show. But look, I am on the line with Ontario today. Today’s guest is Ryan Reynolds of Apex Waterfowling, right there in the Ottawa Valley. Ryan, how are you today?
Ryan Reynolds: I am good today. Sun’s shining. It’s a nice day here, for a change, and I’m doing fantastic. I can’t complain at this point.
Ramsey Russell: Well, here we are, late April. What is the weather like in Ontario? I’m way down here in the Deep South, Mississippi, and you’re way up there in Ontario. Right now, today, we’re, say, 75°. What are y’all looking like up there?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, we’re not there, that’s for sure. I mean, it’s nice, we’re nice enough here. Let’s put it this way: we’re five days into our spring turkey season here. So we’re right around the 32° mark at daybreak, sitting up against the tree, listening to some thunder chickens. And then in the afternoons, we’re getting up to mid-50’s right now, type-deal. So that kind of weather that makes you want to get outside, but you still need to wear a sweater in the morning. But it’s nice, grass is starting to turn green. We’re not far off of it now, so.
Ramsey Russell: I’m jealous. We’re already on our tenth grass cutting, I guess something like that. The whole spring thing is in full swing. But hey, look, tell everybody real quick. Who the heck is Ryan Reynolds? Who are you?
Ryan Reynolds: Well, there’s a good question. Who is Ryan Reynolds? I am a waterfowl enthusiast. I guess I’m an entrepreneur, and a father. I’m 35 now, so I’ve been doing this for seventeen years, I guess. The whole guiding game, I’ve been in it. So yeah, who am I? That’s it in a nutshell. I own my own waterfowl operation. I’m Canada’s largest duck and goose call manufacturer. I’m very fortunate for that. Father first, to one little boy, who’s about to turn ten, actually, on Saturday. How ten years goes by like that, that’s a mystery.
Who is Ryan Reynolds, Apex Waterfowling, Canada Goose Hunts in Ontario?
I remember being fifteen years old shooting a limit of Canada geese; myself, the old man, my brother, and a couple of buddies. And you were getting phone calls from people. Dad was getting phone calls from people wanting to see pictures of a limit of twenty-five Canada geese. It was a big thing because people just weren’t doing it. – Ryan Reynolds, Apex Waterfowling
Ramsey Russell: Y’all don’t play baseball up there, do you?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, we’re a big baseball family. He’s a big ball player, and fortunately he gets coaching with a really good staff. It’s pretty much our passion. He’s into that all year round. So if we’re not waterfowl hunting, we’re usually either in a baseball facility or on a diamond somewhere. But not right now, thanks to everything that’s going on, but that’s our backgrounds, really.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you say you’ve been guiding for seventeen years, half your life nearly. What’s your hunting background? How did that all start?
Ryan Reynolds: I grew up in a hunting family. I’ve got pictures, from a very young age, hunting with my dad. My dad was definitely my influence into the hunting world. It was just a way of life. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I think I’m going to be a hunter. That looks fun.” We were a hunting family. So I grew up doing every kind of hunting with Dad: rabbit hunting, deer hunting, all that kind of stuff. As I kind of got around the age of, I’d say maybe eleven or so, Dad took me goose hunting for the first time, just down the road from the house on the neighbor’s farm. And there was just something about it, and that was kind of the trigger.
And from there, it was a massive escalation of, “I need to get myself a goose call. I need to figure out how this is done. I need to figure out how I can get these birds as close to me as possible on a regular basis.” And then, as much as I embraced it at BH—like I said, around eleven is kind of where I got hooked, but as I got into twelve and thirteen years old and got my hunting license at that age, I could go and do it. My old man really helped fuel that fire by— He’d get home from work every day at 4:15, and I would be sitting in the driveway with either the four-wheeler in the trailer, loaded up with the goose decoys that we had, to go across the road; or his waders and a bag of duck floaters sitting in the driveway as a hint that we needed to go down the road to the bay. And he would. He’d get home, take his lunch pail in, change his gear, and he’d take me to whichever one I wanted to go to, the field or the pond, and sit there until it got dark and let me blow the call. And just, if nothing come in, nothing come in. If something come in, something come in. But he was definitely the one that supported it and allowed me to be in the field to let the passion grow.
That’s where everything really got started for me. But he doesn’t complain about it. He never complained about it then, and he never complains about it now, because now he doesn’t own a goose decoy or anything. He just tells me, or asks me, when and where he needs to show up, and he’s just like a regular old client. He’s got himself a personal guide. So it all panned out for him at the end. But he was definitely the man behind my ability to grow into it like I did, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. It sounds like mostly y’all grew up shooting Canada geese, is that true?
Ryan Reynolds: That is true. That’s all we really had at the time. Especially when I started, all those years ago. It was a big thing, you shot a limit of Canada geese. I remember being fifteen years old shooting a limit of Canada geese; myself, the old man, my brother, and a couple of buddies. And you were getting phone calls from people. Dad was getting phone calls from people wanting to see pictures of a limit of twenty-five Canada geese.
It was a big thing because people just weren’t doing it, and there wasn’t that many of them really to be seen in our area. They were very limited to where they were. That is mainly what we shot growing up, and what we do now, too, for the most part. There’s certainly lots of other options. We’ve got a wide array of duck species population, which is incredible. But growing up, I would say the geese were kind of the main target.
Ramsey Russell: That’s pretty cool. You know, the South doesn’t really have a goose hunting culture like y’all do. I’ve shot Canada geese—my granddad would take a week or two off, hunt the river for them, and stuff like that. But I felt like, growing up—I was raised back in the 70’s and 80’s—in those days, it really wasn’t a goose hunting culture, it was ducks. And when I get up there with y’all, it’s like Canada geese, Canada geese, Canada geese, of epic proportion. That’s just the whole big deal, isn’t it?
