2011 Waterfowl Season Opens With A Reminder That You Can’t Win Them All
Those Dirty Birds.
Olive Branch, MS –-(Ammoland.com)- “Where the heck are those geese going?”
The flock meandering across the western horizon was the first of several that Drake Field Expert Steve Bierle and I were hoping would pay a visit to our decoy spread in a freshly turned fallow field. It was the opening morning of South Dakota’s special August season for resident Canada geese, and apparently the birds had received the memo.
Truthfully, I would have been more surprised had the first flock followed the game plan. After more than a decade of chasing Canada geese at summer’s end, I’ve come to discover that the only certainty with these birds is uncertainty.
Since 1996, South Dakota has implemented an early season to help control the growing number Canada geese that nest and raise young in the state. The big birds love to set up shop on the many wetlands that dot this prairie state, but unfortunately, they also love to munch on the surrounding fields of budding soybeans and corn.
Typically hunters have to wait until the first of September to take a crack at the resident geese, but a growing population – estimated at 227,000 breeding birds this spring – and mounting conflicts with landowners have caused the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to open hunting for resident hunters the past two years in mid-August.
With so many geese around, it should be an easy fight, right?
It appeared that these geese were ready to come out swinging.
“These birds have been in this field for the better part of a week,” said Bierle, watching intently as the flock winged nearly a mile south off-course. “What in the world are they doing?”
Just about the time we gave up on the flock for good, the birds suddenly changed course and made a line for our decoy spread amid small stands of stubborn weeds and volunteer corn.
Steve began to work the call in earnest, and I fumbled with my camera, hoping to get the perfect shot of the first flock of the year. As the geese crossed over the southern edge of the field, it became apparent that they were setting up to land far short of our full-bodied decoys.
“Johnny, you better get on that flag,” Bierle whispered from his layout blind. I had broken rule number-one as an outdoor writer: either press the shutter release or hunt, but don’t try and do both.
I traded camera for goose flag, but the birds cupped up and dropped down in a wide, shallow swale some 200 yards down-wind.
“Crazy birds,” I said, hoping that my hunting partner would forgive me for being a tad bit late on the flag.
“Who knows what they’re thinking,” he answered. “Do you suppose I should walk those out?”
Before I had a chance to respond, the sounds of approaching geese cut through the cool morning air. A glance to the north and west told us that instead of taking a wayward detour, this second flock of the morning had drawn an immediate bead
The birds maintained a good line of approach until reaching the border of the field, when they began to slide with the wind. I flagged, Bierle called, but the geese wanted nothing to do with us. They weren’t flaring or giving any indication that they were spotting us, the geese simply did not want to decoy. After making another pass to the south, the flock of 25 birds cupped up and hit the dirt.
With ego slightly bruised, I noted that as a consolation, at least they completely ignored the other birds already on the ground, as well. The comment drew a muffled grunt from Bierle, and I thought that I even heard a sigh of frustration from my yellow Labrador, Murphy, who was sitting behind my blind. This hunt was starting to get personal.
“Here we go, another flock,” said Bierle. “This is looking better.”
A line of a dozen or so honkers was bearing down on the field from the west. The flock was considerably lower than the others, and the slowing rhythm of wing-beats led me to envision locked wings, dropped landing gear and a mob of birds backpedalling in the decoys.
That was wishful thinking.
After making a textbook swing down-wind, the birds worked against the breeze on a line for decoys, only to slide left of the spread, well out of range for either Bierle or myself.
“From behind, from behind,” came the hushed directions from Bierle, when the geese banked behind the blinds and again swung down-wind.
The big geese lumbered against the wind, but true to form, again slid left of the spread. They were nothing if not consistent.
Just as the flock cleared the left side of the blinds, the geese hooked slightly toward the backside of our decoy spread, and looked to land some 35-yards away. It was now or never.
Bierle and I swung around and focused on the closest birds, a pair that was just touching down. Steve crunched the left bird with his first shell, while my initial shot found nothing but air. We both tagged the remaining goose with our second shells, and I pulled on a farther bird making an escape to the right. My final load of Hevi-Metal #2’s hit home, and the goose sailed down to a crash landing on the dark soil.
With birds milling all around us, I waited to send Murphy on the first retrieve, hoping that we’d be able to convince a bird or two to return. The geese wheeled around in the sky momentarily before finally moving out in all directions.
I looked at Murphy, who was sharing opening morning with his 5th birthday, and the urgency in his eyes was what you’d expect from a dog that is being asked to patiently wait to make his first real retrieve since a March hunt for spring snow geese.
After giving the “OK,” the yellow Lab motored out of his blind like he had been shot out of a rocket. Frustrating morning or not, at the moment he was loving life.
The sky remained calm and clear for the next half-hour, and other than a wayward whitetail doe wandering close to the decoys, it became painfully clear that our opening morning had come to a quiet end.
“Well, it sure wasn’t pretty,” offered Bierle. “But it beat not going at all.”
“My thoughts exactly,” I said. “It could have been worse.”
Chances are strong that there will be another frustrating hunt or two as late summer gives way to fall, and fall to winter. And while this first morning certainly went the way of the birds, God willing, we’ll be out in the fields and marshes again to try and even the score.
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