Sunday, November 17, 2013

Goose Blunder, Part I

Thousands of geese taunted us all day by hanging out on other properties within sight of ours...

There were geese on Maryland's eastern shore this weekend.  Oh boy, were there.  I'm happy not to be the only hunter who didn't have a stellar opening day (our farm had 8 hunters, 3 shots fired, 0 birds killed), but under foggy, rainy skies, it should have turned out a lot different.  Most hunting parties in our area had their legal limit by 8:30am.

The full run-down of my "three hunts in 24 hours" is coming shortly, but at this time I'd like to frame the weekend by thanking my corporate sponsor, Sudafed-D.   That's right, one of my students rolled into class on tuesday night, all red-eyed and zombie-looking, and said, "I'm sick - I just wanted you to see."  I backed up immediately and told them to go home.  To no avail.  Thursday night found me up all night with the shakes.  I worked until about 2pm on friday and then hit the road for a quick duck hunt on the shore.   Went to bed by 930pm and was up at 5am to get ready for the opening day of goose.  Felt miserable all morning.  Gave up, and hunkered down in a goose blind in one of our fields.  Fell asleep snoring in the blind, much to my friends' amusement.  Drove the 90 minutes back home with insane sinus pressure, slept in 2 hour shifts all saturday night, and spent most of sunday on the couch in a haze of Sudafed....

Bummer! I enjoyed the dry-run of gear assembly, decoy untangling, and boat operation but I really wanted to take home a goose or two.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Atlantic Goose Season Returns

The weather is unseasonably warm, the wetlands are uncharacteristically dry, and if the moon were any more full or bright, I believe it would explode.  But goose season begins on Saturday, so into the rivers we will all go.

After the first 24 hours of goose season have passed, you won't find me hunting on a day on which either the moon is full OR it's predicted to be 59 degrees by lunchtime, let alone both.   But I'll go.

I'll go because I can still remember in perfect detail the last goose I shot, in January 2013.   It was a tough shot, I somehow got it right - overhead-left moving front-to-rear on the wind at about 40 yards in the air - stalling in the wind to look at the decoys for just a moment.  I pulled the trigger, and the big bird fell like a stone, dead in a pile just 20 yards to my left, in the heavy thorned vines of the River's sandy shoreline.

I'll go to rekindle relationships with people I respect - people I rarely speak to outside of waterfowl season.  We'll enjoy fresh Maryland rockfish and oysters, and toast to another season of hard work, success, and fellowship on the water.  We'll have a cigar and tell tall tales of hunts that were not as good as we remember them; and of close calls that hopefully weren't as dangerous or exciting as we remember them.

I'll go to relax and remember why I go to work.  I'll get my head together and by late saturday afternoon, I'll be home and ready to focus on more important things once again.  But first, we'll go out into the dark water, chasing the big moon and waiting for the sun to rise with birds on the wing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday Morning Ditch Hunt

Saturday morning came, or really, that cold and dead part of night that precedes it.  I threw my gear in the truck and headed over to a local bowhunting spot where I can sit and spend time alone.  The place is a little coastal ditch - flat on both banks and dry up the middle with downed trees scattered across it.  I found out three years ago while working on the property that the suburban deer use the ditch and trees as a kind of secret tunnel between the deep woods and the small corn field near the road.   At varying distances from their destination - the soybeans planted in rotation this year in that field - the deer jump over the downed debris and take an angle into the field.   This is maddening if you are hunting from the field, because deer appear from everywhere and nowhere in no predictable pattern.   

However, if I situate myself near the ditch about a hundred yards from the field's edge, they should all pass right by me.   On this morning, my grand plan was complicated by wind that had been predicted to move in my face and away from the deer was now blowing my scent - in gusts - right down the ditch line.   The first doe picked her head up at 80 yards, snorted, and ran.  Not great.  Second deer, a 160-180lb buck with a pitiful 4-point set of antlers, got within about 40 yards, picked up my scent, looked right at me, and nervously walked away.  Several more animals got within about 40 yards in the dense cover, knew what I was, knew where I was, and seemed to understand why I was there.  

Finally in the low morning cracks of scattered sun light, a 140-160lb buck with another tiny 4-point spread walked out of the wild blueberry thicket at 60 yards, and immediately looked at me.  The animal continued forward...38....35....32....30 yards without breaking off his stare.  I tried to control my breathing, knowing that he could see me.  I didn't dare pick up my bow, and finally the animal backed away from me, never once diverting his eyes from mine.    I would have been ready to take the buck at 20 yards if he would have just taken a few more steps and looked the other way.

The sun continued to rise and my breath became less visible.   I created some hopeful logic that maybe the wind would die after the sun rose, which would have brought the deer closer to me.   Of course, the wind never died.  I watched the morning sun burn into and through the kaleidoscope of sweetgum leaves, colored bright yellow, bright red, and bold maroon.  The leaves twisted but hardly fell - not ready to concede the season I suppose.  I rested my bow against the stump in front of me, and leaned back against the silver maple tree behind me, allowing my breaths to come heavier and slower.   As increasingly larger patches of light opened on the forest floor, the silently moving deer were replaced by squirrels - anything but silent, seeming to execute military style orders to retrieve food stores from under the leaves, then re-bury it just a few feet away.   Cardinals swooped into breaks in the forest canopy to eat seeds from wild grasses.  Soon after, it was woodpeckers and chickadees, both flitting about the trees, looking for the eggs of worms and insects tucked behind cracks and seams in tree bark.  

My attention faded away to all the things that needed to be done, which was my cue to wrap up. 

I'll be back, when the wind's right. 

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...