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The only way to describe their honking is to say that it was pure. It was absolutely innocent. It lasted three or four minutes, and then the geese began to climb in one long undulating line. Their direction was southeast, toward the dark mountains that were outlined against the bright horizon. We heard them for several more minutes and saw them for a long time after their honking had faded away.
I doubt that many hunters have killed three honkers with a single shot. I was ashamed of having done it, even though it had been an honest mistake.
We walked back to the car with the dead geese and the mallards. Hilde carried the gun and I carried the birds. Otto walked beside me, sniffing at the birds. They were heavy.
It was a while before Hilde and I began to talk about the geese. We decided that they must have come down nonstop from some remote lake in Canada. It was likely they'd never been hunted before, or at least not for a long time, certainly not that year. They were truly wild, and I know that it was the first time in my life that I'd ever seen truly wild geese.
It appeared they were headed south for California, as likely as not the Sacramento Valley, and it wasn't pleasant to imagine what was waiting for them there. All we could hope was that I had begun to educate them.
We happened to have a camera in the car. For some reason—habit, I suppose, or a desire to establish the reality of the experience—I felt obliged to take a few pictures of the geese. I've never shown the photos to anyone; I never even look at them myself, because they certainly don't represent what I want to remember about that October morning.
Ten years have passed, and the photos, probably faded by now, are stored in a bottom desk drawer underneath a box containing 22 No. 2 shotgun shells.