Sunday, November 23

Nothing in the Bag, but Experience

I came home empty handed, though my hunting partner connected on one Canada. We were hunting a field blind against a large bush, with the wind coming off our four o'clock position, and a "C" shaped setup of twelve magnum shell decoys. The blind was chicken wire with camo burlap over top and provided good concealment.

In the blind by 8 a.m. we were facing almost directly into the sun. The wind was averaging fifteen mph, and there were many flights of birds in the air. After my partner connected on the goose with a nice shot on a flaring group, he had to leave to take care of a car issue. Left at my devices (call, flag, peanut butter crackers), I listened intently over the wind. Hearing the birds near, I would call a "highball" to get their attention. If I heard a single goose calling, I tried to imitate their call right back to them. After the highball, I would intermix the "cluck" and flag for a few seconds. Never having used a flag, I understood the basic precept that it adds the motion to your setup of a goose stretching its wings. My vision impaired behind the camo burlap, I kept it up until I heard them near. Dropping the call and mounting my Browning pump, I was amazed to see a group of ten to twelve geese within my spread and landing. I was so excited that I missed by a mile. I was thinking that I had called them in and was not thinking of: Focus on one bird toward the rear, aim for the head and lead, take your time, remember it is a pump, dummy (in my best Fred Sanford impersonation)

I called in two more sets of geese, with the last set no more than ten yards away. I had set up the decoys, called the geese to within range. This was the epitome of practical knowledge: I had taken all that was taught to me in the blinds in Trappe, from the books I have read, and used that to bring them to me.

I t was almost perfect, with perfection achieved when I take my time and put a goose in the pot. It was not a good day for me, it was a great day.

Wednesday, November 5

Dove Day Afternoon

At three o'clock on a Wednesday, I am usually hunched over a monitor looking at spreadsheets. Today, I was hunched down in a sunflower field waiting for the telltale whistle of the dove approaching. This was my first time out hunting the dove on public land, and my third time for dove. I took my first dove as a teenager with a Falcon II wrist rocket, but that is another story. Today, I had a Browning BPS, which offered a higher probability than one 3/8" pachinko ball. I had arrived after Chris, who was generous enough not only to bring the Mojo dove and the silhouettes and full dove decoys, but also to have found a good spot in the field.

I had scouted this dove field, which was planted by the MD DNR in Federalsburg, Maryland. Having scouted this and other fields in the Idylwild WMA the week before, and could not believe my eyes when I saw this spot. I walked into a quarter mile of standing sunflowers with two lanes cut for these ground feeders. While I walked around it, the song bird were zipping by, perched on the pie plate size flowers happily chirping and eating the oily seed. I had looked for waterholes close by, but the area is very flat and does not hold much water. There was grit around, so that added promise. Doves eat their seeds whole and use the grit to pulverize the whole seeds in their muscular stomachs.

I was sitting on a stool 30 yards east of Chris and there was a light breeze with big rolling clouds and ~ 80 F. Hoping the feast would bring in these aerobatic birds, we took turns calling and were occasionally interrupted by shots from a few guys set up farther up the field. Chris noted that dove see color and the hunter looking for his downed dove in a bright red flannel made us chuckle. It was slow and we picked up our gear after about 2 hours and decided to scout some other spots.

Travelling light with gun, license and a handful of shells, we walked through some beautiful rolling plains that looked as though they held turkey and deer (as we noticed many tracks). Although hoping to jump shoot dove, it was the conversation and camaraderie that we limited out on that late summer day. While the shooting action and excitement of a full game bag is always hoped for, I will never grow tired of limiting out on the shared love of being afield.

Opening Day – Dove Season ‘08


Commencing on Labor Day, opening day of dove season offered new opportunities for me. Not only was it my first opening day for dove, but I was going to hunt some promising new fields that I had scouted. As I left the beach to drive home and gear up, l got the call to see if I would like to join family for opening day. This offered less hunting pressure, but unknown dove numbers and no recon of the area. The phone rang again and Chris called to tell me that since he could not make it out, I was free to use his decoys. Things were looking up, I thought, as I pulled up to the house.

The tell tale click of the garage door locking as I turned it (the wrong way) should have been an indicator of my day to come. Arriving for the shoot sans decoys I could live with; being told there were no dove around was attention getting. I failed to see how the most abundant migratory game bird with estimates of over 500 million in the lower 48 states would not be in this airspace. Optimism springs eternal or hopefully springs from a pine bough in the shape of a dove.