Ryan Reynolds: It definitely is. And it kind of plays right into it, too, with the area that we’re in. Like I said, there’s lots of ducks and varied species, and the duck hunting is great. But it really boils down to the ease—not to downplay goose hunting, Canada goose hunting, obviously there’s a lot to it. But when you get here where we are, especially, just the sheer number of Canada geese. A normal hunter can’t drive his daily commute to work without seeing ten thousand geese. I mean, obviously, guys are drawn to it. Land access is tricky. It’s all public owned, but it’s very doable. And everybody knows somebody that’s got permission on the field somewhere. And most fields around here are going to have geese in them at some point in time or another in the season. So it’s really easy for guys to be drawn to it, which certainly adds to the culture of it, for sure.
Canada Response to Covid-19
Ramsey Russell: Well, tell me this, all this pandemic going on right now—and I’m sure everybody listening, even if they’re deemed essential and they’re at work, or working from home, or something, everybody is affected by it. And I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, every international boundary I’ve ever stepped across is sealed off right now. But what is going on in Canada? I know that a lot of spring bear hunters, a lot of spring turkey hunters, a lot of spring goose hunters were unable to go to Canada this year. But what is the Canadian response to the COVID-19 pandemic? What’s going on with y’all? Are y’all sheltered in place? Are the grocery stores open? Tell me what’s going on in Canada right now.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, that’s a good topic, actually. So right now, you’ve got one end of the spectrum to the other. Right now, everybody’s under state of emergency and lockdown’s in place. They’ve dialed it down to the essential workers, who are going to work, and all that kind of jazz. The vast majority of the country is self-quarantining at home under “lockdown,” and that kind of stuff. Our grocery stores are open. There’s a lot of places, that are essential service places, that are only allowing five people in the store at a time.
The grocery store in my hometown—the entire grocery store—they’re only letting five people in at a time. There’s a lot of stores doing curbside pickup. So you’re calling your order in, that kind of stuff. We’re pretty much locked down now, especially where I am here in Ontario. The bigger populations—you’ve got Ottawa, Toronto—we’re still seeing an increase in cases. The increase has slowed, but things are still increasing. And then there’s Saskatchewan, which is another province that’s very relevant for me, I think they were down to four cases and talking about opening up their provincial economy here in the next couple of weeks. So that’s kind of the one end of the spectrum to the other. And, really, at the end of the day it all boils down to, who really knows, because every day something changes with it, so.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s changing day to day, and we don’t know. I was talking to some friends and associates over in Sweden and in hindsight, two months later, it looks like they had the right course. I kind of like that herd immunity response they had. Their mortality is very comparable, percent-wise or so, to the United States’s, but nothing shut down. Economically, they’re light years ahead of everybody right now. The restaurants stayed open, the bars and stores, their public spaces, and everybody just kind of obeyed the general protocol of distancing and not putting yourself at unnecessary risk and doing things. And, oh boy, I kind of wish, in hindsight, that everybody had done that. But I don’t know.
Ryan Reynolds: That’s for sure. Being in the position that I’m in, and following everything, I would throw my name in that hat, to really summarize how I feel about that.
Ramsey Russell: Well, how have you spent the last 6 weeks or so of quarantine, the shelter in place type life? Have you been eating a bunch or have you been, what?
Ryan Reynolds: No. Well, there’s been some great documentaries come out. You mentioned Tiger King at the beginning. That one came out at the right time.
Ramsey Russell: Did you watch it?
Ryan Reynolds: You know what? For about the first four days that it was out, and it was blowing up on social media, I actually turned to my wife and said, “Nope, I’m not going to fall into that. We’re not doing it.” But it’s just one of those things. And then we watched ten minutes of the first episode, one night sitting here bored, and I don’t know that we did anything else until we finished it, unfortunately enough. So yes, I did watch it.
Ramsey Russell: It’s like, some things you can’t take back. Here’s a spoiler alert for anybody who hasn’t seen Tiger King: it’s like The Village People retired and went to work for a carnival. And if you ever wondered what carnies do in the off season, they go to cat farms down in Florida with tigers and lions. And that’s it in a nutshell. And my kids turned it on, Ryan. And I’m just sitting here thinking, “I’m not watching this mess,” and it was like a train wreck. I couldn’t quit watching. I just ended up binge watching the whole freaking thing.
Ryan Reynolds: Yep, I think that’s how everybody was.
Ramsey Russell: It was nuts. It was absolutely nuts.
Ryan Reynolds: I couldn’t agree more. So to answer your question: yes, I did, I have binge watched Tiger King, but that’s not the only thing I’ve been doing. We’ve been trying to stay busy, trying to stay healthy, trying to stay active. I think we’ve cleaned every corner of the house, and, for the first time ever, I may be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel of the honey-do list. And just focusing on business. Trying to stay relevant, trying to just keep up on everything to make sure that we’re set up, to be ready to push the go button as soon as they say that we can, on the back side of all this. So staying active and trying not to just fall into the couch.
Ramsey Russell: Same here. I’m getting things done on the web page I hadn’t done in forever that I needed to be doing. Sorting my tool sheds, getting them clean, getting them sorted, literally and figuratively speaking. My house is as clean as a surgical ward, thanks to my wife. I’m ready to get on the road. I love what I do, but I’m enjoying the break. I’m not going to lie to you, man, I’m enjoying not hunting, for now.
Ryan Reynolds: There’s always a silver lining in everything. Right at the beginning of this, they announced on—I think it was March 15th—that the border was closed. And that was fourteen days to the T that I was supposed to start spring snow goose hunting with my spring snow goose season. I have four weeks for spring snow goose books. So they shut that down two weeks beforehand. So we kind of went from that category of “How are we dealing with this?” while we were re-structuring things, moving guys to next year, keeping people happy. Just juggling all that business stuff with a certain level of panic because it’s not something that anybody saw coming or could have planned for, right down to the silver lining of, this past weekend was opening weekend of the turkey season here in Ontario. And I got to spend the first two days of the season in the turkey blind with my son. And we were successful both days that he was in the blind. So, to have those experiences and those memories where, if COVID hadn’t have been happening, I would have been at my snow goose camp running snow goose hunts and not on those hunts with my son. So there’s a silver lining to everything, at the end of the day.
