Cold Weather Honkers.

Bundled up and braving the bitter cold temperatures, my little group of hunters learned a few valuable lessons on this hunt.

With snow on the ground already, my mind drifts back to a very memorable hunt that myself and the guys I hunt with learned some valuable lessons on.

Our duck season closes prior to the end of the goose season, so our focus is able to shift solely on geese. The field duck decoys stay in the trailer and we go with big spreads for geese, as generally bigger spreads seem to work better later in the season. While it’s disappointing to not be able to hunt ducks anymore, it makes it easier to focus on the geese.

My buddy Ben had driven by our field one December day in 2010 and texted all of us that it was loaded with geese. Everyone from our little group was available to hunt, including our resident elder Kent. We planned to meet in the morning, and each of us eagerly anticipated the day. 2010 had been a banner year for us, with many hunts ending with a full limit. We hoped this hunt would end in the same fashion.

On December 18th our day had finally arrived, and as usual we met up and headed to the field in the dark. We headed to the field in two trucks, since my Ford Ranger at the time wouldn’t fit all of us. There was six of us total going, myself, and my buddies, Mark, Ben, Vern and Adam, and Kent was going to meet us at the field since he was coming from Chicago.

We saw the headlights of Kent’s truck in the field waiting for us, as our two trucks pulled up. We pulled into the field and drove to the agreed upon spot, and hopped out. The bitter cold wind was whipping as we approached the trailer, everyone cursing the bitter cold that hovered around zero degrees. When Mark placed his key in the lock on the back door of the trailer, he discovered that he couldn’t turn the key. The locks had frozen in the bitter cold, but luckily Mark had anticipated this and brought his hand torch for such a discovery. He fired it up, and heated both locks enough to loosen them up.

That issue solved, the six of us began the process of setting up decoys and blinds. Given that there was plenty of snow on the ground, we had our snow covers on our blinds, and Kent had white bed sheets zip tied to his. We dug spots in the snow to lower the profiles of our blinds and help them to blend in.

The ground being very frozen, we couldn’t use the stakes for our decoys, so we had to rely on the stands that we also had in our trailer. Myself, Mark and Ben began placing the stands while Adam, Vern and Kent began placing decoys on the strategically placed stands.

The wind would be from the west, so we set up facing east, which also was where the geese would come from. They were roosted on the various ponds in the subdivision to our immediate east, and our field would be the first one they would see coming out. While we weren’t keen on facing the rising sun, given the velocity and direction of the wind, it was our best and only option.

We made quick work of the 120 full body decoys, however it was tough work given the snow and the bitter cold. Kent even left Otto, his German Wirehair, in the truck while we set up. When we closed the doors on the trailer everyone gathered by my truck. We each could feel the bitter cold stinging any exposed skin on our faces, and silently we each dreaded sitting in our layout blinds waiting on the birds. Kent, the source of wisdom and experience in our group, spoke up and said,

“Boys, given how cold it is, I suggest we sit in the trucks in the warmth until we start to see birds moving. I feel they aren’t going to move until later in the morning.” Everyone eagerly agreed, glad he suggested it and we parked the trucks at the end of the field, next to each other so we could talk. Vern’s truck with Vern, Ben and Adam was on my driver’s side, while Kent and Otto parked on my passenger side.

As the sun rose, everyone stayed on guard to watch the horizon. We had a bit of a run to get to the blinds so we wanted to be prepared. But as the morning brightened and wore on, our attention began to drift. At nine, everyone was hungry, so we sent Vern in his truck with Ben to go get breakfast from the McDonalds that was close by. Kent told us we had time, that if the geese had not flown by now, they were waiting for early afternoon.

“Glad we got here before sun up.” Said Mark sarcastically. We chuckled at this hard learned lesson. When temperatures get this low, geese sit tight and only feed once a day, usually in the afternoon when it’s the warmest. They conserve their energy as much as possible. Had we known that, we all could have slept in!

When Ben and Vern returned, we ate our healthy (sarcasm here) McDonald’s breakfast, still half heartedly watching to the east. Save for a few random crows braving the cold, which at first made us consider getting out thinking they were geese, nothing was moving. We had been chatting all morning, Kent regailing us with hunts of the past. We pulled pranks on each other, in the form of yelling “Geese!” and pointing to the east. Guys who weren’t paying attention would reach for the door, and realize that they had been had.

