I couldn’t see more than five feet in front of me.
My flashlight beam looked like a high beam headlight on a country road as it tried to cut through the fog. The fog, for that matter, was about as thick as my head felt. However, a late October sickness was the last thing that was going to keep me from experiencing North Dakota’s waterfowl hunting at its finest.
Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I was glad to help put out our 500 snow goose and mallard decoys. This morning we were using 50 full-body and 400 Texas rag-style snows, and 50 mallard field "deeks."
Geese Frequent Cornfield
I was designated to place the rags between the rows of cut corn on the outer perimeter of the spread. The night before when we were scouting, we saw huge groups of snows pile into this field. The farmer who graciously gave us permission to hunt the field said the geese had been using the field for days. He was a hunter himself, but was done hunting for the season. He did offer some great insight regarding the recent migration pattern, and relayed some good ideas as to what fields and wetlands would be good this late in the season.
A mallard resting pond.
My hunting companions consisted of my dad, and family friends Louis and his son Greg. Both Greg and I were 12 years old and it was our first hunt outside of our home state of Wisconsin.
The dogs, Drake, a Golden Retriever, and Rocky, a block-headed Black Lab shifted about anxiously waiting for what was to come. We all eagerly awaited the upcoming hunt. After all of the decoys were set, we reassembled at our natural blind. Our cover was heavy brush surrounding a rock pile that the first settlers had cleared probably 100 or more years ago.
Fog Hides Hunters
The fog was actually now our friend as we could hear the geese, and they could hear our calling, but could not see us. We could, however, see at least 60 yards, the outer extent of our shotgun range. Ducks on the wing were our first visual targets. The first few singles and pairs ripped right past us so fast coming out of the fog that we didn’t even have time to raise our shotguns. Flocks of mallards than began appearing in numbers that I had never seen before or could have imagined. These birds began to pile into our mixed spread of decoys without circling and without fear.
A group of 100 mallards were bearing down on us and the four of us began to empty our guns. Twelve shots creates quite a lot of racket, and was really exciting. The dogs had brought back all of the birds and we hunkered back down into our blind. Another group of mallards had just flown over us hidden from sight by the fog. All we could hear were wings beating against the stiff, cold wind brought on by the extreme weather. Quickly once again the shotguns roared.
I was reflecting at how neat the mallard groups were when I began to hear distant squawking. I shook from my daydream as the geese began to arrive. Our first opportunity was a flock of nearly, I guessed, 500 snow and blue geese.
Decoys Fool Geese
Together we prepared to work our calls to the fullest extent in order to pull in the often call-shy snows. The geese showed immediate interest and made a wide circle back around our decoy spread. I didn’t look behind me because I didn’t want to be the one to flare the ever-wary birds. I kept my eyes sharply tuned to my right, and sure enough after 30 seconds the group reappeared. The birds circled around for a second pass. I was hoping they wouldn’t recognize our decoys and prepared myself to patiently shoot.
The day’s bounty.
Once again I looked to the right and the geese were considerably lower in the sky. All of us remained motionless. At least 100 yards in front of us, the birds began to spill air out of their wings as they slowly approached lower and lower. I popped my safety off in anticipation, and remembered the advice I was given on the drive up the night before, "pick out a single bird and stay with it until you bring it down."
That was easy to listen to last night, but now I was faced with hundreds of geese darkening the sky. I drew in a deep breath and focused. The noise from their honking, almost squawking, was so loud I could hardly hear my dad yell to, "take ’em!" I brought my gun to my cheek and took aim. I squeezed the trigger and saw the bird I had picked out fall. The noise of the shotguns along with the now retreating flock was about as loud as a huge clap of summer thunder. With two shots left, I picked out another bird. I let loose my second shot, the bird tilted, but kept on going. Last shot … got ’em!
Notches A Double
I was happy because I didn’t want a wounded bird to get away. As the birds retreated we looked around and our group had brought down a total of seven birds.
"I got two!” I said. Because it was my first double, the others claimed that I had to buy dinner! I had never heard of this tradition before and claimed that I only had $4 to my name. Lou chimed in saying that, "if that is the case, at least we have someone to clean the birds now."
Being the youngest I expected to take a lot of kidding, but didn’t mind. I countered, "how come I doubled and you only got one?"
"I was giving you an opportunity," Lou roared back laughing. Our conversation was cut short as another group of snows were quickly approaching from the west.
This was a much smaller group and dove into our spread with abandon. We knocked down a bunch and quickly reloaded.
"Pair at 3 o’ clock," I yelled. Greg and Louis hammered both of those. I could hardly believe the action we had experienced already.
Flock Of 5K Appears
My Dad and Lou, both excellent callers, began to squawk on their calls as if to say, "we’re over here!" It appeared to have worked as the group of about 5,000 began to turn in our direction. These birds looked eager and were on a B-line heading directly towards us. It was obvious that they had accepted our decoys as the real thing and were not going to circle. Cupped wings spilled out air and in a few more seconds and they would be in range.
Sunset after a perfect day of hunting.
Guns once again blazed and geese fell. I had picked out a blue goose and missed my first shot and emptied my other two bringing it down. It hit with a bounce only about five feet from me. I was ready to jump out of the blind as I thought it was going to land on my head! We all were reloading as quickly as possible and picked up a few more. The dogs once again did their duty and were ready for more.
I looked over my shoulder to the east and actually saw the beginnings of light. When all the fog finally lifted nearly an hour later, a beautiful light began to paint the sky pink. Silhouetted by the sunrise, faint lines of ducks speeding across the sky and massive swarms of snow geese were returning from the morning feeding session and heading back to safe water until the evening flight. This was a day to remember with both great luck and camaraderie.