Canada Goose Hunting in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley
We sacked out—me, you, Forrest, and your buddy—sacked our twenty geese. Four 5-goose limits a piece—four limits, correct? And before we could grab the birds and take a picture, get our decoys in the trailer, drive out of the field, 2,500 geese began rallying in flocks of twenty-five and fifty and a hundred. And before I knew it, they’re all just sitting on the ten acres in front of us, and that was a sight to see. – Ramsey Russell
Ramsey Russell: Well, I sure hope. And I’m an eternal optimist, I believe things are going to straighten out. But I sure enjoyed coming to hunt with you last year. Forrest and I—of course, Apex Waterfowling is a USHuntList outfitter—but Forrest and I flew up and hunted with you there in Ottawa Valley. And I’ve hunted Canada a lot, and I’ve hunted in Ontario before, but I had never hunted your part of Ontario.
And it was incredible. It was incredible. I think it truly is. I was posting those Instagram stories of some of those fields, and I got asked by somebody, “As much as you travel and as much as you hunt, how often do you get to see that?” And I’m like, “I’m 53 years old. I’ve never seen what I saw this morning.” Which was, essentially, we sacked out—me, you, Forrest, and your buddy—sacked out twenty geese. Four 5-goose limits a piece—four limits, correct? And before we could grab the birds and take a picture, get our decoys in the trailer, drive out of the field, 2,500 geese began rallying in flocks of twenty-five and fifty and a hundred. And before I knew it, they’re all just sitting on the ten acres in front of us, and that was a sight to see. That was something.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, it certainly is. You know, we get stuck in the field like that on a regular basis, and I usually tell people that if an unknowing bystander was witnessing it, they’d swear that we were being attacked and had become overrun by them, if it just looked like that from the road. Because they do. When that light switch goes off and everything gets off the water for their morning feed, if you’re still there wrapping up and whatnot, you can get sacked in. And that’s exactly what we do. We usually sit back and enjoy the show and then run off the big mass with the dog, and pretty much turn picking up decoys and getting over there into a new Olympic sport, see how fast we can do it.
Ramsey Russell: I love hunting in Canada—and I love hunting in Western Canada, too, don’t get me wrong, Saskatchewan, Alberta,the peat fields. So much of what people, especially people that have never been to Canada, envision Canada being, is Western Canada. The rolling hills with the barley, and things like that. And Ontario is not that. How would you describe to them the difference in Ontario versus Western Canada?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah. You know, being fortunate to hunt both of them every year, the biggest differences are the West, again, is just vast. For anybody who’s been there, you understand it, for anybody that hasn’t, you can’t understand it. Yeah, miles. You literally can’t see any farther. Where, Ontario here, the terrain has more of a roll to it. We’re hunting smaller fields. A 300 acre cornfield is a big field. Most fields are 150, 200 acres. The shoot at the field, the hunt that you were just talking about, was a grass field that might not have been any more than a seven or eight acres type-deal. We hunt that. Corn is a big green here. So cornfields, bean fields, alfalfa fields early on, tree lines, lots of rock piles in the middle of fields. It’s broke up a lot more, really. If you were to take away all the tree lines and the hardwood forests, I’m sure that it would look a lot like the prairies. But we’re a lot more broke up here, for sure. We don’t have the big, high hills that allow you to see for as far as the eye can see. We’re much more broke up that way, here.
Ramsey Russell: It is, and land ownership is a lot different, too. Whereas, I think it’s changing. I think it’s coming to an end. But, whereas out in Western Canada you can still kind of hop around, knock on some doors, boy, Ontario—not. When I think of Western Canada, I think of barley and peas and, unfortunately, too much canola. And when I think of Ontario, I think of side farms, dairies, and a lot of corn fields to support the dairies. It’s real fractionalized ownerships. I think Forrest and I hunted for three days, hunted a sod farm one day, one of the corn fields the other, and probably the biggest field we hunted was a quarter-section, 160 acres. And then the rest of them were just smaller, and that’s what was so astounding. In the dark, you’re putting out decoys and you can imagine it being a 1,000 acre field. But when it gets light you realize, “Holy cow, this field’s ten acres. I’m in a little ten-acre square surrounded by trees. That’s crazy.” Whereas you go to Western Canada, you’re shooting what I call bigs, littles and mediums, in terms of Canada geese. And over there it was just big to medium, just one goose. It was that Interior Canada Goose population of geese.
Ryan Reynolds: Exactly. That standard, cookie cutter, migratory Canada goose in Ontario. That’s exactly it. Some are bigger than others, some are smaller than others, but at the end of the day, it’s just that cookie cutter migrator.
Ramsey Russell: And there’s another distinction, speaking of migration, another big distinction. When you go to Saskatchewan, Alberta, somewhere like that, some of the birds, especially the big Canadas or local birds, they nest there. And so, early in the season, especially, some of those birds, ducks, and geese are locals. But then come the Arctic migrators. Now, this time of year in Ontario, y’all don’t really have any Canada geese, do you?
Ryan Reynolds: Not to speak of. You’ve got your golf course geese, and your park geese in the city, but on a scale it probably wouldn’t even register on our Canada goose population from, let’s call it what we hold in the summer to what’s here during the migration, for sure, everything that passes through. If you were to drive through here any time of the year, outside of the fall migration and obviously the trip back home in spring for them, you’d swear she was a barren ground. You would ask every question you could think of how we actually have geese here. We don’t hold them. They are tundra birds, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Up there in the Arctic tundra, and they come down to your area. You were explaining to me this fall, there’s something geographically that attracts those birds. The way the rivers fork, or the way the rivers come together, and you got this big fertile corn valley right between them.
