The one winter hunting sport I rarely get to enjoy is waterfowl hunting. For years I’ve looked for someone who wants a dependable partner for several goose hunts each season, but so far I only get to scratch my goose hunting itch perhaps once each year when I can find a couple guys who will let me tag along. Last summer I developed a friendship with Jason Austin and his son Jared from McPherson, both goose hunting enthusiasts who are partners in a waterfowl hunting lease near Little River, KS.
The warm fall kept the geese up north longer this year than most, but nasty weather in the Dakotas the past 2 or 3 weeks have finally brought them south to us. Jason had been checking with other local waterfowl hunters and watching the skies and felt Saturday was going to be good hunting at their lease, with seemingly lots of birds around, so an early Saturday morning hunt was planned.
Saturday morning dawned cloudy and frigid but was supposed to be the warmest day of the past week. Their lease is on a big lake, well off the road and out in the middle of rolling farm country. The dam itself is over 200 yards long and driving across it places you over 50 feet above the water’s surface. The field drive snaked around through hayfields and across the dam where we hooked sharply around the fence in a wheat field and drove down to the water. The headlights revealed a dandy duck blind tucked into the 6 foot tall brown grass at the water’s edge. Excitement and anticipation dropped several notches to disappointment as the beam from Jason’s headlamp shone across a lake frozen solid from end to end. Both he and Jared agreed they had never seen that lake frozen solid, as there always seemed to be a good big spot of open water out a ways in front of the blind. Friday night Jason had talked to another of the hunters on the lease and they were certain the lake was not frozen. Yet here we stood wondering if we should have left the shotguns at home and brought ice skates instead.
The Austins have some goose decoys they call “feeders” which appear to be a group of geese with their heads down feeding, also giving the appearance to geese passing overhead that they are at ease and all is well. Jason said they have used those successfully on the ice a time two before, but of course the “feeders” were snug and warm in the shed at home. Jason and friend Pete began breaking the 2 inch thick ice from a spot in front of the blind large enough to float a few decoys so we could be situated in the blind when the sun came up and hope for lots of geese flying overhead to make it all work.
A beautiful sunrise greeted us and as we optimistically listened for the honking of geese overhead, quiet talk in the blind turned to storytelling and good spirited ribbing. Jason and Pete are both parents of teenagers so I’ll guess their ages to be mid-40’s, I’m 65 and Jared is 16 so there was quite a mix of ages. Stories were spun about shots made and shots missed, about how much we’d like to hunt certain ponds that are always full of geese but are off limits, about how warm or how cold we each were as the heater was passed around, and about what was in the jerky we just ate. All got quiet and somber in a heartbeat as the first and only wedge of geese passed high overhead. Shotguns were grabbed as Jason did his best to convince the birds that the ice was merely an optical allusion and to get them to swing by for a visit, but they weren’t buyin’ it and continued on. Each of us in our own time stood to stretch our legs and to poke our head out of the blind to survey the morning around us. I don’t know if dogs pray, but if so, God was getting’ an earful from Ross the Labrador retriever as he paced from one end of the blind to the other beggin’ for some action. Finally as the morning waned with not another goose in sight, and as the strawberry Danish was about gone, Jared, like an emergency room physician pronouncing a patient deceased and documenting time-of-death, called the hunt over and began the task of packing up.
It was a strange morning; despite the frozen lake, geese should have been crowding the sky above us, lining up to swoop by for a closer look. The old adage “the right place at the right time” really does play a part in goose hunting, as one day they’re flying over and feeding nearby and the next day they aren’t. I didn’t come home and unplug the freezer, as Jason and Jared have promised me their blind will become the right place at the right time sometime soon. Until then, I’ll remember the Danish, the jerky and the tales; Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]