Open Season: There is no goose hunting like snow goose hunting
Face down in a muddy, soggy corn field, I contemplate our sanity for a lengthy amount of time.
More than 100 yards ahead of us are tens of thousands of pairs of eyes, attached to tens of thousands of wary, nervous, flighty snow geese.
We are surrounded by the feathered abominations. To the south is a group of feeding geese that play hop-scotch, dozens of birds at a time, as they jumped airborne from the back to the front of the flock.
To the north is another group in a barren, ink-black bean field. These birds want desperately to get to the south group, as they watch them hungrily gobble up the leftover corn spilled haphazardly from the fall's harvest.
Straight ahead of us, on the side of the tilled-up hill, is another flock; the one we are sneaking - the one with nearly every individual goose craning its neck to watch us inch along on our hands and knees.
Stealthily as wood ticks on a bald dog, my friend, Erik, and I crawl - through snow and ice and standing water - determined to get as close as possible.
All at once, it happens. Peripheral movement from the left catches my eye.
"Funny," I think, "those birds to the south just got up."
Then, like a salt-and-peppered tapestry, the entire web-footed armada takes to the skies in a cascade of undeniable futility
The tornadic mass of bodies swirls inwards, collapsing like a dying star, before exploding in a supernova of gray, white and black. The intensity of wings whistling in the northern breeze surpasses garage-band-decimal level, and deafens as it passes overhead.
We lay there in awe and wonder, watching in stunned silence as bird after bird, wave after wave, pass overhead.
Although most are out of range, a handful sweep low enough to catch our interest.
"Waddaya think?" Erik asks, as a group of 20 or so snow geese, lower than the rest, fly our direction.
"If they get over us, why not?" I say.
We both raise our guns, unleashing a barrage of scattered fury in hopes of downing a meal.
A dozen or so shots later, and no birds on the ground, we can do nothing but laugh as thousands of geese continue to stream over our heads. They climb higher and higher, oblivious and obviously unafraid of our pathetic showing of evolutionary superiority.
The sneak was a fruitless effort. Chuckling about it may be more of a tourniquet to hold back a flood of tears, than a genuine outburst of giddy emotion.
Still, the moment was incredible. Not many souls get to witness an event like that. Trying to pick out individuals from a flock numbering in the thousands is like trying to follow a single, white speck on a static-y television screen.
And the sound: imagine the rumbling of a convoy of semi trucks loaded to the hilt with squeaking dog toys. The entire lot is surging down the freeway, threatening to squash you into human pizza. At the last second, they all exit on a bypass lane and pass harmlessly overhead.
In that case, you might (and I stress might) know what it's like to witness the spring migration of snow geese in such a closely intimate setting.
Defeated, Erik and I trudge back to the truck and our awaiting dogs. Remy, my German wirehaired pointer, and Lakota, Erik's Labrador retriever, give us looks that say more than words can.
"Just what in the world do you think you're doing going hunting without bringing us?!"
It is a tough pill to swallow. The dogs, both young at 11 months and 2 ½ years, respectively, likely wouldn't have behaved peaceably while we attempted our sneak. Though, in retrospect, two eager pups bearing down on the geese may have given us more success than the previously executed plan.
We let the two fur balls out to burn off some steam, and they quickly busy themselves doing what puppies do best: play.
At one point in the day, Remy and Lakota kick off a rather energetic form of keep-away involving a dead muskrat. Although it remains uncertain as to which one discovered the rodent, I do believe Remy wound up the eventual victor.
Playing aside, my goal for the day was to get Remy a retrieve on a goose, which we achieved. After Erik dropped me off in a promising pass-shooting location, I managed to whack a small Ross' gooses that sailed a ways out into a harvested corn field.
Remy gave chase, but turned back too soon and gave me a nervous glance as he tried to pick up the scent. Just when I was about to give up hope, the wounded bird got up and Remy was on him in a flash. Seeing my dog saunter back, head held high, gave me more pride than a pile of dead birds filling the bed of our pickup truck.
So maybe the snow goose hunt wasn't a success if measured by sheer quantity of felled game. But if enjoyment could be calculated, I'd say we came home with more than a limit.