Thursday, December 24, 2009

Getting it Right - Against All Odds

View from the Pit
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So, indulge me while I rattle off the reasons why my most
recent hunt should have been a disaster. First, I visited the duck club / farm the day before my scheduled hunt to determine if the farm lane was accessible, and if the boat "ramp" was accessible (sneakboat towed by 6W gator), given the variable amounts of snow (5" to 28") in the area. That was actually a good move. I walked around the farm a little bit and took stock - a few geese standing on the frozen pond. 500 to 1000 geese sitting in the lagoon at the bottom of the cliff. It all turned bad when I drove the Gator into a snowbank that I couldn't see (looked flat & level on top, but snow depth went from 5" to 30" in about 2 seconds flat), about 20 minutes before sunset. I spent an hour trying to dig it out, but it was an impossible task for one person. Humiliated and frustrated, I might've called off the next day's hunt, except I knew I'd have to return to pull out the Gator anyway. 6" to 30" of snow in every field. No corn stubble exposed. Pond frozen. Geese roosting in an area inaccessible by land and with the boat itself covered in snow and ice, on the boat lift. Not good.
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Then add in the weather. Thick snow cover, cold temperatures, and high air pressure are causing the geese to flock up and head south into Virginia, looking for food. There is no cloud cover in the area at all- no fog, no clouds, no rain. Very few hunters are having good outings. Any hunt would require walking ALL of one's gear out to the hunting spot, through the snow, from the nearest plowed farm lane or public road. It's just "not good." Not for December. Not for waterfowling. A recipe for failure.
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How many times have I "known better" and tried to force a hunting/fishing/surfing trip in dicey conditions - only with disastrous results? Too many times.
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But this is where "friends" come in. I called my friend Rich and invited him to hunt with me, and by the way, help me pull the Gator out of the snow, please. We talked about the only two "realistic"scenarios for a goose hunt, based on the weather conditions alone:
  1. hunt the few areas of open water with 3-5 dozen floater decoys and a few full body decoys on the shore. An ideal setup - but impossible since most boat ramps are covered in ice and snow.
  2. scrape the snow off of a corn/soybean field to make it "look" like the decoys are feeding on grain that's been exposed by snowmelt or cattle. We didn't have time to mobilize a tractor for this task. But it got us thinking: could we shovel enough snow by hand to make it work? The answer was a very exhausting, "Yes."
About 50% of the decoy spread, seen from the goose pit
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With 2 rakes and one shovel, we scraped out areas that looked like "corn rows" and "holes" of exposed dirt and corn stubble. We used 4 dozen silhouette decoys and 1 dozen bigfeet, and put them in tightly to mimic geese that are feeding very aggressively (hungry birds). The goose pit had very little snow on top of it, so we used that to our advantage - placing decoys around and even on top of the pit itself - to try and make it look like a feeding area.
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Around 930am the birds started moving to feed, and a few medium-sized flocks (8 to 20 birds) took a look at us, and (I think) decided that there was not enough "open ground" for them all to land. Around 10am, a flock of four geese fully committed to the decoy spread, and tried to land within 15 yards of the goose pit. And that was basically the end of the hunt.
A daily limit of geese in snowy, sunny, 24 degree weather = proud of myself!
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I was really proud that the two of us - both of us goose hunting only since the Atlantic Flyway reopened in 2002 - were able (under these conditions) to think this through, execute a good, legal, and safe hunt, and actually harvest our limit of birds. We knew how and where to set up, we called "decently," and we shot "well enough." Maybe I need to give myself a little more credit sometimes.

And speaking of getting it right against all odds - here's me and my buddy - 3 months old today. Guess I'm having a run of good luck.

8 comments:

swamp4me said...

Goose for Christmas dinner?

tugboatdude said...

Hey man we can't get it wrong all the time.Maybe by the time we are in our 50's we will have it all figured out.Good job and I'm glad it was worth the work

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Good to hear the year ends so well.
Best wishes for a happy crimbo and a productive new year
SBW

Swamp Thing said...

Yup, the goose is headed for a crockpot BBQ for New Year's Eve.

It's been a great year full of surprises and challenges, and I'm excited for 2010!

prpark said...

Great story and the need for persistence...Sounds like enough shoveling for the whole year. Did not see many flying this a.m with this wind, but at least the tundra is gone.

J said...

Hey, as someone looking to get back into hunting after living in an urban setting that had no such options, I have a question. This may come across as foolish..but..you're hunting geese? I can't walk at any local park without having to literally swat geese away.Actually I'd say they're at such a pest level that wiping them all out is something that most of the local folks would heartily agree with. Yet, you have to duplicate conditions to entice them ? It's a weird world.

Swamp Thing said...

That's the conundrum, J. The places where geese have taken over (parks, school fields, golf courses) are places that for reasons of legality, actual safety, or perceived safety, are not huntable. For instance, you cannot legally discharge a firearm within 250? yards of a building. That eliminates a lot of places right there.

Those same geese switch food sources once it gets very cold, and they head to corn fields to eat whatever waste is left over from the cutting of the corn. However, they quickly figure out which corn fields are regularly hunted, and which ones are left alone, which is why we use decoys to fool them into thinking "this is a safe place."

Look at the two geese in my hands - the smaller one is a migrant goose, from "actual" Canada. The larger one is probably a "golf course goose."

Jim Tantillo said...

hey Swamp Thing,
that's a great story, and great to hear of your success at the end. Also congratulations on your three month old. It's all good.

Jim