It was finally cold enough to get in a good goose hunt here in central Illinois over New Year'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 wife's freshly made quiche, cinnamon rolls and coffee -- a staple of any great goose hunt.
A plethora of state preserve land surrounds Mike'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. It'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. He'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 hunter's paradise. But when I sat down in the water blind alongside my wife's cousin, Wes, our third hunting partner, Dan, piped up, "Yeah, they really slayed 'em out here yesterday." Crap. I knew the action wasn't going to be as heavy as I had thought. But hey, I can't kill anything from my king-sized bed. We weren'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, "This one is yours!" Damn right it was. We waited as long as we dare, and I said, "Let's take him." Both of us popped up and unloaded -- he never had a chance. Well, ahem, he stood some chance, because the speck didn'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 hadn'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 Rick's dog whimper. Around 10 a.m., we finally got another speck to come in. Rick's keen eye spotted him cruising in from our left. Before I knew it he yelled, "All right boys, take'em." 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 wasn't concerned about the elements, though Rick was. He scurried out of the blind to retrieve his retriever. We were all impressed with the dog'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 hadn'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 wasn't to be. A flock of four came within maybe 50 yards, but only one shooter had a chance. With the wind, it wasn't going to be a high-percentage shot, so he passed.
Though we didn'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 dad's BPS. Some day I'll break down and buy a three-shot semi-auto'¦I guess. Don't judge me. I'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.