Ryan Reynolds: That’s exactly it. If you were to look at a topographical map of where these birds start to where they hit here in Ontario, it’s an hourglass. Really, they all come down off that tundra and they funnel through to eastern Ontario. It’s just the Corn Belt. It’s the agricultural land, the vast berries. It basically bottlenecks them all right here. For a lot of those birds, we’re the first stop. So they all stop here, they all jump here, they hang here until they essentially get frozed up. And then, more or less, once they cross that border at Upstate New York and make it to the Finger Lakes, let’s call it, it basically hourglasses back out, and that’s where they’ll fan out and they’re not nearly as condensed as they are here. It’s the same fyland, it’s the same bird, but that hourglass opens back up kind of once you get into Upstate New York. And these birds will cover Maryland, Virginia—
Ramsey Russell: Delaware, Virginia, Delmarva area; Chesapeake Bay, New York, Pennsylvania. Right?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah.
Migrational timing hunting ducks and geese in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley
Ramsey Russell: That’s very interesting. I know Canada geese is the big deal, and I know you’ve got a lot of mallards. But how does the migrational timing of ducks and geese all come into play in that part of the world?
Ryan Reynolds: The goose migration is easier to see, just because we have so many of them and the corn fields are everywhere. So they’re just a little bit more visible when the migration shows up. We have phenomenal duck hunting. In our early season, we have a big population of mallards and teal and wood ducks. We shoot a pile of wigeon we have around here. And then, kind of as the immigration starts to go on, we have, for the guys who like chasing different species: goldeneyes, we have lesser scaup, we have greater scaup, redheads, oldsquaw. We shoot a lot of oldsquaw offshore, which I don’t know too many other places that you can do something like that. We shoot oldsquaws offshore. So if somebody gets a hold of me and says, “Listen, this is what I’m looking to achieve,” I’m pretty much going to give them a time of year where that’s the best time to target a species. Because when you really get into where a lot of our backwater starts freezing up, that’s where our duck migration becomes a little more evident. They got less stand with less places to hide. And it kind of congregates them, right? Because we are on the St. Lawrence River, which is one of the last places to freeze. We are on top of Lake Ontario, which really, I can count on one hand how many times it’s frozen since I was in grade school. So we hold all of those birds, and as everything else freezes up it puts that concentration of all of our ducks on there. By mid-November, we’re into pretty much whatever species of ducks the guy wants to go and chase. And everything is a mixed bag on those hunts, for that matter.
Ramsey Russell: Man, that’s crazy. So I know, I’ve been up there to hunt with you, Forrest and I came up there, third week of October, it was Canadas. And I know, mid-to-late November, the Canada geese are going to start beating it back down. But down further south, the ducks are going to start showing up. Is that kind of the timeline, and how long does y’all’s season run there?
Ryan Reynolds: So our honker season usually goes to sometime right around the end of December, anywhere from the 28th to 30th is usually when our honker season goes out. And our duck season goes until, this year it went to January 11th. It’s usually either January 9th or January 11th, just depends on where that Saturday happens to fall in September and January where it closes and opens. So, but it’s right around that ballpark, depending on the calendar. And the honkers usually start to roll out in the mass numbers by the end of November. We hunt them right up until closing day, but instead of seeing 20,000 of them type-deal in a field, you’re going to see 5,000-6,000 of them in a field. Because our big water still holds, you know, for most people it holds the most Canada geese that they’re ever going to see. But for us it’s smaller numbers, so to speak, without sounding egotistical on it. That’s just the facts of it. But by mid-November is usually when our combo hunts will start to overlap. By mid-November, when things start cooling off and the backwater starts freezing and the rest of that northern migration starts pushing through.
That’s when we end up with the combo hunts in the field with the mallards and the corn fields. And that’s when all the other late ducks are in, and we can go set up on the water and shoot duck limits. The last two weeks of November is where those kind of overlap, and then December is usually where we get into more specific duck hunts. They’re just more reliable, from an outfitter’s end of things, they’re just more reliable for your concentrated duck hunts, the last half of November and December into January. I’m a big believer and I don’t like making promises that I can’t keep. So, if somebody wants to go duck hunting for whatever species, I usually push them into the later part of the season, just for better opportunities. But, yeah, it’s usually mid-November that we start to see everything kind of mixed together.
Ramsey Russell: It’s just crazy to me that y’all’s season ends the 11th or 12th of January, and Mississippi’s season, which is all the way across the nation, they fly all the way down to the bottom and it’s just twenty days later.
Ryan Reynolds: We used to close on December 20th, forever growing up duck season was December 20th. I’m trying to think, I don’t know, actually, if I gave a year that they switched it I’d probably end up being a liar because I’d be guessing at it, now that I get started. But it’s been quite a few years that we’ve been able to go into January to shoot ducks. Which is, hey, I’ll take it.
Distinct Canada Goose migration corridors in Ontario
Ramsey Russell: Y’all are probably 200 to 230 miles from Kingsville, Ontario, which is where Jack Miner is. How many Jack Miner bands do y’all recover, out there in Ottawa Valley?
Ryan Reynolds: Not a one. For as long as I’ve been guiding full time, which I could say, I started full time, I guess, at nineteen. I have not spent any less than a hundred days in the field each fall, and I have never seen a Miner band harvested in this area. They just do not come this way. I’ve never seen one recovered.
Ramsey Russell: And I guess that’s because they’re different birds. They’re different Canada geese.
Ryan Reynolds: Very different Canada geese. They come off the tundra, and I guess, if they’re looking down at the States, they go right and everything we get goes left. And their migration, from what I understand, is actually much shorter distance, too, for them.
Ramsey Russell: Those are the James Bay birds, is that pretty much what they are?
Ryan Reynolds: They are. They would be in what they would consider to be the James Bay population, yes.
