December 14, 2022
By Mark Peterson with Mathew Brost
In early 2020, I had just completed a North American Upland Slam, chasing 27 species of game birds from Canada to Mexico. Now I had my eye on another quest: taking all 43 recognized species of waterfowl that call this continent home. It would be a challenging task in the best of years, and 2020 certainly wasn’t that. An ongoing pandemic looked to put my goals in jeopardy, and it would require dedication, perseverance, and more than a little luck to complete a single-season Waterfowl Slam.
Normally, it would make the most sense to start this quest in Canada. Unfortunately, the border into the country was completely closed to U.S. citizens. After consulting with the team at Worldwide Trophy Adventures (WTA), I shifted my focus farther north to Cold Bay, Alaska, where I kicked off my Waterfowl Slam in October of last year. I would also be joined by my father, Earl Peterson, who would be along for much of the season’s wild ride.
On the first morning in Cold Bay, bright sunshine reflected off decoys, causing the birds to flare. The hunting was slow. That, and the curious brown bears intruding on our hunt, was a foreboding start to the season, but I was able to kill several cackling geese to kick-off the year. Over the next few days, I added a beautiful redbreasted merganser, several mallards, an Aleutian green-wing teal, a nice drake bufflehead, and a common goldeneye. Dad and I each tagged three harlequin ducks, and on day four, I enjoyed a dinner of fresh brant: my very favorite waterfowl for the plate.
I checked eight of the 43 species off my list, but flying out of Cold Bay, I had to wonder if the pair of greater scaup I missed as they screamed over my head would come back to haunt me.
In chasing 43 species of waterfowl, one bird—the tundra swan—would require a bit of chance in the form of drawing a limited tag. Luckily, I had scored in North Dakota’s permit lottery, so I headed there with a swan tag in my pocket. My November 1 arrival coincided with a bitter cold front that threatened to freeze the local ponds and send the swans south. A pair of common merganser, a ruddy duck, and a single drake redhead marked the first day, but swans were in short supply.
The next morning, after breaking ice as I waded through the thick cattails to the edge of the lake, I listened to flocks of swans rising up and winging overhead in the dark. When the clock finally marked the start of legal shooting light, only four tundra swans remained on the water. Luck was on my side, and the flock flew our way. I was able to connect and splashed the giant white bird into the water, lifting a lot of pressure off my back. I hunted the icy lake the rest of the day, and was rewarded with the 13th bird of the Slam: a gadwall.
A Quick Trip To Kodiak
While many of the ducks on the list are common throughout North America, certain species are harder to find. Adding a Barrow’s goldeneye would require a special trip to Kodiak Island, Alaska, where the weather always presents a challenge, whether you’re hunting birds or bears. True to form, Kodiak threw its worst at us, making the hunting tough, but I finally connected on a Barrow’s, as well as both a common scoter and a surf scoter.
The conditions weren’t much better in Maine, where I managed to scratch out a common eider, a white-winged scoter, and a long-tailed duck on my first day of hunting. Then the weather really turned, and high winds made conditions dangerous. After three hours perched on a rock, with much of the time spent untangling decoy strings, I’d had enough.
The next day we were driven off the water when high waves threatened to swamp the boat. We spent a long day in the cabin, and I still needed a black duck before I could call this leg of my quest a success. Finally, on the last day of the trip, we got back on the water. Our perseverance was rewarded, and I shot my black duck. We capped off the trip with a limit of longtailed ducks for everyone in the boat.
South To Sonora
It was time to take a break from cold weather, as I headed far south to Sonora, Mexico, with the singular goal of finding a fulvous whistling duck. What I discovered instead was a severe drought, extremely low water levels, and playas that were completely dried up. After hunting from makeshift blinds and dugouts and resorting to jump shooting, I added a pintail, a green-winged teal, a northern shoveler, and a coot to my bag.
On day three, I moved to the Sea of Cortez and experienced one of the best hunts of my life, taking a limit of brant in less than two hours. Overnight, a hard rain quenched the playas, giving me one last chance to find a fulvous whistling duck. Unfortunately, it was not to be as the drought had pushed all the birds farther south. The day’s hunt wasn’t a total bust and delivered the surprising bonus of a banded gadwall. After a lifetime of hunting waterfowl, I had finally shot a banded bird in a place I had never expected: Old Mexico!
