It was finally cold enough to get in a good goose hunt here in central Illinois over New Yearâ€™s weekend, next to a state reserve packed with birds. So thankfully, my friend Chris Curfman required I rise at 4 a.m. and trot off to the cornfields of Canton for a chance at speckled belly, Canada and snow geese. Mike Hitchcock, a scrap metal dealer in town, was our host and he greeted us with his wifeâ€™s freshly made quiche, cinnamon rolls and coffee — a staple of any great goose hunt.
A plethora of state preserve land surrounds Mikeâ€™s property, which is a top-notch place to hunt ducks and geese, as I have been there before. The state land is made up of flooded fields and marshes. Itâ€™s really beautiful out there. A lot has been done to get the birds to come in. Mike is one of the proponents of that. Heâ€™s done an amazing job with his property, and the work continues.
It was incredibly cold that morning; temperatures in the 20s with wind gusts over 50 mph. Plus, it was snowing — a goose hunterâ€™s paradise. But when I sat down in the water blind alongside my wifeâ€™s cousin, Wes, our third hunting partner, Dan, piped up, â€śYeah, they really slayed â€™em out here yesterday.â€ť Crap. I knew the action wasnâ€™t going to be as heavy as I had thought. But hey, I canâ€™t kill anything from my king-sized bed. We werenâ€™t in the blind for a few minutes when the geese started flying over us. They were high and it was not quite shooting time, but very encouraging.
Soon after, a loner came in. A speckle, and it was cupping. Dan turned to Wes and I and said, â€śThis one is yours!â€ť Damn right it was. We waited as long as we dare, and I said, â€śLetâ€™s take him.â€ť Both of us popped up and unloaded — he never had a chance. Well, ahem, he stood some chance, because the speck didnâ€™t go down instantly, and ended up in a brush pile (I think) some 100 yards away. Our fourth man, Rick, had the dog, and he hadnâ€™t arrived yet. Dan gave it a valiant effort, and Rick sent his Lab to scout the area later on, but to no avail. We lost it.
The rest of the day was pretty slow. Wes and I listened to Rick and Dan chat — and Rickâ€™s dog whimper. Around 10 a.m., we finally got another speck to come in. Rickâ€™s keen eye spotted him cruising in from our left. Before I knew it he yelled, â€śAll right boys, takeâ€™em.â€ť We did. The dog plunged into the icy water. The wind was strong enough that 1-foot waves had capsized our decoys on the pond in front of us most of the day. But this Lab wasnâ€™t concerned about the elements, though Rick was. He scurried out of the blind to retrieve his retriever. We were all impressed with the dogâ€™s determination.
Soon after, the three in my blind had to go to work — suckers. So I joined Chris and a few others in a pit blind. They hadnâ€™t fired a shot in hours. I could tell it was wearing on them. I thought maybe I could bring the group a smidge of luck, but it wasnâ€™t to be. A flock of four came within maybe 50 yards, but only one shooter had a chance. With the wind, it wasnâ€™t going to be a high-percentage shot, so he passed.
Though we didnâ€™t kill anything, the best part of my day was spent in that pit. I climbed in, loaded my Browning Citori — yes I goose hunt with an over-under at times. I also have the option to shoot my dadâ€™s BPS. Some day Iâ€™ll break down and buy a three-shot semi-autoâ€¦I guess. Donâ€™t judge me. Iâ€™m old school. So I get situated, look to my left, and there it is: thousands of specks, Canadians and snows just sitting in the cornfield across the road. Then they all got up at once. It looked like God had filled a shaker with salt and pepper and sprinkled it from the heavens. That alone made the trip a success.