Ramsey Russell: That’s crazy. I had this conversation the other day. Somebody asked me how many species I had killed, and I said, “Well, it depends on how you count them, how far down the food chain do you speciate?” In general terms, when you think of Canadas, you’ve got the bigs and the littles, the cacklers and the Canada geese proper. And within those two forks, you’ve got basically eleven subspecies of Canada geese and Cackler geese recognized. And I count just two of them right now, although I know Tavener’s, Aleutian’s, the westerns, the interiors, the Richardson’s. Some of them are just real easy to spot out. You got them in hand, especially, because of where you’re hunting, especially, you know what you’ve got. But then, at some point and level, you about have to break out the calipers and get down into the systematics of these species on how these people have been categorized. For me to understand, anyway. It’s not very obvious, like specklebelly versus Canada goose versus snow goose. We start getting into the subspecies of sky pandas. It gets real different. But it blows my mind how, just that little bit of difference on a map. I could drive that in three hours if the po-po wasn’t pulling me over for laying the hammer back. But it’s just that little bit of difference. I’ve got this big goose, James Bay population, that comes down, clips the southeast corner of Ontario, and sometimes will range far south of Ohio, and stuff like that. Then just a little bit to the east, I’ve got an entire separate population—that’s also in the Arctic, but not the James Bay—that’s coming down through the Ottawa Valley and spinning around up to the Atlantic coast. That just blows my mind.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, and when you say it, it’s mind boggling. But then when you really look at it on a map, and at the end of the day, the difference in distance that these birds travel from one flyway to another. And then it all boils back to the point that you made: like, sure, they’re subspecies, but they’re all the same at the end of the day. And it’s that different way that they’re ingrained. They don’t travel as far, they act differently. They’re so close to the point where they leave the nesting grounds together, but they just go a different way, and they’re just geared differently to where they migrate on a totally different principle. It’s pretty awesome, really, to really boil it down like that.
Canada Goose discussion
Ramsey Russell: I had a great podcast conversation with Corey Loeffler, back this fall, I was passing through Minnesota, hunted with him. And he was talking about the molt migrators. I know that’s a big deal for Canada goose hunters up North. And we got to talking about the giant Canada, which is the great big one. Even down here in the Deep South, those giant Canadas are resident birds. And as I understand it, at one time, the giant Canada was thought to be extinct, as recently as the late 50’s, early 60’s. Somebody found them and figured out that these birds were coming from Manitoba to a certain place in Minnesota, and that was it. That was their migration quarter: Manitoba to Minnesota. It don’t go cold in Minnesota in the wintertime, even today.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, I think the Rochester area.
Ramsey Russell: Rochester, Minnesota. And it’s my understanding that, say there were ninety some odd pairs of those geese, they took them and began to build up the population. And so now, effectively, North Dakota, Minnesota, clear on over to the resident bird, I’m sure, in Ontario, New York, on down to Ohio, further on down because Mississippi brought in truckloads of them, that’s that same genetic material. And you got to wonder, if a genetic species that historically migrated from Interlake, Manitoba, to Rochester, Minnesota, if they, just for eons, had migrated no further south than the Minnesota, no wonder when you put them in Mississippi or put them here, put them anywhere you put them, they don’t migrate.
Ryan Reynolds: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got to find—and I’m hunting hard—I’ve talked to a couple, got a few names jotted down, but I’ve got to find a bonafide world expert of Canada geese. I want to have this conversation. Because I know my grandfather, some of the very few hunting documents I’ve got of his, was his “goose camp.” Which was just a loose collection of friends that would get in a boat launch on an oxbow in Greenville, Mississippi, go down river a few miles, dig into a sand bar for a couple of weeks back in the 40’s and 50’s. And they hunted Canada Geese, migrators, Canada Geese. Well, by the 70’s, he himself was driving up to Cairo, Illinois, to shoot migrator Canadas. And now you talk to a lot of boys in Butler County, Kentucky, and western Tennessee and Illinois, they don’t get the migrator Canadas anymore. I just think it’s a fascinating topic. How these different little cohorts of Canada geese, how their migration is so different. To myself, I wonder, is their migration learned, or is there some kind of genetic factor? I wonder. I don’t know. I wonder.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and just sit there and listen to somebody that knew something about that talk about it. It would be incredibly interesting. That’s for sure.
Ramsey Russell: How big are those? How big would you say the Canada geese y’all shoot are? Because they’re not as big as some of the great big giant sky pandas I put my hands on. Am I right in saying that those interior geese Forrest and I shot with you are eight to ten pounds on average? Is that about right?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah. I think ten pounds would probably be on the upside. Yeah, I think you’re probably closer in that ballpark of that eight pounds, like a six to eight type-deal. Yeah, kind of, again, run of the mill type-deal. Yeah, I would say six to eight would probably be a pretty good average. You’re gonna kill a ten-pounder, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: They’re big Canadas. But when we were bringing them in, when I first put my hands on them, they looked like a big Canada with their paddles down or coming in. But if you put your hands on them they’re not the giants. They’re not just giant.
Ryan Reynolds: No, they’re not your giants. They’re not going to be those ones that, if you’re used to hunting— Again, let’s compare Ontario to the prairies. You go to Saskatchewan, and the first sixty to come off in the morning are those giants that don’t get any farther than ten feet off the ground, coming across the field screaming at you. They’re not those birds. They’re not those giants that you’re relating to. They’re not a small either. They’re twice the size of a lesser, let’s call it, right? The guys are so typically used to shooting on the western side of States, Canada and the States. They’re a big bird, but, yeah, they’re not a giant. That’s for sure. But, yeah, to answer your question, I would say probably six, seven, eight pounds would be an average, for sure. They’re fun.
Apex Waterfowl’s Ontario Canada Goose Camp Experience
Ramsey Russell: Another thing Forrest and I talked about, hunting up there with you, I’ve been to a lot of camps around but I really enjoyed, you’ve got a great little set up there for lodging, very comfortable, very nice. It’s kind of in the city, or in the suburb. It was just perfect. You just walk or drive just a little bit down, you’ve got this real thriving—I saw a lot of coffee shops, lot of bars, lot of cool things to do. But remind me of your cook’s name. What was your cook’s name? Rochelle?
