One good thing about being wintered-up in Michigan, as feet of snow fall outside my window, is I have plenty of leisure time to do what I like to do best this time of year… and that is to plan hunting trips.

And that is precisely what I was doing just after lunch, one Friday in December.

I was interrupted when Suzanne yelled down the stairs into my “man cave”. “Bob?”, she called.  “Did you shovel the snow off the drive yet?  It’s been snowing most of the day, but now the sun’s out now.  Why don’t you just get started shoveling now, and you can probably finish by dinner time tonight.  Bob?”

She was right about several things.  It had been snowing since late last night, and the snow was already a foot deep in my driveway, which coursed about a hundred yards from my rural home to the paved county road.

She was right that I hadn’t shoveled it off yet, but I don’t think she was really looking for information with that particular question, anyhow.  She could see the drive out the kitchen window and already knew the answer. It was untouched.  Nah, that question was simply designed to engage me in conversation and thus gain an advantage.  She was right that the sun was out now, and that the snow had stopped.

She was, however, dead wrong about one important thing.  She said if I started shoveling right now, I would be finished by dark.    Not even close!  What lay ahead of me would be at least seven long hours of back-breaking shoveling as I made four long passes down the drive to clear it.  I would be done in the darkness of night alright, but my question was whether that part of the night would be closer to sunset… or to tomorrow’s dawn.

Nope.  I didn’t fall for this trick, either.  I knew full well the technique she was employing.  She was trying to get me started on a project, knowing that I really hate leaving a project half-finished.  That way I would be committed to it to the end.  And everyone knows that I am (or certainly should be) committed.

“Knowledge”, as they say “is power”.  And I had already checked the forecast.  And so I knew that we were in for three days in a row of bright sunshine, and warming temperatures.  I have artfully avoided sufficient snow-shoveling episodes over the years to know that by Monday morning this fluffy new snow will collapse on its own into only a few short inches. And after we drive our four-wheel-drive vehicles up and down the driveway a few times, we will compact the snow into a very minuscule remnant of its former loft.   Nope.  Shoveling will not be necessary after this storm.

Regardless, Suzanne and I still engage in this odd verbal dance after every major snowfall, all winter long.  It follows the same general script every time.  Suzanne first tries to convince me that I should go out and shovel the drive, and I then try to convince her that there is something far more important or pressing for me to do than shoveling snow.

You know, maybe it’s actually more like a high school wrestling match than an actual “dance”.  We each circle the other in a mental crouch, verbally probing for any weakness, carefully looking for an opportunity, or an advantage.  And the other uses every technique at his disposal to avoid being “pinned for the count”.

You see, I knew early-on that I was going to win this round of verbal sparring.  Suzanne had already made a strategic blunder by using the phrase “why don’t you just…”.  As all married men eventually discover, every impossible task suggested by a wife begins with the phrase, “Why don’t you just…”.

So, to take advantage of her being somewhat off-balance, I yelled back up the stairs the phrase that I knew would pin her for the count.  “Honey, I really would like to do that… but I’m still doing some office work here, and can’t stop what I am doing right now.  I’ve got to keep the lights on and the fridge full, you know.   Hey!  Do I smell your world-famous smoked brisket in the oven? I can hardly wait!”

Now I know she hasn’t put any brisket in the oven, but I also know that because of what I just said, in only a few minutes, …she will.  A wise husband knows how to speak to women.

Not only will I have time to continue doing important “man stuff” here in my man-cave, I will also get my favorite dinner tonight.   Now that’s what I call a “win-win.

Ok, so hang on just a minute.  I’ll be right back after I do something.                           . . .

So, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, last year, on a snowy early winter day just like today, I was surfing the web and I came across a site advertising a winter goose hunt.  At that time, Jay and I hadn’t hunted geese together, and I have always wondered how he would handle a shotgun hunt for larger birds.

Jay’s hunting techniques while gunning for quail invariably provide me endless entertainment, and stories to retell at outdoor shows.  And although I think it highly unlikely that we will cross any unexpected electrified fences on the way to a goose blind, I still have high hopes for how Jay might handle a goose hunt.  I can assure you that I won’t miss the occasional whif of urine on his clothing, which characterized one memorable quail hunt with Jay some years ago, during which he executed a botched half-crossing of precisely such an electrified fence.  As I remember, I scored that one in the high 9s.

