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Magic Time: Memories of Goose Hunting at High Altitude

By: Randy Tucker

My dad and I were loading power poles onto a pipe trailer one winter morning when something caught our eye in the eastern sky. The power company put in a new line earlier that year. Per company policy, the old poles became the property of the landowner. A good 34’ power pole can make a lot of solid, long-lasting fence posts when cut to seven or eight-foot lengths.

As we each grabbed an end of one pole to lift it on the trailer, a white spot grew steadily larger in the sky.

After a few seconds, a Canada goose crashed just short of us.

It was shot by a hunter on nearby Ocean Lake, and as is sometimes the case with geese, its wings locked and it glided to the ground. It was a good quarter-mile to where we heard the shotguns firing.

We continued to finish loading the line of poles. No one came for the bird, so we had a free goose.

Jump ahead 25 years, and I’m hunting a mile north of our house near Riverton, Wyoming on a friend’s farm pond.

My son Brian, son-in-law Adam, Adam’s brother Phil, and Phil’s then-nine-year-old son Sage were with me.

We’d hunted ducks on the open water of the pond through the early portion of the migratory waterfowl season, but in Central Wyoming, surface water doesn’t stay liquid very long once November arrives.

Throughout the first weeks of the season, we’d taken a mixed bag of mallards, redheads, a few teal, and even a couple of buffleheads more than a dozen-and-a-half of Brian’s floating decoys.

We set up on the east side of the pond. The area is nearly equidistant from Ocean Lake to the west and Boysen Reservoir to the east. The Wind River flows in a big “L” shape near the lakes as well, making this a perfect waterfowl area.

Recently harvested corn, oat, and barley fields still had a lot of feed easily accessible for the ducks and geese on the ground, and the first winter storm hadn’t hit yet to drive the birds further south.

With all of the pond iced over, except a little area surrounding the aerator, we switched to goose hunting late one afternoon.

The magic of evening setting in on a sub-zero afternoon is an ethereal experience. As the western sky change from blue to a mild pink, the birds started to come in from the surrounding lakes and river.

A dozen full-size plastic decoys were arranged around the embankment we were using as a blind.

We spread out about 25 yards apart along the embankment.

As we sat, the sound of rattling semi-truck tires floated across the open fields from three miles away. We could see the big trucks moving in the distance, well before we could hear them. It was another magical moment that only people who enjoy the outdoors can experience.

As a kid, I once watched a neighbor splitting wood almost a half-mile away. I could just see his ax swing down, then about three seconds later, I could hear the whack as the wood split.

Clear, heavy winter air on a 15 below zero afternoon carries sound well.

The magic time arrived, the last 20 minutes of legal shooting before dark arrives is often the best hunting of the day.

We started to see “V’s” of geese moving from all directions. With no wind to deter them, the flocks were free to find a good spot without worry.

A group of 25 birds started to circle our decoys.

This was Sage’s first goose hunt. As the birds closed in his, dad told him to get down and hug the ground. He complied, digging into some tall grass about 15 yards to my right.

The geese bought the bait and started to land.

Brian and I both shoot Remington 870s, and Adam has a left-handed version of the same shotgun.

As a kid, I always shot #2 lead at geese, but the federal regulation banning lead shot for waterfowl made we switch to steel BB. You can buy tungsten or bismuth shells that resemble lead shooting characteristics, but it’s expensive.

If your gun can handle it, steel is the way to go.

My older 870 can only chamber 2 3/4 “shells, making it less powerful than new models that can handle shells up to 3 1/2”. It doesn’t matter if you can shoot straight.

I squared up on a goose and hit it on the approach. The bird didn’t lock up and glide away but crumpled into a downward spiral, a spiral that ended right on top of Sage.

The youngster was amazed that the first bird taken, landed on him. We kept a collective straight face, acting as if a goose landing on a hunter happened all the time.

At that point, I’d been hunting waterfowl for 40 years and it was the first time I’d seen it happen.

We took three more birds before darkness set in. We picked up the decoys, put the heater in the truck on high, and drove the short distance home, another awesome afternoon of high altitude hunting.

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