Ryan Reynolds: Andrew Roshan is his name and he’s a wizard, he’s my main man, that one is. I don’t like bragging about a lot of my business. I don’t feel I need to because a lot of it speaks for itself. I’m very proud of the way that we’ve built this and what we’ve got in place. I have great confidence in it. But the one part that I don’t usually pass up the opportunity to actually brag about is the food. And that stands right back to him, which I’m sure you can probably relate to at this point, after being with us for a couple of days.
Ramsey Russell: No, you know what struck me? It’s unique, I’d say, as compared to a lot of North American hunting operations, or Western Canada versus Ontario. I would throw this up there. One observation I made while there was that the food was just freaking unbelievable. He didn’t just throw something together. He would cook all day. You come in at lunch and eat a great lunch, but then he had already started on dinner. But what struck me is, the last morning, Forrest and I joined some men from New York. They had driven up and they had brought their spouses. Their spouses didn’t hunt. But the accommodations were very nice, the food was very good, and then they could go out after the hunt. And I don’t remember where they went, they had told me.
Ryan Reynolds: Ottawa Museums.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, go to museums and look at some different stuff. You know, we have a lot of guys ask us—Mazatlan, Mexico, is a huge hunt for us. Netherlands is a huge hunt for guys that travel with non-hunting spouses. And look, hey y’all, hint hint, anybody listening, you want to go on a hunting vacation? Get your wife on board of the vacation. That’s a shoo-in. It’s one thing if you’re going to go hunting and spend some money, or something else entirely different if you present it as an “us” vacation.
Ryan Reynolds: Well it takes it from being a potential one-and-done trip for yourself to, well, now you’ve got an open door for a conversation for some additional years after the first one. And that’s something that, if you don’t mind, Ramsey, I’d actually jump in and touch on. Because where we are in Ontario—I mean, Ontario is huge—and we’ve talked, there can be a four-hour difference between two totally different migration paths. So, Ontario is that big, where it has multiple migration paths of Canadas go through it.
But we’re right in the Ottawa, like you mentioned, as well, in the Ottawa Valley, and the lodge that we’ve got is a twenty-minute drive, maybe, at best, to our Parliament Hill. Right to our nation’s capital. And there’s everything from markets to museums, like you mentioned, everything like that. So we do, we have guys that bring their wives, and others that bring their families. And we’re home by nine, ten o’clock in the morning. Andrew’s got the breakfast ready, everybody crushes it, and then they go have a family trip the rest of the day and come back for dinnertime. And they’ve seen the parliament buildings, they’ve seen the markets, they’ve seen the museum, different museums. Yeah, it’s definitely, you can multitask on it, for sure, with family and spouses and all that kind of fun stuff, for sure. It’s a pretty cool area. There’s a lot, you go ten minutes one way and you’re into the heart of probably the best kept secret of Canada Goose migration. You go ten minutes the other direction and you’re into the nation’s capital. It’s pretty cool.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, and I would throw that up on everybody’s radar. It’s just a really unique place to hunt and experience. Real good migrator Canada goose hunting. But a huge part of your market has got to be Northeastern United States Atlantic Flyway folks where, what, the Canada goose limit got cut back to one this year?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, there’s a lot of them that got cut back to one, or down to two, even, and that kind of sucked, it really did. Yeah, you take right from Maine, Connecticut, all the way to Virginia and New Jersey. All of that is within a ten-hour drive to the lodge’s front door. So four guys jump in the truck, it’s easy to get to it. You’re not commuting through a couple of different airports and that kind of jazz. A lot of the guys that come to visit us on a regular basis, and a lot of the new guys that we’re picking up since the limits did change, and that’s part of the States, are within that ten-hour bubble. You’ve got guys that come from, even, Illinois. It’s a doable drive. We’ve got guys that come every year religiously from Illinois, for that matter too. It’s easy to get to.
How did pandemic effect hunting guide business?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, I’m sure that, sooner or later, from just watching TV and everything else, I know we, our world, are going to work through this coronavirus deal and move on with our lives. You know, it’s not going to stop the birds from migrating. They don’t know what’s going on, they’re coming on down. I guarantee you. But tell me this, has COVID-19 has it affected your business? Has it affected anything in your neck of the woods?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, it definitely has. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said no. It’s affected everybody, I really don’t think it hasn’t. But yes, it has. I mean, again, I mentioned it earlier, just briefly there, I lost my entire spring snow goose season. We were booked for a month of spring snows and not able to operate. So, between the loss of revenue that happened this spring from the other half that was coming in—guys that we were booked, the entire month of deposits in, rolled those all to next year. So between the loss of this spring, and already looking into next spring, I mean, that’s the most blatant one. The few spots that we have on the calendar for the fall, they’re still technically sitting there, because the lineup of guys that were interested and we were having conversations with before COVID kicked in, everybody just hit the pause button to see what it looks like afterwards. I don’t have any worry that, as soon as they kind us loose, everybody is going to be more desperate than ever to get out of the house and go do something and blow off some steam and have some fun. So I don’t have any worry about them filling.
But yeah, usually right now I’d be sitting going, “Sorry, we’re booked,” or, “Here’s specific dates that we’ve got left, and these are the last pickings.” But everything is just kind of on pause, which is understandable. So it’s a different year that way, and it certainly has affected things there. But still lots of good conversations, still getting inquiries. It’s just everybody asked the questions that they want. They asked to be put on the list, and then to be contacted again after COVID’s done. Which, hey, I can relate to that.
Ramsey Russell: I can certainly relate to it. Economically and emotionally, COVID is a big pause button. It’s touched every single person I know on Earth, and not the least of which is myself. You know, we’ve deferred all of our hunters until—I’m certain it’ll be all of our Argentina, Peru, New Zealand, Australia—will be deferred until 2021. That’s fine. But yeah, what surprised me, March, was crickets. And it normally is pretty quiet, but it’s crickets, with everybody watching the TV and hearing about the sky falling. But April has not been crickets. It’s been very encouraging that people are calling and making plans for the fall here in the US, and making plans for spring, January, February, down in Mexico and Argentina, 2021. I have been extremely encouraged the last couple of weeks. But what I do see, too, is normally, I know from working with you several years now in Ontario, that you’re running these hunts essentially from mid- to late-October through mid-January, and you’re pretty busy. And so there may be some opportunity, disproportionately; there’s going to be people sit on the sidelines this fall. But looks to me like there’s some opportunity, too.