Oh, and that reminds me, I need to get a replacement small dry-erase board to record and display the scores I give for Jay’s spontaneous pratfalls. With heavy use, the old one is getting hard to erase.  Jay likes it when I give him a high score, and I want to always be ready to do so.

I leaned forward, and clicked on the link displayed on the computer’s screen, and immediately was treated to an amazing series of pictures featuring widely-smiling hunters, all posing in front of neat rows of harvested geese.   The thick winter jackets they were wearing, and the snow banks in the background of the photos served to remind me of the unmitigated misery of a mid-winter goose hunt.

You know what I mean:  biting wind stinging your eyes; blowing snow and sleet working their way down your collar and the cuffs of your gloves; sipping luke-warm coffee from a tin cup past numb blue lips; and bare hands retrieving spilled shotgun shells from an inch of muddy ice-water in the bottom of a blind or john-boat, and then drying them off on your trouser as the next flight of geese comes into range.    In other words, having a really great time.

I reached for the phone and dialed.  “Hey, Jay?”  In only minutes I had successfully talked Jay into a winter goose hunt.

I had spent much of my younger years growing up in Michigan, working at a skeet and trap range. I had perfected my wing-shooting skills.  I was deadly on the clays.  Whether the traps threw singles, doubles, during bright sunlight, or under the lights at night, I was in my element.

Reloading hundreds upon hundreds of my own shotgun shells allowed me to shoot often and I carefully perfected the loads that would provide the utmost performance on birds. I went crow hunting in the summer.  And in the fall, pheasant and quail hunting were ever on my agenda.  I had become an accomplished shotgunner.

During this time, Jay had been growing up in the deserts of New Mexico.  He would have loved to had the chance to go goose hunting, but someone else had already shot both of the geese that were previously in that part of New Mexico.  So Jay just had to settle for a .22 rifle, and spending his youth hunting the huge jack rabbits which plagued the alfalfa fields in the Pecos River valley. While I was becoming an accomplished shotgunner, Jay was becoming a decent rifleman.  But these skill sets are not truly interchangeable.

And so it was that when Jay and I were contemplating our first joint goose hunt, I remained the unquestioned authority on wing-hunting.  I knew that I would need to “school” Jay so we could both be successful. A good huntin’ buddy does that kind of thing, you know.

After arranging for a place to hunt, the first order of business was to get Jay a decent shotgun. He said he inherited a Slime Mountain Model 2 from his grandpa, but I told him that antique would never do for a goose gun.  I helped him do some on-line shopping, and he selected a good Remington 870 in 12-gauge, with the proper replaceable choke.  Then he went down to the local Crappie Pro Shop and wrote a check.

After that, I would need to take some time to show him the basics of loading shotgun shells.  And that I could do in just one sitting, after he arrived at my house.

Jay pulled up the long gravel drive at my house two full days ahead of our scheduled goose hunt.  He followed me down to the “man-cave” and I led him to the reloading bench, where my 12-gauge progressive shotshell loader was set up, and waiting.

For the next couple of hours, I taught Jay the finer points of reloading with my somewhat complex progressive loader.  Eventually, he was able to get the AA shot-cup wad staged in the holder right-side up without getting his fingers stuck in the mechanism, and soon he was pulling a completed shotshell from the machine after every stroke of the handle.  In no time at all, he was cranking-out box after box of shells for his new 870.  I was proud.  I am a good teacher.

But Jay wasn’t the best student.  There are a lot of moving parts, and I would have preferred that Jay paid greater attention to all the aspects of what was going on.  I noticed that on occasion the powder reservoir ran dry before he finally looked up.

For my part, I was pretty closely focused on his fingers, because I wasn’t all that certain that with the next down-stroke, he wouldn’t be loading the better part of one of them into the next shell, so I didn’t pay as much attention to the powder bottle, either.  Nothing messes-up a shotshell like having a part of your anatomy loaded into it.

Oh well. There is always a chance that Jay may have a “light” charge or two in the mix, but I taught him what a “squib” load felt like, and sounded, and how important it was to use a cleaning rod (or maybe a convenient long stick) to clear the stuck wad from the barrel before chambering the next round.  If he were to shoot another round with an obstruction in the barrel, it might destroy the shotgun, and maybe injure a fellow huntin’ buddy sharing the same blind.  “Safety first”, I always say.

