Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
The waterfowl season ended December 7th in Iowa’s North Zone. And although the peak of this year’s waterfowl migrations had occurred by mid-November, there were still some mallards and Canada geese clinging to local refuge areas.
Since there was no open water, I spent the last couple of days hunting in corn stubble near Clear Lake. The same wintery blast that recently delivered several hundred migrating swans to northern Iowa also brought some new geese from wherever they had been holding out to the north. I could tell the flocks were new because of their eagerness to check out my decoys.
For me, the season’s eleventh-hour, grand finale occurred during the final afternoon when, about twenty minutes before sunset, I spotted several corn seeking flocks of Canada geese pass to my right. A beautiful sight, the birds were probably strung out for an eighth of a mile and making plenty of music.
Anyone who’s hunted them knows that Canada geese aren’t stupid. New birds or not, you really can’t expect anything out of a flock that size. Nevertheless, I gave the goose flag a couple of twitches. To my complete amazement, I saw a couple of the birds look back over their shoulders and, wonder of wonders, begin a wide turn back toward the decoys.
A number of their associates followed suit and within seconds I had somewhere in the vicinity of 150 honkers – maybe more — eyeballing my spread. I was laying in the decoys and my blind was pretty minimal, just an old chunk of tennis netting that I had liberally woven with nearby corn husks. It normally does the job, but with that many geese coming toward me I suddenly felt about as obvious as a polar bear standing in a peat field.
But the geese kept coming and the honking grew louder. So far, so good. Passing to my left, the leading birds actually began to touch down on upwind side of the decoys. The remainder of the flock arrived seconds later, and I suddenly had descending Canada geese on all sides. The air was filled with geese and the noise was incredible. I still get the shivers when I think about it.
It was one of those singular moments where the show was so spectacular that you almost hated to shoot. But the clock was running out. I was sitting in the final minutes of the final day of the season. The only way to obtain a goose dinner was to pull the trigger.
Sitting upright, I shouldered the gun and tried to pick a single Canada from the confusing array of flailing birdlife. When I fired, the goose crumpled. Doing the same with another bird, I fired the second barrel. A swing and a miss, it’s likely that honker is currently standing in a Missouri bean field enjoying the weather. How I can miss a ten- or twelve-pound bird at close range is a mystery; but it’s happened often enough that I can honestly say that I’ve completely mastered the technique.
Attached is a souvenir phone photo of one of those giant Canadas standing in the decoys. My last hunt was a great way to end the season.