Goose hunting on a 60-degree Midwestern morning does not always constitute ideal conditions, especially in a state-regulated hunting camp where geese go vertical seconds after liftoff.
Strong wings propel hundreds, sometimes thousands of fowl straight up and then away once reaching the desired altitude that is always out of shooting range.
Flocks visit massive fields of row crops and then return at the same high altitude before dropping straight down for a cool drink in the refuge area where hunting is not allowed.
However, weather changes occasionally warp their better judgment.
The 60-degree morning in 1971 held little promise for limiting out on geese, so the hope for a dumb one flying over at low altitude for a reasonably easy shot kept us in the blind. We were set up before daylight. Light soon filtered in the east and we enjoyed quite a show of several thousand geese taking off with robust wings beating and blustering honks. They filled the air for several minutes, then were gone.
The morning progressed and a few birds returned, but the big flocks were away gorging on field corn. Many would likely return for a drink around midday and hopefully come in low for a possible pass shot over two-dozen standard-sized decoys. Our Faulks and Lohman wooden goose calls were effective, but only for low flying geese.
We did not have the Weather Channel or portable phones to warn us of severe weather changes in 1971. Network weather forecasts were not always accurate in those days, but what we had. The evening’s forecast the night before our hunt did not mention what was about to happen, just noting possible rain with temperatures dropping into the 40s.
We were shocked to find big, dark clouds rolling in with a temperature drop of at least 50 degrees or more. We quickly slipped back into our waterfowl parkas we had brought for the forecasted rain.
Smart people probably would have packed up and gone home, but we were young and not always capable of the best judgment. We decided to freeze and see what the geese were going to do.
Freeze we did, as temperatures continued to drop and heavy winds pushed in a blizzard that quickly coated our decoys with wet snow. We tied our decoys bags against the blind’s wooden boards to help cut down the chilling air that cut through our clothing. I heard a distant “honk,” then many more. The geese were returning to their sanctuary where they could keep the water open by body heat and movement. They were coming in low.
The first flock came through about 40 yards away. We only occasionally saw them in the blinding snow. Seconds later an almost disturbing sound of wind slipping through wing pinions and amplified honking made us look up to see geese, many setting their wings at 10 feet above our blind, landing around our snow-covered decoys. They couldn’t have seen our decoys; we happened to be exactly where they wanted to go.
There was no need to do anything more than decide when to shoot. The limit that day was two geese each and that was accomplished quickly, our shots only spooking a few geese for some inexplicable reason, perhaps the roaring winds covered the sound. Then we cased the shotguns and watched as hundreds of geese milled around our field, occasionally landing and taking off.
The birds eventually left when we stepped out of the blind to retrieve our decoys and quickly find our pickup and its good heater. The drive home was treacherous and almost fatal once, but we managed the four-hour drive in about six hours.
We had this same weather phenomenon occur many years later on a duck hunt. This time we did have the Weather Channel on iPhones that told us exactly what was about to happen and they were right; a huge temperature decrease with heavy clouds and blizzard conditions moving in. We were staying nearby and had only a short distance to drive from the lake we were hunting.
The ducks were plentiful but flying high from first light and moving out to feed on a nearby cornfield. We saw the clouds approaching and another cloud slightly lower – ducks – more than we had watched fly out. Many had likely stayed around and fed in the cornfield all night because of the good weather and probably slipped over to a pond for a cool drink. They must have realized what was coming, because ducks generally don’t like to stay in fields because of predator attacks and almost never in severe weather.
The ducks drew closer and so did the chilling winds that instantly dropped the temperature down multiple degrees. The flocks quickly reached us and started landing in the water around our blind. Copious numbers of ducks were everywhere, we only had to pick what we wanted, including a bull pintail with a long sprig that moved across my shooting lane. Limits were quickly achieved and shotguns cased to watch the show of ducks landing.
Waterfowl reacting to weather changes is nothing new, but sometimes it can create the best hunts of your life. Ducks and geese hurry to protected spots during the worse kind of weather. Waterfowl knows when bad weather is coming and react accordingly by feeding heavily on grain that will provide protein and keep them warm.
Both of our hunts were the result of unexpected weather that we blundered into. Waterfowl obviously can feel when a low-pressure system is moving in. The hunter has to act accordingly.
I don’t recommend that you go duck or goose hunting when a big blizzard moves in – that can be dangerous to the point of life threatening. But if you do, have a safe place nearby to stay so you don’t have to drive far and let someone know where you are hunting. Many waterfowl hunters have died because of extreme weather changes, so please be careful.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.