The Youngster’s First Hunt

March 24, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

I had waited for several years for the day when my son Erik would be old enough to sit in a North Dakota stubble field and watch the white specks lose altitude and tumble into a decoy spread. Ken Carlson and I had experienced a great flight of birds in 1994 and I wondered if Erik would ever see an opener such as that. I wanted him to feel that adrenalin rush as the birds came in low on the deck. He turned 13 in 1995. It would be his time to start hunting.

That fall, I went to Holiday, now Gander Mountain, and purchased a youth model of the 20 gauge Remington 870 pump. Next stop was the trap range so that he could get a feel for shooting. We learned quickly that it is a little difficult for a rookie to hit clay pigeons.

But, late October meant the real thing rather than clay pigeons. An afternoon of scouting uncovered only a few flocks of snow geese west of Cando. We did not get the field that we were looking at because another hunter beat us to the door of the farmer we had known for 20 years. We settled for a nearby field.

Early on a Saturday morning, Erik and his cousin Jason Carlson (14) learned the unglamorous side of goose hunting for the first time. It was tough for those two youngsters to stomp through a dug wheat stubble field trying to figure out how to place decoys for the first time. But, there was no complaining. It was a new adventure for them.

Finally, the decoys were set. Jason sat with his dad, Ken about 30 yards to the left of Erik and me. We were on the downwind end of the decoy spread with the Northwinds and assorted shell decoys upwind of us. It was not long before the familiar squeaks and squawks of the first flight of snow geese broke the prairie dawn’s silence. Unfortunately, the fickle flock decided to pick out a spot about three hundred yards downwind from us to sit down for breakfast. However, the spot where they landed did provide excellent viewing of the feeding flock. Many times, the flock lifted up and did the “swirl” around the field only to sit right back down again. Each time, it seemed that the birds were going to head our way. But, that was just a hunter’s wishful thinking.

A few mallards plunged from high in the brightening sky toward the swirl of snows. Eventually, one of those mallards decided to give our spread a look. At first, it looked as though it might rejoin the swirl. But, this time it kept coming to us. The bright green head began to show clearly as it flew to the southeast into the light breeze. I whispered to Erik to get ready. Twenty more yards would do it. The bird was coming to our side of the spread.

Erik was dressed in a white cotton parka, white pants, and white stocking cap. He looked like a cherubic little snowman. He wore some white cotton gloves to break the morning chill and camouflage his hands. He sat on a boat cushion just to my left in a shallow trench with a mound of dirt as a backrest. The bulky clothes would make it difficult for the 13 year-old to mount the 20 gauge.

Now the drake was at about the 1 o’clock position at 25 yards out and about 15 feet off the ground. I gave the shooting command of, “take him,” and began to raise my gun. I had just put my cheek on the stock when the little 20 gauge exploded to my left. A split second later, that greeny quit flying!

Oh, the quickness of youth. Erik had done what the experts tell us all to do. Raise the gun and let your instincts take over from there. Don’t think about it too much, just swing and fire. Erik had downed his first mallard.

The morning was topped off a while later when a few of those snow geese from the flock downwind finally gave us a look. Erik and I each shot one snow goose. Kenny and Jason were skunked on their side of the spread.

The next morning found us in the same field. The wind had shifted to the northwest and increased compared with the day before. It was more of a goose-hunting day with a deep gray overcast. We tried a different setup that day. We had two lines of decoys stretched out over about 100 yards. There was an alley of about 40 yards between the two lines. Each of the boys was placed at the downwind end of their respective strings. If the birds came in, they would reach the boys first. Ken and I were about 50 yards upwind and behind them on each side. The boys were really by themselves and would have to call their own shots this time. Ken and I were there just to take those birds that made it past the first barrage from Erik and Jason.

The morning’s action started almost immediately. Birds came from the southeast low across a two-mile roadless stretch of stubble fields. They came one or two at a time every ten minutes for an hour. They seemed to be zeroing in on Erik’s right side of the spread. Sure enough, he was right in the preferred path.

Erik began to burn up some 20 gauge magnum shells. Boom-miss, boom-miss. So, it went for the first three opportunities. The kid was learning how to use that pump. Kenny and I were getting some mop-up opportunities as the birds got past Erik and Jason. I jogged down to Erik’s pit and gave him some hints about waiting for the birds to be right over him before he shot. He was so tempted by how low and slow the birds were that he was shooting before they were getting to him. Patience is so important in waiting for snow geese.

The next two birds also came in over Erik. This time he waited. Then, the little 20 gauge roared again, miss. Then, HIT. The bird almost hit him in the head as it tumbled from the sky.

The scenario was repeated later in the morning. Erik shot two snow geese that morning. He had as many geese in the bag as anyone in our four-person hunting party. When we were all done, I had to greet him with a high-five. I was really proud of the youngster. He had done very well on his first duck and snow goose hunting trip. It wouldn’t be his last trip and he would do even better. His uncle Ken called him a “natural.”


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