Ryan Reynolds: Without a doubt, there’s definitely going to be an opportunity. And with opportunity comes savings, right? There’s going to be guys on the business side of things. I understand that there’s going to be guys that are booked right now to come, that, let’s say if the waters open up in July, their financial situation is going to have changed, they’re going to drop off. Especially those guys that I was seeing in the last three to four years that were—with no disrespect to them—but not your typical “client” from what an outfitters used to seeing. You know, those thirty to forty year-old guys we were seeing a lot of because the economy was so great and everybody had spare money in their pockets so they’re spending it. I think we might see a swing where those guys aren’t able to, because they’ve got young kids and they got to take care of family first. So I think we could end up seeing a drop off, to be an opportunity on cancellation hunts, right, to a new open spot on the calendar that gives somebody a chance to get into what would generally be a prime date that’s been tricky to get their hands on because they’re already full. So yeah, there’s definitely going to be an opportunity coming out of this. Yeah. And from a customer side of things, from a hunter side of things, definitely going to be an opportunity for it. And from the outfitter side of things, I’m going to be grateful to be around to still be one of the ones to be able to supply those opportunities to the people that will be looking for them. Because you’re right, April has been—there’s been a lot of inquiries. We’ve seen it here, I have, to where I wasn’t expecting the phone to ring at all, there’s still guys asking questions. Because something is going to end sooner or later, and guys want to be prepared, as well as take advantage of those deals or those specials that guys like myself are going to have to offer.
Ramsey Russell: And I’ll tell you what, these times of uncertainty, with market work— And this is unprecedented, man, just everybody having to stay at home, and all these different industries just shut down right now. It’s different. It’s just different, but it’s going to get better. And I just know, I’m not in my thirties anymore, but I remember being in that stage of life when my wagon was absolutely loaded, man. Home mortgage and minivan payments and kids, and there’s just phases and stages of life, too. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, man. I’m encouraged, also, by the fact that, despite everything that’s going on in the world right now, that as an indicator of financial health, of the economic optimism and everything else that’s going on at the universities, man, the Dow Jones is 30% higher than it ever was during Obama’s administration. That in and of itself tells me that as this merry-go-round, so to speak, starts to spin around again, it’s going to pick up some speed again and everybody is going to be back normal. You know what I’m saying? I’m encouraged by it.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, I would agree, and I would agree entirely, without a doubt. I feel like as our generation, just the way we live our lives, the way that everything’s gone from phones in our pockets to nobody having landlines, we like to do things as a population now. So once we’re allowed to do things, I feel like everybody’s going to jump right back out there.
Ramsey Russell: I agree. And I bet you everybody listening is nodding their head right now thinking, “Heck yeah, I’m getting back out there and killing something.” That’s just like us, Ryan, I guarantee you they are. Now look, speaking of coming up to Ontario in the future—God willing and the creek don’t rise—Forrest and I are coming back this year. And Brandon Cerecke and his young son. And Brandon and I got to talking— In fact, I was on my way to see you, last time, and we got to talking. You know, Brandon is just building Boss Shotshells. He’s got a very successful other business, the third generation, but he’s that guy in his thirties, just work, work, work, work. He’s got young children. And he and I just got to talking about how, you know, my son is twenty-two years old. My oldest son is twenty-two, Duncan is twenty, and Brandon’s son is nine or ten years old.
Ryan Reynolds: Same age as my little guy.
Ramsey Russell: And he’s kind of in the same place, working all the time, that I was when Forrest was about that age. And I just had this idea. I said, “Brandon, we ought to go up here.” Because he saw all these geese we were shooting up here with you, and he was hitting me up, and I said, “Yeah, Brandon, you know what we ought to do, we ought to do a fathers and sons hunt. Me and you, your son at that age, my son, that used to be that age, is now much older, and I think it would be a nice story. And we wrote Jake Latendresse, too, he’s going to come up, film a live short Get Ducks episode. But since you and I have had this conversation, I would propose you, our guide, bring your dad. And that you and your dad, me and my son, Brandon and his son, and I think that would be a wonderful opportunity for fathers and sons to get together. And about what this thing is really about. I like to ask that question, I love to hear about who influences. Because it’s mostly, not always, but mostly it’s family. And if you are that guide that’s still working, and even though Forrest is older, I mean my kid’s twenty-two years old, but now he’s coming into adulthood, starting a business, getting things going, and our times together are fewer and far between. But talk about some quality time, it’s right there in a duck blind.
Ryan Reynolds: It is.
Ramsey Russell: Every minute I’m getting in a duck blind, it’s like dog years, you know what I’m saying? It’s a lot different than sitting in front of a TV or sitting in a truck or doing something else. Man, I’m in a duck blind sharing quality time with quality people, and it makes a difference. And I think that would be a great opportunity to get your dad, bring him in the mix, now.
Ryan Reynolds: I think that’d be a great story, and I’m never going to turn down the opportunity to get in the blind with the old man, that’s for sure. Especially with a couple other guys that can relate, when everybody’s in the blind, that can relate on that exact moment that’s happening. That’s even more special. I think we can make that happen.
BOSS Shotshells for Canada Goose Hunting?
Ramsey Russell: Well, speaking of Brandon Cerecke over at Boss Shotshells. I want to end on this note, I want to ask you this question. Are you in any way affiliated, whatsoever, with BOSS Shotshells?
Ryan Reynolds: Not at all. No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever shot them or seen them or been around them until Forrest and I showed up?