On To Arkansas
I had always wanted to undertake a classic flooded timber duck hunt, so I was excited to travel to Arkansas next, and have Dad along for the experience. As often happens when chasing waterfowl, we missed the migration, and the first day was a dud. Day two wasn’t much better, though I did add a drake ringneck to the bag before a thunderstorm spoiled the afternoon hunt.
I did spot a hooded merganser, but the crafty bird saw me before I could sneak into range.
The timber hunt was a bust, but we were able to hunt a local fish farm on day three and were rewarded with two lesser scaup. On our way to the rice fields for an afternoon hunt for speckled geese, I made a sneak on the pond where I’d seen the hooded merganser the previous day. My stalk was successful, giving me my 27th species. The 28th came later that day, when, with 15 minutes of shooting light left, a pair of specks flew over our spread. They came in from behind me, and I popped up for what could be a challenging shot. One pull of the trigger and one speckled goose fell.
Boomin' With The Sooners
After a challenging hunt in Arkansas, I was ready for a slam dunk. Sandhill cranes can present a challenge, but they often decoy well. And if there’s a place where crane hunting could be called a sure thing, it’s Oklahoma. The day after the New Year, I found myself in the Sooner State, and it didn’t take long to fill my daily limit of three Sandhill cranes. I followed that up with an evening hunt, where I was able to take a Canada goose for the 30th species on the list. The next morning, while hunting with a family of three generations of hunters, I added the 31st: a Ross’s goose.
The Chase Is On
With all the “easy” species checked off the list, it was time to get serious and target individual species. Luckily for me, I had the team at WTA helping me track down outfitters around (and out of) the country. Of all the species, the one that looked to be the most difficult to find was the king eider. Everywhere I had planned to hunt before the season had been made off-limits due to ongoing travel restrictions. It would be a long shot, but we were doing our best to find the one spot that may let us hunt. Greenland was appearing to be the only option.
Before that, though, I had more ducks to hunt. First up was Georgia, where I set up in some thick brush covering a small island on Seminole Lake. After a couple hours of no ducks flying, my outfitter pulled out his phone to show me video that proved that we were in a good spot. Wouldn’t you know that as soon as I set my shotgun down to watch the video two drake canvasbacks tried landing in the decoys. Nothing I could do but cuss. As it turned out, those were the only two ducks that came within range that day.
The next afternoon, I found myself standing in water up to my chest hiding behind bamboo poles stuck in the sand. I hadn’t eaten lunch, but I did have some Chex Mix stashed in my waders. Just as I grabbed a handful of my snack, a small flock of canvasbacks came screaming by. I dropped the Chex Mix into the water and hastily shouldered my shotgun. After two rushed misses, I settled into my third—and final—shot, and sent one of the ducks splashing into the water.
From Georgia, I made like a duck and headed south, driving to Lake City, Florida, in hopes of finding a wood duck. Sneaking up to a local pond, I dropped a drake, but I hadn’t considered how I was going to retrieve it. The wind was calm, the pond was flat, and the duck floated out of reach. My friend Justin Fabian had been traveling with me to document this crazy quest, and he suggested using the drone he brought to capture overhead footage.
I honestly never imagined I’d be without a dog or boat and trying to retrieve a wood duck with a drone, but sure enough, the drone’s spinning rotors made little waves in the water that pushed the duck towards the bank. It didn’t take long before I had the duck in my hands.
It was a 250-mile drive to Lake Okeechobee, where I had a line on a few more ducks I needed to complete my waterfowl slam. It turned out to be an epic hunt, and we finished with our limit, which included a black-bellied whistling duck, in just 22 minutes. We also found some mottled ducks later that day, but unfortunately, I already had my daily limit.
Of course, that’s where I was waiting the next morning. Just after shooting light, with just a single shot, I got my mottled duck. I later dropped a blue-winged teal for No. 36. The finish line was getting closer, but a fulvous whistling duck continued to elude me.
