Editors Note: Sitka Athlete Dave Smith is a master decoy carver and waterfowl fanatic. His jewelry collection competes with Hollywood royalty, even if it's just metal and plastic. Here’s how he's accumulated such a stockpile over the years.
I was the first among a group of about ten of my waterfowl friends to ever kill a cackler collar. We constantly talked about it and saw them once in a while scouting, but never when hunting. We'd never heard of anyone shooting one, but heard of guys that wait for big flocks to land and look them over with binos. That’s how almost everyone thinks it’s done, but this is a hopeless endeavor. Spotting them in the air is the way to do it without hitting other birds.
I was guiding and had a huge grind of cacklers going, however, I was in the general zone where you can only kill one. So, I began looking for blocks of four or more tavs before calling the shot because I hated educating the entire group. As the birds circled, I locked eyes on a collar. I was so nervous as it came into range I ended up missing the first shot. I was shaking horribly! I knocked him down on the second just before my client shot into a group of seven lessors. It was an 11-year-old collar. Now we had confirmation it could be done. They could be spotted in the air and shot.
I was starting to get good at it, but had so few opportunities. The collars I came across were tiny and yellow, and lesser collars were blue. Some shiny new ones came around, and several that were well over a decade old. Some had plastic tarsus bands in addition to their stainless steel leg bands. These were real trophies.
I remember whining to Fred Zink about not having any bands or collars around and he told me to quit whining and go find some. So that’s exactly what I did. Shortly after, Bill Saunders told me of a big banding project on the lower Columbia. What happened next, and for the next six or eight years, couldn’t have been more ideal.
There were dark, resident birds down on the lower river that they wanted eliminated. No one could shoot them in the winter, because it was so difficult to determine if they were the dark, hybrid resident birds, or pure, migrating Dusky Canada Geese.
Through the banding project, they began placing white collars on the resident birds so hunters could target them. Needless to say, I spent an obscene amount of time down in Pacific County Washington, in remote, low-population areas with some of the most breathtaking scenery. I hunted those birds on everything from tide flats to pastures. There were only about 400 of them, but about one in ten had a collar and a band!
The toughest part was remaining disciplined. I wanted to make this kind of hunting last for years and years. There were times I could’ve killed flocks, but it would’ve meant less birds in the future. So I practiced patience, even to the dislike of my hunting companions. It worked out, because I had over six years of incredible memories and experiences. Several days I took more than one, and, remarkably, two days my four-bird limit all wore collars.
These hunts were in cooperation with wildlife managers, and that was the beauty of it. Several officials often joined in on the action. I began checking in more of these birds than the rest of Washington and Oregon combined, which attracted some attention. I hunted with biologists, managers and law-enforcement personnel. Like the story always goes, it eventually came to an end.
These days, the most “common” collar around the valley is the yellow cackler collar, but they are there under an entirely different circumstance. These collars are used to establish population data, not for targeting purposes. In Oregon, we are asked to not purposely target collars and for the most part, I abide.
Last year, for the first time in six, I was here in Oregon for opening day of goose season. There was another group of hunters set up in the same field and, as expected, they shot at every group of birds inside 100 yards. This caused us to miss out on tons of flocks. I managed to shoot two cacklers for old-time’s sake. Both collared.
It’s ironic that targeting collared birds is frowned upon. The cost of a collar is next to nothing, numerous volunteers are available for banding projects and many times non-profit groups cover the helicopter or boat costs. In my opinion banded birds is a fantastic and unique trophy hunting experience.