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Dave McC
February 16, 2002, 10:21 AM
it was October-November of 1960, and Mr Bob had called from his farm over on the Eastern Shore to tell us conditions were right and the geese in. So,Pop took a day off from work and I'd permission to miss school to go goosin'.

Mr Bob looked like Walter Brennan, and old fingers that worked magic with his goose bugle. His was about the size of Benny Goodmans' clarinet,and while people flocked to see Goodman, geese flocked to see Mr Bob.

He was a "Webfoot" an Eastern Shore native with roots centuries deep. He had fished, hunted guided, oystered, crabbed, farmed and done all the things Webfeet did.Past 70, he was tough and sinewy, his voice sandpapered by thousands of non filtered cigarettes and his nose reddened like a drunkard's from exposure. As a young man, he'd been one of the last market hunters, and had his dad's Punt gun on a wall in the house he had been born in.

How he and Pop got acquainted was a mystery to me. Pop had been a game warden on the Shore for a few years, and had connections all across it from those days.

Anyway, we left home just after I got home from school.

We got to Mr Bob's after dark, but had seen geese all the way down from the Kent Narrows drawbridge. They were in, all right.It was impossible to scan from one horizon to the other without seeing wedges, Vs, and small family flocks cutting the air.

Easton's to waterfowlers as Rome is to Catholics, or Jerusalem to Jews. We eased through Easton, quite the speed trap back then, and kept on 50 South. Past Trappe,we turned off,and after didoes on crooked and crowned shoulderless roads, we got to Mr Bob's ancestral manor. It had been a plantation house at one time, and the folk living in the small quarters behind the big house could have been the descendants of the slaves there.

Greeted by Mr Bob and wife, we talked for an hour or so. Actually, Mr Bob and Pop talked, I was expected to listen much and talk little. We then bedded down in a chilly bedroom under a feather filled quilt, and slept or tried to. I was pretty excited....

4 AM came early, and after a farm breakfast that included bacon, sausage, eggs scrambled with cheese, pancakes and strong coffee, we dressed in about 4 layers of clothes and clumsy canvas waders. Loaded into Mr Bob's ancient P/U. we headed toward the High Blind.

This was located in a corn field with a slight hump to it, giving it a mean altitude of maybe 10 feet above sea level. This was a pit blind, and had maybe 6 inches of water in the bottom, with a thin skin of ice that kept busting as we moved in the blind and then refroze just in time to break again when we next moved.

Excited at being treated as if not quite a man, than more than a child, I helped unload a variety of decoys and was then delegated to drive the P/U some distance way and conceal it behind a fence line with chokecherry trees in it. I returned hastily, determined to not miss a thing, and helped with the decoys.

They were a ragged lot, some silohuettes, some commercials, a few handcarved ones now probably in a museum or an antique shop with a 4 figure price tag, and some stuffers. These last were crude taxidermy, with geese mounted in lifelike poses but with niceties like eyes and feet omitted. They stank, also.

We entered the blind, set out the stuff and saw the first lightening of the horizon towards the southeast. Geese could be heard, loud as the organ in church.Pop always said as they passed overhead that the geese were singing their Hymn.

And so, we waited in ambush. I'd my 870, Pop his treasured and deadly Savage O/U, and Mr Bob an ancient 10 ga double with plenty of dings, no rust, little bluing, and black tape wrapped around the grip.

As soon as we had shooting light, Mr Bob started his siren song. With the call weaving, and his hands opening and closing, he wove a spell that geese found irresistible. Passing over, cutting around downwind, then the quick swing into the wind, they set their wings and spilled air coming in to land. Mr Bob said,"Take them!" and that's what we tried to do. As I fired off a clean miss, I heard Pop's shotgun go off once, and as I fired off a second shot at a goose that somehow wasn't as close as a moment before and saw it hesitate, I swung for a third one and saw the one I had shot crumple as at least one shot went home.
I missed with my third also, and came to the realization I'd messed up.

