Friday, February 3, 2012

Goose Hunting & 360*

Out of nowhere my ears alert me to the incoming honks and grunts of a flock of Canada geese. These are the Giant Canada Geese, the biggest and weighing up to 20 lbs. with a wing span of 7 feet. My eyes widen like those of a 4 year old on Christmas morning watching them land in a large field just a short distance away.

Considering how many degrees of departure are available for geese, it is no wonder that we seldom outsmart them. The odds are stacked in their favor and double that in mild conditions when they're not pressured by weather, predators or food. I'm talking about pulling off a successful stalk hunt; sneaking close to geese that are feeding in a large wide open field with a 360* view. It's one thing to be able to get in close while hiding behind an elevated dike and then wait while maintaining your concealment and excitement. The anticipation is often what busts us. Usually I'll be able to hear them talking and stretching their wings and just have to take that last fatal peek, to make sure they're where I think they are. In doing so there's a pair of wise old sentry eyes pasted to the rustling sounds I made while trying to be ever so stealthy. By the time I see them they've been watching me, head and neck stretched up high and then honking alerts the others that it’s time to fly. At the first loud alarm honk, you become painfully aware you just blew any chance you had of them flying anywhere remotely in range. You're toast, pate', done for, game over and you can't believe you did it again.

 I've experienced this on more than one occasion and I know there will be more jaw dropping days of getting skunked, with my so called savvy experience and knowledge of 35 plus years hunting geese. None of that matters when ultimately you are making an educated guess, a hypothesis on the direction they will depart. I was able to even the score by one, a few weeks ago down in the Klamath Basin of S.W. Oregon.

The conditions were warm and mild with very little breeze, just a hint of wind from the S.W. rolling over the banks of the Klamath River. Ice still covered the broader reaches of the river where there was less current. I was watching a flock of 15 or so large Canada Geese land in a 40 acre field of stubble with a strip of Triticale grain to their N.E., I pondered the various scenarios and odds for a successful sneak. Also trying to guess in which direction they'd take off. I was observing them from the comfort of the cabin on the hill overlooking the landscape. My adrenaline began as I visualized a successful sneak, wait I haven't even gotten properly dressed and I'm already celebrating. Whoa, slow down and let's get back to reality.

 Considering it was New Year’s Eve the geese were well educated to slow moving vehicles, bad decoys, bad calling and the like. I knew I had to be absolutely concealed and quiet from the very beginning. So I opted to take the long way around. I didn't let them see or hear me from the hill. Fortunately my truck was on the opposite side of the cabin from where they were feeding. I drove a short distance down the back side of the hill and then parked, quietly shutting the truck door and beginning my long approach. In all it was close to a 2 mile walk give or take, but when you're sneaking, it doesn't seem so far or matter. I headed S.S.W. to the river cutting across 2 fields, 2 deep ditches and getting to the river dike then turning back to the N. on my final approach to the dike that separates them from me. The fields were muddy, wet and sloppy so I wore my Cabela's waders and dressed light underneath to minimize sweating and then chilling while I waited for the geese to get air born. It was early afternoon and the clouds were building in and a S. wind was picking up. Finally a storm is rolling in. I managed to make my way to where I wanted to be. I thought the geese would either fly S.W.N. or E. Face it, no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I knew what direction they would take off in, ultimately I had no clue or scientific knowledge to base my decision on. The landscape offered me a few options of concealment that would allow me to be in range if they happened to fly near me. That was my scientific data, place hunter and gun in closest proximity of airborne waterfowl, always.

So it was and I just hunkered in and made myself comfortable for a spell, not knowing just how long that meant. I ate a good stout brunch after my morning hunt and  enjoyed several cups of strong coffee. That last cup may pose a problem in the not so distant future, if you get my drift. And as those of you know it's typical of geese, or big game to give you a shot opportunity when you are least prepared, as in relieving yourself. Just an FYI for those of you who haven't had this experience yet, believe  me it will happen.

