Hitting the Target with Polaris Ranger
At The 6th Annual Waterfowl Media Hunt
“Woah, this is going to be awesome…” The first thought I had after receiving the invitation to attend Sure-Shot Game Calls’ Sixth Annual Waterfowl Media Hunt. A term often overused in today’s society, I find awesome (definition: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear), to have been the perfect adjective describing my feelings of boarding the plane, and heading north to go duck hunting; because as I packed my bags for this trip to Saskatchewan, I once again had the great realization that I had no idea of what I was getting myself into.
Three different planes and 12 hours later, I set foot in Saskatoon and began the hunt for my bags, and the kind gentleman that would be transporting me an hour North-West to our hotel in the small town of Battleford, our home base for the next four days. My head hit the comfortable pillow at the Tropical Inn (tropical… surely not because of the weather) around midnight, and what felt like a few minutes later, the alarm rang at 2am. Suiting up for the complete unknown was slightly terrifying, yet exhilarating. Beyond my new Irish Setter boots, my hunting attire was composed of construction overalls, and random layers of warm-ish clothes, so I hardly looked professional. Plus, I’ve shot clays from a hand thrower plenty of times, but my experience with hunting waterfowl racked up to zero. Lucky for me, I would be hosted by Buddy Graham and his army of guides from Northway Outfitters. Jumping in the truck, we headed out to meet up with our guides, and disperse to our hunting location.
We loaded into a 2×4 and plywood constructed mud boat around 4am, and cruised across the shallow marsh to the duck blind with our path lit only by a dim green LED light; because that specific spectrum of light is not seen by waterfowl. As the sun rose over the marsh I was gifted a better look at the beautiful Canadian wilderness, and also the duck blind that I was now sitting in… A pontoon barge sunk in the mud, with the deck constructed of plywood and steel tubes, draped with camouflage fabric and real brush, and pontoons that are real carbon fiber F-16 Fighter Jet fuel tanks. These guys up north take old school redneck engineering to a whole new level. As the morning wore on and the ducks started flying, let’s just say my inexperience was clear through every duck that flew by me without even a near miss. Maybe I was just tired, or maybe I should just stick to shooting with a camera…
As the morning hunt came to a close, the mud boats came to collect us. My hunting companion Luke from DirtTrax TV is much more skilled than I, and was able to actually hit several flying fowl with our Remington Versa Max shotguns, so we loaded his trophies and headed back across the marsh. Waiting for us at the shoreline was our Polaris Ranger, we loaded up the bed with Luke’s ducks and our gear, and off to Buddy’s house we went for some much needed target practice. Not only did Buddy provide the great staff to guide hunting rookies like myself through the ins and outs of hunting, he was also nice enough to invite us all to his home for an afternoon of skeet shooting.
We pull up to the house and walk around to the back through the lush green grass, something we don’t often see in the southwest, and around the corner comes a small fleet of Rangers with MEC clay throwers in tow. Now that I have some coffee in me, am slightly more awake and have a little practice, let’s do this. I have shot skeet before off a hand launcher, but never with such fancy equipment as this. As I press the foot pedal to launch the first clay, MISS. Ok, just need to get my timing down… and after only a few more misses, I finally got it figured out and blasted a few clays, what a relief.
Although I wasted more clays than I hit, it was truly impressive to see the deadly accuracy of the lifelong and career hunters in our crew. Shot after shot from the unpredictable throwers, there was rarely a miss. After we finally exhausted our massive supply of clays and Remington shells, it was time to load up and head back to our blinds for the evening hunt. At a different blind on the same marsh, in a ‘more ideal’ location, we readied our shotguns, and prepared ourselves for the flocks of fowl to come gliding into range. Several hours later, we loaded the only three ducks to fly by into the boat, and began our trek back to the hotel. Apparently with hunting a little luck can be as important as skill, and although the ducks weren’t flying, the time spent sitting vigilant and alert in the blind, while making new friends and hearing the stories of legendary hunts was an experience I’ll never forget.
