Geese ke-honked to the east, “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk.” The sight of rhythmic wing beats left little doubt. Two ragged strings took flight. The birds gained altitude, honking all the while. “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…”
“They’re turning north,” Bob whispered. “There’s fresh cut corn south of Austin Road,” he added, shaking his head. “We were afraid of that, but the morning’s young.” Counting birds was all the hunters sitting on the two benches could do.
About ten minutes later, a small flock rose above the eastern tree line. “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…” Goose music churned up hearts. Arteries pumped. Fingers rested over modern safeties. My thumb traced lazy circles on the cock’s domed, jaw screw. A sharp English flint, changed and tested before leaving home, awaited an opportunity to release the death bees.
Those twelve formed a classic “V” and kept winging west. Whispered instructions passed among the four camo-clad men sitting on the crude bench behind the burlap screen suspended between two cedar posts, about a dozen paces to the left. The steady honking switched to a single “ke-honk” now and again. The twelve followed the rise of the hill, about forty yards up, well beyond “Old Turkey Feathers’” effective distance. All I could do was sit and watch and sigh quiet.
“TAKE ‘EM!” one of the men shouted. They jumped up on the command and shouldered expensive shotguns, two semi-autos, a side-by-side and an over-and-under, if I recall.
“BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM…” Three fired at the same time; the fellow closest to us took careful aim, then fired as the birds flared. I don’t recall how many got off a second shot, but nary a bird tumbled earthward. A naughty word or two rang out. Then plastic suppositories replaced spent ones and the gents sat down.
An hour or so after first light, a fog settled in, growing thicker and thicker by the minute. Two or three flights took off from the lake. Their ke-honks were mere noise in the hazy soup, but those voices headed north, just like the first two strings. Another anxious fifteen minutes passed.
“Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…” Everyone perked up. Those ke-honks grew louder and louder. “I see them,” someone said as the single-wing wedge broke through the fog. “Heads down,” someone whispered.
A tear in the burlap in front of me offered a quick glimpse as the geese approached the base of the hill. They were about twenty yards up. With the Northwest gun’s muzzle up, I held the trigger as my thumb eased the cock back. I felt the sear bar settle into the tumbler’s full cock notch. “A clean kill, or a clean miss. Your will, O Lord,” I whispered.
I’ll show up with Old Turkey Feathers…
This hunt was long ago, perhaps a year or so before muzzle loading shotguns were required to use non-toxic shot. I laughed about it while I wrote last Saturday’s blog post, and thought I should share the tale as a Mini-Monday post.
The annual banquet for the Jack Elliott Chapter of Ducks Unlimited was the night before. Bob is a life-long friend; we graduated high school together and have shared hunts over the years. He stopped by our table and asked, “Would you like to go goose hunting in the morning?”
For decades I have said, “If you ask me to go hunting, I’ll show up dressed in period-correct clothing, toting Old Turkey Feathers and the necessary fixings for whatever game we will be chasing.” And that’s just what I did that morning.
We gathered in the drive behind our host’s log cabin. He was crippled up with rheumatoid arthritis, and could no longer hold a gun or hunt, but he relished hearing others enjoy hunting is property. He passed on some years ago.
Our host was the sportsman’s sportsman. His ashes are spread on the ground he loved…with a few sprinkled on the neighbor’s side of the fence. He told Bob the neighbor always accused him of hunting his property; he respected his neighbors and never crossed property lines. But it seems our host got in one last laugh on his mistaken neighbor.
My outfit drew questioning looks and a smirk or two, to say nothing of the long-barreled flintlock, but everyone was polite. We walked up the hill to the two benches. Four sat on the north bench and Bob and I took the south bench with me on the far right. He understood the concern for the touch hole’s dangerous flash. This was pass shooting at its best.
As is my habit, I can’t place the “Kla-whoosh-BOOM!” at the end of the story; the reason will be obvious, dear reader. So if you like the stories, but don’t like the taking of wild game, read to “TAKE ‘EM!”, then skip to the paragraph that starts, “The geese were gone…”
The conversation was great as we waited to see and hear geese. Then that last single-wing wedge flew our way. The fog kept them close to the ground with the birds strung out to the north. The southern-most goose came last, just to my right. “TAKE ‘EM!” brought me to my feet, but I had to wait on my bird and hope it didn’t flare beyond Old Turkey Feathers’ effective distance.
“BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM…” the modern guns roared. The geese didn’t flare. The Northwest gun’s turtle sight chased the last goose. An old duck hunter once shared his secret for hitting ducks…“Butt, beak, bam,” I thought as I swung through the bird. “Kla-whoosh-BOOM!”
Bob chuckled. I think the thunder and fire scared a couple of the fellows. The goose’s neck went limp. The death tumble began…
The geese were gone. Shells clattered. And the salutations began. The farthest gent slapped the back of the fellow to his right and said, “Great shot!”
“I wasn’t aiming at that goose,” the man replied. With that, the gent leaned forward and looked to the next man in line, saying something like, “That was a great shot!”
“I missed mine, too,” was the response. I don’t remember the names of the fellows, other than Bob, but the gent spoke the last man’s first name. He offered the same response, “That wasn’t mine.” With that, the four turned slow and gazed at our bench. Each man had a serious look on his face. “Bob?” was all someone said.
Bob had a big grin on his face. He’s been an advocate for me for as long as I can remember, and he was as thrilled with my shot as I was. “Nope, wasn’t me. That was Denny.” After an “I don’t believe that,” they all were gracious with their congratulatory comments.
As was their habit, everyone cased their guns, put them in their vehicles and walked to the cabin. Bob knocked, we slipped our boots off, and we all walked in. The host sat in his lift chair. Each of us thanked him for blessing us with that morning’s hunt, and he thanked us for coming. Then he commented on hearing the trade gun’s thunder and asked if we had any luck. With a grin and a twinkle in his eye, Bob told him the story. The host smiled and said, “I’m not surprised. Maybe you all should hunt with a flintlock.”
Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.