Wheeling through the back country, one had the feeling that the clock had rolled back a full century. Stately, if somewhat shabby, pillared mansions stood in the midst of sere fields. White oaks, thick around as water towers, reared their red heads in the dawn light, and frost lay thick on the mowed fields. Everywhere geese were on the move, their yelping, beaglelike voices echoing down through the icy morning air. It would have come as no surprise to see J.E.B. Stuart leading a troop of cavalry in butternut uniforms, sabers glinting in the dawn, up one of the metaled roads.
Jones turned the truck down an oak-lined lane and braked to a stop in front of a white clapboard farmhouse. Two men in camouflage hunting clothes waited, grinning at the arriving hero. "That's Ed and Howard," said Jones. "They're the best goozin' guides in this neck of the peninsula. The Colts have been coming here for years, and they take good care of us."
"Well, you done 'er," said Ed as Jones dismounted. "Put a real slick on them Oilers." Geese barked overhead, and dogs—mainly Labrador retrievers—answered them from the kennels behind the house as the guides debriefed Bert on the Houston game.
"Let's get a move on," said Howard as the Mercedes pulled up, chockablock with bulging linemen. Collett and Pratt went off with Howard, while Kunz and Jones teamed up with the bespectacled, affable Ed. Jumbo, a bright-eyed black Lab pulsating with eagerness, joined the crew in Ed's pickup.
The blind was tight, a narrow slot camouflaged with cornstalks and pine limbs in the midst of a stubble field. Kunz and Jones placed the decoys as geese whirled overhead, seemingly only waiting for the dekes to be set before flying to the guns. Back in the blind, Bert loaded his "pride and joy," a field-scarred Winchester Model 12 pump gun in 12 gauge. No sooner had he slipped the last of three high-brass shells full of No. 2 shot into the magazine than a horrendous racket rose from the west.
"Look at that," said Jones, peering out of the blind. From the river not a half mile away rose an air force of geese, blotting out the sky for fully the width of the horizon. "I told you I'd show you some birds."
"Get ready," warned Ed from his post at the head of the blind. "We don't want to shoot at any groups of six or more, but we'll get some pairs and threes and fours passing over. We'll let the Jones boy shoot first, then you other guys can wipe his eye." He cackled mock-nastily with the rough jocosity of the hunting blind, and crouched back into cover.
A lone goose swept up the line of small pines that masked the blind. Jones rose and slammed the shotgun butt to his shoulder, firing in the same instant. The bird folded, dead in midair, and thumped to the ground in a spume of breast and neck down.
Now it was George Kunz's turn. At 6'6" and 266 pounds, Kunz filled nearly half of the blind with his bulk. A pair of birds veered away from the main flight and whistled over the decoy set, looking it over in preparation for a landing.
"I'll take the lead bird," said Kunz. He stood up—a blond mountain armed with a toothpick of a shotgun—and fired, while another gunner took the trailing bird. Both fell.