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Volume 16, Issue 5 - January 31 - February 6, 2008

Going out with a Bang

Last goose hunt of the season

Long gaggles of Canada geese were already trading about in the pre-dawn Eastern Shore sky, and in numbers that took our breath away. A cold front was moving in, and the birds were nervous. I knew it was going to be a memorable day, but I didn’t know then just how memorable.

The Set Up

As daybreak threatened, all of us hurriedly assisted Wayne Radcliffe and his hunt partner, Rusty Hallock, with the decoy spread. Wayne, an Avery Outdoors Company territory manager, had invited a few of the employees of Angler’s Sport Store to one of their last goose hunts of the year.

I work part-time at the store and was lucky enough to be included in the party. The hunt was at Avery’s prime waterfowl lease at the 350-acre Bordley Farm in Church Hill, Maryland.

It was fascinating to watch these professional outdoorsmen setting out their company’s lifelike goose decoys in just the right patterns. This was the perfect artificial flock of feeding geese that would lure wild, wary birds into joining them, and it was impressive.

It was not a large spread by goose-hunting standards, a little over 200 decoys. Some commercial layouts number over 1,000. But this one was remarkable in its perfection. The full-sized counterfeits were incredibly detailed and set on special stake mounts that imparted motion to the figures at the slightest breeze. The set looked alive

Feeders outnumbered the sentinel decoys in just the right proportions, and there was even a mixture of different body sizes to reflect Maryland’s mixed population of greater and lesser Canada strains. No effort or consideration had been spared

The Hunt

The real geese didn’t begin actively searching to feed until mid-morning. Then, within a couple of hours and with the help of our hosts’ champion-level goose calling, we easily bagged eight or nine of the big birds.

There is a certain etiquette associated with group waterfowl shooting. The guns on the right side of the blind, or pit, are to target the appropriate birds on that edge of the flock, those in the middle, the middle birds, and so on.

The problem is, as Gen. George Patton once pointed out, no plan of battle survives first contact with the adversary. At the sound of the first shot, the flock flares pell-mell in the sky; gunners switch targets, fire, switch again and shoot again. It is invariably chaos, with the result that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to know for certain who hit which bird — if in fact they hit any at all.

This leads, of course, to all sorts of good-natured and sometimes preposterous claims of personal marksmanship, all part of the ritual and camaraderie of goose hunting.

When a single goose comes in to the decoys, however, it becomes a different situation. Then, one specific hunter is identified to take the bird.

The other guns serve as backup in case of a miss. In our party, the morning’s first single was assigned to Mike Ebersberger, and he dropped his bird promptly. Later, another single Canada decoyed. That honor went to Rusty’s father. He only needed one shot for his goose. We were close to limiting out.

The Last Shot

Then the flight slowed. During the lull, some attention was brought to the gun I was shooting, an old Fox Sterlingworth 12-gauge, double-barreled gun that had just turned 96 years old. I was getting some humorous ribbing on why in the world I had brought along an old “relic rabbit gun” on a goose hunt.

I explained in the most patient manner possible that not only was the old double a superior gun and American made but it was likely responsible for at least one of the birds already bagged.

The next single was promptly assigned to yours truly. It was a big old loner. As Wayne and Rusty clucked and honked and teased the rascal into our set, I prepared to take the shot. They would certainly learn how deadly the old Fox was in my hands.

The break was called, and I rose up out of the pit. In the background I heard the crisp, metallic clicks of released safeties as the others needlessly prepared to back me up.

I smoothly brought the gun to my shoulder. The bird loomed large in the overcast sky, unaware of my presence. Already in my imagination I could hear the compliments on my fine shooting, and the many humble apologies for maligning my handsome firearm.

The lone Canada sailed swiftly and silently across in front of me not 20 yards away. I swung the gun up and ahead. It was going to be an easy shot. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was certainly going to end the day, and the season, with a bang. I fired, then fired again … and missed that goose clean with both barrels.

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