But now with three boxes of Jay’s custom-crafted ammunition, we went back upstairs for the night.  We would have visions of plump geese flying low over our blind, dancing in our heads.

We rose early.  It had been snowing off-and-on all night, but when I checked the weather forecast at just after three-thirty, they were predicting clearing skies right at first light.  Clear skies after a storm means flying and feeding geese.  Perfect.

At just before four o’clock, Jay loaded three boxes of his own hand-loaded shotgun shells into his back pack and stowed it, together with his new shotgun, in the back seat of my pickup.  As he bounded up into the passenger seat of my pickup and closed the door, his broad smile said it all.  He was just as excited as I was for a great goose hunt.

I turned the key and the motor roared to life.  I spun the wheel, and turned down the long gravel drive toward the county road.  There was some fresh snow in the drive, but driving on it with my four-wheel drive pickup mashed it down enough so that Suzanne could get out and go to town if she needed to.  That’s the kind of extra effort that characterizes good husbands, after all.

I turned onto the county road and began following my mental map to the hunting grounds.  Jay and I were on our way to our first goose hunt together.  It was going to be great.

As we were driving, school was again in session.  “You gotta lead geese a long ways.” I cautioned Jay. “They fly really fast and because they are larger, they look a lot closer than they really are. It’s not nearly as easy as shooting a running jack rabbit with a 22.”  Jay acknowledged the wisdom of my words, and nodded pensively.

Leaving nothing to chance, a few weeks ago I’d scouted a good spot for goose hunting.  After hours of driving country roads, and glassing with binoculars, I finally found their pattern.  The geese would leave a large lake a few miles away each morning and find places in the adjoining recently-harvested corn fields to feed during the day.   They would circulate between those feeding places, and then just at sunset they’d fly back to the lake to spend the night.

I had seen them frequenting the edge of a particular cornfield.  Although the field was rows upon rows of eight-inch stubble, there were some clear areas where geese had been regularly landing.  They had been feeding in those clearings on corn which had been spilled during the transfer from the combine to the hopper trailer which awaited each pass of the combine at the edges of the field.

After some haggling, I was able to get permission from the farmer to put up a blind and for Jay and me to hunt that field.    I was able to get that permission by avoiding mentioning that Jay would be joining me – I carefully described the one who would be joining me in this hunt only as a “friend”.  I find that normally works for landowners who have not yet closely associated Jay and me as true “huntin’ buddies”.

I already had some good blind materials lying around the shop, so I’d loaded them up and drove to the location one afternoon.  I’d spent the better part of an hour carefully constructing a very workable blind along a fence line, adjacent to that prime feeding area.

Now, I will admit that it wasn’t the most sophisticated blind I have ever constructed, but it was certainly workable, and the price was right.  I had found a couple of those common wooden forklift pallets lying against the back of my garage.  After taking them to the right location, I had carefully placed them side-by-side, pushing them down securely into the deep mud, to form a floor that would keep our feet elevated and dry.  Any mud we tracked-into the blind could be scraped-off into the wide gaps, so the floor would stay relatively clean.

Then I had driven t-posts into the ground at the edges of the pallets all around.  Around the perimeter of the t-posts I wrapped some light, four-foot tall, 6×6-mesh wire fencing, which I secured with some bailing wire.  I finished the whole thing off by weaving into the wire a bunch of corn stalks I found at the edge of the field.  There were some gaps, which I filled with some clumps of brush cut from the adjacent fence line.

I had even fashioned a little “door” on the back corner where you could enter and leave the blind.  I had to keep it small, so as not to have a huge hole visible to the geese.  Geese have good eyesight, and are afraid of such holes.  When they see unnatural holes, they turn away at a distance, and so you never get a shot.  I know my geese.

So to get into the blind, we would need to bend the little section of wire outward, then crawl on our hands and knees onto the pallets. Once in, we would pull the little section of wire closed again, and the “door” would disappear.

