It was the kind of day that goose hunters live for. At least two inches of new snow had fallen during the night and the weatherman was promising more on the way. Wind chills were already approaching -20 and dropping fast. Snow flurries continued, lending a Christmas globe atmosphere to the subzero landscape.
While there’s no arguing that the Canada goose is about as tough as a water bird can get, even these hardy creatures have their limit. And as the polar jet stream continued its southward plunge, thousands of wild geese were moving with it.
Although it is impossible to know exactly how many geese invaded northern Iowa during the closing days of December; it is safe to say that the migration was one of the most dramatic in a long long while.
For those who enjoy the Iowa outdoors, there is never a lack of activities this time of year. Of course, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for winter weather.
For most folks, the idea of putting out a big spread of goose decoys and then spending the remainder of the day laying on a windswept, snow covered hilltop watching for birds, probably won’t qualify for “best time ever”. Once the marshes freeze, I usually end up hunting alone.
Although I had yet to see or hear a goose, I was optimistic. When it comes to late season waterfowl hunting, snow is the great equalizer. It doesn’t seem to matter that Canadas are currently carrying enough winter fat to fuel a candle factory.
Once stubble fields are covered with a couple inches of white stuff, honkers will immediately believe they’re on the verge of starvation. It’s a well-known fact that fresh snow cover decreases a goose’s IQ by at least 50 percent, sometimes more. I was hoping the rule would hold true for today.
Once the decoys were in place, there was nothing to do but wait — and then wait some more. For three long hours, the gray skies remained empty. My sole companions were a group of horned larks foraging in the corn stalks. I wondered how anything so tiny could survive the harsh conditions. There were no other birds. Despite a dramatic increase in numbers, newly arrived goose flocks had apparently decided to spend the day sleeping on the ice.
The temperature continued to drop. As the minutes slowly ticked away, I found myself dreaming of hot pancakes. I was about to pour the syrup when the sound of approaching geese jolted me back to reality.
The flock contained around a dozen birds. And although the geese gave the decoys a serious look, they made a last-minute adjustment and landed a few yards upwind. I heard more geese and a wavering line containing more than 50 Canadas appeared through the gloom.
Setting their wings in unison, the birds began their descent. Within seconds, the giant fowl were over the decoys. Sitting up, I managed to down a bird with each barrel.
It was game on. The long-anticipated feeding flight had begun. Previously barren corn stalks were about to become a goose hunter’s Field of Dreams. For the next 2½ hours I was treated to the exhilarating spectacle of continuous, nonstop, never ending flocks of incoming Canada geese.
The geese arrived in small bunches, long undulating lines, and dense flocks containing upwards of 75 birds. Although I could legally bag one more goose, I hesitated to shoot. Banging away at big flocks is a surefire way to ruin a field for future hunts.
As the fantasy flight continued, some of the geese began landing just over the hill from where I sat. Before long, the live birds began attracting more geese. I tried counting the birds as they arrived, but couldn’t keep up.
Within a half hour, I estimated there was somewhere in the vicinity of 900 to 1,000 Canadas feeding beyond the hilltop. I heard a closer honk. Turning, I spotted a lone Canada winging across the sky. When I called, the bird set its wings and came straight to the decoys.
With a third goose now in the bag, my hunt was over. It was time to sit back and enjoy the show. Although most of the arriving flocks ended up joining the clamoring hordes already on the ground, a lesser number of geese continued to inspect my decoys.
The sound was as incredible as the sight. By now, the noise level was probably exceeding OSHA safety standards and then some. It was wonderful.
It was late afternoon when I finally decided to call it quits and pick up while there was still light. Setting my camera atop a decoy, I set the timer and snapped a souvenir selfie. Amazingly, I was able to load the truck and decoy trailer without spooking any of the birds feeding over the hill.
Three days remained in the goose season and the prospect of a repeat performance seemed a likely possibility. But regardless of what future hunts might bring, today’s goose extravaganza will definitely make one of the most exciting entries in the 2017 Log Book. It was an outdoor adventure that I’ll cherish deep into the new year.