After a much needed full night of sleep, we awoke to be ushered to the fleet of awaiting Rangers, and after a full day of struggling to prove myself a capable hunter, I was gracious that today’s activities consisted of putting UTVs to the test! With temperatures hanging in the low 40’s for most of the day, and me being less inclined to brave cold climates (it was September, and temps were well above 100 degrees at home), I decided my ride for the day would be the 2019 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Northstar Edition. Offering a fully sealed cab, plus heater and air conditioning, I had high hopes it would be the ideal vehicle for exploring the Canadian wilderness on a cold overcast day…
Hitting the tight and bumpy wooded trails, I found the 3-seat Northstar Edition to be quite plush and comfortable. The cab sealed very tightly making little to no wind noise, even at 55mph on faster sections of gravel roads. The only sounds were the hum of the engine and a bit of driveline noise, but even with helmets on it was comfortable having conversations at a normal level. I was very happy to test the heater system, and after realizing how sealed up and insulated the cab is, with the weather just above freezing I was not surprised to find that I was able to nearly sweat myself out with just a flannel on.
There’s no need to sweat however, with controls just like you’d find in the car or truck you drive everyday at home, I found myself dialing in the heat to keep myself nice and comfortable. I almost felt bad seeing my fellow media friends all bundled up out in the cold, but then I remembered to crack the windows because I was still a little too warm. The cabin filter was a nice touch, filtering out the pollen and dust from the fresh warm air entering the cab as we drove through the tall grassy trails.
The Northstar Edition really is equipped just like a modern day vehicle, the front windshield comes with a full windshield wiper and washer system. This was key as the visibility was less than clear running through the muddy wooded trails. The manual roll down windows are easy to crank down for conversing with the group at stopping points, or to get an extra breath of fresh air, yet there is even a power window option available. The short wheel base of the 3-seater allowed me to throw this Ranger through the corners, and maneuver easily around obstacles in these super tight wooded and muddy trails. And although it lacks the travel of a RZR for smashing through large holes and ruts, the suspension is very plush at low speeds, but still provides a fun and controlled ride while running down the rougher trails at high speeds.
As we bombed down the trails and emerged into the rolling fields, we came across a large sticky mud hole with a rather steep hill on the other side. Leaving my foot in the throttle, the Intelligent AWD system kicked in and had all four wheels spinning, easily pulling us through the mud and up the hill on the other side. We continued on, and ended up at the base of what’s known as the tallest hill in the Battleford area. Our Rangers made quick work of climbing to the top, but the view once we got there was the real treat.
Looking around, there was the sight of a small lake surrounded by rolling hills covered with trees turning all the colors of fall, as far as the eye could see. I’ve seen and been to a lot of beautiful places, but none quite like this; it’s very much something I would’ve imagined being the subject of a famous landscape artist… With the day coming to an end, it was time to head back to the hotel and get cleaned up for dinner, get some sleep, and prepare for the next day’s ride.
Thursday morning came quick, and the day was slated to be a fun one. Another day putting the Rangers to the test on the same loop from the day before, however today we were taking out the hunters to give them a taste of what UTV driving is all about! One of my partners for the day had massive amounts of firearm experience, but had never step foot in a UTV of any kind, nor had hardly any off-road driving experience in any vehicle. I jumped in the driver’s seat and as we all strapped in, I gave our off-road newbie a quick rundown of machine controls, and we hit the trails.
The capabilities of the Ranger Crew XP 1000 were impressive from the passenger seat, but as the group stopped for a photo op, we convinced our rookie to take the wheel. I flipped the throttle mode switch on the Ranger’s dash from Performance to Work mode, smoothing out the throttle response, he eased into the pedal, and away we went. Much like my shooting abilities, his off-road driving abilities were less than stellar in the beginning, but he caught on very quickly and gained comfort behind the controls by the end of his stint. With the EPS and tighter turning radius of the new Ranger Crew, the long wheel base machine proved to be easy to drive through the tight, technical Canadian trails, even for a total beginner. It’s always fun to introduce someone new to a sport that I love so much.
As the trip came to a close, I was shuttled back to the airport. Taking my window seat, I began to absorb the events from the past few days. The trip was truly an experience of a lifetime, as I would have never imagined myself hunting waterfowl in a duck blind constructed from F-16 Fighter Jet parts, in the beautiful Canadian wilderness, nor even driving UTVs through it. Add being hosted by Charlie Holder of Sure-Shot Game Calls, and Buddy Graham and his army of skilled guides from Northway Outfitters to the mix, and I couldn’t think of a better way to experience hunting for the first time. A huge thanks to Polaris for inviting us out, and also to the rest of the sponsors that were equally important in making it all happen. This was a trip never to be forgotten.
(Seriously, thank you to Sure-Shot Game Calls and all of the sponsors involved: Polaris RANGER, Remington, Northway Outfitters, Tourism of Saskatchewan, Vortex Optics, MEC Clay Throwers, and Irish Setter Boots.)