A bird in the hand
Like the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The proverb turned out to prophetic for our Canada goose hunt on the final day of the early season.
The day started nice enough. Cool temperatures in the morning helped to keep sweat to a minimum on Sept. 25 at 5 a.m. when our group of 5 hunters started to haul out 125 decoys – a mix of full body honkers, shells and floaters for the pond were would be lying next to. This was a perfect site for layout blinds, and we had already identified a recently cut corn field just over the ridge.
The weekend before, we had methodically peppered 27 birds on Saturday and 15 birds on Sunday, but hunting is much like opening a new business. The key is location, location, and location. We really thought we had it and our crew on this day was John Van Hoff of North Tonawanda, Bob Lods of Cheektowaga, Paul Sawicki of Angola, and Kevin Schroeder of Lockport.
After unloading the trailer and putting all the decoys out, we readied our blinds on the outside with local vegetation. We made sure our spots were prepared properly. Our guns were in place and the shells loaded with steel BB shot were readily available once the shooting started. This was the early nuisance goose season, and the regulations are a bit less restrictive. Guns did not need to be plugged to hold 3 shells and we could take up to 15 birds per person per day.
As we climbed into our field blind, the constellation Orion looked down on us. Appropriate because it is also known as “the Hunter.” It is a beacon for fall, a star cluster we become more and more familiar with as winter approaches. Shooting time was still a half-hour away.
Off in the distance, the bugle of a few sandhill cranes could be heard. We were not far from an area simply known as the “Alabama Swamps.” It is a 20,000-acre tract of prime waterfowl habitat formed with the joining of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and two state wildlife management areas – Tonawanda and Oak Orchard. More and more, sandhill crane numbers have been increasing and almost on cue 3 of these majestic birds flew over our heads. Their long necks led their flight pattern to our east.
We patiently waited for small flocks of Canada geese to take flight to a nearby corn field and it was slowly starting to happen. We managed to pull in a few birds into our inviting ponds, but it is a difficult proposition when some of these birds were coming off the water on their way to breakfast. Our hope was to pull them into our area after they were full of corn and needed a place to loaf around.
We managed to connect on some singles, doubles, and a triple, but our goal was to close the early season out with a bang, quite literally. We had 9 birds to show for our efforts as we watched large flocks of birds continue to land in the nearby corn field. The excitement was building.
Van Hoff and Schroeder hopped out of their blinds to grab a few birds that we had dropped as a group and keep them out of sight. Without much warning, a large flock of 40-50 birds were making a beeline for our spot from the west. There was no time for them to get back into their spots, so the two hunters hid behind a large pine tree. They did not have their guns.
Lods let out a few calls as they circled overhead. A group of 12 to 14 birds broke off, flew directly in front of us and we waited for the “take ‘em” call. It never came and they landed in our decoys.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the flock circled again 2 more times. When it looked like they, too, would drop in for a visit, something spooked them last second and off they went. And when they vamoosed, the remaining geese took flight, away from us and presenting difficult shots. We managed to get 2 shots, but none connected. They, too, were gone and heading to the country corn buffet.
Then the bantering started back and forth.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” asked Van Hoff.
“I got greedy,” said Lods. “I thought the whole flock was going to come in.”
“You should have taken the first group that came in!”
“I know. My fault. But I wanted them all.”
One of the group’s goose hunting commandments is to take any birds that come into range. It can be just one or two birds out of a larger flock. In other words, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. Now we all know what that saying means and will remember it for next time.
We never shot another bird the rest of the morning.