Friday, March 29, 2013

A trip down (snow goose) memory lane

For a guy who hasn’t done a ton of hunting in the spring, Easter always gets me thinking about the trips I have taken. (And, yes, I know around this holiday I should be thinking of more important things.)

In 2006, I spent Easter morning turkey hunting in the Black Hills. To this day, I maintain that sitting there and watching the sun come up and listening to turkeys gobble is as spiritual a moment as you’ll ever get.

The next year, I planned a work outing to North Dakota to hunt snow geese. You can hunt those geese in the spring because there are so darn many of them the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begs you to shoot them. It’s a weather and migration game, so we postponed the trip on several occasions.
And then I got the call that things were falling into place. I’d be gone until the day before Easter, but so be it.

Snow geese flying from a North Dakota field.
A bit of backstory here: At this point, Kim (who’s now my wife, obviously) was just a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. We’d planned to hang out the Saturday night before Easter. I didn’t want to reschedule. But I wasn’t missing my North Dakota trip, either.

I knew the timing would be tight, but I also knew it could be done.

So that Friday, I drove to Oakes, which is in southeastern North Dakota, just shy of 300 miles from Minneapolis. I arrived and met the guys with whom I’d hunt. We climbed in the truck and spent the next few hours driving around the countryside, watching where these huge flocks – thousands of birds – of snow geese went. The idea was to find the fields they were using and then hunt one in the morning.

About 8 p.m., we finished scouting and went back to the hotel. Five minutes later, we were at the local watering hole. There were burgers and beer, country music and – late in the night – a limbo contest that didn’t go well.

We closed the place down and walked back to the hotel (the beauty of small towns). Two hours later, the alarm clock went off.

Not long later, we were in the truck, driving under a dazzling, star-studded sky. We stopped at a gas station and I, thinking we’d have a chance to grab something else later on, grabbed two energy drinks and a granola bar. Nobody paid any attention to what anyone else bought.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived to our hunting spot. We then spent the next two hours putting up hundreds of snow goose decoys. Other guys set up an electric caller. Then we climbed into our layout blinds and waited for the sun to rise and the birds to fly. I remember eating my granola bar and drinking one of the energy drinks.

It was probably 6 a.m. I remember a short nap.

Finally, the birds started to fly. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, hearing all these geese honking, watching them come in over our decoys, and then hearing the words “Take ‘em!”
We killed a lot of birds that day, but there came a point I got really hungry. That was about 10 a.m. I sucked down another energy drink. Then I got tired. Then weak. Then I just wanted the damn birds to quit coming. But they never did.

Finally, about 4:30 p.m., there was a break in the action. I climbed out of my blind. Said I had to go. The guys were nice enough, but wanted me to get the heck out of there before more geese came. So I did.

I found my way back to my truck, changed out of my hunting gear, and wondered how to get where I needed to go. This was back before I had an iPhone, and I’d arrived at the spot in a daze more than 12 hours before. Armed with the knowledge that we were south of town, and then the sun sets in the west, I made my way along gravel roads, keeping the sun in the proper position.

Finally, I made it back to town.

I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and grab some food. And to use the pay phone. Mine was out of juice and I needed to call Kim, let her know we were still on for the night and that I was on my way. I slipped some quarters in the pay phone and dialed her number. Thankfully, she answered (I think, anyway). We made plans to meet about 10.

At that point, it was nothing but me and about 5 hours of open road.

I finally made it back, met Kim and others, and headed to a bar. I was excessively tired, but also a little jazzed. The night was a good one, though it went a little late and, again, I missed church on Easter morning.

But I’m proud to report I haven’t missed an Easter service since.

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