I stood back and surveyed my work.  I was pretty happy with it.  It would blend-in perfectly with the sea of corn stalk stubble which stretched to the far horizon.  You couldn’t even tell it was a blind from about a mile away.  I knew Jay would appreciate the effort that went into constructing this goose blind.   A true huntin’ buddy goes to that kind of trouble, you know.

By six o’clock, I turned my pickup onto to the edge of the corn field where we would hunt for the day. I pulled over to the side of the dirt road, behind some trees which would hide the pickup from the flying geese, and turned off the motor.  From here, we would have an easy walk to the blind, only a hundred yards or so down the edge of the field.

As we stepped out of the truck, the biting wind blew a few lingering snowflakes from the passing storm into our eyes.  “Couldn’t be better goose-hunting weather”, I thought.

Soon, we had slogged our way down the edge of the muddy field to the blind.  I was so excited for Jay to see my handiwork.  He was going to be so impressed.

Soon, my flashlight beam painted the blind.  “Here we are!” I beamed.  “That’s the blind?”, Jay said in disbelief.  “Yep, hard to tell it’s a blind, right?” I said, with no no small amount of pride in my handiwork.  “You got that right.” Jay affirmed.  “Here,” I suggested to Jay, “Give me your shotgun and backpack.  I’ll hold it while you crawl into the blind.”  “Crawl?” he questioned.  “Yep, right through here.” I jabbed at the little loose wire panel with the muzzle of my shotgun.  “Pull that back and crawl in.  Then I will hand you your stuff and then also my stuff when you get situated.”  Jay was mumbling some further words of praise regarding this great goose blind as he bent over to make his grand entrance.

“Oh, and one more thing before you go in.” I warned, “Knock those huge mudballs off your boots out here.  We don’t want to make the floor muddy and slick.” Jay complied with my instructions, and soon was in the blind.  He stood up and reached over the chest-high wire and cornstalks for his gear.  He took his shotgun and pack and set them carefully in the far back corner, then turned for my gear.

As I handed them across to him, Jay suddenly said, “oof” while immediately also losing four inches in height. “What?” I inquired.  “Well,” he managed, “The floor has some rather wide cracks between the boards, and my right foot just slipped off into one of them.”   “That’s ok,” I chortled, “You will soon be able to handle that floor like a pro.  It’s all just part of goose hunting.”

Once inside, I tried to position myself on the near side, but Jay wasn’t moving.  “Uh, we both can’t hunt on this side.” I pointed out the obvious.  “Yeah, I know.” said Jay as he reached to the far corner to get his gear. “But I can’t seem to get my boot out of this crack quite yet.  How about you hunt on that side, and I will hang out over here.”    I eased around the still-wobbly Jay and stacked my gear on the far side.

We hadn’t even begun hunting yet, but we could already hear thousands of Canada geese in the air, and I was certain from all the honking there were huge flocks of them already in the field just across from our blind.

“Boy howdy,” I whispered to Jay, “this is going to be great.  You’d better load-up that new shotgun!  It’ll be shooting light in just a few minutes.”

With a series of soft “clatches” and “shlunks”, the guns were loaded, and we were ready.  Without chairs, we had to pull our backpacks under us, and were able to rest uncomfortably on them.  Now all we needed were geese within shooting range.  And I was confident we’d have those in abundance just after sunrise.  In my imagination, I was already taking the pictures of Jay and me, smiling broadly behind a couple of nice rows of big Canadas.

The rosy glow in the eastern sky brightened, and we could then see the movement of big, flapping wings across the field.  Ten minutes later we could see geese no more than four or five hundred yards away feeding in a harvested corn field the next farm over, in a field much like the one we were facing.

But as the dawn brightened, I couldn’t shake the idea that something was wrong.  Something just didn’t look right, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it hit me, like a hammer blow.  That field four hundred yards away, the one with all those geese, was filled with corn stubble and spilled corn.  But the field just past my blind, the one Jay and I were facing, was absolutely clean, having been freshly plowed since I had erected the blind.  We were now sitting in front of what had to be the world’s biggest mud hole.

There was meager evidence that corn had once been here, but every last bit of that remaining evidence was now woven between the thin wires which constituted our blind.

