Hiding in the fog.
Living here in Northwest Oregon gives me the opportunity to hunt geese when most other goose hunters are headed out to ice fish. Seasons run off and on from September until March.
Here, the fields are wet and bright green and the geese are thick! The birds concentrate in large flocks; flight groups of 100 and concentrations of 1000 to sometimes 10,000 in short grass, golf course like, fields. The birds are ferocious feeders grazing hard across this young grass and doing a significant amount of damage.
Now, another factor that complicates hunting these birds is there is a delay in start time to hunt them. Although you can hit the ducks a half-hour before sunrise, goose harvest is delayed until a half hour AFTER sunrise. This is a condition affecting the North-West goose hunting zone. This is a necessary act due to the protected Dusky Goose wintering here.
The dusky is a subspecies of the Canada goose. The defining characteristics are it has a slightly darker breast then other large Canada Geese subspecies and a shorter beak. To be honest, it is damn hard to distinguish on the wing from Lesser, Taverner's or even the Vancouver Canada Goose.
To avoid killing a Dusky goose, and breaking the law, you better have a good long look at bigger geese prior to engaging the trigger.
The good news is that perhaps the most plentiful goose where I live is easy to distinguish from those above. The Cackler Goose is a small Canada Goose, slightly larger than a big Drake Mallard. The bad news is that the Cackler goose stays in larger flocks and is a suspicious bird. Most times they will come over you high several times and rarely commit to the decoys. Yes I have gotten them feet down in the decoys but EVERYTHING has to be right for that to occur or, as an alternative, you can be really lucky!
A friend of mine is a farmer who grows grass seed. He called me to tell me of three to five thousand geese being in a field of one of his friends and wanting to know if I wanted to go after them. Stupid question. I am always ready to get after a new field full of geese; especially if I think it might earn me favor with a farmer.
I drove over to scout and it was easy to find the mass of birds in the bright green grass with no other cover to be seen. In the mass of birds there was one lone snow goose and two misplaced Speckle-belly geese. Sighting those birds made me want this field even more!
So, knowing the odds of getting feet down committed birds in this set up was going to be tuff, I never the less called a buddy and got the truck loaded….this could be great!
Showing up in the early morning found a thick fog all around. So thick it made staying on the dirt road a slight challenge. Getting out of the truck I had to take a minute to get my bearings on the hidden field and make a calculation as to exactly where those geese where yesterday.
After deciding on the best location we loaded the cart.
To say the least, these fields are difficult to hide in. But, what can a guy do? We loaded 36 full body goose decoys, 50 wind socks, a Flapper decoy, two raffia grassed layouts and a dog blind in a cart to get out into the field.
The blinds stick out in these fields. I was hopeful that when the fog burned off we would get the chance to shoot at some smaller flocks by keeping the decoys out in front and using the Flapper decoy to get their attention off of these miss colored piles of dead grass in the emerald green fields; I have been told I am over optimistic at times.
We kept the decoys staggered out in basically a long line twenty yards in front of our “hides”. Loaded with heavier then lead BB’s and Pattern Master chokes I knew our shots would be long but …..there would be a chance!
After sitting up and taking the cart back to the truck the fog remained so thick that upon returning I walked past the set up due to not being able to see it. We got in the blinds about 15 minutes ahead of shooting time and did what you do a lot of while goose hunting; we waited.
About ten minutes after shooting time I heard the far off “Honk” of some geese. The fog remained so thick that I still could not see the ends of the decoy spread. The honking got closer and I laid on the short reed. I knew by their noise that they were right above us but couldn’t see them. I heard them move past and did some light come back calls. Their noise subsided for a minute or two and then I heard them headed back. Still have not visually confirmed the existence of these birds but the auditory evidence was strong.
The honking got close and loud and then suddenly they were right in our face. Sliding over the top of the decoys low. Both I and my partner shot. Twice from my over and under and all three of his shells from his auto. Four Cacklers slammed the earth. Boo darted out to retrieve the small geese.
We jumped out of the blinds to assist Boo and I saw a group of three glide in over the decoys. However both my partner and I had left our weapons in the blinds and the geese lifted up again. We quickly recovered back into the blind and I started back softly on the short reed.
I heard the geese turning back and my buddy began pulling the string to the flapper. I get a partial glimpse of the geese at 60 yards and then suddenly the fog parted a bit and they were in full view at 45 yards. As I spied the geese through the blind doors they spied the blinds. Like a busting covey of quail the geese all started back peddling and scattering as if they had seen death! We let them go without even offering them the customary shot and a prayer.
I could hear geese off in the distance. They sounded as if they were on the ground; maybe 400 yards or so away. I contemplated if I so go run them off to avoid the competition.
As I bounced the dilemma around in my head the fog rolled back in again. As thick as ever. So we took our positions in the blinds and I decided not to worry about the live decoys on the ground.
Over the next 30 minutes I would hear geese in the air, manipulate the short reed, and stare into the fog. No geese came in.
Then it happened. A flock of perhaps two hundred Cacklers circled low but out of sight. I moaned and groaned on the Baptize Goose call. Then, like a dream sequence in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the faint images of geese materialized in the smoke like fog. Without words my buddy and I each rose out of the blind and picked up birds. As I lined up a goose locked up only 20 yards above me and pulled the trigger my hunting partner was doing the same. Simultaneous shots rang out and two geese started the dead fall to the ground. I found another goose trying hard to disappear back into the fog and pulled the trigger a second before he was hidden and watched with pride as he fell. My partner also nailed a Cackler departing his field of view. In less than 90 minutes from shooting time we had collected our eight birds.
The fog was a surprise to me when I came out this morning. But without it, I do not think we would have killed a bird.
We took our time picking up. Probably another hour until we had everything loaded back in the truck and took pictures of or prize.
Driving out I saw several thousand geese only a few hundred yards from where we had had our set up. Even that lone snow goose was there. So I turned to my partner and asked, “How much sick time do you have left?”
Until I see you in the field, be safe, be good, and BE LUCKY!