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End of the Bird Hunting Season Ritual (Part 2)

January 28, 2012

From my first post I spoke about my early season hunting and how I started the hunting season with my Remington Wing Master 20 gauge. Most years here in Montana the Duck and Goose season starts the first week of October. This is generally when the 20 gauge is put away and my Duck Gun is brought into action. This is a Bennelli Pump, 12 gauge that can shoot 31/2 inch shells , that I feel more confident when shooting large Canadian geese.

I really enjoy shooting ducks, mainly because I like eating  most species that fly through Montana. This past season here on the Missouri river it did not seem like the Ducks stuck around very long, we would get a storm out of Canada that would move birds into our region, and it seemed like within days they would move on. 25 years ago here on the Missouri River near Cascade, we would have Ducks all over, Mallards were common, you could find them from Ulm all the way to Holter Dam. It was easy to go out and get a limit of Green Heads, and even a few Wood Ducks would be in the back channels along with Pintails, Red heads, and Widgon. This past season it appeared that the ducks did not stay around like the did in years earlier, my feeling is that the weather had alot to do with the ducks moving onward.

Speaking with another Realtor in our office who grew up near Cascade and has been waterfowl hunting the area for the past 50 years, he remarked that when he was a kid the Missouri River was full of Mallards. Thick with Mallards and other ducks, but he said, this area had very few geese. A few Snow geese would pass through , but he said , the Canadian geese were a novelty. Interesting, because today this area is has a huge population of Canadian geese, there are many more geese today than there are ducks.

Now for me, I prefer to eat a Duck over a Goose, now that’s just me, but, if there are few ducks, and many more geese, well I’m one to be “when in Rome”…In the area around Cascade we have a perfect environment for both gain eating ducks and geese. this area is just at the beginning  of where the Great Plains meets the Rocky Mountains. On the Eastern part of our Valley, it is flat with mild rolling hills that are golden brown with wheat fields , inter mixed with CRP, that unfortunately are coming to the end of there contracts with the Federal Government . The CRP are farm lands that were “let go” without farming, and farmers were paid not to farm these fields. This was a huge bonus for upland bird hunters, the fields grew wild and the crops would mix with wild grasses, giving great cover and food for all the species of Upland birds. It will be interesting to see what develops in the next ten years as almost all of our CRP land are brought back into farming.

One of the reason’s this area is a perfect waterfowl environment is due to the Missouri River. All along the river, are the grain fields, but, this is not enough just to have the food. The birds need a safe place to “roost”, or rest and sleep at night. This rich aquatic environment of the Missouri has over the centuries developed Islands, big and small, that give a safe refuge for the waterfowl from predators like fox, coyotes and Man.

This past season I set up a blind in an area that was on one of the main flying paths that ducks and geese would use to fly from their roost to feed in the wheat fields, and later in the day, would change fields due to wind, or hunting pressure in the fields. I had some great days, but I was disappointed in the numbers of ducks that were in the area, but the number of geese made up for it, and most days the goose shooting was fair to good.

While upland hunting one afternoon, in an area that I usually use, I noticed that a great number of geese would fly off there safe spot on the river in-which they use during the heat of the day to rest and digest there morning feast, and would fly in a bee- line to a  wheat field some two miles off the river. The line that they flew was directly over the field I usually hunt for Pheasants, Huns and Sharptail grouse.  My dog Pearl and I hid near a fence line and watched as platoons  from 10-50 geese flew over, very low just coming off the river. This went on for a good 45 minutes, as platoon after platoon kept coming,  at times filling the sky, and, the honking as they flew over was near deafening with so many of the noisy Canadian flying to enjoy their last meal of the day. I knew not to shoot more than two, just because I knew I’d have to carry these large birds back a mile or so to the car. It was a perfect set-up, as the big Canadians came off the river, they were flying right into a blinding sunlight, and against a strong South Westerly wind, low and hungry. I took two birds in two shots, Pearl made the retrieves, and with the sun just starting to set  we started the walk back to the car. On the walk I made plans for the next day, carrying the birds was the most difficult part of the hunt. I decided to empty my decoy bag, and use that to transfer the heavy geese , it would be much easier to use my big canvas backpack of a decoy bag to move the geese out of the field.

The next day, Pearl and I arrived around the same time, late afternoon, same conditions, wind was out of the South West , and it was really blowing, the sun was low on the horizon, perfect. I wore clothing that would blend in with the yellow-golden grass and wore a tan hat a a light brown camo “Buff” to hide my face. I had found a ditch just below a hill  that was right on their path, it would be a perfect ambush spot. It was warm for November, Pearl and I waited basking in the warmth of a rare November Montana afternoon. Then it started, the sound was impressive, thousands of  geese sounding off to start their last feed of the day. Pearl was focused, listening the constant honking of what was flying toward us, trembling with anticipation, ready to retrieve the xtra large game-birds. They were flying right towards us, it was a wonderful sight, the first group had around 12 different platoons, some were out of range to our left side, and a few flew just out of range on our right, but the majority were heading right at us, low, slow, into the sun and wind. As the first platoon was in sight just above the hill , Pearl jumped up when she saw them, I grabbed her and settled her only to look up to see the geese were just overhead. I shot two, and they fell very close making a very load thug as they hit the ground. The birds were so low that they were “blown up”. The breast had quite a few steel shot, and the guts were exposed and hanging out. Pearl unfortunately got a good taste of the demolished birds, and did not run right back with the geese, but rather had stopped with the bloody goose, and, had it in mouth and was thinking this was pretty tasty. Hunting stopped right then and there as my bird dog and I had a close encounter, eye ball to eye ball, and a serious conversation about proper etiquette concerning  retrieving. I put the blood ridden goose in the extra large backpack, and had her retrieve the other goose, with me hot on her heels to ensure no funny stuff. She got the message, and we settled back down into our ambush mood, it didn’t take for about two minutes and the platoons were flying on a direct line right at us again. This time I stood just before the geese arrived, flaring the giant birds so they would rise and fly off just a bit , an easy shot , but one that would only kill and not mutilate. I double again, and we were through, it was time for the load carrying walk back to the car. The platoons kept coming and coming the entire time Pearl and I walked the mile or so back to the parking lot. From the time we started and returned to the car was well under two hours, this became my honey hole for goose hunting. I hunted this spot 7-8 times more during the season with the same results, as long as the sun was out , and the wind was from the usual South West, it was a great spot.

I’ll finish with (Part 3) next time (Upland)

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