On Tuesday, February 7th, 2012, Bart from our clothing department and myself went to goose hunt a small pond in a cattle pasture that I was fortunate enough to have secured permission to in the northern piedmont. We were taking advantage of the later season for geese that runs until February 15th in the Southern James Bay population zone, where the limit is 5 birds per person this late in the year. The landowner had informed me that there were a hundred and fifty or so geese using this pond and pasture the preceding few days. I got up at 3 AM to meet Bart at 4 AM to make the almost two hour drive to the hunt. It was a cool night, but far from cold, hovering slightly above freezing with very little breeze. The sky was partly cloudy, but with an almost full moon it was bright out there and we worked without flashlights.
We unloaded the two dozen Green Head Gear Lesser full-body goose decoys, 6 Actives and 18 Feeders, along with a dozen Green Head Gear Floater goose decoys, 8 Actives and 4 Resters. I also brought along two of the Avery Migrator M2 layout blinds that were already stubbled in grass to match the pasture. It took a couple trips to carry all the gear the four hundred yards across one pasture to the next pasture where the pond was. As we opened this second gate to walk down to the pond and start setting up, the far end of the pond erupted in geese that had held tight and silent while we were making the several trips out there with gear. Bart guessed it was one hundred and fifty birds that had been roosted there and flushed up, but I felt that it was more like two hundred birds that were silhouetted against the night sky . I was worried then that we had just seen our hopes of a good hunt vanish. Birds bumped out in the dark like that rarely return in my experience, especially that late in the season.
We set the decoys out with diminished expectations. Directly in front of us we put six floaters, with a pair of full-bodies on the bank twenty-five yards to the left, with the other twenty-two full-bodies and six floaters in a bigger group twenty yards to our right. We set the layout blinds ten yards back from the bank, against the fence line, looking out towards the center of the pond. Now all we had to do was wait, and not to allow ourselves to fall asleep in our reclined positions. That is tough to avoid when you are running on so little sleep.
A little more than an hour after light, around eight o’clock, I saw five birds coming from the south, 500 yards out and two hundred yards high, cupped up and dropping fast, not making a sound. I called them out to Bart, and made a few soft moans on my new Zink Naughty By Nature goose call, and already knew there was no reason to get excited and start over calling. They came over once about forty yards high, circled a quarter turn to get right with the wind, cupped their wings again, and came in fully committed, feet out. At thirty yards, a few feet off the water, I called the shot, and we each dumped a bird on our first and second shots, then double teamed the fifth bird with our last shot. It’s nice to hunt with someone who understands the need to start with the birds on their side of the flock so that we don’t shoot the same bird. As my dog came back with the first bird he had retrieved I saw that it was wearing an aluminum bracelet and let out a whoop. And lo and behold, on the final bird that he brought back from the water, there was a second shiny bracelet dangling from that bird. The two banded birds were the biggest of the five, so I feel it is safe to assume that we had shot a small family group, and the two parents were the two with bands. Not only were we excited to have both shot well and to have gotten two bands, but also the five birds were all significantly smaller than our resident birds, having smaller bodies and short necks and beaks, so we both were very pumped and fairly certain that they were migrant birds from Canada. That would be a first goose band from Canada for either one of us.
We kept hunting, and close to an hour later we had a flock of about twenty big resident birds show up and drop in to the kill hole just like you would hope for, and we finished our limit out of that flock. As we high fived and started picking up decoys, a pair of geese dropped in even with us standing on the bank of the pond. We froze in place, but they saw us anyway and swam to the furthest decoys looking for safety in numbers, then decided it was better for them to just move elsewhere. They flushed off and flew away, leaving my dog very disappointed to see them go. We packed it up and headed out without seeing any other birds return, and couldn’t have been happier with the way things turned out. From high hopes, to lowered expectations, to high fives and jubilation, there had been a roller coaster of emotion that day. The Benelli and Hevi-Shot had worked flawlessly, the Browning and Black Cloud had as well, and we both took a band home. The birds ended up being six years old and were banded on the eastern side of the Hudson Bay in Quebec. What a day!