We went off to jump shoot doves, around three impoundments and beside long pine tree rows. I could not have seen more wildlife that day. There were bald eagles soaring above a pine forest, and the great blue herons looked prehistoric in their graceful glide. Snapping turtles "periscoped" above the surface of the waterhole and peered menacingly toward us. Deer retreated into the forest cover at the sound of our footfalls. As my hunting guide recoiled at the sight of a large black snake, I reminded her that I had a shotgun. We laughed and kept exploring the perimeter of this wildlife refuge. Movement in the pines caught my eye as I glimpsed the fanned tail of a dove darting to the other side of the loblolly pine. As I was working around the tree, it flew between the branches, not offering a shot.

I did get a shot or, specifically, three off a short time later. As I was walking down a narrow path, with small pines on each side, I saw a bird flare from my two o'clock high position. After a quick ID, I swung and shot as it passed twenty yards overhead. Following up with two quick shots, I remembered why ammunition manufacturers love dove season. On average, one dove is taken for every seven shots fired. I had only missed with three! They are challenging quarry, but I knew before the shot hit the ground that I had stopped my swing. Practical experience develops practical knowledge.

What started off as opening day turned into one of the nicer afternoons I had spent afield. The day's guide was an excellent hunting companion, who I hope to hunt with again. While I did not take away any dove, I took away an added appreciation of that land which may be right before you, but that you do not "see" until you take the time to let it show you its beauty.

Tuesday, February 5

Blind Man's Bluff

It was a color of red I had never seen. Illuminated by the rising sun, this maple was a splendid orange and it leaves swayed in a glorious greeting to us. It was a wave to five sportsman concealed in the stubble of a field scanning the horizon for Canada Geese. Practical Knowledge. The knowledge of a subject through practical application of principles learned. I can read about the mechanics of how the gears work on a bicycle, and how to work those gears to keep the bike upright. But until I ride the bicycle and understand for myself, I have nothing to pass onto others. The satisfaction and enrichment we gain learning new techniques, add a new layer of knowledge. More importantly, we catalyze our experience and techniques. What I pass on is a legacy of a love of learning and the tips to help make sure that my children follow books when necessary, but “skin their knees” when the answer is not in the pages. Digression helps to clear the mind; hope I did not muddy yours, so I will continue. My time in a pit blind is limited and though I read much on goose hunting, you have to get in the pit to get the quarry. This day, odd man out would be an understatement. The cacophony of goose calling in a metal underground blind was almost as strong as my eagerness to contribute. Keeping an eye skyward was my present contribution, until I learn to blow a goose call. The blind was in the center of a large decoy spread, in the shape of a large rectangle. There were six to seven dozen magnum decoys with shell decoys on the inside of the spread. Sentinel dekes lined the outside of the spread created a landing zone in the middle of the decoy spread. This zone was where the blind was located and where the siren song worked its magic. The first geese were far out, hardly visible, and peeled off. Within fifteen minutes, small flocks of six or so started to eye their grounded brethren. Wary and patient, the flocks would call out to the decoys and the blind would answer back. An interesting tete a tete began. “Hey, come on down”, we called. “Everything safe down there?”, the lead goose replied. As the geese closed in, I did notice that some of my colleagues were matching the lead goose’s reply, closing the communication gap and, hopefully, the distance between us. Turning toward the decoys, a group of eight to ten geese approached. Parallel to the blind and coming from right to left, they descended and were even with the front of the blind, when our host called the shot. With the words “Take ‘Em”, still hanging in the air, we stood up and broke the silence with the combined voices of Benelli, Beretta and Browning. Although lacking the harmony of the Three Tenors, the effect was just as powerful. Geese were collected and the man out of the blind had to keep still afield as more geese appeared. As the sun brightened the day and the geese left their nightly resting spots to feed, their visitations increased and we drew closer to limiting out. Collecting decoys (and my thoughts), I considered the idea of Practical Knowledge. There was much to be learned from my numerous books on hunting in the “Sporting Collection” library at home. There was more to be learned from listening to my blind mates. Their comments on the weather, past hunts, or why they were using a particular call provided insight not found between the covers of a book. Discussions of loads, shotguns, and decoying technique provided the spice of the hunt, as much as the tasty venison jerky. It was Opening Day for Canada Geese. Hats off to my gracious host for a memorable day and thanks to all for sharing your stories, tips and calls.