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Article Contributed by Field Staff Writer S. West.
We stood in the mowed grain stubble and took a quick break from placing decoys to admire the setting of a golden full moon. I remarked that there didnâ€™t appear to be much cover in the enormous field and my cousin summarized our predicament in a casually profane way.
â€œWell, I figure weâ€™ll get two or three good flights, but after that weâ€™re probably f—-dâ€¦May as well give it a shot though.â€
I couldnâ€™t really disagree with him. The field was a massive and completely flat rectangle situated on the east side of the local two-lane highway. One long fence line on the south end was flanked by a two-foot wide strip of thigh-high grass; the north fence line was some three hundred yards away. East-to-west the field was almost three times as long as it was wide. It was warm and dry and I quickly had to shed my coat to keep from working up a lather while setting up.
Thousands of Canada Geese had been piling into the middle of the field in thick, noisy, black clouds the evening before and our goal was going to be to somehow hide thirteen hunters and one ten-year-old tag along in that thin strip of cover and then convince the birds to land in our decoys within twenty yards of it. We had a pretty big spread of fakes and some decent goose callers in the group, but even with those things going for us, this appeared to be a tall order. A bluebird day was in the forecast and once the sun got up we anticipated that the birds would pick us out and circle wide or stay high and head elsewhere. To compound matters, across the highway we had another group of hunters and their decoys to compete with, while to the north an even larger field had been holding geese for a few weeks before the season kicked off. If birds piled in anywhere else besides the landing hole in our decoys, it was going to be hell to pull any decent flocks our way.
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Still, it was our best chance at making something happen that morning and given that no other trucks had given the field a look, we figured we were either making a big mistake or the plan was just crazy enough to work out.
Legal shooting light broke just as the last decoy went down, and as if on cue we heard one lone goose moaning in the dim. I and a couple of others began some furtive clucks and moans of our own and within moments the bird floated into the decoys and met its end at the barrel of a 12ga shotgun. The old guard of goose hunters that we learned from would sometimes call this the â€˜scout birdâ€™ and advised against shooting it; the rationale being that this bird would â€˜tellâ€™ the other birds everything was clear. Our group, conversely, subscribes to the â€˜bird in the handâ€™ approach to goose hunting and if any goose, â€˜scout birdâ€™ or otherwise wants to decoy in then weâ€™ll make sure that it stays.
Almost immediately, as if to belie that ancient wisdom from our mentors, things got hairy. Strings of geese began winging their way from the waters of Georgian Bay in the east and to our joy, our setup was the first they were finding. At first it was easy to pick out the skeins of geese with their braying calls and slow wing beats and with some flagging, some determined calling, and some suspect shooting small piles of birds began to form in the fence line grass. I sat with my back against the page wire fence, my legs sticking out into the field edge, and I marveled that the birds decoyed readily, all the while dreading the sunrise which would invariably end our fun.
To our good fortune though, it never did turn out that way. While the sun did rise, which it always does, the light wind that we had that day was perfect and while birds did circle wide over the field, their approach to the decoys had them facing south east and more or less into the blazing orange sun as they landed, while we were able to avoid being silhouetted with the sun on our right-hand side. That, coupled with being more or less in the exact spot the birds wanted to be that morning made for a memorable hunt. So long as we managed to sit marginally still as the birds flew over, we convinced flock after flock that everything was safe. At one point we were treated to the famous â€˜goose tornadoâ€™ as hundreds of birds circled our spread over and over again, making an unholy din that raises the hairs on the back of my neck every time I experience it. Birds side-slipped out of the sky to join their brethren and before long the guns blazed and in the end more than thirty Canada geese were in hand. It was not even halfway to a limit when we decided that we had as many as we could ethically clean and consume and just two hours after the madness had started, we unloaded and cased the guns, grinned like idiots, slapped high-fives, and re-lived moments that happened just minutes before. While we picked up decoys and stood in the field for photos more birds traded around, some even trying to land nearby, while dozens more still floated over us and headed to the hunters across the road. Their guns barked and more geese pinwheeled from the sky.
It was a bad day to be a goose on the Bruce Peninsula.
Later, over breakfast at the local diner we all agreed that the morningâ€™s events had come as a pleasant surprise. Iâ€™ve always believed that waterfowl hunters are somewhat cynical by nature and a marginal to poor hunt was all we had really expected that morning. But sometimes the â€œitâ€™s worth a tryâ€ mentality pays off and later as we stood in our t-shirts, portioned out goose meat, sipped cold beer, and laughed in the sunshine the pessimism of hunting an enormous, flat field with basically no natural cover on a warm sunny September morning seemed miles and miles away.