Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
It Should Have Been A Slam Dunk But Hunting the Wild Goose Does not Always Go as Planned
Three o’clock in the morning and the anticipation was building. I was so wound up, in fact, that I literally couldn’t sleep; which is how I happened to know it was three a.m.
The excitement had begun the day before when I discovered a freshly harvested cornfield. A stalk chopper had already been over the tract and the leftover residue had been leveled to the ground. The newly mulched field had not gone unnoticed by passing flocks of Canada geese. With an abundance of waste grain clearly exposed, it was a waterfowl’s Field of Dreams – a free for the taking, first come first served honker buffet. Around 400 of the huge birds had already made their noisy arrival and were enthusiastically chewing their way across the field.
The landowner was quick to grant permission, and the stage was set. It would be clear sailing and easy pickin’s for the next day’s hunt. But as our man Forrest Gump might say, “Goose hunts are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” When it comes to hunting the wild goose, “sure things” usually are not. The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.
But this time things would be different. I mean, what could go wrong? With hundreds of birds peacefully feeding in an undisturbed oasis, it was a slam dunk goose hunt in the making.
The hours continued to crawl by until time for the scheduled hunt finally arrived. Once on site, it didn’t take long for our party of four to scatter more than five dozen of our best full bodied goose decoys atop the fresh stubble. With decoys in place, the spread looked real enough to fly. Even the most wary of honkers were sure to be fooled; success was imminent.
Feeding time arrived as right on cue, the first band of geese appeared above the horizon. The birds kept their course and at a distance of 100 yards or less, the flock set their wings and began the long glide that would lead them into the decoys. As the distance narrowed, the geese began to boisterously announce their arrival. The plan was coming together. Another five seconds and the flock would be ours.
It was at that precise moment that I began hearing the sudden roar of heavy machinery. Looking to the side, I witnessed a most amazing sight. Enveloped in a cloud of swirling dust, a giant stalk rake was hurtling down the field at breakneck speed. Following close on the rake’s heels was a tractor pulling a giant baler. I’d never seen anything quite like it. I don’t know exactly how fast those pieces of machinery were going, but I do know that they were spitting out giant round bales of corn stalks with impressive frequency.
The approaching geese – now at a mere 50 yards — were not impressed. Abandoning their landing formation, the squawking birds pulled up the flaps and climbed for the heavens. To make the situation even more painful, an endless procession of distant geese could be seen heading our way. For a brief instant we clung to the hope that some of the flocks would still settle into the decoys when the rake and baler traveled to the far end of the field. Didn’t happen. Instead, we sat helpless as each and every one of those 400 Canada geese returned to the field and anxiously wheeled above our decoys — just beyond range, of course – before reluctantly heading for a quieter abode. Our Field of Dreams had become a nightmare; our fantasy hunt was now a full blown clown show. The ordeal lasted for nearly an hour. The air remained full of dust and birds as each high speed pass brought the baler closer to our position. We finally surrendered and began picking up the decoys as additional flocks of confused geese continued to mill above the stalks.
With the baling completed, all was quiet the following morning. Hunting alone, I decided to give the field a second try. The wind was perfect; the sunrise spectacular. And although dozens of noisy flocks flew past, the gig was up. The geese were steering clear and I watched as flock after flock poured into a stubble field located a mile to the south. Although I had now become a mere observer, it was nevertheless a beautiful show.
I had just poured a final cup of coffee when I suddenly heard the sound of a single goose – a sound that seemed much closer than what I’d been hearing. I called and the goose answered back. Although the honking grew progressively louder, I was unable to immediately spot the bird. When I finally did locate the goose, there was no question that he planned to come all the way to the decoys. The descending Canada loomed ever larger until at the near point blank distance of ten paces, the gander arched his black neck and began back peddling for a landing.
A delicious roast goose dinner was now mine for the taking and the day’s outlook had suddenly improved. It wasn’t until the bird was on the ground that I detected the silver glint of a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service band on its left leg. Funny how much a single bird can brighten your day.