Fun in the Sun: Saturday Afternoon

I arrived back from grocery pick up after the morning hunt just in time to find everyone back at the farm and ready to go; they told me to hurry up and get my gear together for the afternoon trip.

While I double-checked to make sure that I had not forgotten anything, Tack laid down the plan.  There were three cut grain fields bordering the highway just outside of town and while no geese had been feeding in them yet, they were primed for a hunt.  We had a skeleton crew for the afternoon, with just six of us heading out.  I’ve never had a lot of success in afternoon hunts during the early season, but as the proverb goes “make hay while the sun shines”.  I was up there to hunt, and hunt I would.  It was very hot out with little in the way of a breeze though, so rather than load up with camo, I opted instead for the oh-so-fashionable t-shirt and shorts with rubber boots look.  We packed up the trucks and Lucas, Hastings, Dane, Jason, myself, Tack and Tack’s dog Levi headed for the fields.  Rory was going to show, but later decided not to.
Levi looking keen to get going
This was Levi’s first hunt, so Tack set his blind up towards the back and facing near perpendicular to our line of blinds, opting only to shoot at birds that were outside the pocket we had created with our decoys.  Levi, wearing a coat of the golden yellow that blended seamlessly with the grain stubble, crouched down in the grass next to Tack’s blind even hopping in with Tack once or twice (Levi’s not too big just yet, and Tack is rail-thin so it wasn’t as cramped as you’d think).  This pup had been in training for just under a year, but we all had high hopes for him.  He’d turn out to be the highlight of the day.
As we put the finishing touches on our setup and settled into our blinds, I became aware of two potential challenges for this hunt.  First, even though we had gone a couple of hundred yards out into the middle of the north grain field, the east edge of the field was still close enough to the highway that the noise of cars driving on it made hearing geese at a distance difficult.  The second was a challenge and a mixed blessing.  A slight breeze had picked up and was blowing out of the east, which allowed us to set up facing away from the highway and thus negating any risk that we’d have to shoot our shotguns towards the roadway (even at a couple of hundred yards it is never a good idea to be popping off towards traffic…I’ve still seen some hunters do it though).  As some of you have likely inferred though, facing west on an afternoon hunt on a sunny day poses its own issues.  We brushed the blinds up extra heavily and settled in with the mid-afternoon sun beating down directly on our faces.  It was just about 3pm.  For over two hours we lounged in the sun, making jokes, telling stories, and generally having fun at one another’s expense.  No geese flew.

Yours truly getting too much sun before the action started

Lucas and Jason relaxing in the sun
I was sitting back listening to some nonsense story being shared by a couple of the guys when Jason, who was laying in the stubble at the far left of the set-up, shouted something along the lines of “[expletive]!  There’s geese right there!”
Sure enough a group of about a dozen geese was gliding in from behind us.  Between the highway noise, our overly-relaxed demeanours, and the fact that no one had really thought to look behind us, we were caught with our blinds open, some of us had our guns unloaded, and Lucas literally had his pants down (it was hot and he was stripping off a layer inside his blind when the geese showed up).  The geese were obviously aware that something was not right as we covered up, loaded guns, and tried to turn the geese back.  With some comeback calls we were able to swing the birds and they began to filter into the decoys.  But about 10 yards outside of the sweet spot the geese changed their mind and flared off to the south, settling into another field that was being cut to the southwest.  Now we had to compete with the real thing just a few hundred yards from us, which is always frustrating.  Not that it mattered for the next hour or so, as nothing was really flying.  Just near to 6pm, and after I had gotten a very nasty sunburn on my cheeks and ears, we had another group work or decoys, and this time we were ready for them.  Unfortunately a mix up on who was calling the shot led to some of us opening up on them just a bit outside of where we should have, and we only scratched down one, and this bird glided down into some tall grass towards the field’s northwest corner.  The rest joined the live birds in the southwest field.
Cue Levi.  He was live to the action and with very little prompting began chasing down the escapee.  With no hesitation at all he tackled the goose and began to bring it back to hand from a distance of well over a hundred yards.  We all whooped and clapped as the dog (one that is really just barely past being a puppy) bounded back towards us with the goose gripped by the breast.  A dog has never received so much praise for a retrieve, and it was a first retrieve to remember.  Tack was obviously proud, as any owner would be, and we remarked that if we didn’t pop another cap all afternoon that retrieve made the day a winner; it will be a treasured memory for certain.  Turns out, though, there was more action to come, and it was made clear who was calling the shot in the future.
But at first it looked like the live decoys a field over were going to skunk our hunt on us.  We saw a lot of geese, hundreds really, but all of them had their vectors set on the field full of live geese.  Almost every group didn’t even bother to give our fakes a glance.  I’ll tell you this though, I learned more in two hours of just listening to how wild geese on the ground call to flying birds than I ever have listening to instructional CDs or videos.  It was unreal how good the real sounded and I will freely admit to the crushing inadequacy I felt while I listened to the gaggle of geese summon basically every bird we laid eyes on their field.  Eventually though, the farmer who was working the field kicked them up with his combine and with birds in the air we were able to use some flagging and pleading calls to get them to swing our way.  Between about 6:45pm and 7:30 when we decided to pack it in, we had four flights of about five or six birds per group come our way and we got nine more birds out of them in total.
I was especially happy to hammer down on one flight that tried to set down about 90 yards outside our setup.  They circled and didn’t want to commit but we put some nasty ground calling on them and they picked up and tried to land right on the bullseye.  Geese skirting the edges of spreads had been a problem for a while for me, but about two-years ago I found that by aggressively auto-clucking (basically doing a rapid fire duck feeding chatter on my goose call) I could get most groups to stop their descent and slide on over to where I needed them to be.  It’s a pretty mean sounding noise and I don’t fully understand how it works, since I’ve not heard much that resembles it coming from live geese but I’ve called in and killed a lot more geese than I would normally have since I started doing it, although other hunters prefer to use a train note or aggressive push-moans to achieve the same effect.  To each their own I always say.
But the real story wasn’t our calling, or how we shot, or how well the geese worked.  The highlights all went to Levi.  He made a couple more good retrieves, and it was obvious that he was both getting tired and also obviously having a blast being out hunting.  His tail thumped the back of my legs more than once as he bounded excitedly back and forth while we packed up; he was just a happy dog out having a good time, which is always nice to see.
Levi and the ten geese from the evening of Saturday, September 10th, 2011
The shadows were getting long as we took some photos and packed up the gear.  My thanks go out to Lucas Hunter for the photos accompanying this post; he’s a pretty talented photographer and photo editor with just enough modesty to make the images he generates all the more impressive.  After a quick tour around the area to scout out a field for the morning, we cleaned the geese and enjoyed a beer in the hollow behind the farm in a looming, still dusk that gave way to a brilliant full moon and sky full of late-summer (or should I say early fall?) stars.  As we stood around sipping brews, chuckling and telling stories, I took a few steps away from the group to enjoy a moment or two of semi-peaceful reflection in the open field under the moon and stars.  Distantly a coyote yipped and somewhere far out of sight more big Canada geese loafed on the calm waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.  We’d be after them again in the morning, hoping to add to the count that we had in the bag from the day that was just then coming to a close.  My absence was noted and someone shouted to me to come back and join in the camaraderie once more.
Who am I to say no to that?

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