Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer's End - Fall's Beginning

Harvest Moon
For many waterfowlers that first brisk Northern breeze that sweeps the pungent fragrance of the lake depths through the valley, means it is time to prepare for resident Canada goose season. While the public basks in the last few days of summer and revels in the glory of Labor Day weekend, goose hunters are preparing for Opening Day. 

Field bags are packed; decoys are set out in out fields, their deceptive motion swaying with the slightest wisp of air. Layout blinds are prepared by picking wheat and clover off the ground and stuffing it into the stubble straps of the nylon blinds, which sit on the dewy ground. It takes more than an hour and a half to properly grass the blinds and crawl into the coffin-shaped boxes.

Dawn of Fall
As the first rays of sunlight melt over the mountains, the sky lights up in salmon and helio, outlined by soothing sage. There is not a cloud in the sky and the sweet smelling northwest wind bodes well for our crew of anxious fowlers. 

We are sharing our traditional cup of coffee and donuts when it happens. Far out on the bay, the echo careens off of the rocky beach. Her-onk! The breakfast flock is awakening.

First call
We return the call with a simple cluck and leave the rest to the imagination. Sometimes the best call is the one that leaves curiosity in the mind of the conversationalist. We wait.

Soon, another muffled, yet intriguing honk comes from the bay. We answer back with a curt hail call. 

That gets the ball rolling! Now we are in an aggressive dialogue about how wonderfully tasty the wheat is this morning. Within minutes we can hear the entire flock begin to debate about when to leave the roost. Juvenile voices say “now!” while the more guttural adult tones profess “patience.” It’s like listening to a family on Christmas morning.
All Set

Twenty minutes pass. We are all silent in the field, when one of our band of brothers calls out “Two from behind! Right over the trees! And Silent!” “Get down!” I counter. Blind doors snap shut and we all disappear in stalks of wheat and sheaths of clover.  

These are the scouts.

We let them circle the spread and do not call or move. They examine us closely, then slide gently back out over the water and land in the center of the bay, clucking to the flock of 300 birds.

The question comes up every year. Should we have shot when they were hanging over the decoys? My answer has always been “no.” Let them take the news to the flock that the field is full of geese and there do not appear to be any predators.

Ten long minutes pass. Our hearts are beating wildly, hoping that we made the right choice. And then it begins.

We hear the wing beats flapping against the water as the family pods begin to peel off of the flock. 

Within moments, the sky is alive with honking, as powerful wing pinions flail at the air. They are arriving in flocks of 10 – 20 birds at a time. 

The first flock to lower altitude swings from right to left across the spread then turns away to the South. 

A single bird back pedals and drops his dark black boots to land in the decoys. “Let ‘em land!” I whisper. When the second flock sees the single bird on the ground, he calls to them.

First Bird
They cup their mighty wings in an arc, the shape of which is emblazoned in waterfowlers’ memories for generations. 

As they glide in to finish their landing, feet outstretched, necks craning, I wish that I could freeze this moment in time and somehow convey to all those who do not hunt what a magnificent spectacle we get to witness.

Some call the Canada goose a nuisance because it fouls their lawns and golf courses. I prefer to think of them as majestic brethren seeking a connection to us.

Smile of Success