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The Last Windrow: Big goose heads south

The big goose is heading south. I saw her glide into a Winnipeg soybean field just last week. She had lots of company. I’d say around the million mark. There are more geese on the outskirts of Winnipeg than there are people in Winnipeg. They are heading south with the north wind.  

I’ve hunted the big goose since I was able to legally carry a shotgun. In northwest Iowa, where I grew up, the goose came to us in November, usually around Thanksgiving time. Corn picking would be about finished when huge Vs of geese, Greater and Lesser Canadians, snow and blue geese, speckle bellies all caught the Big Sioux River’s southerly route and headed toward the Missouri. It was a special time in the country.  

I remember well the first goose I ever harvested. I had a bunch of duck decoys bobbing on our neighbor Ralph Kounkel’s pond, just a mile from our farm. Among the duck decoys I had placed about a dozen white, one gallon bleach bottles. I didn’t have the money to buy goose decoys, but I had read an article in Outdoor Life about how to make goose decoys out of bleach bottles and from a distance, they did resemble a goose in the water.  

On one of my early morning checks of the duck pond, there on the bank stood a giant blue goose. I gathered my five-year-old brother Steve, we slipped up the dry creek bed below the dam and I harvested my first goose. I can still see Steve proudly presenting that goose to my mother in the farm house. The goose was as tall as my brother.   

Over the years, the big goose presented numerous opportunities to make me get out of bed in the dark of the early morning and head for some watershed to lie in wait for the sound that still stirs something inside of me. The sound of a big bird heading away from the snow fields and toward the rice fields of the south. Sitting in a blind on a darkened morning with a mist drifting into your squinting eyes while your big Lab nestles closer to you for warmth, well, you just can’t explain it to anyone who hasn’t really experienced it.  

My granddad always told a favorite story of his first goose. He owned a Model 97 Winchester 12 gauge shotgun with a 30-inch barrel and a full choke at the end. He had harvested many a prairie chicken, jack rabbit and duck with this piece, but his best memory was of a day when he spied a flight of snow geese heading for the backside of the farmstead. He hurriedly grabbed his ‘97 a couple of shells and ran to the back of the grove. The geese were high, but he pulled up and shot at the lead goose anyway. The last goose in the flock tumbled to the cornfield behind the house. A neighbor a mile away saw it and came rumbling into the farm yard just in time to see Gramps exit the grove, snow goose in hand. I heard that story a hundred times this time of year when the big goose comes south.  

I don’t hunt geese anymore. Mostly due to a bad hip and the fact that the urge to suffer has somehow left me. But, the memories of those cold, snow-blown mornings with sleet stinging my cheeks and the feel of that old ‘97 Winchester in my hand, waiting for the next flock to swing in has never left me.  

The big goose is coming south. She will be here in a few more days. I saw her up at Winnipeg just last week.

See you next time. Okay?