Around 10:30, Kent went silent and I looked over, seeing that he and Otto were passed out in his truck. Vern and Ben decided do the same in Vern’s truck, so it was up to me, Adam, who was in Vern’s truck, and Mark to be the eyes on the sky.

Us remaining three were looking at our smart phones, watching the horizon, and looking at the thermometer in my truck. It read 10 degrees, and I commented I was glad we made the decision to sit in the warmth instead of the bitter cold blinds. Mark was telling me how he was excited for the upcoming ice fishing season, since goose season was winding down for us. As he talked about his plans, I looked at the rooftops of the houses to the east, and caught movement. Trying to focus in the glaring sun on the snow covered rooftops, I saw a line of geese in the gap between houses, flying south to North. They were so far away, they were just dots moving in the blue sky.

“Hey, geese moving way out east.” I said, and Mark adjusted himself in the passenger seat to take a look.

“I got em, damn they are far.” He said, a hint of worry in his voice. He was thinking what I was thinking; I hope they don’t all go that way. Mark got out of the truck, letting the cold air rush in, stating he was going to have a smoke (no one is allowed to smoke in my truck, so they’d rather brave the bitter cold). I stretched and watched the far off geese continue north and out of sight. Looking at the clock in my truck, I saw that it was 11:30. Man, I thought, are these lazy ass geese ever going to move?

Mark opened the door to my truck again, and I was about to razz him about letting the cold air in, when he stated,

“Geese moving to the south!” He was pointing to the south of us with one hand, while he was grasping for his coat on the floor with the other. I opened my door and stepped onto the running board of my truck to be able to look over my truck, and spotted them. A flock of about a dozen was south of us, but flying east to west. That is the movement we wanted, which meant the other birds may come over us soon. I looked over to Vern’s truck, and saw that Adam had joined sleepy time, so I knocked on the glass of his window and said,

“Birds up! Let’s go!” Ben, Vern and Adam each jumped at my voice, piled out of the truck, and began pulling on their cold weather gear. Mark was knocking on Kent’s door, and the old man got out and hurriedly pulled on his gear.

I wish I had video taped us at this moment. After hours of sitting in the truck, taking various layers of warm clothing off to stay comfortable in the trucks, everyone was now hurrying to put it all back on! Otto was out, and was watching us, probably laughing to himself at us. I pulled my shotgun out of it’s case, grabbed my blind bag and began to jog to the blinds. The other guys followed suit, but our jog stopped a short distance away as we struggled in the snow. Plus, if we started sweating, once we sat down, the cold would creep in and make us miserable. We didn’t know how long we would be out there, so we didn’t want to risk it. As we approached the blinds, geese were continually moving in the south. We could hear them, but they were on their way west. Everyone got settled into their blinds, loaded guns, got out calls, and watched to the east.

Well, here we were, ready to go, and the flight seemed to stop. The birds to the south were well west of us now, and nothing else was moving.

“Did we seriously miss our opportunity?” Ben said, blowing on his gloved hands to get some warmth to them.

“There’s no way, there is way more geese in those ponds.” I said, watching to the east. But part of me truly wondered if they had slipped out without us noticing. I could feel the cold wind hitting the back of my neck, somehow with all my layers on it found it’s way and sent a shiver down my spine. Boy I hope all this is worth it.

Ben spotted them first.

“Low group just over the rootops headed right at us.” He said, placing emphasis on the fact they were on a beeline for us. I looked where he was pointing and saw that a six pack of geese was just clearing the rooftops, barely clearing them heading at us. I began flapping the goose flag, but soon noticed it wasn’t necessary; in the snow, the decoys stuck out and these six clearly saw them. I tucked the flag under my layout blind, realizing it wasn’t worth the effort as the six actually dropped in altitude when they cleared the last house. We all covered up, trying to completely dissappear before they got too close and spotted us. They dropped so low that I was worried they were going to short stop us, landing far out in the field. But on they came, wing beats slowing as they closed the distance. Mark, Ben and I let out some excited honks, which seem to jar the silent geese and they drifted off to the left a bit.

“Take it easy on em!” Kent harshly whispered, and we slowed our calling to feeding growls and soft honks and clucks. We learned another lesson; if they are headed your way without calling, don’t hammer them, just let them come. The geese centered themselves on the spread again, and began to make noise themselves. They began to glide in, they were so low that their chests almost seemed to touch the corn stubble as they followed the contours of the field. They came right into the killhole, feet down and suddenly honking as they backpedaled into the spread.

