Year of the White-Fronted Goose
by Mikhail Sidorov.
condensed translation into English by Aleksei Morozov
According to the Chinese calendar, 2016 was the year of the Red Monkey, but for me it was the year of the White-Fronted Goose.
I’d never been a dedicated goose hunter before, although I shot a few geese when they happened to pass over my duck decoys or appeared suddenly out of the mist when I was hunting hares in the fields. But in 2016 the stories told by our Nizhny Novgorod friends got our small hunting team infected with the goose hunting virus.
Between seasons we bought decoys and calls. The next step was having lie-in blinds made to the pattern used by our Nizhny Novgorod friends. But I was lucky to start the year of the goose before my friends. I had to visit Stavropol Region, where the season opens earlier, and decided to try my luck at pass-shooting. The place I hunted was bare steppe with a large pool of molten snow water, which the geese used as a rest stop on their way North. The soil around the pool was so soaked with water that it felt like a smoothie, not solid earth. A blind was out of the question, and I had to wait for geese standing waist-deep in the muddy smoothie, scarcely sheltered by a miserable half-dead bush.
The first birds that came in range were endangered Lesser White-Fronted Geese. Luckily, I recognized their voice well in advance, and only watched them pass on to try and improve their demographical status in the tundra. But their next of kin, the Greater White-Fronted Geese, were not so fortunate – I shot a bird out of a flock that was careless enough to lay their landing route next to the bush that gave me shelter.
A month later, my friend and I travelled to Nizhny Novgorod Region. There we “enjoyed” a week of living in a swamp under rain, where nothing disturbed our peace, including geese. The peak of migration, as usual, didn’t coincide with the hunting season, but we gave our new gear a thorough test and I managed to get two geese.
We don’t have too many geese in our home region during autumn migration, but groups of some two to three thousand birds do stop at bigger lakes and feed on nearby fields. In 2016, one such group stopped at our favorite lake. Scouting showed we had a problem: the geese were sometimes feeding on the fields to the south of the lake, where we had the right to hunt, and sometimes on the northern shore, where we didn’t. The birds didn’t seem to follow a regular pattern, but those team members who live in the country found a lucky spot, and had a good time there on Wednesday and Thursday. I could only envy their trophy photos, posted online in real time mode, and made a firm decision to join them on Saturday.
However, Friday surprised my friends with absence of geese, and we had to start scouting all over again. Only by Saturday afternoon we found another field where the geese fed. It was a former corn field that had been poorly harvested, plowed over, and replanted with winter wheat. We chose a spot between the highest concentration of feeding geese and the lake; our lie-in blinds would be too conspicuous on the coal-black soil, so we had to resort to the grandfathers’ way: dig in.
It was getting dark, and we had to make a pause when the whole mass of geese feeding on the field rose into the air and flew to the lake for their night’s rest. There were perhaps 25 or 30 flocks of 100 to 150 birds in each, and we could feel the pressure of the air from thousands of wings flapping above us. When they passed, we went on digging. It’s an unforgettable feeling, digging a blind in the dark and dreaming about flocks of fat autumn geese circling about your decoys. Finally, the pits were deep enough to sit in and camouflaged with leftover corn stubbles. We set our sixty shells to make a big V, with the two pits on each point of the letter, and were ready for the morning.
To our surprise, early dawn saw no movement, save for a mallard drake quacking in the distance. But the geese couldn’t have stopped visiting this place so soon – or could they? Only when the sun was up completely we saw the first flock. It passed well out of shot – the sunlight glittered on frozen dew that formed on the decoys, scaring the birds away. This wouldn’t be a problem in the dark, but as our luck would have it, on that very day the geese decided to fly only in full daylight. Still, we managed to attract a few flocks with blow calls – what with our wives’ critical murmurs and the neighbors’ dirty looks, our hours of practice paid off! We got three geese – this may not be impressive enough for professionals, but we were happy.
My friends had a few good hunts on that field afterwards, but then other hunters discovered it too, and as more and more of them settled nearby, the geese changed their feeding area again. Then the lake froze over – but that wasn’t the end yet. A nearby reservoir still had some open water in the middle, and there we had an unconventional goose hunt: we simply waited in boats between ice for a flock to come in range, and they sometimes did. With seven more birds to our credit, we closed the season of 2016, our first Year of the White-Fronted Goose.