A lone white ptarmigan flies across the open country with wings beating fast, then glides for some distance, and then beats its wings again before disappearing behind an esker, the long winding ridge of sand and gravel left behind by a melting glacier. The ptarmigan is one of the last stragglers to migrate to the far north for the summer months.
I lay on fresh spruce-bough matting in my goose blind feeling a little grumpy, since no goose dare to fly into my decoy spread. It is now late afternoon and the migration of Canada Geese to the high Arctic officially opened early this morning. Last night I fell asleep to the sound of the wood-burning stove chewing on firewood, snap, crackle and pop. I got up before dawn and I’m well rested to hunt the magnificent Branta Canadensis. I’m a great hunter! – I boast.
The waterfowl migration today, flows in one direction, due north. A light cool breeze blows from the south, rustling leaves and I feel it on my face. The geese take advantage of the tail wind and fly right past me well out of shotgun range. Some appear like thin wavy lines in the far distance and some fly the renowned V-shape formation, others form the Y’s and the horseshoes, and of course, the singles, the ones who have lost their mates, as geese mate for life. One flock flies directly over head well below the cirrus clouds in
J-shape formation and then change into a check mark as they fly further out. And some are not as fancy and fly as they please.
I sit up and remove my hip-wader to pull out a pine needle from my wool sock that’s stinging my ankle, and while doing so, an adult male Merganser, the noble duck from Nova Scotia, arrives and splashes down on the water skimming the surface before coming to a halt. It stretches its wings and shakes its dark, glossy green head before going under to fish with its slender, toothed bill. I grab my Bushnell binoculars and wipe the lenses with a yellow lens cloth. I watch the visitor up close and personal.
Moments later, something catches the corner of my eye. I look up, and what do you know, another Merganser. This one is a female. She has a glossy cinnamon-red head and dull-red feet. They greet each other by hitting their breasts together and then swim around in circles as if they were dancing in the water. It is a spectacular site.
As the evening progresses the snow-covered mountains turn a darker blue to the east and more reddish where the sun is setting in the west. My breath begins to steam when I exhale. I get up and rub my hands together to retain heat from the friction. Sun rays streak through a stand of spruce by a stony point across the lake and it’s beautiful. I notice muskrat droppings on a rock close to shore but no signs of the rat. That critter usually comes out to feed at this time of day.
Shadows grow longer by the minute and the winds have calmed since the sun does not heat the earth from above anymore. It is so quiet that I can hear a mouse stir on fallen leaves in the deep woods. Then I hear what sounds like a flock of geese calling far away. I pause my breathing to listen carefully but I hear nothing. Then I realize that my nostrils are making that faint whistling sound by breathing through them.
Frustrated, I break off a twig from a branch and place it in my mouth to gnaw. I scan the horizon and I see a black object with beating wings in the sky and I get excited. I squint into the glaring sunset, and to my disappointment again, it’s just a crow.
As the sun disappears to wake up China, there’s still no kill and my feet are only getting colder, I finally decide to pack up and head for camp. I lengthen my hip-waders and step into the water to beach my decoys, “the dirty dozen” I call them. I pick up the sentry one by the neck, wind the green cord around the keel, and as I reach for the sleeper, I’m startled by a loud honking coming from the north, and in a panic, I nearly swallow the twig that I’ve been chewing out of frustration.
I drop the polyethylene geese decoys and make a mad dash to shore with knees waist high coughing and gagging wildly. I fly into the blind semi-conscious. I manage to cough out the damn twig, I reach for my Canada goose blaster and load it with Remington’s copper-plated buffered magnum shots. I peek through the brush and I see a lone goose come gliding down for a landing. I can clearly see the flight feathers fluttering by the base of the left wing as it flies by clucking.
My heart pounds fast and my body heat rises. I pump one shot shell into the chamber and line up my front silver sight with the bird. I whisper, “One shot, one kill. No regrets.” I take a deep breath and then I squeeze the trigger. The recoil of the shot kicks me back and the muzzle jumps up. The goose takes to the air. I can’t believe it. It’s a miss at 20 yards. I fire three more rounds, and to my shock, the bird is not dead but flies away pooping from fright. I reach for my goose flute and slam it into my mouth and blow as hard as I can in hopes of bringing it back. I watch it fly low on the lake ice and fade into the distance. I drop to my knees and cry out, “Why?!!!”
I sit back in the blind, un-zip my green, heavy-duty canvas ammo-pouch and yell at my magnums to blame. I lie on my side and play with a clump of Labrador tea. I can’t believe my supper-to-be got away. “How can this be? I’m a skilled marksman,” I think to myself. I pop my head up to look and see if this is really true – I missed. Nope, no dead goose there. There is nothing but a scatter of feathers on the water. I retreat and play with the tea a bit more. I’m so humiliated that I’m thinking of becoming a hermit from now on.
It is now getting quite dark and before I succumb to hypothermia, I finally manage to get over my frustration. I gradually come to my senses and I realize that goose hunting is not about being a successful hunter every time but enjoying life in the wilderness with family and friends.
Enjoy the goose hunt everyone and be safe!