The sun rose to reveal a bright, clear and cold day.  Oh, we saw lots of geese alright, hundreds of them.  But they flew over us at ranges of between a two and three hundred yards. Every time we saw geese coming our way, we would duck low in the blind, hoping that they might see the few cornstalks which surrounded our blind as an indicator that a rich bounty of corn was lying in a pile nearby.  But for some reason it seemed that there was a hundred-yard diameter goose-proof force-field bubble over us.

And what made it worse was that we were freezing and miserable after three hours of endless standing, then hunkering down, then standing, then hunkering down… just to watch flight after flight of just-out-of-range geese bypassing us.  And the goose-initiated deep-knee bending aerobic exercises hadn’t warmed us up one bit, either.

“Here they come”, Jay urgently whispered, as he tried once again to extricate his right boot from the gap in the pallet.  He had been looking out the side of the blind all this time, since that was the direction he had been facing as his boot had slipped into the gap before dawn.

I reluctantly rose from my seated position upon my now-flattened pack, now wedged between the cracks in the pallet, for what had to be the fiftieth time. I fully expected to see more geese heading to a landing some four hundred yards away.  Because of his inexperience, Jay had been continually raising false-alarms all morning.  But, to my surprise, there they were… three beautiful Canadas flying only fifty feet off the deck, heading right toward our blind at a distance of not more than seventy-five yards!  The force-field was down!

“Great fried peaches” I yelled as I grabbed my shotgun out of the corner of the blind and shouldered it.  Jay followed suit, and his new 870 was soon mounted and sweeping the sky ahead of the oncoming geese.

“Wait on it… wait… wait.” I instructed.  I didn’t want to start shooting too early and have them climb out of range.  “Now! Take ‘em” I shouted and fired my first round.  Jay began firing almost simultaneously.  The air filled with birdshot.  Boom… boom…boom, …pthutt.  Pthutt?

I looked over to see what had caused the odd sound from Jay’s shotgun just in time to see a sad little stream of shot dribble from the muzzle of Jay’s barrel, and arc harmlessly only a few inches away, falling mostly back inside the blind.  Jay’s gun was empty, but his barrel was not.

Jay had paid attention to my instructions regarding squib loads, and so he didn’t reload.  I gave him further instructions, “The shot wad is still in the barrel. Since the choke will be the tightest part of the barrel, why don’t you just push it back down the barrel to the breech.  Oh, and stay low while you do it, because here come six more geese right where the last three came from.”  I had already reloaded and took up a comfortable position on my pallet.  Jay can handle this issue on his own.  I have taught him well.

Once just barely in range, the geese suddenly veered away.  Boom… boom.  I took some “hail Mary” shots at the passing geese, then broke my double open to feed two more live rounds.  That’s when I first understood why the incoming geese had spooked before reaching easy range.   Jay was franticly stripping the cornstalks out of the blind, trying to find one small enough to shove down the muzzle of his 870 to reach that stuck AA shot cup.  He was snatching one or two stalks out of the wire at a time, do a test-fit down his barrel, and then throw them into the air and reach for more.  He was moving so fast, his hands were a blur.  There were maybe three or four cornstalks at any one time, spinning in lazy arcs through the air.

There was so much shredded foliage filling the air around the blind, it looked like the discharge of an industrial wood-chipper. But what had me mostly concerned, was now that the goose hunting was finally beginning to look up, the important parts of the blind – those parts which were essential to it meriting the descriptive term, “blind”, were rapidly disappearing.  In just moments, my handiwork would be better characterized as a “cage”, or maybe a poorly constructed “pen”.

“Whoa there, big fellow!” I cautioned him, “You are shredding our blind!”  He looked at me with pleading eyes, and begged, “Ok, give me your knife.” I shook my head. “Jay, my knife won’t fit down your barrel.  You are going to have to try something different.  And while you are at it, duck!  Here come three more!”

I shouldered my double and since the blind now wasn’t being explosively disassembled, these geese came in nice and close.  Boom… boom.  Dang.  Shot behind them.  I could see the wad fly well behind even the tail-end goose in the flight.  I broke my double open and dropped-in two fresh rounds.  “Lead ‘em more” I told myself.  “They fly really fast.”

