For those not in and around Manitoba or the rest of the prairies, things have turned cold and fast. Several cities have already had major snowfalls and the temperatures are way below normal for the time of year. All this is to say that the geese have been moving quickly from the North and migration is in full swing.
As I see more and more geese moving into the area I often struggle of ways to relate how it makes me feel. The best I’ve come up with so far are the lyrics from a song I once heard. Composed by Terry Gilkyson and performed by Frankie Laine, it’s “Cry Of The Wild Goose”.
“Tonight I heard the wild goose cry, wingin’ north in the lonely sky. Tried to sleep, it warn’t no use, ’cause I am a brother to the old wild goose.
Oh, my heart knows what the wild goose knows and I must go where the wild goose goes…”
Peak migration also generally coincides with Canadian Thanksgiving. A long standing tradition in our family has always been to try and get out for a goose hunt some time during the thanksgiving long weekend. I was extra thankful this holiday because I was able to keep the tradition alive and got out for a hunt this morning.
Like any hunt it started yesterday after a wonderful thanksgiving dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip mash, stuffing and gravy. Driving around in my semi-conscious post gluttonous state, I managed to spy several flocks of birds landing in a field not all that far from the house. The possibility of a hunt perked me up like a old batch of truck stop coffee and I sped quickly through the back roads to get a peak at where they were coming down.
After a few minutes of driving I came to an intersection that gave me a good view of the birds. I angled my GMC Terrain (Terry) so I could watch where they were coming in from, how they were set up in the field and if there were any good areas of cover. It was a perfect hunt! There were birds coming in from every direction in small flocks of twelve to twenty, well spread out on the ground and to top it all off was a nice berm of tall grass running perpendicular across the field that I could hide in. Giddy with the thought of what was sure to be an epic hunt I checked my map to see who owned the land so I could go get permission. Scanning the map I sang along, poorly, to the songs on Prime Country on my Sirius XM radio and felt happy. That happiness lasted right up to the point when my finger tracing the map pointed to where the geese were, just inside Winnipeg city limits. How could they have possibly known?
Anyone doing a paper on the “5 stages of Grief” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, would do well to examine the reaction of a hunter who finds out the hunt they want is on land they can’t access. It happens incredibly quickly and below is an example…that may or may not have recently happened….
1. Denial – “No…I must be reading the map wrong. That can’t be, maybe I’m on the wrong road”
2. Anger- “S$%^….aw…dammit all to #$@@#$%”
3. Bargaining- “Maybe I can hunt it anyways, no one will know…they’re a nuisance bird anyways, yeah…yeah.”
4. Depression – [silently sobbing while slumped over the steering wheel]
5. Acceptance – “Oh well, what can you do” [Drives back towards the house]
Getting back to the house I helped put Owen to bed and then made myself some decaf getting ready to settle in for the night. Kelly asked how my spotting went and I pulled out the map to show her.
“The geese are here,” I said, pointing to the map indicating the red square. “There is nothing I can do. As much as I’d love to go hunt them, I’m not keen on breaking the law and risking a fine or jail.”
“Why don’t you just hunt them on the adjacent field across the way,” Kelly responded pointing to the blue square. “That’s all crown land.”
It was brilliant, and I wasn’t entirely sure why I hadn’t thought about it. A nagging feeling in me said that while I was out spotting I had made a mental calculation as to why that wouldn’t work before heading home, but I had since forgotten it. Regardless, I packed my gear and got into bed after making sure all my licenses were in order.
Sunrise was at 7:40 am so I was up and out of the house at 6:30. It was black out but I could tell the sky was overcast and the clouds were low from the street lamps. As I drove down the muddy roads, my headlights illuminated the green grid road signs indicating I was on the right track to my destination. As I drove I made sure to scan the ditches closely for deer as on more than one occasion a morning hunt had been ruined by smacking a buck or doe with a self destructive attitude.
As I got to my field I looked for an approach but wasn’t able to find one. I stopped about the halfway mark and turned to point my headlights out into the field to carry in my gear and setup my decoys. From my seat inside Terry, I made a mental note that the stubble looked odd and as that thought crossed my consciousness, I realized why I had written off the hunt; it was a canola field.
For those who don’t goose hunt, there is nothing a goose hates more, aside from being shot, than canola stubble. It’s vial stuff. Tall, tough, pokey and they do not like to land in it. To make a comparison most people can understand it would be the human equivalent of jumping barefoot onto shag carpet you know has lego in it. Your just not going to do it.
However, since it was the first hunt of the year and I was already up and out, I decided to setup on the canola. Most hunters I know would have called it quits gone home had another breakfast, but not me. I was deluded and desperate to get a hunt in regardless of the outcome.
I only had a few dozen Canada goose shell decoys with me so the spread didn’t take long to layout. I got into my ground blind just in time to watch a few flights of ducks rocket overhead but well out of range.
Over the next hour I watched flock after flock of ducks and geese fly into the field just inside the city limits and out of my reach. It was awesome and torture all at the same time. One group of geese did come in low enough for me to make a reasonable attempt at a shot, but I missed. It was my only shot but it made me happy that at least I got an opportunity to try and get one.
After another thirty minutes I packed up my gear and walked back to Terry. Of course as I walked and focused on unloading my gun I was startled by a very loud, and almost mocking “HONK”!! I looked up in time to watch, helplessly, as a flock of four geese darted directly over my head at power line height. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Getting into my truck and driving home I passed by the wily birds safe on their city side of the road and wondered how those wild geese knew to pick a place I must not go despite my heart urging me so.
It was a great and memorable start to the 2018 hunting season and I’m looking forward to what the rest of year has to bring.
Until next time, all the best.