Pop told me to go get the geese. I set the 870 down and went out. Just three geese were down, and I gathered them up and followed Mr Bob's hand signals as to where to put them. I had learned this the previous year, to supplement the decoy spread. I bound the wings around the body with a short piece of string, tucked the head under one wing like a sleeper, and kicked up dirt clods out of that frozen field, propping the goose up facing into the wind.

Side note, Mr Bob's spread included some toy flags, Jolly Roger pirate flags in black and white. First time I'd seen any "Flagging" done, these also were range markers.

When I returned to the blind, Mr Bob was trying to pretend he wasn't there. Pop wasn't smiling. He took a deep breath and said carefully that we HAD to make sure that a bird we shot was dead in the air, and that the second shot in a double and the third in a repeater was to ensure that, more than to kill something else. I had been taught that, but in the excitement on the morn I had forgotten.

Both of the adults had killed my cripple, together.

I owned up and apologized, and then reloaded the 870. I was determined to not embarass my father again.

A new wedge was coming in. When the call came to "Take'em", I stayed on one goose until it folded and fell. That's the way I shot the rest of the morn, using up most of a box and taking mucho geese, mostly with two shots in or at them.

After another dozen geese had been added to the spread, Pop(in a much better mood now) asked Mr Bob if he would pull his "parlor trick". Mr Bob OK'd and Pop told me to unload and watch Mr Bob. Pop did the same.

As the next wedge was called in, Pop said, watch the last two geese. A single shot boomed from the old 10 gauge, and two geese fell. As the rest flared and clawed for altitude, another fell to the other bbl. 3 for 2, I was astounded. My jaw dropped, and both the adults started laughing.

Mr Bob said it was an old markethunter trick to save ammo. Brister mentions it too. Mr Bob then said it was just a showoff trick now, and it was crucial to make sure the bird died fast, and if one of the first two had been but lightly hit, the third shot would have made sure. Point taken and still is.And with the accursed Steel shot mandated, now more than ever.

By this time the front that had brought the geese down was making itself felt. Sleet had changed to big wet flakes, More geese came in,and my shot/kill ratio was getting better with practice.

Note:

Remington's magazine plug for the first 870s was a solid steel one, and weighing over 1 1/4 lbs. It's a sign that they didn't have all their ducks lined up then. We didn't either, it took a coupla years more for us to figure out that an upland gun didn't need all that weight. Meanwhile,it did keep me from stopping my swing, and some geese died because of it. Serendipity.

By this time we had a goodly number,maybe not the limit but certainly enough, and we shut it down. I hiked to the P/U and and drove it back.

As we returned to the house, two elderly black men came out of nowhere and started carrying the geese to a table outside the house with a roof over it.We upped onto the porch and started cleaning the guns. Pop had brought a cleaning kit and Mr Bob kept his on the porch, it seemed. All the guns were broken down, cleaned well and heavily lubed. As we put them together Pop said, "Take care of your guns and they will take care of you"...

We stepped into the house and Mr Bob's wife greeted us, mothered me a little, and left us to serve ourselves coffee and whatever. Mr Bob pulled down a bottle of kitchen whiskey and as he reached for some glasses, there was a knock on the door.
It was the two old black men, and they smiled as the older said something about cleaning those geese being cold work. Both held tin cups, the kind with blue enamel. Mr Bob grinned and told them there'd better not be one single pin feather left on thse geese, and not to get stickin' drunk before they were done. They grinned and promised perfection as kitchen whisky gurgled into old cups. As the men stood there, I noted the oldest black man bore a great resemblance to Mr Bob, and the other, a 60-ish man, did so to a lesser degree. It being that time and place, I kept my mouth shut.

The two oldsters adjourned back to the picking table, and after raising their cups once or twice, began cleaning the geese. Meanwhile, another rite of passage began inside, I was given a small amount of whiskey myself and drank it in small sips, like the men did. The fact that I was accepted into the adult world intoxicated me more than the whiskey did.

And that's how it was....

Dave McC
February 16, 2002, 10:35 AM
The two oldsters did a great job, and those geese was clean. The men's morale was excellent, but they showed no signs of drunkenness. We loaded up many geese, while Pop gave the guys a goose each, a few dollars, and most of a box of short mags in 2 or 3 shot. Mr Bob promised he'd take the pickers goosin' on the morrow, and as we left the kichen whiskey reappeared. On the ride back, my lapse of ethics came up, gently. Maybe Pop remembered the headbutting he and his father had gone through, by all accounts it was bad.

