We can’t hunt every day, right? I mean, there are some days when we just can’t get out. There’s work and stuff around the house, not to mention those pesky things your wife asks you to do. I was having one of those days last fall. I wanted to hunt, but my wife wanted us to go get pumpkins for the kids. All right, I admit, I wanted to go get pumpkins with the kids. That doesn’t mean I didn’t still want to go hunting.
We got back to the farmhouse with a trunk full of pumpkins and a backseat full of eager pumpkin-carving maniacs. We also came back to skies around the fields full of circling flocks of Canada honkers. I should have gone hunting. But maybe there was still hope.
I happened to have a few decoys sitting in a Hard Core Run -N- Gunner blind. I threw on my coat and grabbed the Beretta A400, a call and a pocket full of shells. Fortune favors the bold, and I hope the geese favored my field. The Run -N- Gunner is perfect for this type of hunt. Kind of like a hurry-up offense in football!
I scurried out into the field and set up the few decoys I had and quickly set out the blind. I could still see birds in the area. I knew some landed close by, but it seemed that not all the birds wanted to be where they were. Still, I had live birds to compete against. Didn’t seem like great odds, but it was either that or carve pumpkins.
It didn’t take long to see if I was wasting time. The flock came in low, wings cupped, and locked in right on top of me. At 15 yards, I popped up and the A400 barked twice. The first bird crumpled and dropped feet from the blind. The second bird, not so much. The birds were in tight, and my second shot missed the mark by enough to bring down the bird with only wing damage.
This is the point where you might notice something missing from the earlier part of the story. I didn’t have the dog.
By the time I got out of the blind, the winged goose was high-tailing it across the field. One other thing happened as I was exiting the blind. A few years ago, I dislocated my right knee. It was extremely painful, but after a ton of therapy, my knee got pretty strong again. On occasion, however, my kneecap likes to pop back out and revisit the rest of my knee area. The moment I “hopped up” out of the blind was one of those times.
So here I was, a hunter with a bad wing hobbling across a field trying to find a goose that had taken off with a bad wing of its own. I saw the goose near the fence line and headed that way to investigate. I was very careful to watch for the bird as I walked to the fence line, but couldn’t see it. I spent 20 minutes looking for the bird and figured it either went into the woods on the next property over or ran into the standing corn on the neighboring property. Either way, it wasn’t going to be easy to find the bird.
I turned around and took a few steps back toward the decoys, and there was the goose. I must have walked right past it in the alfalfa. I was a good 30 yards from the bird, and it started waddling back toward my decoys. I waddled along myself, trying to close the gap.
Now this bird did something I’ve never seen before in a wounded goose. It would tuck in its wings and lower its head all the way to the ground and scurry along at a pretty good clip. If I didn’t know better, and from a few yards behind it, it honestly looked more like a ground hog running in the alfalfa.
Here we were, me hobbled up and trying desperately to catch up to a wounded goose that was opening up the distance between us. It started doing evasive maneuvers with me hot in tow. Despite the cold weather, I was breaking a sweat and the pain in my leg was starting to become an issue.
At this point, the goose and I had covered several hundred yards across a very large field. The goose crested a small hill, and I lost sight of it. I did, however, catch sight of something else that made my day. My wife had seen me limping across the field and surmised I was in some sort of distress. She rushed down to the barn and got out the side-by-side to come to my aid — at least that’s how I envision the scenario in my head.
I filled her in as she pulled up and we started searching in earnest for the wounded bird. It had to be here somewhere, but I remembered how it let me walk right past it earlier. As the sun dropped past the horizon, I called it for what it was and we went back and picked up the decoys, blind and single bird. I was depressed for having lost the bird. That is when my wife said something about having seen a groundhog run across in front of her! We then spent another hour expanding the search using the headlights. No luck. The goose was gone.
Dealing With It
It’s a sad fact that, as waterfowlers, we occasionally lose a bird. The regulations say to make a earnest attempt at recovery, and I feel I did that and then some. It reminds me of a duck hunt a few years back when we were using a boat to hunt a swampy end of a pond. A group of mallards came in low and I picked out the greenhead closest to the back of the flock and fired. It crumpled up and landed in some brown sludgey-looking goo at the water’s edge. We tried reaching it for some time. My friend Josh even went so far as to hop over the side with his waders on. We found out a few things. One, the water and sludge made for “water” that was way over Josh’s head, and two, when a conservation officer pulls up, asks what’s going on, surveys the situation and says, “Gents, I say that bird is the definition of unrecoverable,” it’s time to call it. Whenever Josh is around and we’re retelling the story, I mention the drake was banded too. It just adds spice to the story.
I also recall hunting in Nebraska with some friends a little while later. We were hunting on the North Platte River from pit blinds and were right next to a wildlife sanctuary. A pintail drake was coming down the river and I had the best shot. I pulled up and dropped the bird, and it sailed down on the other side of the sanctuary line. The screeching eagles and commotion that followed told us there would be little left of the duck by the time we got there. It seems the eagles have grown accustomed to hunters adding to their food supply.
In other words, I remember every duck or goose I’ve ever lost. I’m betting most of you are just the same. As waterfowlers, we know it’s going to happen. You just chalk it up to experience and add that bird to your daily bag. I’m convinced all the birds I’ve lost were banded and delicious at the same time.
And Now, The Salt
I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that I know the true meaning of being on a wild goose chase. To make matters worse, the neighboring farmer, who is a friend of ours and whose house overlooks my field, called the next day to ask my wife what it was I was doing running all over the field the day before acting like some kind of weirdo. He still looks at me funny whenever I see him.