Shotgunning: The Days You Wish You Had Back

One of the consolations of getting older is getting better at some things, like shooting a shotgun, for instance. Fifty-six year old me would lose a game of one-on-one basketball or a footrace with 30-year-old me, but I know who would win the shooting contest.

What that means is, if you're a shotgunner, you probably have a list of days gone by you wish you had back for a do-over. You know, those days in the field when everything was perfect, the stars aligned, and . . . you couldn't hit a thing. Near the top of that list for me is a day in the fields around Beatrice, Nebraska, on a spring snow goose hunt in 1997.

In those days I shot only trap for target practice and I hunted a lot of upland birds. I was a good shot on flushing game, but I had no clue how to lead birds when it came to pass-shooting. They are two very different shooting skills.

We were set up in a snowy cornfield with a small spread of full-body decoys. Layout blinds hadn't become universally popular yet and we were sitting in popup blinds that were square and about the size of a washing machine. Across the road from us was a mass of 50,000 geese that our guide called "the Glob." In the morning the whole Glob rose up in a seething ball, and as it whirled around like the flakes of a snow globe, strings of geese would split off from it on their way out to feed. At first, geese ignored our spread. The rest of our party grew impatient and went off to try somewhere else, leaving just me and the guide to guard the decoys.

Then the geese started flying over us. They didn't want in to the decoys, but we were right on the flightline. The snows came in a near endless stream of ones, twos and little bunches about 35 yards up and directly over us. It didn't even bother them if we left the lids of our popup blinds open. It was as perfect a setup as a pass-shooter could hope for. I shot and shot as the guide, Dave, tried to coach me on the right leads. I went through the first box without cutting a feather and was into the second when finally a lone goose came by about ten feet off the ground. That shot I knew how to make, and at the end of the morning, that one bird was all I had to show for the big pile of empties around my feet.

I have been on quite a few snow goose hunts, all of them unsuccessful. This was my best chance to shoot a bunch of them. I can still see those geese clearly in my mind, coming at me in line. I wish I could go back and have that day over again, knowing what I know now.

Photos: USFWS