 As I was relaxing, lying on my side in the mud and weeds my mind began to wander as it does when I'm in the field waiting for something to make its move. Off in the distance I hear dogs across the river barking, and the rumble of the train some 10 plus miles to the East of me headed for who knows where? Swoosh, I get passed over by an unsuspecting Northern Harrier as he/she hunts for rodents. The distant vocals of Ravens, Magpies and Kingfishers fill my background with familiar sounds like that of an old friend, comforting me and offering a sort of companionship. My focus drifts to the vegetation at the edge of my hunting caps bill. Watching small spiders climb the tall stalks of dead grass while simultaneously snuggling down into my high coat collar so none get to close. I can hear several voles gnashing root stalk just inches away from me. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of a vole crossing open ground going from one tunnel to another. The dike tops are riddled with vole trails and holes. They're vulnerable to hawks and small mammals when they dash above ground, and they know it too.  I ponder what their existence must be like and the myriad of tunnels they travel. My attention shifts to my shotgun barrel, the vent rib, the small brass bead at the barrels end and I trace it back to the fore-end, the silver floral engraving along the sides of the action. Feeling how my hand fits the wooden pistol grip with its fine checkering. Reflecting on all the miles I have travelled carrying this gun in my hands. We are old friends and have had some spectacular days afield together. It feels comfortable in my grip and if I could find another just like it I'd buy it in a heartbeat! This gun is close to 35 years old and has some dings and dents to show for the miles we’ve travelled. It has saved my butt on more than one occasion. Be it getting stuck in the muck or avoiding a face plant in a ditch with 2 feet of water or the time I almost broke my leg by stepping in a hole. Then there are the times it got used as a paddle when I broke mine or the time I used it to break ice so I could reach a downed Canvasback. The stories go on and I take comfort in its toughness and dependability.

Honk, wing flaps pushing air and a few more grunts and short calls. I am present again and shuffle my body to get comfortable and re-positioned in case the geese are close to lift off. I want to sneak a peek but I resist and just about that time I hear the unmistakable swooshes of air from the big birds wings propelling them upward into the sky. I shuffle once more hearing them talk and it sounds like they're coming my way. Again I resist exposing myself just yet, my pulse quickens and I feel the warm flush of adrenaline. Another 10 seconds and I can see them coming into view through the vegetation just off to my right side. The first bunch are about 10 strong and I stretch my torso upward into a kneeling position and shoulder my gun taking aim on the closest and as I squeeze off my first shot my coat collar interferes with my shot. I lower my gun grabbing my collar and stuffing it downward without thinking about it and get ready for a second shot. Irritated with myself for making that mistake I block it out of my mind and get ready for the second wave, the last chance for success and these are closer than the first. Not enough time to put in another shell so I have one chance left. I take aim and swing through leading on the closest one to me about 35 yards away. I squeeze the trigger, and continue my follow through, it's a solid hit I just knew it, yet the big goose doesn't even budge or pucker an inch. I lower my gun and exclaimed "you've got to be kidding me!" Totally and absolutely dumbfounded by the lack of response I got from a solid hit I hold on for the faintest of possibilities. My eyes are glued to the goose and it slowly starts to drift away from the others and at the same time locks its wings and is on a death glide. I only hope it lands in the field and doesn't make it to the river. I watch as it continues to drop lower and closer to the ground eventually landing. I am running as fast as I can in chest high waders through 6" of mud and uneven stubble. After about 100 yards I was out of wind and kept up a fast walk while never taking my eyes off where I had marked the goose’s landing.  Eventually I get to within range and am ready to shoot if he tries to take off. He never did, he was stone cold dead at my arrival with wings outstretched to either side, and head down in the muck. I was thrilled, relieved and impressed at the size of this Canada goose. He was huge and a part of me was thankful to have just the one to carry back to the truck. He almost made it to the river another 30 yards and I might be telling a different story.

