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The Most Difficult Decision in Waterfowling
Being retired is a good thing with the exception being, when you’re retired the rest of the world is working. This means that when you go hunting, very often you are hunting by yourself, with the exception being if you hunt on a weekend. I enjoy hunting with friends on a Saturday morning, but Sunday morning is already spoken for by a Higher Authority. Although, I do miss a couple Sundays a year for my outdoor pursuits, one being opening weekend of deer season, and the other being if I am in South Dakota on our annual waterfowl hunt. I enjoy hunting with a party because it’s just that – it’s a party. Lots of stories and lots of laughing and the more the merrier, but sometimes I enjoy just hunting by myself. It can be fun to sit out in the middle of a couple hundred snow goose decoys on a beautiful spring day and be alone with my own thoughts. Sometimes the soul needs that time to just reflect without all the outside noise of the TV or cell phone. There are also other advantages of hunting by oneself for snow geese.
For example, there are no naps in the duck blind (that is unless I’m planning on putting a long day in the blind and hunting by myself.) When that sun comes through the front of my blind and warms it up like a big toaster oven, I freely admit to nodding off. Also when hunting by myself, I no longer have to use excuses for my misses, they are simply just that… a miss. Another advantage of hunting solo is that there is no one else to consider when it comes time to say “Take Em.” I will tell you that I am a little aggressive when it comes to taking shots. This is largely due to the number of times I didn’t shoot when I had one duck in range and I was greedy and wanted the rest of its flock to come in as well. There is nothing as empty as a lake after the ducks you thought were going to come in suddenly changed their minds and flew on. So I shoot, and the hunters that hunt with me shoot as well. If we make a mistake, it will be an aggressive mistake. On the other hand, I don’t enjoy saying, “Well, we should have tried them on that last pass.”
Perhaps my favorite time to hunt by myself is Sunday at mid-day. I remember heading down to our farm three years ago by myself following church. Later in the afternoon I would probably get another hunter to come down, but for at least a couple hours it would just be myself. As I was changing clothes in the cabin, I could hear snow geese flying overhead and was very anxious to get out among the decoys. As I walked into the decoy spread, I could see one flock had already passed over and there was another flock in the distance approaching the farm. I turned on the electronic caller and sat down and loaded my Browning A5. When the plug is out (legal during the snow goose conservation order) the shotgun holds four 3-inch shells. I had my back to the approaching geese. By leaning back in my chair, that had its legs cut off so we sat flat on the ground, I saw the geese fly directly overhead. To the right of the main body, four snow geese had broken off and began circling my decoy spread. They may have begun their descent at a couple hundred yards, but each pass brought them a little closer.
Suddenly, perhaps another fifty or so yards above them a group of nearly twenty snow geese began to circle. I had no idea where they came from, but they were dropping as well. So there I was: the group of the four snow geese would be within 30 yards or less on their next pass, while the group coming in behind them would still be double that distance. The choice of what to do was simple. It wouldn’t have mattered if there would have been two hundred geese coming in behind them. With my four shells, the most geese I could have taken would have been four and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. In a perfect world, at least my perfect world, I might take three snow geese. So when the four snow geese came into the decoy spread with their feet hanging down my A5 was already on my shoulder. The first shot folded the closest goose and I quickly swung on my next target (perhaps too quickly) and missed it clean. Recollecting myself, I took a little more time and rocked my second goose, but it remained in the air. My fourth and final shot knocked the goose from the sky and I was shooting 50 percent. I cannot understand people, so don’t ask me what snow geese think, but I have seen it countless times: one of the remaining two geese went out a hundred yards and then circled back to my decoy spread. As I said, I have seen them do it countless times, especially with Ross geese, so when this goose came over my decoy spread I had already put two shells back in the shotgun. When the goose got within range I added it to my take. When I picked them up I discovered the four geese were a combination of snow geese and Ross geese.
When you have control of when your group shoots, it is a little tougher because you want everyone to get in on the act. The hunters are placed in a line facing the direction the geese will be coming from and hopefully everyone has an opportunity to shoot. As far as what I would have done with four geese if there had been two hunters, I wouldn’t have done anything differently and the same is true if there had been three hunters. If there had been more hunters, more than likely I would have waited until the twenty geese or so came within range. It would have probably occurred on the next pass, perhaps two passes at most. The biggest problem is with twenty geese, you have forty eyes and it’s hard enough for one hunter not to do something wrong and spook them, let alone four or more hunters. Part of what makes this all work is that the geese need to be in range before you open up on them. It does no good to take that first shot when the geese are iffy. No pun intended, but you want them dead to rights so while the geese are making that quick exit you are still shooting geese within range. While snow geese are not quail, they can still get out of a decoy spread very quickly. If you are trying (and I mean trying) geese at forty, you may kill a single goose, but by the time you find and fire at that second goose he’s fifty yards out. Forget about taking any other shots as you are wasting ammo at the very least, and crippling birds at the most. Steel shot is expensive and snow geese deserve a better fate than that.