April 04, 2020

Geese were on schedule in spite of `soft weather’

There wasn’t a hint of dawn in the drizzling darkness and the fog on the lake was thicker than smoke from a smudge. As I rummaged for the flashlight that had rolled off the boat seat, my son, Jeff, said in a hushed voice, “Listen…. hear ’em?” At the far end of the lake, geese – a lot of geese – were gossiping.

“They must be getting ready to take off,” said Jeff, still keeping his voice low.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “Geese usually don’t fly until well after daylight, later than ducks. We might get a chance at them when they head for the cornfields. Usually, they go out over where we’ll be set up – what’re you whispering about, anyway? Get “Magnum” in here, we’re wasting time.”

The boat rocked as the big Lab retriever came aboard. Seconds later, the 10-horse outboard pushed us through the pitchy smother at half throttle. When the murky silhouettes of spruces emerged from the fog minutes later, I cut the motor. So far so good, the volume of goose music was louder.

By the time we rigged “whistler” decoys off a small point, set a few phony black ducks in the marshy cove, and hauled the boat behind a stand of cedars, we were sweating. “Can you believe this weather?” said Jeff as we settled into a brush blind.

“Softer than a wool sock,” I allowed. “Dead air, too; not exactly duck hunting weather. Better start off with No. 2s. If we do business early it’ll be with ducks. Take these BB loads, though,” I said handing him three shells. “When those geese start getting edgy, switch over.”

Shortly after daylight, the rush of air through primary feathers sounded like cardboard being ripped. “Ringnecks,” I said as the swift-flying ducks vanished in the swirling vapor. The sound alerted Mag. With cocked ears and excited eyes he glanced from Jeff to me. Half an hour later, he was still glancing and the geese were still gossiping.

“Doesn’t look good,” Jeff thought aloud. “Should be more ducks moving by now.”

“Well,” I replied, “let’s try the old coffee trick. That usually brings something scaling in from above or behind or below the treeline.” While we sipped the steaming brew Jeff continued staring into the fog. “Don’t worry about those geese,” I began, “they’ll….”

“Watch it!” Jeff nodded to my right. So long coffee. Low to the water, a black duck came straight at the decoys. Suddenly, though, it lifted and veered. When I fired, the duck fell into the bog behind us. After minutes of thrashing, swimming, wallowing, and lunging in the “hell hole” of stumps, heath bushes, and cattails, Mag found the duck and delivered it to Jeff.

“There’s the reason duck hunters should never leave home without a retriever,” I said. “We never would have found that duck.” Talk about being single-minded. Jeff’s reply was: “Those geese didn’t get up when you fired.”

With a skeptical smile, my oldest offspring replied, “Sure. Next thing you’ll tell me is there’s an old gander out there wearing a watch.”

“OK,” I said. “But I’m telling you, these birds operate on a schedule.”

During the next half hour or so, the fog lifted as we listened without interruption to the chorus on the lake. But when the geese abruptly stopped clamoring, the silence was stiff with warning. Quietly, we switched loads. Directly, the geese began swimming down the middle of the pond. Eventually, a raft of about 500 was strung out in front of us – an avian armada taxiing to a take-off point. “Jeff,” I whispered, “If you move I’ll cut you out of my will.”

Seldom do large flocks of geese take wing all at once. When the first gaggle lifted off – their cries rivaling the cheers of a Super Bowl crowd – they swung to our left. But the next gaggle came straight at us in two groups, one behind the other. The first group gained just enough altitude. “Let them go, Jeff,” I said. “The next group’s lower.”

God, they were big. On they came, honking, yelping, grunting, piping, wings pumping. “OK,” I said, “now or never.” When my shotgun jolted my shoulder the object of my attention folded and fell into the woods near a scrawny hackmatack. Mag and I charged off in that direction. Minutes later, dog and goose collided in a weave of alders and willows. Mag wasn’t long in settling the dispute, though, and again he ignored me as he lugged the biggest bird he ever fetched out to his lifetime hunting partner.

“Did you knock one down, Jeff?” I asked when I returned.

“If I did it hasn’t struck yet,” he answered.

“The way that one came out of the air I figured we were shooting at the same bird,” I allowed. The air was filled with the wonderfully wild calls of geese as the majestic fowl winged toward nearby cornfields to feed. When things quieted down I looked at my watch. Noticing me, Jeff said, “Seven o’clock, right?”

“Nope,” I answered with a shake of my head. “Twenty after. These dark mornings delay them a little.” It didn’t matter that we never fired another shot. Whenever you go duck hunting and come home with a Canada goose you can call it a great day – especially in weather softer than a wool sock.

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