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Geese are strange ducks!
Marsh Musings

This has been a tough year for “mature” duck and goose hunters. We can’t safely walk very far out on the ice and return. The unusually cold weather has forced us to hunt farm ponds or the river and has moved lots of birds farther south due to the ice. We have had some success using layout blinds in the fields. The young guys that know no limits stalk birds in the marsh. Severe weather presents opportunities for them just as it encourages us to have an extra cup of coffee or “go scout” in our warm vehicles and make educated decisions to hunt another day. I will say that hunting dogs make us do things and go places that we normally wouldn’t. That eager look and whine make every hunter feel obligated to make the dog’s life complete with one more retrieve. It also stops the guilt that persists even to the evening news with the dog lying by your chair and giving you the “look” when you don’t accommodate their instincts. I hated that feeling when I knew I should have hunted and didn’t. I miss Eider and Smooch a lot. Duane has a new pup named Duke. We took him out in the duck boat to give him and Annie some work. Duane was dozing, and we noticed the birds were flaring off our set. I got out of the boat to look at it, and Duke was sticking his head through to camouflage while dad slept. 

It is a true gift to be able to watch the clouds of ducks and geese lifting off the Bottoms to go out to feed. Watching thousands of ducks or geese circling from a mile high to drop into the decoys is one of the singular events of our lives and makes getting up at 4:30 to set up hundreds of decoys and blinds in the cold and dark a simple process. It certainly helps to take younger stout guys with us—I hope our experience in this process is transferred to them. The moment one of your kids makes the first suggestion about the layout is the day a father knows his offspring has been truly inducted into our way of life. The first bird harvested by that kid is another of those huge events in both their lives. It is also a terrific day when they have learned to call successfully. Wyatt Boomhower lives in our community.  He qualified for the Junior Nationals duck calling contest in Stuttgart several times — placing in the top four. Beethoven never sounded so sweet. I think there is a genetic rhythm that lets him hear and reproduce the “speech” and emotional call of these birds- plus years of practice. He knows what they are thinking and knows the message required to attract the birds into the set. It is a very special talent coupled with lots of hard work. I’ve always admired his skill and diligence.  

It is my observation that Canadians can’t call anything. This picture of snow geese in the fields just west of Hoisington gives you a glimpse of snow geese at their best.

The mysteries of decoy arrangement that facilitate shooting opportunities is not easy to learn — birds land into the wind. Setting the blinds and decoys is very precise. A change in wind direction can stop the hunt until you readjust the blinds and decoys. It usually forces you to look into the sun or be wrong with the wind. If you have floaters on the water and the wind changes — it takes a lot of effort and time to change your setup. An open area for the incoming birds to land and still be within shooting range is another factor to consider. All in all- it is a work in progress for every hunt. I feel honored to be there every chance I get, and the end of dark goose season is somewhat sad. Snow geese are over-populating and destroying their breeding habitat. You can hunt them in any fashion throughout most of the spring. There is just something about dark geese ...

The eagles are on the ice watching all these geese and doing well. Take your binoculars and go to the Bottoms to watch the saga of these birds. We are inching closer to spring and the arrival of the shore birds which will start the crowds of bird watchers. I continue to be amazed at the success of our wetland education center. I get to acquire new friends of like minds that carry big cameras and start early during this time of year just because the center is so popular and elegant. We are blessed!

Doc Witt is a nature enthusiast and former physician.