Ryan Reynolds: I had not. I had seen them, obviously, I mean, social media. Boss has blown up, they’re everywhere on social media. So I had seen them. But put one in the hand or put one in a gun or see what it does to a bird, I had not before sharing the blind with you and Forrest on that trip. No, I had not.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve been, heck, you’ve been goosed guiding half your life and been hunting most of it, the same as me. And I grew up—I’m 53 years old—I grew up back in the lead days. And I was telling somebody the other day: through high school, into college—my dad, my granddad myself, nobody, my uncle, nobody, nobody in our family—had a gun that chambered three inch rounds. We all shot two and three quarter inch leads, because it was legal. They started phasing it in 1991, steel shot was mandatory. And we learned real quick, there’s no shooting steel shot out of those guns with fixed chokes. It’ll bulge a barrel, it’ll mess them up, that steel shot, and then became the whole new era of non-toxic waterfowl shot. Which, instead of shooting 1,300 feet or some odd feet per second—shooting lead 4’s, 5’s, 6’s downrange—because steel was so much lighter, we had to start ramping it up. Had to get to speed. And now we’ve got entire generations, plural, of hunters out here that believe you’ve got to have a three and a half inch shell. You’ve got to have a three inch shell. But you’ve got to have three and a half inch shells shooting 1,800 feet per second.
I’m saying, for me, it has been a real big swing back to the true good old days, except it’s not toxic like lead. You know, it’s nontoxic. That copper plated they did— And I have been fortunate enough to shoot Boss Shotshells. And hey, I like it. I shoot it here, but taking it places that they still shoot lead, taking it to Argentina, taking it to Azerbaijan, taking it to Mexico. And hearing, without saying anything, hearing the guide’s response or seeing, in a kind of a blind test of sorts, their critique, their observations. And they see a difference. And that’s coming from people that see a lot of birds die because of their business. You’re a professional guide. What is your opinion? Forrest and I—because we were shooting geese—for shits and giggles, we showed up with three inch, ounce-and-a-half, copper-plated BOSS 3s. What was your opinion? The first time you’ve seen that, what was your opinion? Somebody that sees a lot of birds.
Ryan Reynolds: It’s pretty easy to explain that one. You spend enough days in the field with guys, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” while the difference between knocking them down is hitting them and messsing up. But with the typical steel shots that everybody sees and everybody uses, “Aw!,” you hear guys after a volley, and a group of four guys only killed two. “I hit the same bird three times. I saw feathers.” It was like okay, yeah, sure, you know, didn’t hit him good enough, you hit them back, blah, blah, blah. Well that Boss ammo, the difference in it, is if you hit it, it’s on the ground. If it is not on the ground, you did not hit it. There’s not much of an in between. If any of that pattern hit that bird—it hit, it was done, it’s on the ground. So there’s no gray area whatsoever. “Oh, I hit that one back and it’s across the field, or it wants to fly away as far as possible and I can’t see it anymore.” Now, that bird is not going like that. It’s either you hit him, or you missed him. There’s really no gray area. And that was the first way I felt about it. And by the end of the three days, there’s no question about it. But that’s just how it is. That’s that bird, that stuff was bringing it down. That’s all there is to it. It hit like a freight train.
Ramsey Russell: The one shot I remember, we were shooting and decoying birds. I mean, you’re a Canada goose purist, and like a lot of Canada goose purist it’s shooting and decoying birds. And I love to shoot them because it’s just plain kill, boom, boom, boom, they are right there in the decoy. But you remember, you had your five, Forrest had his five. We’re waiting on that last bird. I think it was 8:00 AM. It was still early. They’d been flying for thirty minutes. And you’d shot yours, Forrest had shot his, and I was waiting on the fifth bird. And that flock came over and, for whatever reason, the wind shifted, they were forty yards, and I pass shoot. You hunt different places in the world. I’ll shoot them decoying, I’ll shoot them this, but if they’re killing, I’ll kill them, so I pass shoot. But the point being is a, I remember you saying, “Can you take him with that load?”
Ryan Reynolds: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: And I just picked the lead bird, just pulled the trigger, and it just, it looked like Thor’s Hammer hit that bird.
Ryan Reynolds: I think I know exactly what bird you’re talking about. I’m positive it was on our first morning of hunting, and I would even bet to say that I’m very confident I have the video on my phone, that I could post and tag you after we get off the phone here. I’m positive I have that bird on video, actually.
Ramsey Russell: Because I shoot a lot of ducks, I mostly shoot BOSS little two-and-three-quarter-inch 5s. I love them. It’s just like the load I grew up shooting, back in the 70’s, back in the good old days. But it just blew my mind the way that bird, just in that instant, clapped his wings and just fell.
Ryan Reynolds: Yes. You don’t leave the field. I mean, not only does it hit, like we’re talking, but you don’t leave the field feeling like you’ve had the snot beat out of you by pulling the trigger on 3.5 inch, anyways, that you’re making up excuses for at the end of the day.
Ramsey Russell: Well, we’re going to come back this year and, for sure, we’re going to come and film an episode, fathers and sons. Your dad, me and Brandon with our sons, and we’re going to have a fun time out there, I know we are. But real quick, Ryan, how can anybody listening connect with you on social media?
Contact Ryan Reynolds, Apex Waterfowling, Guided Ontario Canada Goose Hunting
Ryan Reynolds: Social media? There is Instagram, I would say probably is the best way. We have an Instagram and Facebook page. Facebook is APEX WaterFowling. Instagram is @apex_waterfowling. There’s the website www.apexwaterfowling.ca. My phone number is attached to pretty much every one of those, I believe. So, I enjoy conversations much like this, so I can be reached through there. Or my personal Instagram page, Ryan Reynolds @ryan_waterfowl. Pretty easy to find, and happy to be found by anybody that’s got questions about anything from what we offer, right down to casual waterfowl conversation.
Ramsey Russell: Sure. Guys, thank you all for listening. You’ve been listening to Ryan Reynold’s APEX Waterfowling. You can also find information on USHuntList.com, best guided waterfowl hunts in North America. Again, thank you all for listening. If you got any suggestions, future episodes or anything whatsoever, hit us up in social media @ramseyrussellgetducks. See you next time.