Community Sports

Thursday, Dec 20 2012 06:14 PM

Steve Merlo: Nothing like the thrill of hunting Canadian geese

By The Bakersfield Californian

Lots of people ask what bird I love to hunt the most and why. A difficult choice over such notable species as pheasant, dove, quail and duck, for sure, but when things boil down to a single pick, my vote goes to the true master of the skies, the Canada goose.

More than anything, I love to watch their majestic V-shaped skeins on a winter's morning, and no one can quite describe the thrill upon hearing geese overhead honking their way through the migration traffic. I freely admit to being a hunter and truly enjoy pursuing the big, graceful, great-eating birds. I've not been overly successful, but that really doesn't matter.

I remember once lying in a shallow, muddy depression with a close friend for 8 hours straight, both of us shivering from the cold while waiting for that bird of birds to come close enough to take. Finally, with only 15 minutes left of shooting time, they did come.

At first mere specks in the distance, the flock eventually grew into a long, wavering line of gabbling, quibbling honkers, their minds set on going somewhere other than our decoy spread.

My friend, Ken, answered their plaintive calls with a thrilling series of loud, pleading notes to catch their attention. When the sound reached them, they turned sharply toward us, not willingly, I think, but because of the expert cajoling from my friend speaking their language, making them believe that this place was indeed a friendly haven.

They took their time, something we did not have a lot of, making false landings a quarter mile below us. Not entirely sure of themselves, they kept trying to decide whether the grain directly below them was equally as good as over there, where 160 cronies seemed frozen in feeding positions. I can still remember counting them again and again, finally deciding that 42 Canadian geese took up an awful lot of sky, even when 400 yards away.

I was shaking, some from the cold, I guess, but more I'm certain from the spectacle unveiling before us. Crossing downwind below our setup, they angled toward us, fighting the gusts with strong wing beats, talking and humming and looking more like B-2 bombers than birds. At 125 yards, their prominent cheek patches stood out and I became certain they would see me and flare from my now uncontrollable shaking.

At 75-yards, like 747s approaching, they set their wings, gliding towards us, wavering unsure and cautious. But my friend made up their minds for them, uttering the smoothest rendition of goose talk I could ever hope to hear again--one smooth, low-noted hum from the call, saying the things the geese wanted to hear, that they were welcome to share and should feel secure.

At 50 yards, they eagerly committed, veering into the open space between the decoys, 20 yards high, gabbling excited hellos to their new-found friends. While the balance of the gaggle steered to my left, two of the now-lumbering and backpedaling birds greedily broke from the rest, descending 25 yards in front of us, only 15 feet off the ground.

And then my friend poked me, telling me to take the larger group now before they were gone. Safety off, I struggled to my feet in time to watch the closest pair take full loads of number two shot and plummet to the ground, both dead before they hit.

Swinging my shotgun on the now- reeling, sky-clambering flock honking with alarm and fear, I picked the closest bird, led him by 2 feet and jerked the trigger. Feeling the recoil of the 3-inch shell hammer back on my shoulder, I heard the shot hit but the bird only flinched. I pumped a new load home and fired again, collapsing the bird as if he had run into some invisible wall. Tracking him as he fell, I was afraid that he might take off again, but he hit the dry field with a satisfying thud.

And there, looking down on the greatest bird of all, I felt that same twinge of regret every goose hunter feels for a fleet second after the kill. Where had he been? Where was he going? How could I kill something so graceful and so beautiful?

Smiling, I knew the answer.

With man's managerial assistance, my goose had become part of a grand natural plan, harvested so that others like him would continue to survive, ensuring the bright future of the Canada goose.

Some day, soon, I hope, my children and grandchildren will also be able to thrill to the sounds of all that is wild and free, the honking of the wild goose.

Local trout plantings resume

After a long hiatus, trout planting has begun again in the local lakes. Buena Vista, Ming, Riverwalk, Hart Park and Brite Lake have already gotten or are scheduled to receive trout plants over the next few days.

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