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Wild Goose Chase March 2018
Gerhard Schroeder  

Every year, usually no later than mid-December, sufficient numbers of waterfowl migrate to Arizona. Another ‘thing’ that needs to be about right is the weather. Meaning, Ron and I have developed a game plan to ambush ducks on waterholes, in higher regions. Those must not be iced over, obviously, or said ducks would just fly on, to open water elsewhere. This year overall water levels have been way down. On a Thursday we gave it our first try of the season.

Getting up and going rather early, we arrived at first light at one of the waterholes that almost always had ducks on it. Not that day, and it had evaporated to the lowest level I’ve so far seen. Also, thin ice covered about half of it.

Ditto with hole #2. Worse, #3 was almost completely iced up. That’s when Ron mentioned that he’s smelling skunk.

That ‘smell’ intensified with every hole we visited. And some were even without ice. Was it too early, meaning the birds hadn’t come here yet from places like Montana, Idaho, Utah?

Hole #7 was also iced over completely. At #8 we had a late lunch. Thrill had been at each of them: circle on down below the berm, insert ear plugs, take safety off, and gently ‘charge’ up the last few feet of the bank to finally view the water. Each time that’s all we saw. Water, or ice, and nothing on it or departing from it. Or we could see part of the water’s surface from further away, check it over with binoculars. Then inch forward until more water was revealed, and work the binos again. And again, until all of the shore line was visible, as ducks sometime sit along the bank. That day, each time – nothing.

Hunting is not about giving up. So we pressed on. When we had visited pond #10, time had advanced past 2:30PM, and that day’s skunk stink was mighty. The next hole again allowed an inspection by binocular. Finally, something was floating on the water. Geese!

Neither of us smelled that skunk any longer. Of course we still needed to do our part. So we parked the 4Runner where distance to the berm, without being seen by the birds, was closest. Now steel BBs resided in our chambers. That berm could not come soon enough.

When we topped it, a small war broke out. In sheer terror ducks and geese fled with frantic wingbeats. One mallard drake, unfortunate enough to fly right along a Canadian I had swung on, and four geese, did not make the departure.

Except, three of them were now trying to swim away, with their heads high. The closest of those succumbed after Ron and I had reloaded and kept shooting. The goose to our right, really out of shotgun range now and swimming fast, made us empty the guns again, to no effect.

The pellets ripped into the water all around it, but apparently none hit neck or head. We waited too long, should have been running over there instead of blasting. When that goose reached land and proceeded in infantry fashion, Ron gave chase. Only to lose it in the trees. Meanwhile I hurried to the left, and managed to finish off the last swimmer just before landfall. Then I joined Ron. But no luck, that goose seemed to have gotten away.

So we returned to the pond and collected the birds which the wind by then had carried to shore. One goose however, had dropped right into the remaining ice. Time to do the retrieving.

Relax! No dropping of my britches this time. On a Black Friday I had purchased waders for half price, now still in my Toyota. On my way there I purposely zig-zagged through the trees. And bingo, about a quarter mile from the water, the wounded goose flushed, with considerable speed. My first two shots did not kill. But the big Canadian slowed. I calmly advanced. Then one more hail of steel #4s collapsed the big bird, with wings flailing.

OK, one more goose to get. I fetched the waders and carefully played the retriever. A walking stick of some sort seems mandatory. When the water gets deeper you can’t make quick steps to correct your balance.

We took some pictures. Once those five birds were at least partially plucked to facilitate cooling there was time to visit one more pond. It had no geese, but over a dozen ducks. Two mallard drakes and one widgeon enhanced our bag. But not until I put on waders, entered chest-deep water and then use a long stick to get two of the ducks unstuck.

When we reached the 4Runner again, the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon. We didn’t mind, were ready to head home.

Four ducks and four geese – not a bad way at all to begin the new waterfowl season.

After that day, luck stayed with us. Meaning, it remained warm enough that our ponds had open water basically throughout the rest of the season. So we went after them again. The second time our bag was again 4 geese, and one less duck. By our third time the geese may have gotten the message and resided elsewhere. However, 8 ducks came home with us.

And so we will do it all again next season, God willing.

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