I picked him up by his neck and felt his warmth and how heavy he is. I suspect a good 15 lbs. maybe more. After a moment or two of admiring him and realizing I'd just pulled it off, I gently swung him over my left shoulder and began the walk back to my truck. I feel the sweat trickling down my back and my face from beneath my cap. I unzip my coat and base layer to dissipate some excess heat. Soon I am sweating from head to toe and smiling every step of the way. Feeling my left hamstring from my run and hoping it's just a temporary strain. There's nothing like lying on the cold ground for extended periods of time in a less than comfortable position on wet vegetation and feeling your core temp drop, slowly pulling the heat away from your extremities. Then in a flash having to bolt upright and start sprinting. Your running feels more like your legs are encased in concrete, lacking fluidity and warmth. This is entirely muscle memory and desire driving you. Your breathing becomes heavy and labored soon realizing you have to slow the pace down. You've waited patiently and the last thing you'll let happen now is for that goose to get away because you were to cold, stiff or slow to reach it in time. You dig deep because you owe it to that bird and you’re not going to let some old coyote have an easy meal on your watch if you can help it.

Going over in my mind what just transpired and how the story will unfold as I share it with my friends. It all moves so fast in my mind yet it took several hours for it to unfold in real time. There are so many pieces to a hunt I savor each moment like it’s the last one. I do my best to absorb all the little nuances of being out there hunkered in against a wet muddy cold dike in the dead of winter. How the mud smells and the odor of wet grasses blown over by driving winds, rain and snow, the tiny insects that live in the dank vegetation and the rodents who thrive underneath the surface.  I wonder what they think if anything, when they feel us walking on the dirt over their tunnels. Perhaps it’s not worth the time for them to give it a thought. I cherish my time in the field and realize that I'm  just a visitor and though I am most comfortable out there I know well I cannot truly call it home. Not like that of the wild creatures that give me reason to return and match wits with. I am not equipped to call it home and so the quest of hunter and the hunted will continue far beyond my years. Enjoying the successes as well as the disappointments for they are all parts of what we call hunting and the 360* of possibilities.

Women's Hunting Journal  Integrity For The Hunt


Amelia said...

I love this blog. It's always so nice to find fellow women in love with the thrill of the hunt. I can't wait to get out again. My camo hunting vest is on it's way (way better than my older one) Ah! Thank you so much for sharing. It makes me even more excited.

Eastern Shore Outdoors said...

Superb writing, Terry!...I loved reading this post. Your descriptions of your surroundings were captivating...I will share this with the Wildfowl Ninja (James) and I am sure he will be able to relate in part to your pursuit of these giant graceful creatures..Phil

Terry Scoville said...

Amelia, thanks for visiting and sharing your enthusiasm. Let me know what you think about your new vest. I checked them out and they look well built. Mine is very old as well, just haven't found a suitable replacement.

Phil, thanks for visiting and your kind words, much appreciated. Those big Canada geese are really impressive even after all these years! I never tire of seeing or chasing them, regardless of how many times I get skunked.

Alyssa Johnson said...

It's funny how my 'blog friends' seem to post things to relatable to my life without even knowing! Today I enjoyed a nice lay in a field among the golden rod, milkweed, and grasses...just taking in the sunshine and 40* temps on Feb 4th! All around me were the honking CG from a nearby wetland. It was actually quite calming, and I can't even remember the last time I took the time to lay down and cloud gaze!

Love your blog, as Amelia said- nice to see another woman out there!

May I make a request? When you get an animal, pleasr take a nice body shot of it? I love seeing wildlife up close, and I'm sure others would as well :)

Terry Scoville said...

Bearly Alyssa thanks for sharing part of what you did today. I was there in my mind hearing them and feeling the warm Feb sun. I will do my best to post some up close body shots of my next adventures if I am favored with success. A very good idea and thank you. I have enjoyed spending time much like you did today and it's good soul food for sure.

Laurie Smith said...

Terry loved your story about your recent goose hunt. I thought I was the only girl who crawled through the mud and weeds after waterfowl(did a lot of that this season). Geese are sooo hard to bring down. You can't imagine how many times I've had good shots and nothing fell out of the sky. I have also said "your kidding right!" I finally got a couple the other day after many times of getting skunked. Congrats!

Terry Scoville said...

Hey Laurie, nice looking pair of geese you got there, good job! Not easy to bring down is for certain. Thanks for visiting and sharing. Glad to hear you enjoy crawling through the muck too, it does have it's rewards from time to time.

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