My husband, Bert, and I tried goose hunting several years ago. After a long, cold season, during which we'd joined several so-called goose "experts" on a number of miserable hunts without ever killing a single bird, we had pretty much decided to leave geese alone. They were, obviously, much too smart for us.
The next autumn, however, as flocks of the big birds honked spitefully high above us, I am overcome by the irresistible urge to do something foolish. "Let's go goose hunting," I cry.
"You're nuts!" Bert says. I was unfazed; after all, this is Bert's standard response to anything I suggest. "We have to learn to hunt geese on our own," I insist. So far, we'd seen absolutely no evidence that anyone knew how to hunt geese. Bert just shrugs and gives in, proving once more he's as nuts as I am.
We make plans, pack our gear and head to Duck Creek in southeast Missouri. We leave despite a massive ice storm that paralyzes the region-enough to deter rational people, but not goose hunters.
Stars still sprinkle the sky when we finally slip and slide into Duck Creek's parking lot. I join the bleary-eyed crowd stumbling through the door for the blind drawing. When I make my pick, every hunter in the building eyes me enviously. "Golly, you got a good one," drools one fellow. "You'll see geese for sure."
See geese? Is it noteworthy when you see geese here? This is information best kept to myself.
"What'd he say?" Bert asks.
"Er, nothing," I lie. We next have to wend our way through a maze of roads to a pit that appears by the map to be at least 5 miles away. The temperature is well below zero. Bert, as always, starts worrying. "How are we ever going to find our pit in the dark?"
"No problemo. I'll show you how to get there."
"Have you been here before?" he asks, eyeing me suspiciously.
"No, but how hard could it possibly be?"
Thirty minutes and 15 odometer miles later, our pickup lurches to a halt alongside a huge pool of water. By now it's full daylight. Ours is the only vehicle still traveling the roads. Far out in the middle of the pool, we spy a huge hummock of cattails.
"That must be it," I state, with as much authority as I can muster.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure, I'm sure. Look, there's the boat." With that, Bert springs into action, loading several hundred pounds of gear into a small, dented aluminum boat outfitted with two oars. We figure that previous hunters, having failed to bag geese, vented their spleen on the frail craft.
"I hope this is okay," he mumbles, inspecting our huge pile of stuff. Scarcely 2 inches of draft remain visible above the waterline.
"It's not that far," I say, trying to convince him good times-and two limits of fat geese-lie just ahead. Reluctantly, he crawls in as I shove off. But our troubles have just begun.
Aluminum johnboats were not built to break ice. Propelling the mini-barge with one oar split down the middle like a spear and another broken-off like a sculling paddle, Bert pushes us ever closer to the pit. The ice creaks and shatters as the boat half-slides, half-floats towards our objective. Finally, we pull up outside the chamber of horrors that is to be our pit.
Someone had taken a huge metal tank, cut a wedge from its top and then stuck it deep into the pool's mucky bottom. Cornstalks and cattails decorate its exterior and, inside, the odor of rotting vegetation wafts above the flooded floor.
"Yecchhh!" Bert shrieks. Then, getting down to business, he asks, "Where should we tie the boat?" As usual, we're both clueless. Finally, he speaks, "What's that little mound of cattails over there?"
"I don't know. Let's go see."
Paddle, pole, push. We struggle over to the smaller pile of cattails only to be stunned into a rare moment of silence when we discover a boat blind.
"Oh, no," Bert wails. "I left our waders in the truck."
Two heads swivel, staring back across the half-mile of water so recently covered. We're both dripping with sweat. Our arms are tired from paddling and poling through ice and mud. In spots, the water and ice had been so shallow, we'd had to bulldoze the boat through yards of slimy gunk. And now we have to go back?
Thirty minutes later, literally stuffed into my waders like a sausage, I tether the boat in its hut and slosh back to our pit. The pool's other hunters, who'd been watching the sorry spectacle from shore, let out a rousing cheer before drifting back to their own pits.
I'm hot and sweaty. And then 15 minutes later I'm frozen, my feet dangling in 6 inches of stinking, frigid water. "Should have brought the heater," Bert muses, in an ill-fated attempt at meaningful conversation. I don't answer. To my credit I don't murder him either, even though he was the one who left the heater in the truck. I try to think happy thoughts. I try to think about geese.
Imagine sitting in the middle of a frozen pond, hiding like an outlaw inside a dark, smelly tank, possessing not a single decoy with which to lure geese, even if they had been flying, which, of course, they weren't. We have no flags with which to trifle with the beasts' obviously superior minds, no heater and virtually no knowledge of goose calling.
Honk! Honk! Honk!
"What's that?" Bert whispers.
"I thought I heard honking."
"Yeah. Sure." I'm chuckling inwardly at Bert's incredible naiveté when a flock of geese whiz by 10 yards in front of our pit.
"I told you I heard honking," he sputters, standing up and staring pitifully into the distance. He turns and glares at me.
" Sorry," I grumble. Boy, some people. You would have thought it was my fault we didn't see those geese.
Honk! Honk! Honk!
"What was that?" Bert says. But this time, I've heard it too.
"Sounds like geese."
"But where?" he queries. I look to the front. No geese. I look to the right. No geese. Bert looks left. No geese. We look at each other and then, slowly, I peek my head out of the pit. A whole flock, bearing down on us, 10 yards and closing.
"Geese!" I cry, but the cunning creatures see my head and flare. We grab our calls, "Come back, come back, come back!" we cajole using our finest gooselike noises.
As we watch them stream from sight, we understand the sport at last. Once bitten by the bug you'll never be the same.
You'll buy larger guns that kick harder than mules, shotshells loaded with ever more-and bigger-shot, layers and layers of warm camo clothing and decoys-lots of decoys.
Although, our hunt is a total failure, we're reluctant to leave goose country. But tomorrow is another day. When we return home, I call Harriet Weger, area manager of Otter Slough. "We don't have many Canadas," she says, "but we're plumb full of snows and blues."
"Wow," I reply, imagining two mounted geese-a snow and a blue-hovering against the family room wall.
"They're really fun to hunt," Harriet continues, "much, much harder than Canadas."
I shudder at the thought of a species harder to hunt than Canadas and hang up quickly.
"Well?" Bert asks.
I couldn't deceive my poor husband, could I?
"Sounds promising," I say. "Let's go tomorrow."
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