November 03, 2010
A standard has many measures
This story took place when snow goose hunting was relative new in Texas€¦.in the Lower 48€¦.before the stampede began. Before the infestation. Thousands of birds but not millions. That would come later as their numbers multiplied and multiplied and multiplied.
"During the night an arctic express swept down from the deep innards of Canada sealing the land..."
It was a bully of a wind. None the likes I'd ever seen. Not in all of my years going here and there had I observed such a blow. And to further its weight, it was laced with razor-sharp, driving, sleet. Not a morale booster. Not in the least.
The weather was of the worst kind in modern Texas history. None its kin in 80 years. The land had been laid low in frozen poverty.
There were six of us spread among the white wind-whipped rags. A storm without leniency.
We were snow goose hunting near the town of Katy, Texas, a site that even then had a reputation as world-class snow goose hunting grounds. A legend throughout the sporting waterfowl community. And though we were dressed to the eyes, we shivered and shook uncontrollably, for you see 10 hours ago the temperature was 80 degrees. But during the night an arctic express swept down from the deep innards of Canada sealing the land in cold. Some of the hunters began to question the logic of it all€¦.their reasoning for coming here to hunt. Catalog hunters.
Waterfowl hunting is a game of adversity.
I had hunted here once before, and knew well what to expect come daylight when snows would soar on strong wings to begin their doings. But my companions were in a foreign land and not acquainted with the topography and its moods. Yet in time they would forget their misery and their grumbling and wanting to beat a hasty retreat to the lodge for heat and drink and food.
For now they clenched their teeth and went inside themselves to find comfort and energy. And to learn that those gloves they bought from a wholesale house back home in August worked just fine then. Not now. And it is not because I'm tougher than the next fowler. Not, at all. I just accept my circumstances and deal the best I can with what I'm given. Marine training helps to build a wall. If I had wanted it easy, then I'd taken up golf. Or an indoor sport.
Yet in time the treat would be theirs as white-bodied snow geese, their wings dipped in black, would descend from staggering heights and into the decoys planted in the land. Fakes they are and without heart. Jezebels. Charlatans of the worst kind. Judas birds.
The wind grew stronger and colder as it seeked the meek and those of little will. Oh, the glory and wonder of it all! This sport we call waterfowling!
Granted I could no longer feel my feet. But soon all would be well. This I knew. This I had to believe or my thoughts would go straight to the lodge and a jigger of brandy. In utter madness did the storm bring despair and grief to those who confronted the very face of torment. The ground was now thoroughly frozen and the ice was beginning to build.
A hunter, who was from Savannah, Georgia, and on his first goose snow hunt, spoke: "I think I'm mos' frozen, an' this ain't no joke," he drawled, for he was 70 years in age. And using his shotgun as a crutch, he stood to gaze about in the graying dawn and then went back to his nest on the ground, for the Siberian bluster drove slam through him. His partner handed him his thermos of hot coffee. The steam from the uncapped thermos swirled into the moist air, as if it were a spirit departing from the body. The old hunter accepted the black, sugarless coffee, and drank it without complaint.
"Then our guide spoke for the first time, for like an old veteran marine sergeant, he knew his men needed a morale booster or he would lose them to discomfort"
I nursed my thermos of hot tea.
Then our guide spoke for the first time, for like an old veteran marine sergeant, he knew his men needed a moral booster or he would lose them to discomfort.
"Boys," he said with cheer and brightness in his thick Texas tongue, " I know you're 'bout as miserable as you've ever been, but I promise, an I mean this with all sincerity, things are goin' to improve in 'bout an hour or so. Just stick with me an' we'll all pull through this together. Ya'll go home with fine memories tucked into heads for the rest of yore life. This I promise."
His response was met with near frozen tongue gibberish.
"You'll see," the guide, a wisp of a man with a blonde handlebar moustache added as he slapped his gloved hands on his arms, "decoying snows brings a warmth only a goose hunter can appreciate. It is mos' tolerable."
The morning light was thin. There would be no sun on the horizon as a warming beacon. The net cloak of dark was gone.
The wind continued to shriek about our ears like screaming jackles. I was colder than ever. I had lost all feeling in my feet and my fingers, though gloved, had past the aching and seemed to be pierced with heated needles. I could no longer touch my little fingers with my thumbs. The wind was having its way with me as I stood and began to run in place. But never once did I beg "out of here" or feel sorrowful for being where I was. It was "suck-up time," marine! Sleet like widely sprayed bullets continued to rake the land. Yet something else had come to this land of suffering and distress, and even above the ripping wind you could hear their high-pitched yelps like that of an excited fox terrier€¦."ou, ou, ou."
"It's time," our guide yelled over the bear-bawling tempest.
The snows geese were on the run. Down to the ground they came and they came in a rush without fear or trepidation. The wind was whipping them. Their inherited smarts had left them, for they no longer feared danger. They questioned not the voiceless decoys below. Not once did they inquire. Not once did they dispatch a guide or send a runner into the land to find its traps. And with scales over their eyes they came as blind men or men ravaged with the want of food or water.
Our guide had chosen well the land we hunted. He knew his job. The hunt was underway and it would be a good hunt. For the first hour there was no let up of geese. They came from above as children to candy€¦.to our decoys. Like rag dolls they hung over the frauds€¦.imitations. Ho
t steel raced through their ranks dropping goose after goose. The guide shouting orders. Shell hulls littered the frozen ground. No longer did the hunters speak of surrender. Shouts and the slapping of gloved hands made the rounds. A young female yellow Lab going to and fro amongst dead and crippled geese. "Back!" the guide yelled. "Over!" he instructed with outstretched hand and arm either to the right or to the left.
"His response was met with near frozen tongue gibberish"
Then as suddenly as it started€¦.it ceased. We had gunned them off of our small piece of real estate, and they had relocated to fields of quiet pasture to dig down through the sleet to grub for food.
"See, I tole ya'll we'd have a fine mornin'. Just had to give it time an' do some sufferin'. But its over now an' I jest want to shake yore hands for bein' fine gentlemen an' great sports," he said as he went from man to man shaking glove to glove. Now I'm goin' to take these heah birds to the cleaner an I'll meet you boys back at the lodge for a bite o' lunch.
The worth of a guide.