He said something like...

" It's easy to get too excited at times like that. Weasels do it in henhouses. You're no weasel. How MANY we kill is not nearly as important as HOW, WHEN, and WHY we do. Life and death is as important as it gets, and how we give and take death is how we're judged by other and by God.Kill cleanly and with good reason".

He settled back and left me to think on what he'd said. Still do at times...

And so we drove back to Clarksville with Mom, Brother and Babe the Weimaraner greeting us warmly, at the end of a great day.

As we pulled into the drive, I said something like this to Pop.
"Thanks, Pop, it's been one H*ll of a great day"....

C.R.Sam
February 16, 2002, 08:51 PM
Thanks for lettin me take a spin in your time machine Dave.

Sam

Dan Morris
February 16, 2002, 09:29 PM
Do I hear the echos of Ruark????????Fine memories and learnings.
Dan

Dave McC
February 17, 2002, 09:23 AM
Thanks, guys. Glad people enjoyed this.

Dan, no echoes of Ruark, I think. Echoes of a time when boys grew into men by doing manly things with men,learning to gather food and how men act at the same time.

These days, with many boys(and girls) only having contact with their fathers on alternate weekends, if that, the custom has declined.

More lessons were taught in blinds and walking behind dogs than in most classrooms. Lessons like the one I learned above, and others like...

Do more than your share.

Only a fool fights when he doesn't have to, only a d*mn fool doesn't fight like H*ll when he does.

Duty, Honor, Country.

The world is full of un-noticed beauty and unsung heroes. Look for them and they will be found not far away.

Have a good'un...

Kingcreek
February 17, 2002, 12:28 PM
Nice story Dave! Ruarkish yes, but no doubt genuine. You know how fortunate you are to have had the experience. Thanks for sharing it.
Not only have the father-son rites of passage suffered in our modern families, but some of the ancient acts of hunting, food gathering and preperation are almost lost. How many of us remember it was the boys' duty to see that the smokehouse low fire was maintained just right (my eyes water and burn just thinking about it). How many adults have never picked an apple from the tree or caught and cooked their own fish, or slept on the ground?
You mean they don't grow that meat on those plastic trays?!?
As pleasant as the memories are, the realization of what is lost makes the recollection painful. Maybe the story telling and some determined effort will inspire some of our youth to look for life beyond the superfoodMart, the megaMall, and the godam TV. I certainly hope so.
Dave, I'm a little younger than you but I thank God I had a father and grandfather cut from the old cloth. The rites of passage were sacred and precious.

Dave McC
February 18, 2002, 07:11 AM
Thanks, King. I posted the thread because I realized that all that is not only uncommon these days but totally unknown in some places.

Back then, a divorce was the exception, not the rule.

Back then, most adult males were vets.I'm glad less Americans see combat, but the maturation many people have after someone tries to kill them made more responsible and aware adults. And this was a generation that understood struggle. Between the Depression and WWII, most folks had been there, done that.

Back then, most people raised at least part of their own food.Besides a kitchen garden, we had 20 fruit trees, a grape arbor, and made everything from canned peaches,pears and apricots to applejack. Made dandelion wine also.

And hunters were respected for their willingness to share.We still do, both with friends and family and through groups like FHFH, but it doesn't get that much publicity these days.

Of the geese mentioned in the threads, one went to the convent furnishing the teachers at the parochial school I attended.

Two went to Father, later Monsignor Keogh, a saintly and generous priest. He got two, because if we only gave him one, he'd give it to a poor family instead of eating it himself.

Another went to Mom's parents, where my thrifty and creative Sicilian Grandma would render it into at least 4 meals for 3 adults.Minestrone with a goose base is a very good variant on the recipe.

A couple would go down the road to neighbors, folks whose hunting days were past or who lacked time and opportunity.

