By Bernie Kuntz, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
When I come down the stairs at 4 a.m., Rob Brooks is already in his long underwear and arranging his gear. Rob drove from Helena to spend the night at my place in Bozeman, so we could head out early today to the Yellowstone River east of Billings to hunt Canada geese. When we left the house at 4:45 a.m., the entire country is blanketed in fog. Hours later we leave the highway to wind our way to the landowner's cornfield where we have permission to hunt. Rob and I haul five dozen shell decoys from the pickup and discuss a layout.
"How about one dozen in the corn, and the rest in the dirt and snow of the sugar beet field?" I suggest. Rob agrees and we set out the decoys before taking our places in the snow, clad in our white camouflage insulated suits and spaced about 25 feet apart. It's 9 a.m.
Goose hunting is a bonus of living in Montana. Canada geese are plentiful in the state along most major rivers, and if you can obtain permission to hunt on private land, as we did for the day, opportunities abound.
Only nontoxic shot is allowed for waterfowl hunting, including geese. For greater Canadas, which is the predominant species along the Yellowstone and other Montana rivers, I like a 10-gauge shooting BB or T steel, or better yet, although more expensive, BB Bismuth or BB tungsten-iron.
The first geese a pair of them appear in the fog at about 10 a.m. They make a wide circle around us as Rob and I call to them. "Her-onk! Her-onk! Hee-onk! B-R-R-R!" The calls sound good to me, but the geese disappear. Minutes later a dozen more geese approach, then flare. When the same thing happens a third time, I wonder what's going on.
Then a flock comes in from the west, circles the decoys in the corn, and flies toward the sugar beet spread, presenting a crossing shot for me. I swing the 10 gauge and take a honker. I fire two more shots at another bird with no effect.
"Here come some more!" Rob says. To the north about 10 birds are homing in on us. We "talk" to them, keeping our faces down, and when they are over the decoys I pick out a bird, fire at it and am astonished when I miss. Rob fires twice at a honker and hits a wing tip. The bird sails about 300 yards and drops in the field.
"Did you get that bird?" he asks.
"I missed. That's your bird. Go get him."
Rob lopes across the frozen ground. A half hour later he is back with his goose and in his snowdrift. The fog still has not lifted and it is 11 a.m.
"What would you rather be doing than this?" Rob asks.
"Nothing. Nothing in the world," I reply. A lone honker comes in, sets its wings and starts to drop like a parachute.