Hits and Misses
These accounts of shooting birds and hunting big game mostly relate the author’s adventures in North America--Canada and The United States. Game species encountered, or hoped to encounter, include mule deer, whitetail deer, blacktail deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bear, turkey and geese. But by convenience, and necessity because all his hunts don’t fit neatly into the confines of North America, and the author had no other place to tell a couple of unique hunt stories, this volume also includes reports of dove hunting in Honduras and red stag in Spain. Mainly, this collection tells the story of one hunter who just happened to be a writer and whose job sometimes required him to go hunting, making him, if not a PH (professional hunter) then perhaps a PTPH (part-time) or a SPH (semi). Either way, for him it was a dream job.
HONK IF YOU LOVE GEESE
Choosing a favorite big game species is a difficult and arbitrary decision for me. My selection could be swayed by the latest daydream inspired by one of my trophy mounts on the wall, or by one of my rifles that I associate with a particular hunt. I might vacillate between an African species that I have collected several times, or one that almost collected me; or I might settle on the noble western mule deer that I have loved to hunt. It would be a tough choice. But among the birds, everything comes second to geese.
For no good reason that I can offer, I do not have a taxidermy mount of a Canada goose, although I favor those mounts with giant wings cupped for landing. The only tangible goose decoration in my writing work space is a pair of carved birds; not decoys, but miniatures carved of fir and not painted, just the natural color of the wood.
What makes them special is that they were fashioned by a Cree Indian, carved over several evenings during the winter freeze that imprisons the far reaches of Ontario, and finished to splinterless perfection by being scraped with broken glass. Not that the Indians could not get sandpaper if they wished it; on James Bay where the Crees live, the historic Hudson Bay store still supplies all the necessities of life, and that could include sandpaper. Why broken glass then, instead of sandpaper? Because they have broken glass, and materials on hand are to be used. It could be called conservation and recycling.
Geese are godlike to the Crees. Tribal hunters take them by the boatload under the native subsistence laws of Canada, and the tribe does subsist on geese for the entire winter when the waterways freeze over. For a people normally given to hard work, days of forced inactivity produce some native art of exceptional merit, including my toy geese.
I do love the big birds. If there is a greater thrill than a flight of geese lifting off the water and flying past my blind, I haven’t experienced it yet. It’s exciting to have them pass close enough to get off a shot, and a pure satisfaction to bring one or two down from the flight, but many have been the times I was content to watch them pass without my ever slapping a trigger.
It’s another thrill to have the grand creatures come to your call and decoys. In fact, I’m not sure I could say whether sitting in a morning blind waiting for and experiencing the liftoff and formation or turning the birds from a high flight by a coaxing call is the more exciting.
Much of my sitting in blinds waiting for the over-flights has been on Maryland’s eastern shore of the Chesapeake. There is little in the United States to compare with the Chesapeake when it comes to geese. James Michener captured the spell of the geese in the novel, Chesapeake, and to have written that novel, he had to have experienced the flights over Chesapeake Bay. If I were to build a permanent waterfowl blind on Chesapeake Bay, I’d outfit it with a pew for a bench, for at no time do I feel more in church than when the geese fly.
I was fortunate to have hunted the Chesapeake without having to compete for space along the public accesses, and without the necessity of joining one of the expensive private clubs that control much of the admittance to the waterways. All my Chesapeake experience has been as a guest of Remington Farms. Remington, the arms and ammunition people, at the time operated Remington Farms on the bay. The farm, which included a wetlands sanctuary, was a virtual field laboratory for wildlife habitat and related sciences. It was common to observe university students and wildlife biologists at work on Remington Farms, and not only on waterfowl projects but also on those associated with deer and small game, and with general agricultural-improvement methods that benefited farmers nationwide.
In addition, some limited hunting was authorized, controlled hunting being a prime wildlife conservation tool. Remington utilized the setting to host outdoors writers from time-to-time for introduction of the company’s new firearms products. Those sessions usually included a couple of days of hunting. It was during these sessions on Remington Farms that I enjoyed my well-remembered Chesapeake Bay goose hunting. At all times when hunting on those press junkets, the Chesapeake geese were zealously protected, by the federal waterfowl regulations, those of the state of Maryland, and perhaps most rigidly of all by the caring custodians of Remington Farms.
The geese at Remington Farms do not originate at Chesapeake Bay but only stop there en route to wherever their instincts take them on their annual journeys. The geese moving down the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, and perhaps some that take the Central Flyway as well, gather for their odyssey at James Bay, the southern projection of Hudson Bay between Ontario and Quebec. The birds don’t necessarily originate there either. Most of them are spread much farther north, summering all along the northernmost perimeter of Canada, including frigid Victoria and Baffin islands and all of the Arctic landfalls.