November 03, 2010
Mother Nature Serves Up The Main Course On A Colorado Goose Hunt
It was late February and the conservation, or so-called nuisance control season for snow geese was winding down in Arkansas. My staff and I had already started laying out plans for planting our marshes and timber holes for the next duck season, when the phone rang. Jason Housely wanted to know if I would be interested in doing a late-season snow goose hunt in Colorado.
As Jason explained the details, I was not only shocked to find out Colorado has snow geese, but my old friend Tim Grounds was scheduled to make the hunt as well. Not only has Tim won just about every contest and award afforded to a champion goose caller, he is also a great goose hunter. To make this trip even more special, Ron Latschaw would be there. While I never had the opportunity to meet Ron, I have seen his Final Approach products everywhere. The stage was set: Tim, Ron and myself, along with one of the most aggressive TV crews I've come across. All we needed was a bit of luck from Mother Nature.
Our journey started in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was there that I met up with Jason and Rob Snider, from The Hunters Journal. As we loaded our gear into a Mini Winnie motor home, it really amazed me the kind of preparation that had gone into the planning of the show. As we headed west the excitement level was extremely high.
After an enjoyable ride to the Colorado border, I definitely had a different view of film production crews. While I have been fortunate enough to work with several camera crews over the years, I had never seen or heard the "behind the scenes" work that went into a production. The tireless hours waiting, the aggravation of a missed opportunity, the bloopers and the endless hours away from family members is all part of the glorious life of a film crew.
As we arrived in the town of Lamar, Colorado, we met up with Tim and Ron. I was pleased to see these guys were excited as we all were. We next met up with our guides for the evening meal. While young, these guys seemed to have the knowledge of the area, but how well did they know Mother Nature? The weather had been making some wild swings; the winds would go from calm to gale force and back, sometimes in a one-day period, our guides informed us. Each member of our hunting party knew first hand what the pressure was like on the front lines as a guide and outfitter, but we also understood we all were in strange territory and at the mercy of the weather.
Sunrise over a Colorado spread of snow goose decoys.
As we all enjoyed the evening meal and fellowship, the stories started. Like a family get-together, where dads and uncles rounded up all the kids to reminisce about past hunting experiences, the stories flew back and forth across the table. As the evening grew late, someone thankfully mentioned the early time we needed to meet our guides the next morning. It was time to sack out.
The next morning we met our guides at the designated point and followed them to the location of our spread. As we drove down the gravel road, you could see the massive white spread in the moonlight. A sigh of relief came from all the members in our hunting party; thankful the decoys were already in place.
Ron had arranged for the film crew's blinds to be shipped in. And as we started to put on our white coats, the snow geese started to fly. A beautiful sunrise it was going to be, but I must admit, in the brief period of predawn, I was more excited about the silhouette of geese that appeared due east.
I reached for my goose call as the guides turned up the electronic calls (e-calls are legal during the conservation season.) And then Tim began to tune-up on his Half-Breed goose call. The birds responded to his calling without hesitation. They worked like the early-season birds I so often see in Arkansas. We had some shooters with us as well and most of them were shooting new loads. The birds were right in front of us as the guns roared, sending shot pellets into the air like heat-seeking missiles. Needless to say, birds rained from the sky.
After each volley of shots, I would turn and ask Jason and Rob "Did you get those shots on tape?" And every time they would answer with a confident, "Yes, we were both on them." The guides had done their scouting and the birds were responding. We all headed back to the lodge with an air of confidence for the next day's hunt.
As we all retired to our rooms for the evening, I now understood the excitement so often expressed by many of my outfitting clients. For a pleasant change, I was now looking at the hunt from a client's perspective.
As I drifted off to sleep, I had the all too familiar attitude of a hunter who just had a successful hunting day--the birds were there today, so they will be there tomorrow. I arrogantly fell asleep with visions of snow geese dancing in my head.
The morning wake-up call came in early. After a quick shower and a jolt of coffee, we loaded our vehicles. One of our party members made an audacious prediction: "This will be the day we put them right in our faces." Everyone agreed, and I was certain I heard an "amen" or two from within our group.
As we headed out, the discussion turned to the nature of the day's wind. We were estimating it to be 40 to 50 mile-per-hour, with almost unbelievable gusts. I looked to the guys and asked, with a smirk, "Do you guys smell pie cooking?" They all looked at me strangely, but when we pulled up to our guide's camper, he confirmed the flavor of the pie--a freshly baked piece of Humble Pie. The spread we had set up had been mostly destroyed by the wind. Seasoned goose hunters that we are, we all knew the geese would not be flying much on a day like this. Besides, we also knew that it would've been difficult to work the birds into the remains of our spread.
Much to our relief, our guides had prepared a Plan B. But as we headed to our new location, I made my point about the Humble Pie: Mother Nature must have been up all night stirring up the weather conditions we had encountered.
Plan B didn't turn out as we had hoped. Later that day, we did manage to clean up the original spread and make it out to be somewhat worthy of a good hunt. As we expected, however, the high winds kept many of the birds from flying. We had won day one, but Mother Nature had controlled day two. What would day three hold?
A well-concealed layout blind provided advantageous shooting on one of many sand bars.
As we arrived on location for day three, our guides had 12-dozen floater decoys and another couple hundred silhouettes. We had planned on an open-water hunt, using a different kind of blind on a sand bar point. The wind was still pretty tough and we knew Mother Nature wouldn't give up without a fight.
As the birds began to work, I was pleased by the performance of the new blinds. I had finally found a blind that would afford one person all the necessities. We were well hidden, comfortable, out of the wind, and the birds were actually visible.
We had a couple of pair of snows come right into our spread. As they sailed into the decoy spread, they headed right for the designated landing area. The wind was providing excellent decoy movement, the cameras were in position and the birds were doing a textbook finish.
A volley of six or seven shots flew through the air, and then all four geese lay motionless on the water. These were old and mature snow geese within 20 yards of our blinds. To top that off, they were only three or four yards above the water. We were one up on Mother Nature on day three of our hunt.
Then it happened, like it does so often with waterfowl. Mother Nature took control! The wind went from ideal to dead calm. As the birds flew over, we couldn't get them to work like we needed them to for the cameras.
As my final day of Colorado snow-goose hunting came to an end, I declared it a success, despite Mother Nature's on again, off again attitude. We had bagged several birds, had some great fellowship and Jason and Rob had enough footage to make a show.