The Atlantic Coast
A few days later I flew to Rhode Island and set up in a layout boat off the coast. Atlantic brant were everywhere, and it didn’t take long to shoot my two-bird limit. Six species remained. The next morning, 10 minutes after legal shooting light, I had No. 38: a greater scaup.
With those two birds in the bag, I had a free day on the Atlantic Coast, and I wasn’t going to waste it. With the border closed, Canada wasn’t an option for the king eider. Nobody I talked to had seen any kings on Alaska’s coast. And Greenland wasn’t sounding promising. So a desperation hunt for king eider on the Atlantic Coast didn’t seem unreasonable. The rumor mill had churned up a couple of sightings of a young king eider in the area. I spent the entire day glassing, but I never spotted a king.
January 31 passed, and with it, my last chance to hunt king eiders in the United States. The chances of completing my slam in one season were growing dim. There was only one possibility remaining: a miracle approval to be the first American allowed into Greenland since the pandemic hit.
Still, I had come this far, and I wasn’t going to quit trying. On February 2, I traveled to Arkansas for the Conservation Order in the hopes of adding both a common snow goose and a blue goose to my list. After a slow morning, the geese finally showed. I was able to take three snow geese and a pair of Ross’s geese. We saw a good number of blues in the distance, but none came within range. The next day, I set up in a cut cornfield. Just after shooting light, a group of blues came in, and I added No. 40 to my tally.
That evening, I reached out to my contacts in Greenland again. They had very little hope that the country would open up to Americans any time soon.
With duck seasons in the United States closed, I headed back to Mexico, with hopes that I’d find the few birds I was still missing. On the first morning in Sinaloa, I killed a rare and beautiful cinnamon teal. Now I just needed that elusive fulvous whistling duck. Thousands and thousands of black-bellied whistling ducks swarmed the playas, but after a full day of glassing the flocks from afar, I didn’t spot a single fulvous whistling duck. They had moved farther south. So I guess that’s what I would have to do, too.
That night, my contacts at WTA connected me with an outfitter south of Sinaloa in Culiacán. After a short flight, I found myself in a blind overlooking a marsh. Black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks flocked through the area together. Without a doubt, that morning’s hunt was the best day of hunting I had experienced since I started out to complete the Waterfowl Slam. I finished the day with a mixed bag of black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks, pintails, and blue-winged teal.
Only one species remained.
Greenland Green Light
I turned my focus toward gaining access to Greenland—and my only remaining chance to hunt king eiders. The primary obstacle was getting government approval to enter during the lockdown. But I had an angle. Greenland was pushing to grow tourism and increase the number of visitors—particularly hunters. I saw an opportunity to get more hunters to the island if I could vet Greenland outfitters and encourage WTA to send hunters there. My guys at WTA helped make my case, and Greenland agreed that a relationship with WTA could help the country’s tourist economy. I received the greenlight to hunt Greenland.
I bought every eider decoy I could find—eight of them. On March 14, my friend Matt Gindorff, a senior consultant at WTA, Justin Fabian, and I boarded a plane for Greenland. The next five days were spent quarantined in a hotel room, and finally, on the sixth day, after testing negative, we were allowed to go hunting.
On March 20, I would have to improvise yet again. There were no hunting boats available to nonresidents, but bright yellow water taxis could be rented. The first groups of waterfowl we approached flew away as the bright yellow boat drifted towards them. Finally, a common eider held until we were within range, and I made a great shot, proving the unorthodox tactic just might work.
Justin had his drone up videoing, but there wasn’t a spot to land it. I thought I’d help him out, but as I reached up to grab it out of the air, we hit a large wave that sent my fingers right into the drone’s blade. Blood was everywhere, so I grabbed a first-aid kit and went to doctoring myself with whatever bandages I could find. And as I did, guess what flew into range. A king eider! Matt stepped up to take my spot and made a great shot.
I got my fingers taped up and congratulated Matt on an amazing king eider. It wasn’t long before another king came into range. My entire season came down to this moment. It was Day 110 in the field, with just this one species remaining for a successful North American Waterfowl Slam. I shouldered my Browning, got the bead on the duck, and squeezed the trigger. The king eider dropped dead into the ocean. No. 43. I could finally relax.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.