FI­NAL STRETCH

Even­tu­ally, goose sea­son has to end. So make the clos­ing day last as long as you can

Field and Stream - - CAMPFIRE - By Phil Bour­jaily

THERE ARE AL­READY half a dozen geese feed­ing in the field at 10:30 A.M. when I drive by on my way to ask per­mis­sion. They’re early. Usu­ally at this time of year, geese eat only once, dur­ing the warm­est part of the af­ter­noon. “Warm­est” is not warm to­day. We’ve got highs around zero, with a 30 mph north­west wind. At the farm­house, the landowner looks at me as if I’ve asked to walk out be­hind the barn and chew on the elec­tric fence: “Go ahead. No­body else asked to go to­day.” It fig­ures. Even my nor­mally hard­core friends in­sisted on stay­ing out of the cold. I can’t. It’s the last day.

Back home, I throw a lay­out blind and 30 full-bod­ies into the truck. Some days I’ll wedge ev­ery last de­coy I can into the bed, but not to­day. Geese shouldn’t need much en­tice­ment to come to a field they’re al­ready com­ing to. De­coys help draw the birds’ at­ten­tion away from the blinds too, but there’s only one of me to hide, so I don’t need a big dis­trac­tion. And did I men­tion it’s cold? Ev­ery de­coy I don’t put out is a de­coy I won’t have to pick up.

ONE-MAN BAND

Two hun­dred geese flush from the field when I re­turn. Some may come back, and more should be on the way. I leave most of the de­coy bases in the bags and set all but a few blocks di­rectly on the snow so they look like real Canadas that have landed and flopped belly-down, as geese do on cold days. I set out two main bunches with a gap be­tween for a land­ing hole. Then, be­cause the geese were scat­tered in the field when I ar­rived, I stake a pair and a sin­gle down­wind by them­selves.

The lay­out blind tucks per­fectly into the edge of a grassed ter­race. I start shov­ing hand­fuls of grass into the straps on the snow cover, but there are geese com­ing, so I get in, wave the flag a few times, honk, shut the blind doors, and get my hands on my gun. I’ve brought an o/u to­day be­cause I know it will shoot twice re­li­ably in cold that might make a semi-auto slug­gish. Plus, my eas­ily numbed fin­gers will be able to dunk shells into an o/u’s cham­ber more read­ily than they could push against a stiff mag­a­zine spring.

Ten geese swing low over the de­coys at 15 yards. It’s too easy or I’m too ex­cited, and I make a poor first hit and have to shoot the leader twice. The goose falls out­side the de­coys, and when I pick it up, I’m thrilled to find that it’s wear­ing a leg band. I lean into the wind car­ry­ing my prize back to the blind.

LONG LAST

Ten min­utes later an­other flock ap­proaches, skim­ming low and mak­ing for the de­coys. There are times to call, and times to shut up. Frankly, if you call like I do, most times are times to shut up, but when geese are com­ing, even world cham­pi­ons should be quiet. The geese drift off line slightly, and I flip the flag to straighten them out.

The flock beats into the wind in slow mo­tion. At 50 yards the birds look huge, and it’s all I can do not to shoot. I keep it to­gether un­til they’re backpedal­ing over the land­ing hole, so close that I can hear the woof­ing of their wings. One falls at the shot and the rest flare, ex­cept for one that hangs di­rectly over the blind at 10 yards. But I lower the gun. The limit is three, and I’m not ready for this to end.

The last flock, 50 birds strong, works high over the blind at the very edge of gun range, un­til a lone goose splits off the bunch, sets its wings, and parachutes into the spread—a de­scent that seems both to take for­ever and to end too soon. The bird puts on the brakes over the de­coys, I shoot, and it falls on its back, feet stick­ing up, and I can see a band on one leg. This hunt has been so per­fect, I’m truly not sur­prised.

As I’m walk­ing out to get my truck, my friend Tim drives by the field to make sure I haven’t frozen to death. I tell him there’s a gun, flag, and shells in the blind. He hops in my truck and I run him down to the field to hunt. Park­ing a pru­dent dis­tance away, I watch through binoc­u­lars as he shoots a pair and waves for me to come get him. I put the truck in gear. The sea­son is over. No mat­ter how hard you try to stretch it out, you can’t make the sea­son last for­ever—but you can sa­vor it right up to the end.

The Hold­outsA pair of die-hards en­joy the clos­ing stretch of Mon­tana’s goose sea­son.

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