"Some children spend the whole year looking forward to Christmas. In our family there is a 12-year-old, my nephew, who looks forward to the waterfowl season. This year was particularly exciting for him. Having learned to handle a shotgun, and even to down a duck or two, he was ready for the ultimate waterfowl experience—a chance at Canada geese. And what more wonderful place could anyone choose than the fabled public hunting grounds at Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina?
"With shotguns oiled, shells sorted, equipment piled high in our station wagon and a note of celebration in the air, our party of three headed south. As long strips of highway rolled away behind us, dark clouds gathered on the horizon ahead. Brisk winds whipped out of the southeast; a touch of frost hung on the air. The weather was going to be just right for geese.
"At nightfall we pulled into the town of New Holland, heart of Lake Mattamuskeet goose shooting. Sporty guides lounged in front of the general store, each equipped with an engraved business card listing his fees and the advantages of his particular hunting ground. In the darkened sky, black shapes winged overhead in an unending procession. The muted, mingled honking of thousands of geese was a music we had never heard before. It had to be wonderful shooting here!
"Long before sunrise the next morning we were ready to meet our guide, one chosen from the group of worthy prospects at the general store. A crowd of other hunters was already with him. We decided our choice had been a good one. After paying him $15 for the three of us, he suggested we follow him in our car to land he'd leased for the season. We found a number of cars already there when we arrived. The land, a strip running parallel to the Lake Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge, and in no place more than 100 yards from the refuge's borders, seemed ideal. A natural wall of young trees and bushes separated the hunting land from the sharp eyes of thousands of geese wintering within the sanctity of the refuge. Their jabbering and honking was almost deafening.
"With a group of other hunters, we followed our guide along the trees. About 500 yards in from the parked cars, he asked us to stop. Part of the group had already dropped off; the rest he took on down the line. Some minutes later he returned to tell us should we need anything he'd be back at the cars.
"Arranging ourselves shoulder to shoulder, we moved part way into the protective covering of bushes and waited. Presently, off to our right a small flock of geese got up from the lake and winged over the natural wall. We heard shooting and saw two geese drop in the distance. On our left, the same thing happened. Down the line now we could hear guns going off with regularity. Geese were moving out from the lake and into the fields to feed. Soon it would be our turn. Breathlessly we waited for the moment when a flock would get up in front of us and whiz within shooting range. A soft rain had begun to fall. It only increased our expectancy. Any minute now. Then, right over our heads they came—five great, wing-flapping Canadas, honking plaintive, deep-throated messages.
"We each fired once. Three geese dropped into the bushes in front of us.
"From the right somebody shouted, and a man we'd never seen before raced up to us exclaiming: 'That's my goose; that's my goose in there.' A fat man in baggy overalls came panting up from the left. He didn't speak but charged into the bushes. Through the thicket directly in front of us two strange voices began a loud, unintelligible argument. Stunned, we watched as gunless strangers thrashed the bushes where our geese had fallen.
"Only my nephew recovered his senses with speed; then he too leapt into the bushes. Thorn-scratched and ragged at the edges, he emerged some 10 minutes later, a smile of victory on his face and a goose in his hand. 'That fat guy almost got it,' he panted, 'but I was faster and beat him to it.' Our score was one for three.
"Of course, we'd never been goose shooting at Lake Mattamuskeet before, so we didn't know that besides being able to shoot, it's also necessary to qualify in cross-country, water-splashing, twig-snapping and plain orneriness."