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Open Season: Multiple mallards, mosquitoes, misses part of August goose hunt

Flocks of ducks come in for a landing during an early-season Canada goose hunt Aug. 28, in a stubble field in North Dakota. Tyler Shoberg/The Pioneer1 / 2
Nine geese adorn the top of a well-hidden layout blind as Bret Shoberg and the author, Bret's son, Tyler, pose after a successful early-season goose hunt. Tyler Shoberg/The Pioneer2 / 2

For some reason, my head was foggy.

It could have been over-caffeination from a gut-rotting combination of coffee and energy drink, or from being a couple pints low due to an ongoing blood donation to the thousands of local resident mosquitoes.

In any case, I couldn't quite concentrate and my eyes were fuzzy, so when the first Canada goose of the hunting trip took off unscathed after landing 15 yards in front of Dad, my brain did not compute.

My dad, Bret, laid there; smoke curling up from his gun barrel, a confused look on his face.

I stared back, also confused (note aforementioned grogginess), and absentmindedly swatted at the multitude of bloodsuckers desperately attempting to find an entrance through the bug netting on my head.

One eventually crossed the barrier and b-lined into my nose. I sneezed.

"What happened?" Dad asked.

"A mosquito flew in my nose," I sputtered.

"No, I mean how'd that goose get away?"

"You missed."

"But that was a gimme shot," Dad said, with a slight mope in his voice.

"Don't worry," I assured. "We've all done it - just don't do it again."

Then we laughed, which is an appropriate reaction to such a situation. No one wants to be the guy who missed a bird that's dead to rights, and especially the first bird of the season. But, like all things that fall under the jurisdiction of Murphy's Law, even the most well-decoyed goose can, and will get away.

We were sitting comfortably in two low-profile layout blinds, complete with spring-loaded doors and adorned with a smattering of grain stalks left over from when the field was harvested. Around us were three dozen plastic goose decoy shells and another dozen flat ones knows as silhouettes - or more commonly known simply as "sillos."

One might ascertain that, since we were hunting waterfowl, and more specifically Canada geese, it was late September or mid October. But the increasing temperature with the rising sun, combined with the annoyingly persistent mosquitoes reminded us it still was, in fact, August.

North Dakota's early Canada goose season is a perfect time to hunt the state's overpopulation of resident geese. The season runs for several weeks before the regular waterfowl opener, and offers a unique opportunity to hunt a normally wary bird while it still is relatively uneducated to the ways of hunters, decoys and blinds.

In another two months, it will be a different story altogether.

That's what drove me to pester Dad to come up for a week. Though he isn't unaccustomed to North Dakota's waterfowl wonderland, I wanted him to experience some banner goose hunting without having to worry about layering clothes, or frequent tests for frostbite and hypothermia.

So that's what we were doing. And though the bug problem was on the verge of sending me scurrying to a dark corner in my blind, it was nice to be comfortable, temperature-wise. Even with the miss, Dad and I were content to just drink in the aura of another splendid morning out in North Dakota's openness.

On the verge of slipping over the eastern horizon, gray clouds suddenly lit up like heated ash when the first rays of sunrise sliced through the atmosphere. From roost ponds surrounding us, geese began to honk in a rising crescendo, hinting that the morning rush was about to begin.

The sky suddenly was filled with flocks of ducks. Mallards, gadwalls, pintails, wood ducks, widgeons and teals took turns hopping from pond to pond. They also attempted to land in our goose spread, cupping low and quacking emphatically only to take off in a huff just as their feet ticked the tops of the grain stubble. This touch-and-go maneuver resulted in a backlog of ducks wanting in on some choice morning grub, and the hundreds of ducks suddenly formed a spinning super flock of tornadic proportion.

In a final rush, the ducks dove low and landed 40 yards behind us.

Then, the first honks from geese in the air greeted us as a flock cleared a tree line to the south. Dad and I picked up our goose flags - black canvas with ridged edges that mimic of wing flaps of geese on the ground - and flapped vigorously. I dropped my flag and picked up a goose call, sending out a string of notes that meant birds were on the ground and interlopers were welcome.

"Get ready, they're coming our way," I said.

I continued to honk and cluck with the call as the flock drew ever closer. Now they were at the edge of the field. Now they were 200 yards out.

100 yards...

50 yards...

The geese whooped and hollered like participants of a bachelor party after a long night of debauchery. When they were 10 yards above us, I made the call.

"Take 'em!" I yelled, and Dad and I lurched upward Dracula-like from our coffins.

One goose folded instantly when I put the shotgun bead in front of his nose, but a jammed shell meant there would be no follow-up.

Dad also picked off a goose before the flock got wise of the situation and headed into the next county.

Almost before we could recover, another flock was in the air from the south. We went through the same routine of flagging and calling, and were again able to pull the birds toward our spread.

This time there was no hesitation. The geese came low and nearly landed 15 yards out before I made the call.

After our barrage, five more geese lay on the ground - three of which came from my first ever triple - and by the hunt's end, we were one shy of our 10-bird combined limit.

We could have waited around for that last bird, but nine was plenty. And besides, we didn't really come out just for geese. Sure, the meat most certainly will make some fine jerky, but that eventually will be gone. The memories we made that morning as father and son, however, will last a lifetime.