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Author: Frank Ross
Daylight came hard and cold in the duck and goose blind we were settled into. The dekes were out and a gentle breeze was blowing from the southwest. Off in the distance, in the adjoining refuge, we could hear literally thousands of ducks and geese quacking and honking their bills into a lather, as the first fingers of light probed the eastern sky. The day held great promise.
Sliding the lids closed, as the first wave of waterfowl rose from their night's rest, we readied for the onslaught of nonstop action that was sure to come. Off to the north, there were three more blinds, filled with hunters in our party. The closest blind was about 150 yards away. They had more open water, but by far, we had the most impressive spread of decoys. Surrounding the small pond adjoining our blind, we had a spread of 7 dozen big feet, and another 4 dozen shells. On the open water floated 4 dozen duck decoys with a Robo duck wildly flapping its mechanical wings atop a steel rod. To cap off the presentation, two landing goose decoys were positioned next to the water and we had 2 flags on poles to catch the attention of passing flocks.
Mr. Waterfowl, Mark Mazour, was set on my right with an impressive array of calls dangling around his neck. Most importantly, he knows how to use them. On the left side of the blind, Mike Schoby sat with eyes glued to the brightening sky. A quick check of the watch revealed only five minutes till legal shooting time. Anxious arms were raised half a dozen times to check the hands as we all waited and watched.
When it comes to waterfowling, obsessed might be a little strong description for Mark, but if he's not totally obsessed with waterfowling, Buck makes up the difference. Buck is Mark's black lab, and when Mark starts calling Buck begins to tremble and sets up a whine that borders on pathetic. I've never seen a wino grovel for a dollar like Buck whines for a retrieve. As the tempo of calling increased Buck almost came unglued. He lurched and strained against the check cord that held him in place, and Mark whispered strong words in an attempt to contain his enthusiasm. Truth is, I was right there with him. Only difference was, I didn't have a check cord to deal with.
Only minutes after the clock ticked off H hour, a flight of geese rose over the low line of trees and headed our way. "Start flagging," Mark whispered, and the tunes began in earnest. Both Mark and Mike were hitting hot licks on their goose flutes while the fourth member of our squad, Jason Baskett waited with one hand on his Benelli and the other on the lid.
"All right, stop flagging. We've got a single at 10 O'clock coming in low." After that things kind of blurred in a whir of shouts and shots. In a covered blind, the one who makes the call to pop the lids definitely has the advantage. Mark shouted, "Take him," and slammed the lid back. His gun barked almost as loudly as Buck and in what seemed like fractions of a second, one goose was down. In less than a handful of minutes we had a bird on the ground, Buck was momentarily satiated and it was beginning to look like a day of limits.
With one bird in the bag, and all participants safely back in the blind, another flight was on the horizon and headed in our direction. Calls began to plead and Buck chimed in with his own particular brand of groveling. "Here they come," Mike announced. "Get ready." But this time, as the group began to lower their trajectory, something went awry. Instead of setting in our spread, the flight made a low sweep, just not low enough, and continued on to the next blind where they were happily greeted with a volley of steel that instantly separated them from their altitude.
"Must be the open water," Mark reasoned. We all agreed, and readied for the next group. As the morning slipped away and flight after flight passed us by there was an atmosphere of concern in our blind, and Buck was beginning to slobber excessively.
Problem was this wasn't just about having a good day among the dekes. The day before, the boss had asked 10 of us in our Internet department if we wanted to go to the goose pits. No one declined, and during the meeting we had to put together a plan for vehicles and such, one thing led to another and the gauntlet was cast down. Gambling being illegal in Nebraska, no money was involved. But there was a wager of pride, and that's often more expensive than a monetary investment at risk. In the three adjoining blinds there was an awful lot of shooting. While our group had managed to expend some shell casings, at 10:00 a.m. we could only account for 2 geese. Unfortunately, the skies were totally void of anything with wings with the exception of three eagles that were working their way up and down the North Platte that fronted our blinds.
At long last the most important call of the morning was made. "Time to eat!" Mark announced. "There's one sure way to bring in the birds, and that's to have our hands full," he added.
No matter what the success ratio, one thing was for sure. We weren't roughing it. With the burner fired up for cooking, I turned off the propane heater and a delicious aroma filled the air. The fare for our little midmorning repast was to be a one skillet special developed through extensive research. Mark's personally prepared antelope sausage was cooked to a turn with a liberal dose of Cajun spices. Mushrooms were added just before a dozen eggs were scramble in. When the eggs were almost ready, Mike folded in a generous portion of sharp cheddar cheese. When everything met his approval, hot tortilla shells were filled with this sumptuous concoction and we gorged ourselves, content with the knowledge that a sure way to bring in birds was to have a full plate of food in your lap.
It didn't work, but somehow we didn't mind. The phone wasn't ringing, we were well fed, and there was still a chance we could save face instead of feeding it. Between bites we all scoured the sky, looking wistfully as our time ticked away. We were supposed to hunt and be in the office by 10, but that time had long since passed. At noon, our boss stepped out of his blind and his group began to gather their decoys, obviously content with their count. Our goose was cooked. We were sure that there would be a meal of crow to digest when we returned to our desks and the reality of the work a day world. Somehow, after three spicy antelope tortillas, an excellent morning of waterfowling in what is arguably the nation's finest flyway and an amusing morning with Buck -it didn't seem to matter. Love is blind, as long as were talking about ducks and geese.
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