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The two shots I had made had come on a foggy day toward the end of my third season. Walking back toward the car after yet another unsuccessful stalk, I suddenly heard geese honking somewhere behind me and not far off. I knelt at once and stayed that way, motionless, holding my gun in my right hand and the collar of my German shorthair, Otto, in my left. Within seconds a flock of 40 or 50 birds was streaming directly overhead, about 20 yards up and barely visible at that height in the fog. I picked out a bird, stood and fired both barrels at it. Though it was the sort of passing shot that good goose hunters probably fantasize about, I missed twice.
Eight months later, on an Indian summer evening in October that was so warm I'd played nine holes of golf before dinner, I was loading my clubs into the trunk of my car when I heard faint honking. When I looked up, there was the biggest flock of Canada geese I'd ever seen, the biggest flock I'd ever heard about, at least 1,000 birds, possibly 1,500, in two huge overlapping Vs, the lines sharp and black against the cloudless early evening sky. And they were high, 2,000 feet or more, so that they could barely be heard unless you listened for them.
They were headed southeast, directly toward the reservoir five miles out of town, and before they disappeared from view it seemed to me that they'd dropped several hundred feet in elevation. Though I didn't see them begin to circle, I was fairly sure they were going to put in at the reservoir for the night.
Driving home, I was as excited as I'd ever been about anything related to hunting or fishing. Canada geese are known to be unpredictable in their migrations, but these were at least a month ahead of schedule. With the reservoir at its lowest level of the year—drained off for irrigation throughout the summer and not yet replaced by the runoff from storms—hunting would be very difficult. I would be out there the next morning anyway.
The three of us started toward the reservoir at 6:30 a.m.—my wife, Hilde, Otto and me. Otto was along in case the miracle happened. If I should hit a goose here, chances were better than even it would come down in the water, and having Otto retrieve it was more appealing than having to swim myself.
Hilde loves the outdoors and wildlife as much as anyone I've ever known, so she was excited about the huge flock, too. If we did find the geese and if I did attempt one of my patented slithering stalks, she would stay a safe distance behind with the dog, so he wouldn't give me away by an involuntary whine or yelp. Otto's only serious fault as a hunting dog was his nearly uncontrollable excitability around flocks of waterfowl.
I was ready, but I certainly wasn't taking my chances very seriously, especially after we arrived at the reservoir and saw that the hunting conditions were even worse than I'd imagined. The water was so low that if the geese were there, they would either be on the water or feeding a few yards from it.
It was cool, clear and windless. I let Otto run out ahead for the first 10 minutes, to dissipate a little of his energy. After Hilde and I had walked about half a mile I called Otto back to heel. We were coming to a small bay. We approached cautiously and discovered that there were three mallards, two drakes and a hen, about 25 yards away at the edge of the water. "I might as well try for them," I whispered to Hilde.
"Won't you scare the geese?"
"I'll scare the geese sooner or later anyhow," I said. "If they're here, we'll get a good look at them. Besides, we haven't had pressed duck for a long time, and I need some mallard flank feathers for tying dry flies."