Most would get stored at a grocery store a few miles away, they had a walk in freezer and Pop had a small locker there. We'd go shopping and bring home a goose each week until they were gone. Pop was the Scoutmaster and rode the ambulance for the VFD as the first aid man, a predecessor to paramedics. He had clout thus,and got the locker.

And some of the geese we kept went into company meals, friends and family that were invited for a meal and told in advance.

Mom used the breasts like beef roasts, and the carcasses went into goose soup, pot pies, even sausage when mixed with pork. Pan drippings made gravy and enhanced the dogs' rations.

Mom's goose soup was nothing like her mother's minestrone, but a dark and rich broth with meat and veggies in it, no tomatoes. More like a stew, but she called it soup.

We'd also have duck,rabbit,squirrel,woodchuck, pheasants,quail,dove, and deer, on rare occasion.
Md had few deer then, and I recall seeing only one on the farm before I went off to college.

Yes, those days are gone for most of us, and we're the poorer for it...

johnbt
February 18, 2002, 11:38 AM
Thank you Dave. I really enjoy hearing about the good old days on the Eastern Shore. As a child I often imagined what it would be like, but never got to go.

My grandfather and his two brothers ran the family apple orchard in the mountains south of Charlottesville up until my college years and I had many memorable outdoor experiences, but didn't get to do any goose or duck hunting.

Now you've got me thinking back on how it used to be. Not just the hunting, but the day-to-day things people did to survive. The first thing they taught me was not to climb on the hog pen and fall in. Very dangerous. The second thing was that ammo didn't grow on trees and that I had to learn to make the first shot count.

One day when I was real little my grandmother was frying the squirrels my uncle had bagged and I asked her why she cooked three meals a day on a big wood stove and never used the new-looking electric range in the opposite corner of the kitchen. She smiled and explained all of the benefits of her stove: more cooking space, more oven space, more warming space and, most importantly the ability to precisely control the heat on any surface by how you stoked it. The range was just for canning in the summer when the wood stove would have overheated the kitchen.

What a life - hard work from sunrise to sunset, hoping the spring wouldn't go dry in the summer and you'd have to carry water from the creek, and a new Buick every few years or so. Hey, it was a successful operation - they even pulled out the old generator house and had the power company run lines the 2 miles back to them sometime after WWII. Phones too eventually. For a while they used surplus field telephones to connect the houses in the hollows together.

Another thing I learned - field corn is for draft horses because it doesn't have any flavor at all.

Come to think of it, I don't think I ever ate an apple I picked. The apples on the trees were for selling and the ones on the ground were for eating or canning(or target practice if you didn't get caught.)

Okay, enough rambling for now.

So, how were those canvas waders? Makes me think of the old leaky canvas tents I used as a Boy Scout.

John

Dave McC
February 18, 2002, 02:15 PM
Thanks, John. those waders were heavy, clumsy and called waterproof out of courtesy only. They did mean we got wet slower than without them, but we would get wet. We wore lots of wool back then, and had GI web belts cinched up tight where the ribs started. This was to keep them from filling up fast and drowning fast if we took a spill.

That's part of the old days I don't miss.

psssniper
February 19, 2002, 01:45 AM
Thanks Dave for another great read! Always enjoy them.
Did you ever think of writing for the magazines?
paul

Seeker
February 19, 2002, 02:05 AM
I always enjoy your stories.


Thank You.

Dave McC
February 19, 2002, 06:14 AM
Thanks, folks.

Paul, I've been published a few times in small archery mags, but the mainstream mags are very good at handing rejection letters out. Maybe someday.

And since I will NOT praise a product unless I really like same eliminates me from a lot of mags and publishers, I'm a writer and researcher, not a press agent for whomever paid for the full color, full page ads.

Also, I really write stuff like this for me, the fact that others can enjoy it is a bonus.

johnbt
February 20, 2002, 10:54 AM
Dave, that's what I figured about the canvas waders. Did anybody ever try to improve them - maybe by giving them a good coating of goose fat or a little fatback?

