Ralph Blanchard loves nothing better than a wild-goose chase — but there’s no way he’s left empty-handed.
Canada geese along with snow geese and sandhill cranes — known as “ribeye in the sky” because of their tastiness — flock by tens of thousands every day over the vast wheatfields of Saskatchewan about this time of year, and Ralph heads halfway around the world to meet some American mates who drive 31 hours from Illinois for the annual hunt.
They spend up to two weeks on the wild-goose hunt which sees birds fill the sky as they cross Canada in a migration which takes them from the harsh Arctic climate to Mexico. Ralph’s “non-resident alien” game bird licence — because he’s neither from the States nor Canada — allows him to shoot Canada geese up to midday, but snow geese and ducks all day long.
Ralph’s now touching on 80 and reckons he’s had 54 or 55 game bird licences in his lifetime. Every year since he was a teenager the onetime Raglan pharmacist of 35 years’ standing has indulged his passion for duck and pheasant shooting in New Zealand.
But four years ago a whole new experience opened up when he was first invited to a “world-class” goose hunt in Canada. He’s been back every year since.
It’s not just the hunting, the camaraderie and the culinary delights — yes he does cook his own goose — of the many different kinds of ducks and geese there which draw Ralph to Canada each New Zealand spring. It’s the presence too of wild animals that give him a thrill, such as the 10 to 20 deer he sees on the roadside daily.
Ralph’s long been a deerstalker, but says nothing compares with the wildlife of Canada.
Magnificent moose, elk, black bears and coyotes add to the experience, he explains. “It’s real interesting.”
Last year Ralph got to take his son with him on the wild-goose hunt, and “he had a ball”.
Ralph’s had “heaps” of trout fishing licences here in New Zealand too, he says, but since 2001 has also had the opportunity of salmon fishing and has been five times to Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Colombia, Canada, where he once caught an 18-pounder.
“Seeing other places and meeting people” are also part of what the trips are all about for Ralph, not to mention the bonus of getting two hunting or fishing seasons out of each year by crossing the globe.
But he insists Raglan’s home for him and his wife Judith. It’s a great playground, he says. “I haven’t found a better place to go to.”
He’s overlooked the growing township from his large house at the top of Upper Bow Street, opposite the water tower, for 40 years come January.
While sitting on the town committee — the forerunner to today’s community board — he helped put in Raglan’s water supply, then the sewerage. He’s been chairman of the domain board, co-chartered the local Lions Club which this week celebrated its 40th anniversary and was a foundation member of Raglan Sea Rescue or Coastguard as it’s now known.
He was also with the volunteer fire brigade for more than 30 years, helped form the trust that saved the local hospital and became president of the Raglan Club for a time. All this while he and his late first wife Avril, also a pharmacist, ran the local pharmacy — then a 24/7 service like that offered by the late Dr Tom Ellison who came to town soon after Ralph. They were both always on call, he remembers.
“Raglan struggled back in those early days,” he adds,” but what I see now is absolutely fantastic!”
Having done his “bit in the community”, Ralph has no qualms at focusing in his later life on what he wants to do. And he’s already looking forward to that fifth annual trip to the wheat-belts of Saskatchewan, half a world away.