On the morning the big storm slammed through the area last week, I sat at my computer in my make-shift office over the garage and thought of goose hunting as I watched sleet splash against the window.
The precipitation was light, although carried on a 25 mph northwest wind it made quite an impact. The surface of the river was gray and white-capped, and although we live smack on the east bank of the Missouri River, sometimes I couldn’t see the west shore.
It was the sort of morning that encourages normal folks to crank up the thermostat a degree or two, make another pot of coffee and rummage through the lower shelves of the freezer to see if any of that homemade chicken-noodle soup was overlooked.
Normal folks wouldn’t consider venturing out in that weather if they didn’t have to report to work somewhere or take care of a child or rush to an emergency room. Nobody ever said goose hunters were normal folks. I’d seen my dad leave the house on worse days than the one last week when he thought there was a chance the geese would be flying low over the river bluffs.
When I was quite young, I only saw my dad return from goose hunting on such days. Most times when he hunted geese, he left the house way before I was out of bed. He liked to be in the pits with his hunting buddies well before sunrise, even on days when the sky was so dark and close to the ground that the brightest of suns wouldn’t have shown through.
As I grew older, it was the natural order of things for me to roll out of bed and join my dad in the pits on mornings when I didn’t have school. Being included in the goose hunt was a wonderful honor, a sign that I was growing up. For me, though, it was like that story attributed to Abraham Lincoln about the man who was tarred and feathered and carried out of town on a rail. Asked how he liked it, the man supposedly replied that if it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he’d much rather have walked. That was me and early-morning goose hunting.
Look, I didn’t detest goose hunting, although I haven’t so much as thought about doing it since I left the farm. I preferred kicking through cattails or cornstalks in search of pheasants, and I sometimes enjoyed wriggling up the back side of a dam bank to startle into flight a flock of mallard ducks. I joined those hunts willingly. I went along on goose hunts because it was expected of me.
My dad was different. He liked any sort of hunting that would get him outdoors with a couple of friends or maybe his kids. I understood that with pheasants and even ducks. But I was stumped as to why goose hunting excited him so much.
My mom always said her spouse was plumb loco about goose hunting. She was right, too, and Dad never denied it. He just grinned and thought about the best place to dig the pit, based on his observation of the flight patterns and feeding habits of the geese resting on the Missouri just over the bluffs from our farm.
In those days, see, the big dams hadn’t been built. The reservoir system gives the geese a place to rest and feed for a day or two as they make their way south each fall. That doesn’t mean a person is guaranteed some shooting, but it improves the chances.
Dad and his hunting friends had to dig their own pits and trust the geese would feed for a day or two before continuing south. Sometimes it worked and they’d have some shooting for a morning or two. Sometimes it didn’t work, and they’d have spent a chilly morning in a trench in the ground, working through a thermos of coffee and a package of donuts.
Either way, my dad left the pits with a big smile. I shivered my way to the pickup and, having met my hunter-gatherer expectations, cranked the heater to high.