John

Dave McC
February 20, 2002, 04:13 PM
We used beeswax on the seams, John. It helped a little, but nice new rubber waders helped more.

greg c
February 20, 2002, 11:59 PM
Hi Dave, just wanted to say thanks for your shared memories. I don't know anyone who works harder at making this forum the absolute best SG forum around.

Dave McC
February 21, 2002, 05:20 AM
Thanks,Greg. This is the best SG forum on the Net, but I play only a small part.

Poodleshooter
February 25, 2002, 09:25 PM
Ah, Easton. Do they still have the duck and decoy festival there every year?? I still remember the sights and smells from that yearly occurence during my childhood.
I have lots of hunting and fishing memories from the shore, though not nearly as eloquent as yours Dave! Mine are all '80's and '90's memories too....

Dave McC
February 26, 2002, 06:53 AM
Thanks. They still hold the waterfowl fest there, but I've not been to it in quite some time.

The Shore is a fascinating place, and not just for the Game. All those Websters,etc, down near Tilghman Island, speak a variety of English that linguists say is the closest to the speech of Elizabeth the First's time now spoken. Mrs Bob, BTW, was a Webster.

Dave McC
December 26, 2002, 04:38 AM
Up for the last time, by request. See you on THR....

Al in Md.
December 26, 2002, 10:32 PM
Thanks Dave, I have read this post many more times than I care to admit and enjoy it more each Time. Al in Md.

blades67
December 31, 2002, 09:34 PM
Dave, stories like that serve to remind me what I didn't have with my father, but will try to give to my sons. Thank you.

mikey357
December 31, 2002, 10:07 PM
Thanks, again, Dave, for another WONDERFUL story...it's a shame that the majority of today's youth--and their Parents--have NO IDEA what they are missing....mikey357

sm
December 31, 2002, 10:35 PM
Thanks Dave for sharing this and other memories.
Hunting with your Dad hits home with me. My dad never took me hunting, or shooting. He did "come along" only once at another's insistence squirrel hunting. A Gunny let me shoot a 45. Guess that's why I made ****sure I took the younger sibs out---did the best I could. Thank goodness I bugged the heck out of other men to teach and instruct me growing up.

Guyon
May 21, 2004, 10:46 PM
Nice story Dave.

perpster
August 24, 2007, 08:26 AM
A good story well told. Thanks Dave.

Yes, "I am aware that this Thread is rather old but I still want to make a reply." More people need to know it's here.

Dave McC
August 24, 2007, 02:05 PM
Thanks, glad you liked it....

123kiwi
August 25, 2007, 04:54 AM
Great yarn mate.
I reckon one of the best things you can do is take a young fella shooting.
Get im out of the house, away from the playstation!
Like you said, do more than your share...

gordo b.
August 25, 2007, 10:10 AM
I needed that wonderful story resurrected! BTW: "Remington's magazine plug for the first 870s was a solid steel one, and weighing over 1 1/4 lbs. " I covet these!:)

Mainah
August 25, 2007, 03:40 PM
Dave, I've been poking around this site for a year and a half, ever since my wife gave me an 870. I have enjoyed your posts more than any, and I thank you sincerely for all of the wisdom that you share here. I especially enjoy this type of story, you're a very good writer.

I'm also a Dave McC...

Dave McC
August 25, 2007, 09:10 PM
Thanks, folks. I spend much of my Net time elsewhere these days, but it's nice to stop by and see my stuff is still pleasing folks.

Kiwi, "Doing more than your share is usually a good idea"- The Dalia Lama.

Gordo, mine, being totally useless, is still around. It's not for sale, I'm determined to find something it's good for.

Mainah, the full handle is Blake David McCracken. Appalachian-American and proud.....

Bob F.
August 25, 2007, 09:47 PM
"Appalachian-American", eh? Another Hillbilly; notice: no quotes and a capital "H". Good folks, indeed!

Thanks, again, from me, too.

Dave McC
August 26, 2007, 08:31 PM
Bob, Pop was born in Clearfield County, PA. So were his father and three generations before.

McCracken County KY supposedly named for kin of GGG father.

Scots Irish witha dash of NA and PA Dutch on that side. Irish Catholic and Sicilian on Mom's. She was born near Wilkes-Barre.