I smacked my head pretty hard on the hinged-roof of the blind the first time I tried to draw down on a flock of honkers.
All I remember is a sharp pain in my scalp, followed by two equally sharp cracks from Dad’s double barrel ringing in my ears. Stunned but not defeated and with a helping hand from Dad I managed to throw back the well thatched roof of the blind and pop off two shots from my Red Ryder BB gun into an empty gray November sky. I was all of about 7 years old and it was the first time I’d ever been goose hunting with my Dad.
Historically, Dad’s goose hunting trips had always been pretty mysterious to me. All I knew was that he’d get picked up in the middle of the night and return a couple of days later with a gun that smelled sweetly of spent powder and usually a giant feather or two for me to marvel at. I vividly remember his homecoming from one trip in particular. Dad had returned one evening while my childhood friend Andrew was at the house for a sleepover. The next morning at breakfast Andrew and I were each presented with none other than a shellacked goose foot! Strange as it may sound, let me assure you that to a 7 year old interested in all things wild, a shellacked goose foot might as well have been a solid golden goose! I still have the well preserved and shiny webbed appendage in fact. To the best of my knowledge, so does Andrew.
So when Dad woke me up just a little after midnight one cold November morning and loaded me into the truck for the long drive to Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in rural Northeast Missouri, I was about as excited as a groggy grade school-er can get. After a stop at a hotel restaurant for breakfast, we arrived at the chilly cinder-block rangers station and entered the blind drawing at what must have been 4am. Miraculously, we scored a coveted blind location adjacent to the lake. In a pre-dawn drizzle we slopped our way to the pit blind and Dad let me get artistic with decoy placement before heading inside to wait.
A few hours later, and moments after I’d lobbed that pair of copper pellets triumphantly into the vacant sky above, Dad hoisted me out of the blind and led me to his harvested honker. It was the only one we’d get that day before the weather turned worse. Although it would be a few years before I received my first shotgun and learned to call geese on my own, from that day on I knew I was a goose hunter.
It’s been a couple of years now since I’ve put the effort into waterfowling I once did. Life happens, as they as they say. But as I’ve moved around between three wholly different parts of the country over the last few months I’ve learned something. It’s often the things that feel most like home that come back to you when you’re furthest from it. And few things feel quite like home in the same way as standing shoulder to shoulder with Dad in the blind.
My first and best hunting buddy probably won’t be making the 1500 mile journey north for Montana’s waterfowl season this year. But I can guarantee that when I pop up out of my blind to take my first shot this fall, I’ll be rubbing my scalp in remembrance of that massive goose egg on my noggin from that first trip that got it all started.