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For once things went perfectly. I charged over the bank and a few yards down the other side, stopped and brought the gun up as the birds took off. With the sun behind me they were easy targets, even for me. Both drakes came down and stayed where they landed. The hen, quacking loudly, sailed across the reservoir, low over the water, as the shots echoed dully off the distant hills. Otto made the retrieves, and coming out of the water his coat was as slick as an otter's.
There was no sign of the geese, though. Up ahead of us a small bunch of mallards, a larger flock of blue bills and, farther on, 10 or a dozen teal had been spooked, and they all flew off in the same direction the mallard hen had taken.
I was so sure that there wouldn't be any geese—or much of anything else, except perhaps a heron or a careless pair of mergansers—that I let Otto run free. I kept my eyes on him, though, and I saw that when he trotted up to the top of the rise that protected a larger bay he cocked his ears and crept forward a few steps before freezing on a kind of confused point. He was 40 or 50 yards ahead, and I whistled him back softly.
For the hell of it I loaded my gun with No. 2 goose shells and then walked up and over the rise without making any attempt at stealth. About 200 yards down the other side, the bay was covered with Canada geese.
I was aware that suddenly I was running, and that all those geese, necks stretched upward to full length, white cheek patches clear in the early morning light, were looking back at me and softly honking. A few of the birds closest to shore flapped their wings as if about to fly, stretched their necks in my direction, then looked at one another and settled back down.
I sprinted hard, the gun clutched in my left hand, my heavy boots pounding down the hill. When I was halfway to the bay, only 100 yards away, not a single bird had lifted off the water. Most of them were swimming slowly toward the mouth of the bay, and all of them were honking loudly.
In my excitement I had failed to notice that there were geese on shore, too. I didn't realize they were there almost until I was running through them, nearly tripping over them. They were honking as they scattered like huge barnyard chickens before me. Even though I saw them there, could probably have dropped the gun and tackled one, I was too excited to stop. The birds on the water had turned around and were swimming back toward me now.
Finally the geese surrounding me on shore began to fly, and when I stopped, about 20 yards from the water, those out there took off too. I stood there amazed in the middle of a rising cloud of hundreds and hundreds of geese. The honking came from all directions, along with the sound of the powerful beating of their wings, and I actually felt a warm rush of pungent air from the wings of the nearest birds as they lifted off.
The gun was up, safety off, but I had the presence of mind not to fire into the flock. In front of me and directly overhead the air was black with geese. I swung the gun to the right and sighted in on a lone bird about 35 yards out, at the edge of everything. At the moment I pulled the trigger two geese appeared behind the one I was shooting at; all three of them dropped into the shallow water a few feet from shore.
Almost as the birds hit, Otto was into the water to retrieve. Hilde was beside me now. And that was when I realized something else: There was no panic in these birds, not even after I had fired a 12-gauge shotgun. All they did was circle above us, a miraculous mass of life, of beating wings and long black necks and smooth gray undersides.