A Big, Big Goose

In December of 1956 we left our homes in West University, a west Houston suburb, well before first light for the thirty minute, drive to a rice field that we had permission to hunt on. After spending over an hour spreading out our decoys, Will Reynolds, a friend and neighbor, and I were laying along the edge of a levee in an eight hundred acre harvested rice field with a mud road bisecting it. The Katy prairie it was cold, with low hanging clouds and a steady north wind, providing us a day made for goose hunting.

In the far northwest corner of the field, probably five thousand geese had roosted the previous night and they now provided a serious impediment to our decoying efforts. We were doing our best to imitate these sounds and coax the six young snow geese to “come on in” and land with the large gaggle of geese, really our decoys, already on the ground, on our side of the large rice field.

This were not your normal goose decoy spread that you see now days with hundreds of large, full bodied, plastic and foam ones, geese “flying”, wings spinning rapidly, hunters dressed in white overalls, packing heavy, three and a half inch, magnum shotguns; but ours was newspapers, old diapers, piles of mud with goose feathers stuck into them and us with “early” camo parkas, green waders, packing, twelve gauge, pump shotguns with two and three-quarter inch, paper shells. But it worked for us!

Setting out the decoys wasn’t rocket science. Spread the diapers over clumps of rice, wrap a full sheet of newspaper so it looks like a goose head, set it on a clump of rice stubble, attach a glob of mud to each in order to hold them so the wind won’t blow them away and now you have a very usable goose decoy! The “mud” decoys were the easiest, just make a pile of mud and stick goose feathers into it, not like a porcupine, but slicked back like a goose.

Young geese make mistakes, and these six did, setting their wings and “falling”, looking like leaves drifting down from a tall tree, right into the decoys. Up we jumped, let loose on them and four tumbled to the ground. We picked them up and unceremoniously propped their heads up with rice stalks and added them to the decoy spread.

Later in the morning, with two speckle bellies down and added to the spread, Will and I noticed that the large gaggle of geese in the northwest corner of the field were agitated, some starting to take off, some up and circling and the entire group filling the air with a noisy cacophony of goose sounds. We snuggled down behind the levee and waited, and soon were rewarded with the sight of thousands of geese taking the air, and heading right for us!

Whispering last second instructions to Will, “Wait until the leaders have passed over us, then pick out a bird and shoot him before you get on the next one.” The noise of the approaching geese and the numbers of them were astounding as closer and closer they came. The leaders passed over us, the sound deafening, I shouted, “Take ‘em”, we both stood, shouldered our shotguns, we both had two additional shells stuck between the fingers of our left hands, and let go on the geese.

Picking out a huge Canadian, not over fifteen yards away from me, bigger than any goose I had ever seen, swinging, putting the barrel of the shotgun about two feet in front of the giant goose’s bill and shooting, the giant kept flying? Quickly shucking another shell into the chamber of the full choked, Model 12, I fired again, nothing? Shortening my lead on the giant, I fired my third and last shell, nothing?

Quickly reloading the two, back up shells, the giant goose being long gone, I acquired new targets, two snows stretching out for altitude and dropped them cleanly, probably forty yard shots. Looking over toward my accomplice, who was standing there shaking, I asked, “How many did you knock down?” He replied, “I shot five shells and never hit a bird. I got excited and shot into the flock on my first three, reloaded and just kinda’ shot twice at another goose. Nothing!”

As we picked up our “decoys”, the diapers, newspapers and goose feathers, I remarked, “Eight birds isn’t bad, but you should have seen the one that I took three shots at and missed. It was twice as big as the rest of the geese. I first thought it was a swan, but it had distinctive Canadian goose markings. I don’t know how I could have missed it?”

Driving home, we thought our eight goose day should have been at least a dozen, but when we got home, my Dad almost lectured us, saying, “Boys, whenever you can go out, on your own and get eight, nice geese, be thankful of that! I don’t want to hear anymore grumbling about it!” I said, “But Dad, I really messed up not getting that giant goose and I still don’t know how I missed three shots at fifteen yards.” My Dad replied, “Boy, that’s easy, at fifteen yards the pattern of your shotgun has probably a six inch diameter and the shot string length is probably ten inches at the most. It’s easy, you led the goose too much!”

Later that day, Wes and I were talking with a neighbor Dub Middleton, who hunted ducks and geese regularly with our Dads. He told us, “The giant Canadian goose that you missed was a Canadian alright, a Canadensis Maxima, the largest of the species and supposedly extinct since1922! However, several sightings of the giants have been reported during the past few years.”

Thinking out loud I replied, “Missing those three shots wasn’t so bad after all.”