Staff In Memoriam
Join Date: October 13, 1999
Location: Columbia, Md, USA
How it was....
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.
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....