A “Sure Thing” – Geese in Winter Wheat?!

This season has certainly had a healthy share of “sure things”… As we all know, these waterfowl we so devotedly chase are, indeed, a finicky bunch. And so, even a “sure thing” – that “can’t miss” opportunity – comes out in favor of the fowl more often than it does the hunter.

While occasionally that “sure thing” does pay off, this season – like most – has tempered my hopes a bit, understanding that “high hopes” and “reality” must play together nicely for the sake of this fellow’s mentality. So when the 8:30 pm text claiming “5, 10, xx thousand mallards, snow geese, and Canadas using a field every day for the past week, hasn’t been hunted, permission secured,” etc., I accepted it with – as one surely must – the full understanding that, were I to be involved, Murphy, famous for all of Murphy’s Laws, would likely be joining us in the morning to balance things out.

All of that being said, the boy inside does tend to get a wee bit excited about such prospects, and did just so at this one, going to bed with visions of geese, the likes of which have been a bit elusive the past couple of weeks, dancing in my head.

The earlier-than-preferable getaway was mitigated by that extra ounce of hope and the excitement of something new. While there’s something incredibly wonderful about a man’s “home waters”, the comfort of a blind that has become one’s second home, the knowledge of every rock and hole under one’s wader boot – there is an equal level of excitement, albeit a more adventurous type – that comes with hunting and exploring an unfamiliar haunt.

Unfortunately, when you pull up and find a bright green wheat field where you expected corn, well, that enthusiasm can flat-line. Fast.

I might assume that many of you reading this (and I might be naive in assuming anyone outside of my 3 friends and mom actually read this drivel) just shook your head in an act of sympathy at such misfortunes. For those who might not hunt to the extent that this means anything at all to you, let me explain. Wheat – being short and green – can be among the most difficult environments to hide in. Layout blinds stick out too much, and clothing is tough to color match with the green of the wheat. All-around challenging, and very tough to hunt.

Deflated and dejected, but not completely discouraged, we audibled from all layouts to the one-layout/two-ghillie-suit formation. Drawing the layout (or more accurately, having forgot my ghillie…) I spent 30 minutes prior to legal pulling and tucking handfuls of wheat into the blonde grass covering the layout. I must admit, it was a pretty fair hide-job for a wheat field. First light urging legal legal shooting time our way, we tucked in and prepared for the ensuing madness.

With the rising sun, our high spirits were temporarily dampened. The screaming hordes of mallards had seemingly failed to get the memo. The countless thousands of snow geese held little regard for the itinerary we had so carefully planned on their behalf. However, within 30 minutes of legal, we heard the first “honk”, and identified the first of what would be an unending stream of Canadas on the horizon.

The image of what happened next would go on to define this entire hunt for me as I recounted the morning to others later on, and kicked off what would become, in less than a couple short hours, as fine a goose hunt as I’ve had in a very long time.

An early single, getting in before the masses, locked up on our spread, early morning sun highlighting the edges of outstretched wings, sliding into the decoys like an old friend. My effort was as much to prevent the bird from getting too close – pulling up, layout doors flung wide, this goose was not in the least bit distracted, and did not even flare. I took aim, with calculated patience, producing a clean and lethal headshot in what felt like slow motion. One shot, one bird down, thousands on the horizon, waves forming, one line after another, coming our way.

Contemplating the behavior of the first groups, we quickly shifted to moving Nick and the dog out 100 yards away from our spread, determined to just hunt the two of us at a time, while a third man could shoot video, take pics, etc., in an effort to minimize distraction in the spread.

With so many birds – and only the two of us shooting at a time, and spread out quite a bit – we were calling our own shots, shooting our own birds. While multiple guns blazing away on large flocks can be alluring to some, and is the status quo in many blinds, I’ll choose shooting such as this ten times out of ten.

Canucks continued to grace the horizon for the entirety of our stay. Nearly all of them had our wheat field on their radar. With every flock, a few – sometimes a couple, sometimes a half dozen – would drop out of the big bunch and commit to a grand finish. The three of us each enjoyed shooting our own birds, one at a time, with patience and precision that felt like a lost art in a world that moves so fast these days. As I think back on my shooting that morning, I see each of my three shots in slow motion. And being the only one shooting at my birds, I actually remember each of them very clearly.

I am not sure, but I do wonder – how many geese did we see? Were there ten thousand birds that flew over, many circling, working, hovering in layers over us and that green-wheat-planted-in-a-corn field? Was it twice that? I can say that there have been many days of goose hunting where more geese hit the ground, or limits were had more quickly, over grander spreads, and in more “spectacular” fashion. But this hunt stood out as unique for the opposite reasons… Strategy, tact – hiding in an extremely difficult situation, working smaller groups out of a ceiling of thousands of geese, taking our birds, one at a time, each with deliberation and precision, and each on our own call and accord. These elements marked this hunt as something exceptional. Not to mention the fact that this may have been the largest concentration of “workable” geese I have ever seen while out hunting.

So, a “sure thing” – maybe. Maybe this one worked out ok. The ones that pay off certainly keep us coming back for more, and enduring those days that don’t quite pan out. But this one, this morning, brought results – even beyond the “sure thing” expectations – that will make it a very memorable morning.

~ benton

Check out the gallery for more pics from this morning’s hunt right HERE.

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