I yelled out,

“Kill em!” The six of us sat up and began firing. I pulled up on a bird right in front of me and fired. I hit it, but too far back so I settled my bead on it again and fired, crumpling the bird stone dead. I swung my gun looking for my second bird, but there was none left. We had dropped all six in the snow, with only one cripple walking away trying to figure out what just happened. Kent sent Otto on the cripple and we began cheering and high-fiving each other from our blinds.

“Hey help the dog, there’s more coming!” Kent yelled, as he headed towards the nearest dead goose. We all climbed out of the blinds and went to help in the pick up, as Otto trotted back with the attempted escapee clutched in his mouth. Kent took that bird and finished it, and we settled in as more birds came towards us. A few small flocks had made us, and they stayed wide but kept heading west. I saw a pair of geese clear the houses and drop, almost following the same flight path as the first six. We covered up as they quickly closed the distance. They pulled up into the kill hole, and backpedaled. I called the shot and just sat up and watched. Guns fired and the two birds dropped, down for the count. Kent sent Otto, while waves after waves of geese began moving from the subdivision. Otto made quick work, and covered up with Kent. We attempted to call and flag some of these flocks, but they continued on.

A single goose broke off of a bigger flock and decided our field looked better than the one it was headed to. It flipped a few times, losing wind out of it’s wings so it could drop altitude, what hunters call “maple leafing”. It closed the distance fast on the spread, calling it’s head off all the way.

“Adam, it’s all yours man.” Ben yelled between calls.

“Yeah man, call your own shot.” I followed up. This way I can focus on calling, and Adam was in the middle, so he will have the best chance. Plus, he had just started hunting with us, so as the “new guy”, he gets the singles.

When the bird was backpedaling into the decoys, I watched, waiting for Adam to shoot. Just before the goose’s feet hit the ground Adam sat up and fired. The bird didn’t have far to fall, because it was so close to the ground. Otto went out to do his work, and Mark told Adam,

“Well, you unload your gun like me and Verno, we have our two geese.” Adam unloaded his gun, and Otto came back with the bird. It was up to me, Ben and Kent to finish the day. We each only needed one goose a piece for a limit.

“Here comes a flock!” Yelled Vern, and sure enough, a dozen geese came from our left, headed right at us. The six of us settled in, and as the geese closed in I picked my bird. I watched this one bird as if none of the other ones were there. It kept coming, and the flock was making such a racket. We called back, and these birds started gliding in the wind at us. They swung themselves down wind to set up for their final approach, and I watched my bird. Yes, I started to look at this bird as if it was already a done deal. They were low as they approached; none of the flocks we had shot into this day circled, they just came right in. My bird was gliding, letting out honks as it closed the distance. I have never really watched a goose approaching our spread this intently before. I watched it look around at the decoys as it began to backpedal in the kill hole at 20 yards with the rest of it’s flock. I called the shot, and the three of us sat up to finish the day.

“My” goose realized it’s mistake as six humans and a dog materialized out of the snow. It pumped its wings as it tried to gain altitude. I pulled up on it, placed the bead of my shotgun on it as I pressed the safety off. I switched my finger to the trigger as I followed the goose with my gun. When I thought to pull the trigger, suddenly the bird crumpled, shot by someone else. A moment flashed where I felt cheated; after all I claimed that bird as mine! But I soon shocked myself to reality as I realized there was 11 others in this flock! I swung on a bird trying to escape to the right. I fired and it fell, hitting the ground in a spray of snow. Ben was yelling and I looked and the goose he shot was running AT him, and he reached out and grabbed it, that’s how close they were. He finished it off and we all climbed out of the blinds, having filled a six man limit. We shook each other’s hands, patting each other on the back, celebrating the moment of good friends having a great hunt together.

I looked at my phone and saw that only a half hour had passed from when we hurriedly climbed into our blinds. We sat for hours in our trucks to fill a limit in a half hour. We gathered up the birds, and snapped a few photos, all the while with more geese trying to come into the field.

Group photos of successful hunts are always necessary, even when it is 10 degrees out.

Twelve geese, a six man limit shot in a half hour. Not a bad way to end a long hunt, most of the time spent sitting in warm trucks.

“We need to get out of here, let them feed.” I said, and everyone agreed. We got the trucks, and it took longer for us to pick up than it had to fill the limit. It was a great ending to what would be a phenomenal season.

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