Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tough Goose Hunt, Great Day

That's the moon, not the sun.  Ouch!
As things are not generally going amazingly right now, I jumped on an opportunity to take a full day off and spend about half of it out on the farm.  I've really felt half-connected for the last few weeks, and missing what would have been 3 solid days of quality hunting did not help that. So it really didn't phase me that on this day there was a full moon, not a cloud in the sky, a lunar freakin' eclipse, ice on all the rivers, not a new flight of ducks or geese for the last 3 weeks, predicted high temps around 33 degrees, and predicted 25mph winds out of the NW.  I can't explain it - when you're an outdoors maniac, sometimes you just have to go. So I went. 
The moon was as bright as it could be - I could tell that geese were probably feeding all night under moonlight (leaving them fat and unmotivated come daybreak). When I got to the farm (moon still blazing in the sky), this was confirmed - fresh goose poop in the soybean field surrounding the goose pit.  The other thing that was confirmed was that the ground was frozen solid, so the decoy setup I had planned (2 dozen full body and 4 dozen silhouettes) was a no go.

The "skeleton" of the decoy setup as the moon blares down!
I drove back up to the barn and grabbed another 2 dozen fullbody goose decoys and hauled them back out into the field.  I used almost all "feeders" because with this cold weather, the geese are definitely feeding.  The pit faces northwest (soybeans in front, tall weeds behind), so with a northwest wind, I set up about 3 dozen decoys to the south of the pit, and 1 dozen to the north of the pit.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten a lesson I learned almost a year ago to the day, hunting in an identical wind in that same goose pit. 

Looking southeast, behind the goose pit
With the creek and the river both covered in thick sheets of ice, and with the substantial goose migration still (apparently) in limbo due to our frigid temperatures from PA to GA, the farm is just not holding the usual number of geese.  I'm talking less than 10% of the normal number.  Sunrise came and went with no geese calling from the roost. 
I settled into the pit and finished reading Steinbeck's The Moon is Down, an anti-Nazi novel (commissioned by the CIA's predecessor - OSS) that was smuggled into Europe in the early 1940s and reprinted in maybe a dozen languages as resistance propaganda.  Steinbeck won the Medal of Honor for it, and some of the writing is pertinent to today's world.  Some lines like "the flies have conquered the flypaper" and "after they have killed me, promise me the debt will be paid."........"It will - in full" and "it is impossible to break the spirit of man permanently." Good stuff, especially sitting by yourself in a freezing ass goose pit.
Even though the lack of geese was pretty lame, it was really, really great to sit there and listen to the wind for a few hours. I got to thinking about how great it is to be alive, and how amazing it is that I've accomplished what I have, without losing much more than I have over the years. Truly blessed.
Around 9:30, the geese started moving.  A few off the roost.  A few just finishing their overnight feedings (thanks again, full moon!), a few just moving around because it was cold and they have to keep eating.  It was hard to watch for birds, call to them, and see how they were reacting to the calling from the pit - the view is tough.  The stiff wind gave the birds plenty of time to look at every little detail in the decoy spread.
I mentioned a lesson I forgot.  Oh yeah.  That would be that in a NW wind, the geese will ultimately want to land into the wind (no surprise there) to the north of the northernmost decoys.  My northernmost decoys terminated about 35 yards from the pit.  Geese were trying to put down about 5 yards past that, to my side.  It was just physically impossible to get the lid of the pit up and put a solid gun barrel on them, landing in the wind, at that distance to your side. When they stopped coming in, I hurriedly gathered up the northern group of decoys and bunched them up with the southern group (hoping they would now land in front of the pit), ending up with this group:
That is a whole lot of sunlight! The field is planted in barley - the geese have eaten it all.
As I finished up, three geese came in low and straight at me.  They pulled up with only about 20 yards to spare (as I stood there, head down).  Luckily my gun was in the goose pit, so it was pointless.  Hopped back in the pit and a few minutes later, another three birds came around like the first few flocks had been.  After circling and calling back several times, I heard them set their wings over the pit, and I popped up to shoot just as one goose dropped from about 50' to 10' about 30 yards out. 
At this point it's worth mentioning that I brought my old Remington 870 on this hunt.  For no real reason - I've shot it once in the last two years.  It's killed a lot of ducks and geese.  The gun is fine.  Unfortunately the stock is about 5" longer than my Browning Gold and 3" longer than my Mossberg 935, so when I brought the gun to my shoulder, I never got it cleanly mounted and I took a poor shot.   Thinking, like an idiot, that I was shooting one of my semi-autos (which I shoot with 99 times out of 100), I did not cycle the shell and just stood there furiously tapping the trigger, watching the goose slowly elevate, hit the wind, and accelerate. 

That was the only shot I had that morning.  And I didn't care.  There was no one to show off for or be embarassed in front of - and it's not like I missed 10 geese (which I have probably done before).  It was great to sit there and enjoy the wind, the solitude, watch the bald eagles hunt rabbits, and think about all the things I have this year.  2010 has been a really challenging one, and yet there I was, taking a day off from a great job to go hunting on a great farm, looking forward to spending the rest of the week with my wife and son.  
Things ain't so bad.


Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I don't know what's worse, shooting a semi-auto after using a pump for quite some time or the opposite. I've left the pump actions in the cabinet permanently after being reminded how bad they actually kick compared to the autoloaders.

I hope you've had a great x-mas with your new son.


Kirk Mantay said...

Christmas was great. Hank is wonderful.

Had I been really counting on killing birds this day (I try to rarely/never take that attitude), I would have been burnt up over it. One shot and I blew it!

Next summer, I am going to switch things up with my trap/skeet training (possibly including shooting with my duck parka on) to deal with stupid issues like this.

It was great to get out - bottom line.

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