That’s when I heard it.  Ffffffft…fffffft.  I turned around to see the source of this intense hissing and found Jay, hunched over the barrel of his shotgun.  He’d left the slide back and the chamber open.  That was good, because his lips were firmly planted on the muzzle, and his cheeks were bulged outward in big half-spheres.  Despite his red-faced efforts, he was making no progress on blowing the wad back down the barrel.  But I had to give him an “A” for effort.   I was tempted to see if his eyes were going to pop out, but here came five more geese, right at us.

“Duck!” I insisted, “Duck!”  “Huh?” Jay inquired as he looked upward.  I pointed over his shoulder and urgently said, “goose!” as I squatted down to get ready.  Jay had given up on blowing, and now was franticly poking his index finger down the barrel as far as it would go.

Then I started to laugh.  I couldn’t help it.  When Jay had looked up just now I saw something I will never forget.  Five overlapping rings of black gunpowder residue were across his lips.  They were so reminiscent of the Olympic rings that I nearly stood and sang the National Anthem.

I was still giggling uncontrollably when I stood to take my next shots as the next flight of geese sailed by within easy range, and that explains perfectly well why when I fired at the first goose in the flight, the third goose fell.

I did as much of a victory dance as the pallet would permit, and yelled, “Did you see that shot”?  It was hard to tell what Jay’s reply was because he was now down on one knee, pulling at a long angular sliver of the pallet hoping to free a splinter large enough to poke down the barrel.  I didn’t see any need to tell him that I had really been aiming for the first goose.  There is no requirement in huntin’ buddy etiquette that you tell him everything you know.

The hunting was finally really good, and I had no time to spare.  I quickly propped my shotgun in the corner and began crawling across the pallets to the little door on Jay’s side of the blind.

Once out, I sprinted to where the fallen goose lay.  The bird was easy to see, in stark contrast to the dark freshly-plowed soil of the field.  I grabbed the goose by its feet, and trotted back to the blind.  I handed the goose to Jay through one of the gaping holes in what had been earlier today a perfectly-good blind.  Jay hasn’t any experience in holding a dead goose, so he just reverted to his experience as a new father.  He took the big ten-pounder in both arms, and cradled it like an infant.  I crawled back in through the little door.

Now, what happened next is a bit hard for me to explain.  It seems that my “perfect” shot had not been all that perfect after all.  Looking back on it now, I think only one of the BBs hit the bird at all, and that one BB only tapped the goose on the noggin with a grazing blow.  The impact was sufficient only to knock it out.  And then,… only … briefly.

As I was just taking-up my position beside Jay, the goose (still gently cradled in Jay’s arms)… awoke. I want to pause for a minute now to point out that it wasn’t Jay’s fault.  There really isn’t a proper way to hold a suddenly-revived, and now very alive, goose.  Jay, formerly not a believer in goose resurrection, was understandably caught completely off-guard by this turn of events.

The startled bird was able quickly to free its wings, and began flapping violently in a vain attempt to take off in spite of the added payload supplied by Jay, who now considered the big bird’s legs to be the only available “handles”.  Jay felt duty-bound to retain possession of the only goose of the day, so he was pulling the bird further down into the blind as best he could.

The pitched battle of wills continued, as the goose changed tactics.  It was now pecking wildly at Jay’s face, in hopes that would be the key to freedom.  When asked about it later, Jay was pretty sure that second phase of the battle continued for close to a day and a half.  I have never heard louder and more persistent squawking from any living thing.  And the noises supplied by the panicked goose just added to it.

Now mind you, I would otherwise have intervened in this whole affair, but the interactive movement was so random, and so intense, that it would have been the equivalent of reaching into a spinning washing machine, hoping to retrieve a single sock, and not losing your arm in the process.   I was able to offer some verbal instruction to Jay, as I crowded back into the furthest corner of the blind.  I yelled, “Why don’t you just wring its neck?”

Looking back on it now, I think it’s pretty clear that the final technique which turned the tide in favor of the goose was when it decided to fly over Jay’s shoulders. This technique loosened Jay’s grip on its legs, and extended his arms upward and over his head.  The goose was sensing victory and redoubled its frantic flapping and squawking.  The increased air-flow in and around the blind began propelling all the shredded blind material back into the air.  The whole thing reminded me of what the eye of a tornado must be like.

Seeking to regain some leverage, Jay stepped back with his free left foot, but his boot slipped briskly off the back edge of the pallet, and sunk deeply in the soft mud.  This threw Jay even further off-balance. The goose was gaining lift, now that its wings were in free air.  I squinted my eyes because one of the twin-vortices of spinning blind debris was reaching my side of the blind.

Jay now began to fall backward, and instinctively pulled upward on his right boot, still firmly stuck in the pallet.  He was clearly hoping to use that stuck foot to pull himself back upright, and turn the tide in the battle with the big bird.  But even that herculean effort only served to jerk the far side of that pallet smartly upward toward him, bringing a shower of mud spatters along with it.  On top of that, its rearward motion added further momentum to his fall.  From this point, it was going to happen, no matter what.

Jay fell rearward, in slow motion, right between two of the t-posts, into the net-wire structure at the rear of the blind, which responded to his considerable bulk by groaning and leaning over at a 45-degree angle.  This left Jay in a semi-reclining position, resting as if in a sideways, cornstalk-filled, low hammock.

Sensing freedom to be only a flap of the wings or two in the future, the goose multiplied its efforts, and even found a way to lighten its own load somewhat by discharging a generous helping of goose poop onto the crown of Jay’s hat.   Jay’s fingers couldn’t maintain their grip at this crazy angle, and one by one, they deserted the field of battle.   The goose was free, and rose like the mythical phoenix.

The intense squawking of the captured bird had, unknown to us, been quite effective to call quite a large flock of geese to our blind.  It’s all my fault.  If I had not been so occupied with trying to retrieve my dry-erase board from my backpack in order to record a suitably-high score for Jay, I would certainly have been able to shoot a number of additional birds.  But I guess a true huntin’ buddy is more focused on his buddy than on taking easy geese.

The goose quickly fell into line with the others, who had been watching the entire ordeal from a comfortable circling orbit of only fifty feet above us.

Once joined by the recent escapee, the entire flock then turned south, and quickly flew out of sight.  As the flock disappeared, we could still hear for a surprising distance the distinctive squawking of the now-freed goose.  I believe he was excitedly reporting what had just happened, “No kidding, fellows, … there was this green, bearded, monster in a weird cage, with black rings on its lips…”

I looked over at Jay, still lying back against the matting at the back of the blind, the pallet still hanging from his right foot at a crazy upward angle. He had a serene look of peace on his face, which somewhat overcame the overall effect of the Olympic rings on his lips, the two-dozen bloody peck-marks mixed with fresh mud speckles on his face, the odd gaps in his beard, the fresh light spackling of shredded blind material which was still drifting down like tan snow, and the gooey garnish of green and white goose poop now slumping onto the bill of his hat.

He appeared to be quietly admiring the beautiful high clouds which were just starting to reflect a little rose color from the setting sun.  “Here,” I volunteered, extending my hand, “Let me help you up.”  Jay spit a mixture of goose down and cornstalk shreds from his mouth, so he could speak.  “Nah,” Jay refused, without even looking over to me, “This is the most comfortable I have been since we stepped out of your pickup before first light.”  Jay sighed.  At that point, the pallet finally released Jay’s stuck boot, and then fell back gently into place.

I was shaking my head about what had just happened, staring at the pallet that had just now released its grip on Jay’s boot.  I couldn’t help but notice something that seemed out of place, among the cornstalk confetti, mud splatters, and goose down.  There it was, almost completely hidden behind a couple of muddy feathers, nestled just to the left of the toe of Jay’s right boot. It was a gleaming semi-transparent AA shotgun wad.  Before Jay decided to look down from the peaceful vista, I took a loose piece of corn stalk and flipped it down between the boards of the pallet.  The walk back to the pickup will seem a lot longer if Jay’s crying the whole way.

I will admit a significant failure in all this.  I neglected to score Jay for this event.  That’s unfortunate, because I do believe this performance was worthy of a perfect 10.0 if there ever was one.

Ok, I am back now from taking care of that small task, and back at my computer in my man-cave.  I can now continue planning for my next hunt with Jay.

“Bob?” interrupts Suzanne, as she yells down the stairs to the man-cave again. “Thanks so much for shoveling the drive.  I love you.  Dinner will be done in just a little bit.”

Yep.  Win-win.

Good huntin’ and good huntin’ buddies.

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